Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Storm Before the Calm

As the season's change in New England we are subjected to a roller coaster ride of ever-changing weather. The past couple of weeks alone, as we transitioned from winter to spring, brought us rain (lots and lots of rain!), sleet, snow, unseasonably warm and sunny weather, and wind...always a lot of wind. As I walked in whichever weather was served up each day, I reflected on how there is often a period of unrest before settling into a contented calm.

I wasn't thinking of just the weather either. First my mind wandered to things like the turbulence experienced while changing altitudes in an airplane. Then I started to think of all the examples in human nature, troubled periods while transitioning to a new stage of life or before mastering a new skill, and the "arsenic hour" just before dinner and bedtime. I thought about the "mid-life crisis" and the teenage years.

Inevitably I thought of parenting and children's development. So many parents worry that something is wrong when difficult periods arise. I first noticed this while supporting families practicing Elimination Communication (EC) as a DiaperFreeBaby Mentor. Many parents get concerned that EC "didn't work" as their children go through the transition from "being pottied" to being toilet independent.

The story is told in similar ways- my baby has been "ECed" since X number of months and it was going great until she started crawling/walking and now she is refusing to use the potty or pees on the floor right after I offer her the potty or seems to refuse out of spite or only goes in the potty once a day or something similar.

The situation almost always seems to be made worse as the parents try to gain control over the situation. To me it seems the child is just trying to maintain her own awareness of her body and be in control of it herself. To me it is proof that EC does "work", after all the point isn't to have an early graduate, the point is to keep the child's body awareness and respect her ability to know what her body needs.

My first point when this situation comes up is that EC is EC not because of a final outcome of graduating to toilet independence. EC is EC when you are using it as an alternative to full-time diapering, even if you are using diapers as a back-up for misses. EC is the belief that children instinctively know when they need to eliminate in the same way they know when they are hungry or tired. EC gives children control and say over their own bodies.

My second point is that it is not unusual for there to be a "two steps forward, one step back" situation during any transition period. There seem to be some survival mechanisms in place to handle transitioning to greater independence. We see this prior to major motor skills, for example. Stranger anxiety and separation anxiety seem to coincide with crawling, and later with walking. These both seem to be in place to keep children from wandering too far away from their mother or other trusted caregivers once they actually can.

In more traditional, hunter-gatherer cultures the children keep track of where the parents or other caregivers are, instead of the other way around. Many modern parents are mystified by periods of clingyness around the time of motor skill milestones or other independence based milestones. This is because many modern cultures chase their children around (which really ends up to be chasing them away) with the belief that this is necessary to keep them safe. For many the idea that children are hardwired to survive and thrive is unknown to them because the overwhelming cultural belief is that children must be chased after for their own good. So when the normal behavior is exhibited around these times parents misinterpret it as something gone wrong.

If the belief is that a child needs to be chased after and continually stopped from "getting into trouble" there is no reason to imagine that a child would need a mechanism in place to keep her close to her caregivers. Once parents understand why children become clingy before crawling, need to be held more before walking, or nurse more at night before weaning as a toddler, they are able to honor the need.

Ironically many parents instead respond to the behaviors with two very different approaches at the same time. Commonly they will see this new clingyness, increased number of misses, increased need to nurse, increased need to sleep next to parents, etc as something being wrong. The behavior is looked at as something the child needs to be broken of, and something the parent has created. Many believe they have created some sort of dependence by "giving in".

Some common thoughts that come up are:

"I should have weaned sooner because now he's addicted to nursing"

"I never should have started co-sleeping because now he'll never be able to sleep in his own bed"

"I carried her too much because now she never wants to be put down and won't go to anyone else"

"I never should have done EC because she seems to resent it and won't pee in the potty anymore out of spite"

Often parents react by trying to force independence by attempting to stop whatever the need is at the time. They try harder to get the child to use the potty without letting him take over the process for himself. They force the child into her own bed or attempt some sort of sleep training. They make a point of leaving their baby with babysitters or refuse to hold him in order to cure him of his separation and stranger anxieties. They wean from nursing cold turkey to try to avoid the perceived nursing addiction.

By reacting in these ways parents are really just imposing their own wills unnecessarily on their children by telling them that they know what is better for them than what their own bodies are telling them. When they do this they are actually perpetuating a lack of independence because they are telling their children that they can't be trusted to know their own bodies. Parents inadvertently push children beyond their comfort zone, beyond what is in place to navigate this new period of independence. Children respond, not by becoming more independent, but by becoming less.

Parents often increase dependence in the opposite way too by taking away independence. Instead of allowing children to discover and learn for themselves they jump in to help more than is needed or wanted. Take the EC example again; it is common for parents to forget to listen to their child about pottying and continue to take the lead or take over completely. Common reactions to "potty pauses" are:

- Continuing to offer the same potty locations and positions instead of considering that your child just wants something new. Sometimes it can be as simple as a boy wanting to pee standing up.

- Continually asking the child if she has to go potty rather than waiting for her to tell them.

- Putting a previously diaper-free child back in diapers full-time out of fear of misses rather than giving him a chance to notice on his own, even if it means a temporary increase in misses.

It seems that many parents have difficulty transitioning from the early months of EC where they are more in the lead. In the early months of EC they can look for signs their baby gives that he needs to eliminate but often these signs are more instinctive than conscious on the part of the baby. Whether a sign is instinctive or conscious, in the early months it is the responsibility of the caregiver to help the baby to potty. Where parents seem to get stuck later is in looking for signs that the child wants to take over the process and helping to facilitate that. They often continue pottying a 1 year old the same way as a 4 month old. They misinterpret the signs that the child wants to take over as signs the child doesn't want to use the potty at all.

I've noticed with my kids that when they are looking to become more toilet independent they don't even want to be asked if they have to go. When I relax about it, trust that they will know what their bodies need, and wait to ask me for help when and if they need it, the whole process goes a lot more smoothly.

You could say that the transition from being ECed to being toilet independent is similar to the dynamic that happens when going from the early months and years of Attachment Parenting or Continuum Concept parenting to the older, more independent, years. And many parents get stuck during that dynamic too, including me.

Though I can recognize difficulties in the dynamic, solutions aren't as straight-forward. I've already said that I noticed two opposite responses happening simultaneously- forcing too much independence too soon, and not recognizing signs of needing more independence and allowing it. Already it's confusing!

Based on my experiences, I've come up with some thoughts on how to navigate these transitions:

- Listen to what your child is saying. Trust her if she is communicating that she needs to be held often or nursed more. Believe him if he says he can't handle something such as his homework load.

- Let her do as much for herself as possible, even if it means more of "a mess" for you.

- Help out only when asked for help, and only if it is truly needed. In the case of intervening in sibling interactions/arguments especially, you may need to "wean" your children off of you jumping in to solve arguments. You may have to do a lot of encouraging them to work it out themselves.

- Switch over from offering opportunities or simply meeting needs to more and more modeling expectations and more of a "don't offer, but don't refuse" approach.

- Take these transitions for what they are- the storm before the calm; the rocky period while transitioning to something new.

- Realize that these periods are like a roller coaster ride with lots of ups and downs. Just ride it out and enjoy the ride while you're in it.

- What "works" one day might not work the next. During these times you'll constantly be straddling the line between your child wanting a lot of independence and wanting to be nearly completely dependent. It is okay to look for hidden causes of difficulties, such as food allergies, but realize that sometimes this will just keep you occupied while the transition runs its course. You may or may not find a medical problem and solution.

The rain is back again in my area, record rainfall. Walking through the driving rain today I struggled with my umbrella. The more I tried to hold onto it the more the wind tried to take it away. I tried holding it in different directions and at different heights. Finally I just closed my umbrella and embraced the rain and wind.

Now when I notice one of these stages I don't get concerned or annoyed. I get excited to witness growing independence. I think of the calm to come.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Tips: Babywearing Safety

 There was recently a warning issued by the Consumer Product Safety Commision (CPSC) about the use of slings, especially by children under 4 months old. While I applaud the effort to educate the public on babywearing safety, I would have liked to have seen more of a clarification on differences between safe and unsafe carriers.

The unsafe style of baby sling is the "bag style" sling. These highly uncomfortable slings have a deep pouch, gathered rails, and a strap like a guitar strap. The deep pouch is designed (and often "over-designed") to create a highly angled curve. This design causes an extreme chin on chest curl which makes breathing difficult (at best!). The extra fabric and shape of the pouch also make breathing difficult and suffocation all too easy.

In all the photographs I've seen of bag style carriers in use, the entire pouch itself was way too low on the caregiver. This makes it, not only very uncomfortable, but also difficult to get a sense of how your baby is doing. Babywearing International says that babies should be "close enough to kiss". What a simple and beautiful way to think of it!.

The gathered edges, or "rails" of the bag style slings, also contribute to re-breathing and suffocation when the baby is worn reclining in the bag sling. It also makes it difficult to impossible to see your baby.

There are plenty of 2 ring baby slings which are safe and beneficial when worn correctly, even in reclining positions. Bag style slings aren't one of them. But, even so, in my experience even newborns prefer to be held upright, tummy-to-tummy. There are a lot of slings and other carriers that accomplish this much more easily, comfortably, and safely than bag style carriers.

Still, no matter how safe the carrier, there are still some steps that can be taken to babywear safely and with confidence. Here are some basic tips:

- Choose the right carrier for you, your baby, and your circumstances. Something you are comfortable with and confident using is going to be safer. Local Babywearing International groups often have lending libraries where you can try out different carriers without the expense of buying.

- Read the instructions carefully. Watch an accompanying video, if available.

- Get some in-person support. Midwives, doulas, La Leche League meetings, and local Babywearing International groups are all great resources for babywearing.

                                   - Slings and other carriers are meant to hold babies in positions you would hold them in without a carrier. The carrier is supposed to make it easier and keep hands free. Put your baby into a carrier in a position you would otherwise carry him in, and periodically check to make sure he is still in this position.

                                  - Be aware of your surroundings while carrying your baby. Be especially aware of anything that sticks out such as counter tops, shelves, railings, and doors. For older babies, be aware of what is at reaching distance.

                                 - Unless nursing, your baby should not be facing inward. Position your baby facing up and not in either sideways directions where fabric could making breathing difficult or suffocation could happen.

                                 - Do not put sling fabric over your baby's face. Also, keep in mind that many infants do not like fabric touching the back of their head while nursing.

                                - Make sure your baby is not in an extreme curl, or chin to chest position.

Additional Resources:

Babywearing International's Safety Guidelines

Babywearing Safety on Facebook

Manufacturers Respond to Baby Sling Safety Warning

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Radical Parenting on Discovery Health was Rad

My family participated in the recently aired Discovery Health Channel show Radical Parenting. In case you missed it, it will air again on March 23rd at 8pm and 11pm ET.

It was a wonderful experience and a main motivation for doing it was to open up a dialogue about Attachment Parenting. It has been very interesting to hear and read different responses.

If you didn't see the show, it followed the lives of 3 families who practice parenting styles that are considered unusual in our culture today. I represented Attachment Parenting and other practices that fit well with AP lifestyle. We showed and discussed extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, babywearing, Elimination Communication, placental ritual (we planted ours), and avoiding the use of pacifiers, sippy cups, highchairs, etc.

Before the show aired I tried to imagine what the different reactions would be. I immediately figured that we would come across as more child-centered than we actually are. I anticipated this by writing my first blog entry.

I also figured that there would be the strongest reaction to the scene where we plant my daughter's placenta under a potted tree. This has turned out to be true, but not as much as I'd anticipated.

I figured babywearing would fair the best because it has become more mainstream. What I didn't anticipate was that there would be so many comments about babywearing beyond, "What's so radical about babywearing?".

Of course my inner tween was most nervous about what people would say about how we looked. I could hear chants of "You're weeeeeird!" while I was denied access to the "cool table" in the cafeteria. I know, I know, it's cliche. In reality I fared okay in middle school. I was able to straddle the line between the most popular students and the least. But somehow the self-conscious kid hides inside forever.

After the show I obsessively scanned the Internet for comments. I've been inspired, energized, annoyed, and surprised by the reactions. I'd like to go through a few of them and respond, as well as respond to the expert comments on the show. Here goes...

Attachment Parenting:

Jenn Berman's main criticism of Attachment Parenting was that it can be very demanding and parents can get burnt out. She's right. It's true of all parenting, at least in modern Western culture. I've found that staying as close to natural, biological expectations and merging them with modern culture have decreased the demands I've felt as a parent. The one thing my husband and I could do better, though, is to one of these days let someone else watch the kids so we can go out as a couple. We haven't been out without children in 11 years.

Something that surprised me was that some people described us as very "extreme" APers, but yet others criticized us for different things being too "mainstream" or "old school" (like the frame backpack my husband uses), as if we weren't really AP. Some people said they thought we were chosen because we are so extreme, and others implied that we did things just for show (yes, I started AP 20 years ago thinking that someday I might go on TV).

The truth is that I don't think of us as extreme at all. I think we might have come across that way to some people because I really think of us more as practicing Continuum Concept parenting (if I have to label us at all). I actually asked to be identified as practicing Continuum Concept parenting, but the producer felt that this would be too confusing a term for the audience. She was right.

I think the reason we were chosen was based on a lot of things, but if we didn't practice a lot of Attachment Parenting and Continuum Concept practices not only would we have gotten criticism for not really showing AP, but also the practice wouldn't have registered well on TV. We did not do anything just for show though. And I certainly don't practice any of these things to get a "most AP prize" (though if there really is one, someone please let me know).

Extended Breastfeeding:

This may have been the biggest surprise reaction-wise, on several levels. Jenn Berman's comment that a drawback to extended nursing is that kids can feel different from their peers. I'm usually pretty good at anticipating what expert comments will be. I did not see that comment coming. I do, however, have my own comments in response. First of all, all kids are different and may at times feel different from their peers. Secondly, older children who are breastfed typically only do so a couple of times a day in their own house. It is very often just at night. How would their peers even know?

Even if their peers did find out, it would be because the child felt comfortable enough to let their friend find out, say after hurting themselves while playing and needing to nurse for comfort. But also the age I was talking about, age 4, is not a typical age for kids to tease each other or exert "peer pressure". That leads me to wonder if the family or families Jenn Berman was talking about had much older children, say over 7 (not that there's anything wrong with that).

It also makes me wonder if these self-conscious children felt that way because an adult, maybe even Jenn Berman herself, made them feel that way. It reminds me of when I took a nursing 3 year old Bekah to the hospital to be treated for Rotovirus. The only thing she could even hold down a little bit of was breastmilk, which was good because it protects against Rotovirus.

When we got to the ER and talked to the nurse I let her know that thankfully Bekah was still nursing. She proceeded to turn right to poor sick little Bekah and say, "That's really silly that you do that! That's a really funny thing to do.". I wanted to deck her! I would have engaged in a very heated debate with her but she then started looking at Bekah's bruised knees and basically let me know that she suspected me of child abuse. Something inside (that intuitive parenting) told me to just shut up at that point rather than giving her an excuse to call Social Services.

Thankfully when the doctor finally arrived he felt that she was so well hydrated because of breastfeeding and decided she did not need to be admitted for IV fluids. The nurse had previously said she was positive she would need an IV. My main point though is that the adult nurse was doing everything in her power to make my daughter feel weird, different, and like she was doing something wrong.

In cultures where extended nursing is still the cultural norm (it is the biological norm everywhere), children don't feel weird at all for openly nursing as an older child. It isn't that extended nursing itself makes American children feel weird. It is that people have directly made them feel weird and simply because it isn't practiced enough. I'm hoping that shows like Radical Parenting will actually make more families feel okay about extended nursing, and more and more will practice it.

I thought though that the extended nursing would have gotten way more negative comments. I only read a couple of comments from people mistakenly thinking that there are no "benefits" to it or that I must be "doing it all the time". So perhaps we have come a long way towards greater public acceptance since extended nursing controversies of just a few years ago.


Jenn Berman was probably the most harsh about co-sleeping. She said the the American Academy of Pediatrics is not "a fan of co-sleeping". This actually isn't quite true. The AAP defines co-sleeping as sleeping in the same room or close proximity to your baby, a practice they support, and bed sharing as in the same bed. I happen to disagree with the suggestion that all bed sharing is dangerous, and that all crib sleeping is safe. Just as there can be safe crib sleeping and unsafe crib sleeping, there can be safe bed sharing and unsafe bed sharing.

There is also evidence that co-sleeping is safer than crib sleeping. I think the better approach Jenn Berman could have taken would have been to talk about safe versus unsafe co-sleeping. Parents are not going to stop co-sleeping and they deserve to have safe co-sleeping information.


A lot of people have mistakenly commented that I wear my son Luke "all the time". I can see where they would get that impression based on Radical Parenting, but that was 15 minutes of time shown out of 3 days of filming. It would hardly show babywearing if even half of the time he was on the ground and one of the things we were trying to show was babywearing and how that helps to include your child in family life.

During the show an information box popped up that said that from birth to the crawling stage Luke was carried or in close contact with a caregiver 24 hours a day. It did not say that we carry him 24 hours a day now.

Another factor was that during the filming my 17 month old was teething big time. This increased his need to be held. I would have been holding him more whether there was a film crew there or not.

Which brings me to another factor. There was a film crew there. Just having new people and equipment in the house made him want to be held more.

I always find it interesting that the parents criticizing babywearing are the same ones lugging around a toddler without the help of a baby carrier, often while pushing the stroller that their child refuses to sit in. They are the same ones who end up with carpel tunnel syndrome and sciatica from the strain on their bodies from not using a baby carrier. Babies and toddlers need to be held. To me it makes sense to make it as easy for yourself as possible.

One thing I was worried about before the show aired was a lot of criticism about how I was wearing my sling. There was one commercial I saw where my sling was a bit too close to my shoulder and I thought other babywearers might jump on that. In my defense I am short and if the sling is too far over on my shoulder it hurts my rotator cuff. I have been babywearing a long time and I know where the sling is comfortable on me. It also may have been in a slightly different position because I had a microphone under my clothes. In the end, I only read one comment that mentioned the way I was wearing the sling.

What I didn't anticipate is that there would be criticism of my husband wearing a framed backpack. I personally don't find them comfortable, but my husband does, as do many other guys. I have close to 30 baby carriers of all types, and my husband has tried many of them. This is the only one he will use. So if it is the difference between him wearing my son in the backpack versus not wearing him at all, the backpack is just fine to me. My son also likes it.

Now to Jenn Berman's comments from the show. She said that a drawback to babywearing is that children miss out on the tactile stimulation of being able to explore their environment. I couldn't disagree with this more. In my experience children worn in slings or other baby carriers are in the perfect position to interact with life. They are within reach of a rich world of tactile exploration. They are able to hear and participate in family and community conversation. They feel the familiar shifts and movements of their mother as she goes about her day, and they learn the movements of their dad and other caregivers. The mechanism that teaches balance is stimulated and develops through their babywearing experiences.

My children have all reached their motor milestones at expected times. They have all been alert and engaged in their surrounding. They have all spoken and understood language at an early age. Bekah said her first word at 4 months, and it was clear enough for strangers to understand.

To me, what Jenn Berman said was a drawback, is actually a benefit.

Elimination Communication:

Jenn Berman gave 2 benefits of Elimination Communication, which was great, but I guess she wasn't aware of the other 73 reasons listed on the DiaperFreeBaby website.

I guess Jenn Berman didn't hear the part in my interview where I said that Elimination Communication is not early potty training. Many ECers have found that the potty training struggles and regressions that Jenn Berman cited as being a possible drawback to EC, don't happen. In fact, DiaperFreeBaby lists reducing or eliminating potty training struggles as a benefit of EC. Difficulties such as these have more to do with how a child becomes toilet independent, rather than when.

As far as the public's comments I was again very surprised because I expected to hear a lot of negative comments, but there were very few. Of the ones that I did read, they were all just based on confusing EC with early potty training.

Placenta Ritual:

I knew there would be a lot of comments about the scene where we defrost, examine, and plant my daughter's placenta. Personally, I really find looking at the placenta interesting. My midwife has showed all of us each child's placenta right after birth, and explained different things she was looking for and what they meant. Each one was a little different. One child's placenta was really unique and beautiful, even more so the umbilical cord. We used it to make beautiful tree-like prints.

Every culture has a history of placenta rituals. Experts agree that family rituals are important and healthy. I don't think planting a placenta under a tree is any more weird than say saving a lock of hair from a 1st haircut or putting a tooth under a pillow for the Tooth Fairy.

Random Comments:

The funniest comment I read in the "random" category was that the weirdest thing about the AP family was the dad going outside in the snow in shorts. Now, first of all, he really does this. It was actually a really big deal for him during the filming. He insisted on wearing his shorts for comfort and for accuracy in the depiction of our family. He shovels in shorts, bbq's year-round in shorts, checks the mail in shorts, etc.

All in all, I think Radical Parenting opened up the dialogue I was hoping it would, and I hope it continues to do so. Please let me know your thoughts on the show and any questions that you have. Also, Gina from The Feminist Breeder, the "gender-neutral" mom is hosting Radical Parents Talk Back on her radio show on March 21st. All 3 moms from the show will be on. Here is the link:


Happy Parenting!