An advice blog for parents with questions about Attachment Parenting - the art of raising children with a focus on maintaining a healthy attachment.



Thursday, October 21, 2010

Babywearing 101

What is babywearing?
Babywearing is using a sling or carrier to “wear’ your baby. It’s an ancient practice still used all over the world and “discovered” in recent years in America.

Some use it as a mere matter of convenience while others love the attachment benefits involved for both parent and baby.

What are the benefits?
  • Close contact between parent and child promotes the release of a hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin is known as the love or bonding hormone and, among other benefits, it increases attachment, lowers the risk or effects of postpartum, as well as helps stimulate milk production in a breastfeeding mother.
  • As well as increasing attachment, an infant’s brain learns to self-regulate its body systems by being in close proximity with a parent.
  • It’s beneficial for a baby to be worn at eye level as it increase their chances for social interaction. If a baby is worn facing a parent, they learn to respond to strangers or strange situations by looking to the parent’s face for cues.
  • Babies cry less when worn! There are many needs being met at once. There’s less anxiety, as the phase where the child believes that he/she and her mother are one person is crucial to later independence.
  • Some carriers make it easier to breastfeed discreetly, covering chest and child in such a way that onlookers can’t tell that baby is having lunch.
  • It’s just convenient! You can free up your hands and comfort baby at the same time. It’s much easier than pushing a stroller (and perhaps a screaming baby) through crowded malls and around clothes racks. You can go places that you can’t go with a stroller, faster, and give baby some bonding or a good nap at the same time. Housework is easier too (be careful around hot stoves though!) When losing the baby weight I would strap baby in the carrier and we’d work out together, which was otherwise impossible with him crying underfoot.
  • Fathers can get in on the action too! The bonding and comforting benefits (aside from breastfeeding!) apply equally to dad.

According to Klaus, Klaus and Kennell’s Bonding, babywearing for as little as 3 hours a day reduces infant crying significantly, and by 13 months, babies who have been in soft carriers regularly are significantly more likely to be securely attached than babies who are carried in hard carriers.

What to watch out for

Front-facing carry is not recommended by attachment experts, as it prevents a baby from being able to turn away when over-stimulated, or being able to see their parent’s face for social cues or comfort.

There’s some question about the narrow support bridge in some carriers such as the Bjorn. It can be bad on a baby’s spine to have all of his weight supported in one small area. The best carriers distribute weight more evenly, making things easier on both parent and child.

Infant slings: The Consumer Product Safety Commission recently sent out an advisory warning about the use of some infant slings because some infants have suffocated in them. Even if an infant isn’t in mortal danger, the use of these slings can press the baby’s head forward in a position that blocks the airway and decreases the oxygen levels in their bodies. As well as the possibility of poor health outcomes, this could cause distress to the child. No Attachment Parent wants their child to be in distress. According to babywearinginternational.org, “A baby carrier should mimic how you would hold a baby in your arms. A normal in-arms holding position is fairly snug to your chest and somewhat close to your face ("Close Enough to Kiss"). “ For more information on safely wearing an infant sling go to http://babywearinginternational.org/pages/InfantSlingSafety.php

What are the age limits of babywearing?
There’s really no age limits to babywearing any more than there are to breastfeeding (please stop both before college though!) It depends on the type of carrier or sling that you use and what its weight limits are, how much your child weighs and how much you can hold, and how ready your child is to be mobile independantly.

What types of carriers are best?
Ask that opinion on an Attachment Parenting board and you may get many answers. These are some of the top responses that I’ve seen, in no particular order:

Ergo (this is what I used)
Mai Tei
Maya Wrap
Moby Wrap
Beco
Baby K’tan
Scootababy

Or you can make your own as seen in this terrific easy guide at crunchywannabe.blogspot.com

Do you have a favorite carrier? Tell us in the comments section!



Mommy Songbird

Oringinally published in Nashville Parent Magazine, February 2008 

I’m one of those people who hates the sound of her own voice. The one who spends a whole weekend and resorts to gimmicks to record a simple 5 second message on her answering machine. So when I read, shortly after my son was born, that my newborn preferred his mother’s voice more than anyone else’s, I was skeptical. Surely this isn’t always the case. Perhaps it’s true of say, Celine Dion’s lucky baby. 
But I took it to heart and began to babble in earnest to my baby. Because whatever made him happier, I was ready to give. And in spite of my misgivings, he seemed to like it.

I was later told that not only did he like it when I talked to him, but he’d love it if I sang to him! Now that was going too far. No one liked to hear me sing. The only time I sang was in my car driving down the interstate, windows rolled up and stereo so loud I couldn’t even hear myself. Surely my sweet angel couldn’t be so tone deaf.

But I tried it. Softly at first, as not to frighten him with my banshee wails. Then I witnessed something strange. His eyes would light up – I swear they did. He’d calm if he’d been fussy. Sometimes he’d smile. He – liked – it!

Babies not only prefer the sound of their mother’s voice above all else (eat your heart out, Bing Crosby), but they learn from listening to mommy better than anyone else. That means that you can plop them in front of Sesame Street all day long, but they’ll learn the alphabet much faster if they hear it from you. Mommy’s even more fascinating than Snuffleupagus.

When parents take the time to “chatter” – talking about your day, describing what you’re doing as you do it, explaining what will happen next – your child’s world is expanding with every sentence.
Music especially holds a fascination for all ages. As you sing songs to your child he’s learning about language, communication, and the world around him. Using hand movements gives him an opportunity to “communicate” in song before he can speak and helps promote motor skills.

Now I sing all the time. I even imagine that I’ve learned how to (mostly) stay in key. My efforts have already been richly rewarded. When I sing, my 16 month old loudly “sings” with me. Even more off-key and out of tune than I do. It is absolutely the most beautiful sound in the world. When I sing the ABC’s he sings “bee beee beee deeee!” with gusto. He’s fascinated with all things musical, even making me stop on the arts channel to hear the orchestra. When I play the stereo we both sing and dance along to Bing Crosby.

It is likely that I will always only have a fan base of one. Record labels won’t be knocking on my door, music halls won’t be sold out in my name. But in my son’s eyes I am a songbird just for him. And that is reason enough to sing.


No is Not the Lesson: Solving Power Struggles

Originally published in The Attached Family Magazine by API in August, 2009


A part on our dishwasher broke. I spread a towel on the counter and washed the dishes by hand, laying them on the towel to dry. While I was washing, my 23-month-old son wandered in to see what I was doing. Seeing the towel hanging over the counter, the temptation was too much for him. He grabbed the towel and started to pull.
“No, don’t pull that,” I said firmly. He fussed and objected, then reached up again. There was a coffee thermos I’d just washed, so I handed it to him to play with instead. He snatched it enthusiastically, but looked back at the towel. He reached up with his free hand and tugged.

“No, you can’t pull on that,” I repeated. He fussed, then pointed to the thermos lid still on the towel. I handed it to him and soon he was happily playing on the floor beside me.
It’s possible that some people would say that my son “won” in this scenario. I didn’t use the opportunity to drive home the word “no” and all of its negative connotations. Instead I distracted him with something else that I knew he liked to play with.
The Classic Power Struggle – Ending in Punishment
Alternate Scenario: My son grabs the towel and starts to pull. “No, don’t pull that,” I say firmly. He looks at me and cries while I continue to wash dishes. In a minute he grabs the towel again, pulling harder. “No!” I yell. “I said, DON’T PULL THAT!” Being yelled at always sends him into a crying tantrum. This time he objects by trying to pull the towel and all of its contents off of the counter. This, in turn, spurs me to have to be even tougher with him to win what I perceive as a power struggle. I have to resort to punishment.
There are several ways parents proceed from here, from spanking to yelling to time-outs. They often involve the eventual domination of the child, and the lesson to him is that he is not the power holder – the parent is.
What is Discipline?
Discipline is teaching a child about the world, and how we conduct ourselves to get along with others in the world. Power struggles are often involved when you are teaching discipline to a child, but they should not be the subject of the teaching. Too often parents get confused, caught up in the struggle. The object lesson then becomes about who is in control. It often ends with the child in tears and the parent claiming an uneasy victory in the lesson, “I hold the power, not you.” Is it any wonder that these lessons end up — by design — making the child feel powerless?
The Classic Power Struggle – Ending in Bribery
Alternate Scenario: My son grabs the towel and starts to pull. “Please don’t pull that,” I say. He looks at me and pouts. He immediately grabs the towel again, pulling harder. “Stop!” I cry, grabbing his hand. He struggles to free himself. “If you stop, I’ll give you this thermos!” I say frantically. “You always like to play with this thermos!” I give him the thermos. He looks at it skeptically and throws it down, reaching for the towel again. “How about a cookie?” I say. “If you stop, I’ll give you a cookie!” That usually gets his cooperation. He lets me pick him up and holds his hand out for the cookie. Then he holds out his other hand, wanting a second cookie. I give it to him because two cookies will keep him occupied longer while I try to finish up real fast and get the towel out of his way. On the way back to the sink, I trip over the rejected thermos.
What is Redirection?
Choices are wonderful things to give children, but there is a distinct difference between redirection and bribery:
  • Bribery is an if-then statement: “If you stop pulling on the towel, then I’ll give you this toy to play with.” This statement gives the child too much power. It tells the child he has the choice to continue to do something that you do not wish. It implies that you are desperate and begging for him to choose to stop. This continues the uneven power course in giving him all the power and you little or none.
  • Legitimate choices are given on an even basis, without taking authority away from the parent: “Which DVD do you want to watch: Movie A or Movie B?” “Do you want to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt?” I suggest that any parent should look for opportunities to let their child make choices as often as possible. It’s their life, and they should feel as if their input matters. When they are validated in this way on a regular basis, it is easier for them to accept “no” when it’s necessary.
Was My Son Trying to Dominate Me?
To understand what’s going on, we have to get a little analytical about the situation. Once we understand the whys, it will be easier to judge how to handle it.
Why did my son pull on the towel? Because toddlers have a very strong need to explore their world. It is a pre-programmed drive that urges them to get out there and learn. As adults, we have been there and back and don’t see what the big deal is. It’s obvious to us what will happen if you pull on a towel that is loaded with dishes. Sometimes we forget that it’s not so obvious to them. We perceive their actions as if it they were adults and their actions are purposeful attempts to make a mess. Some would even go so far as to think that the child was making mischief just to provoke them or make their life harder, like some form of revenge or passive-aggressive behavior. Manipulative is a word often mistakenly associated with young children. It is sad because it invalidates the true and innocent need for a child to get a handle on the world around him.
There is a term in psychology called projecting. It’s very much like it sounds. When a person has unhealthy feelings about themselves, they expect that others have these feelings about them, too. They then project them onto someone else, even when that someone else is not really feeling that way.
It’s often the young child that gets to be the screen that the parent’s unresolved issues are projected onto. Young children, even after they’ve learned to talk, are so often unable to articulate their feelings or control their emotions. This allows ample opportunity for an insecure person to see things in their children that aren’t there. For example, instead of seeing that the child has a healthy drive to explore, their willfulness can be perceived as insolence or a lack of respect. This taps into the parent’s insecurities that say they are not good enough to be respected. This may be doubly hard to hear (though it’s not actually being said) coming from a child — their own child no less! So the parent comes down harder. They must get respect out of that child, whatever the cost.
Meanwhile the child is getting another message altogether. They are getting the message that their needs are bad, and their efforts to get those needs met will not be respected. They will be punished. They are also getting the message that they are not good enough to be respected, and that they are only an insignificant child.
Is it any wonder that a child whose parents perpetuate this power struggle, over time comes to believe that he isn’t good enough and not respectable? In the future, if he doesn’t deal with those feelings of insecurity, he may come to have a child and find their curiosity a reflection of his parents’ lack of respect for him. And so the tragic cycle continues.

The Lesson
It’s the winding path of parenthood that often makes us forget the real lesson we were trying to teach in each situation. In fact, like most parents, I hardly ever reflect on the practicality of each event in that way. But it’s important sometimes to come back to it, if only to get our bearings.
So what was the lesson? In other words, why did I say “no” to my son? In this instance, it was because pulling the towel down would have undesirable consequences. But, you may object, he did not learn that. No, he didn’t and he won’t for a while. The only way to teach him that lesson would have been to let him pull it on his head, possibly causing injury to himself, and making a lot of work for me. I trust in the course of time and more gentle experiments that he will learn the cause and effect of actions such as this. Since I was unable to help him learn what he was curious about, I still recognized his attempts as part of the base need to explore and learn. So I made a substitution. I gave him the thermos, because I knew he was curious about that also. He had been exploring it in the past few days; imitating Daddy and pretending to drink out of it. It was neither bribery nor dismissal; it was redirection.
Instead of dismissing my child’s actions, I tried to hear what he was saying to me. In this case, it was, “I want to learn. I need to explore.” Because I listened to him, he listened to me when I said “no.” Even after he was finished playing with the thermos, he didn’t try to pull the towel down again. As a mom, I consider that successful discipline.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Traveling with Baby

Q. We’re about to go on a long car trip with my baby. It’s our first trip since she was born. The longest we’ve driven is an hour and she cried much of the way. What can I do to make this trip easier?

The first thing to do is to be mentally prepared. Your child will cry on a long trip! If you expect her not to, you will both be frustrated. Try to imagine how frustrating (and maybe nauseating) it would be to be strapped in a car seat facing backwards for a long distance!

You can help alleviate some of this stress by just being there and letting her see you. If you’re driving with a partner, take turns sitting in the back with her.

Pack her favorite toys and buy a few new toys to bring out one by one. Bring books and read to her. Sing silly songs with hand gestures.

If she’s eating solids, make sure to bring snacks!

For long trips with children, a portable DVD player is worth it's weight in gold. Take her favorite videos and when she (or you) can’t take it anymore, have a cartoon marathon. I know a lot of parents don’t like their young children to watch a lot of TV, but if it keeps everyone sane on a long trip then I think it’s ok. A few hours of child-appropriate cartoons aren’t enough to rewire anyone’s brain.

Expect to take longer! It helps to stop a lot to give your child breaks and hold and feed her. We’ve gone on many trips and sometimes we stop and walk around for a half hour, or just let my son climb around in the back seat because he needed to be physically active.

If your child starts tantruming, consider whether they’re over or under-stimulated. If there’s a lot of people in the car, a lot of different noises or conversations, they might be over-stimulated. In that case take a break and walk away from the crowd with baby. It may be comforting to put a blanket over her head as you walk. If you can’t stop, try a blanket over both of you while in the car to block out stimuli. Try to space out movie-time with personal interaction.

Also, make sure there’s no physical reason for crying. Are the straps digging anywhere? Is her clothing bunched in the back? Hungry or wet? Children (and adults) often get car-sick, which is accentuated when faced backwards. This is another reason constant breaks are important.

Lastly, when you’ve done all you can, hang in there! It’s so hard to hear your baby cry and not be able to do anything about it, but this too will pass. You’ll get to your destination, strap her into your favorite sling or carrier, and the drama will melt away.

Have a safe trip!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

It's Where We Meet

As I sit on the sofa typing on my laptop, I feel two hands on my back, then two arms go around my neck. Suddenly there is a chaotic scramble then the arms are replaced by legs as my toddler launches himself onto my shoulders and gleefully exalts “Giddup hoowsy!”

This an interruption, it is a nuisance, and it is a reminder that my son needs his mommy time. Besides I can’t help but be softened by his screaming laughter, so I laugh too and hold on tight while I gallop him around the house for a few minutes.

Communication is such a vital thing. When I think of the subject I think of Helen Keller, who could not hear words spoken to her, or see facial expressions given to her. Who has not heard her story and imagined just for a second how lonely that must have been? I’m really not changing the subject or waxing poetic. Communication can maybe be better understood as “connecting”. It is words, facial expressions, body language, cries. It’s a flicker of the eyes, the twitch of a mouth, or a shrug of the shoulders that can say worlds. It is how humans connect with other humans.

Maybe I am waxing a little poetic. But it is to bring us to this point: it is vitally important for a person to feel connected with another person. And toddlers do it different. As adults we have learned to disconnect. We have learned how to sit properly and chat about things with other adults who sit properly and chat about things. The things we chat about, in general, are usually not very personal, or if they are they are not talked about in very personal terms. What we forget sometimes is that this phenomena is a societal thing and learned behavior. We’ve learned that some things are best kept to ourselves. We’ve learned not to give all of ourselves away at once. We’ve learned restraint. We’ve forgotten that really, it’s not very fun. Just necessary. We’ve forgotten that, to a toddler, this proper stuff is all very boring and stupid.

A child’s brain is wired differently than an adult’s. It’s full of magic and mystery and just about anything can happen and so much of it is exciting. If you think about it long enough, you’ll realize that it has to be this way. An infant is brought into the world with no disbelief to overcome and a heart full of faith in anything, because everything is new. Their brains have to be wired to accept all sorts of new things. Everything is possible, and so much of it is wonderful. Deep down everyone seems to miss that, but a few of us easily forget how boring and downright mean our parents seemed to be about it sometimes.

So how, you might wonder, do our children communicate? Through everything they do. They couldn’t possibly put all they feel and need into words. It’s only a very self-actualized adult who can do that all of the time. They babble and drool and laugh and cry, and they hug and they kiss and they play. They play a lot. They play with their whole selves, making play very telling. This is who they are, this is what they do, and they want you to do it with them. “Come join my world!” So I remind myself that though playtime sometimes feels like a chore, I’m thankful that my son wants to pull me into his pretend world. It’s where we meet.