Saturday, June 30, 2007

Attachment Parents ~ BEWARE of Aware Parenting

Today's Cuppa: Echinacea Tea

I love editing The Mother magazine. Daily I hear from women (and men) who are actively listening to their inner voice and following their intuition despite living in a culture which values possessions and money as priorities over the love, parental companionship, care and well-being of our children.

The downside of working in the parenting field is reading the utter rubbish that gets perpetuated in mainstream literature. So often a woman's instincts are dismissed by so- called experts. At one level we have the childless Supernanny telling parents how to raise their unruly children. At another, we have midwives or doctors who write books, such as Baby Sense by Megan Faure and Ann Richardson, which talk of feeding a baby rice or maize at three months of age (??!!) or not breastfeeding more than every two hours. And don’t even start me on The Good Sleep Guide by Angela Henderson. OMG! Utterly hideous and downright cruel to babies. In my opinion both of these books should be burnt. They are extremely dangerous in the messages they give to parents and are deeply insulting and ignorant of basic human neuro-biology. I read the other day that Gina Ford believes she takes a 'holistic approach to parenting'. Whatever next? Clearly the word holistic is used to cover all manner of sins these days.
I hear stories of doctors who suggest a baby be fed rusks at two weeks of age and Health Visitors (Public Enemy No. 1) who push mothers to get babies onto formula at seven weeks of age or earlier. These things frustrate me enormously and make me sick to the stomach. And yet in many ways they're to be expected in our culture. The Mother magazine feels like a lone voice in the vast wilderness of parenting.

My job in creating The Mother is centred around one purpose: to be an advocate for the babies and children. As a result the content may seem radical, cutting edge and for some people, just a tad too challenging, as it means they might have to compromise aspects of their lifestyle. It's far easier, or so they think, to just do 'what everyone else does'. Life's much easier if you don't rock the boat, isn't it?

In the past couple of years, there has been a rather insidious element creeping into natural parenting circles, so much so that I'm unaware of any other natural parenting magazine besides The Mother magazine which doesn't now promote Aware Parenting ~ a clever, yet misleading, term coined by Aletha Solter. I say insidious because this 'style' of parenting cushions itself within the admirable principles of attachment parenting and subverts them by acting, cult-like, in drawing in otherwise intelligent, nurturing, yet susceptible parents who might be exhausted or, more accurately, unsupported in their natural parenting choices.

Today's blog is to publicly state that in no way do I, personally or professionally, endorse the practice known as Aware Parenting ~ in particular the aspect of allowing the baby to 'cry it out'.

Proponents of this method argue that babies have unresolved tensions and need to cry them out in order to heal. They suggest that holding the baby while she cries will allow the baby to relieve herself of stress. What they don't seem to acknowledge is that crying is virtually unheard of in indigenous cultures where babies' needs are instantly met, if not anticipated first. Even if advocates of Aware Parenting don't wish to admit it, they are in effect encouraging 'controlled crying'. They do not encourage comforting of the baby through nursing, jiggling or rocking the baby ~ all actions which come instinctively to a NURTURING mother.

In my late teens, I worked for a professional babysitting agency. It's no exaggeration to say that the children of psychologists were, without fail, always difficult to sit for. Even back then I couldn't help but wonder if those famiies were parenting by rote from some textbook, rather than from their heart.

One advocate of Aware Parenting, a psychologist, suggests that if you don't let your baby cry in this way he might end up with a long list of psychological disorders. She suggests that social disorders such as addictions will happen. Now, imagine a new parent reading this sort of information. Well, no caring parent would want their child to grow up with this in front of them. Yet the exact opposite is true. Children deprived of non-nutritive suckling suffer all sorts of consequences, long and short term. I could present a thesis on it!

Aware Parenting gurus promise that if you follow their path it will provide you with a child who is 'calm and co-operative'. Whatever happened to accepting our children for who they are? Or taking responsibility for our failures rather than trying to 'fix' the child. Actually, my take is that these 'calm and cooperative' children will feel they weren't listened to; that their cries didn't get their needs met; that they were abandoned by the very person in this whole world who should have helped them. They've learnt not to 'rock the boat' or ask for anything any more because 'no-one will listen'. It is complete rubbish that all babies need to cry or that they need to cry for emotional release. Babies cry when their needs aren't met. If a baby is feeling agitated or taking on the stress from those around them, this can be relieved by carrying them against your body and breastfeeding on cue ~ which a mother would be doing anyway if she was parenting naturally. Our babies are more than capable of dealing with the ups and downs of day to day life if they're getting their needs met and handled with love and care. Babies don't cry for the fun of it! It causes great distress and discomfort. It's their last ditch attempt to get attention. It is NOT manipulation ~ which, by the way, is an adult trait, not a baby's one.

As a parent, if you choose to use controlled crying, then it is important that you acknowledge that you're not meeting your child's needs optimally. Own it. Whatever your reasons are for choosing to do this, DON'T BLAME THE CHILD. Many people who choose attachment parenting are doing so in social isolation; it is so at odds with our culture. Because of this, it is easy for them to feel overwhelmed at times and then to wonder if they're parenting 'wrongly'.

Aware Parenting is a clever marketing ploy in a sense, designed specifically to draw in vulnerable parents. There's a lot of money to be had in providing 'counselling' to parents who are struggling. To raise our children optimally we must not engage in emotionally crippling and numbing practises such as Aware Parenting promote through their controlled crying -which does two things ~ shows the baby it is not 'good enough' and severs the unique bond between mother and child by encouraging her to disengage from the one thing nature gave her to tell her the baby is 'in danger' ~ the CRY!

As Jean Liedloff wrote in The Contimnuum Concept "a baby's cry is precisely as serious as it sounds." Jean lived with the Yequanna tribe for some time and is far more qualified than most to speak about how babies are when raised in accord with their biological needs.

One of my major concerns with Aware Parenting is that a baby with very real problems will not be having its REAL needs met. Even in gentle births babies can be subluxated and need chiropractic or cranial support. Assuming that the baby has a 'need' to cry through emotional issues, is very misleading. This is an adult need.

So, what happens why a baby cries? There is a dramatic fluctuation in blood flow during extended crying which decreases cerebral oxygenation and causes an increase in cerebral blood volume. This increases intracranial pressure and puts the baby at risk for an intracranial haemorrhage. At the same time, the blood, by now oxygen-depleted, flows into the systemic circulation, rather than into the lungs (see Anderson, GC)

The Aware Parenting approach dismisses comfort nursing (otherwise known as non-nutritive sucking). As I've written in my soon to be published book, 'The Drinks are on me' (available from: non-nutritive sucking is every bit as important as breastfeeding for thirst or hunger. It is rarely talked about in lactation circles. Even amongst attachment parents, many mums remove the child from the breast when his/her tummy is full. In indigenous cultures the mother allows the child to suck from the breast which has already had milk withdrawn, for as long as is needed.

As mothers, if we respond immediately and comfort our crying baby, they learn to trust us and in turn become more responsive.

If you're new to mothering and are unsure of how to read your baby's pre-cry cues for hunger, look for the following signs:

making sucking sounds or little sucking motions
sucking on her hands
snuggling or rooting at the breast

increased alertness or activity
making rooting motions
clenching his fists by her face
brushing a hand across her face
putting her fist in his mouth

We are biologically programmed to give a nurturing response to our baby's cries. It is not natural to refrain or to ignore them. Our body responds immediately to our baby's cry. Blood flows to our breasts and we have the urge to pick the baby up and breastfeed. The hormone oxytocin gives us the feeling which helps us to 'love our baby'. So, if this is what our body instructs us to do without any direction from the logical left side of the brain, and then some well-meaning but misguided expert like Marion Badenoch Rose, Aletha Solter, Gina Ford or Angela Henderson tell us to ignore it, you've got to ask yourself why. Investing in their misguided belief systems is a huge loss for your child and for you. Your child is the loser while these gurus get richer.

If you want a happy, contented and balanced baby/child, then get in touch with your mothering instincts ~ and listen to them.


Sarah H-F said...

I love this post - you've put into words all the reasons why I feel instinctively uncomfortable when people say that babies 'need' to cry or that they don't 'need' to comfort nurse. There is nothing natural about ignoring one of the only ways your baby has of speaking to you and making excuses for parenting practices which go against what a baby, who needs to be loved, loved, loved and loved again, is deeply saddening and I'm glad someone's stood up and said it.

When is your book out? It sounds right up my street!


Unknown said...

hi Sarah ~ you can nag my publisher about when the book's due out...hopefully available during the summer. Love, Veronika

susan said...

such a 'relief' to find The Mother community....although I was uplast night for 5 hours with my non-stop crying son, which was so hard. No amount of comfort, cuddles,suckling helped. Still, I know I was doing all I could...only once did I let my daughter 'cry' at the advice of another, and never again. Now I seek out likeminded mothers to befriend (yay, lots where I live!) and don't engage in conversation with the Babywisers...but I still don't get it - why are the attachment parents seen as the 'radical' ones - and why are the other books such best sellers??!! (Perhaps you can ponder this and BLOG it Veronika!. To me it's a no-brainer. Surely even Supernanny would have to concede that poor parenting (unruly kids et al) is about the parents not the children

saralexis said...

I've been encountering this quite a bit and it definitely makes me feel uncomfortable, though it isn't always easy to express why. Arguments can be persuasive when they don't state their dubious premises...

I was recently discussing this article with a friend

Reading between the lines on this site they seem to be quite keen on the child crying to express tensions. I would be interested to hear what you thought about this in relation to toddlers and small children. It definitely gets my hackles up a bit.

Sarah (but a different one!)

saralexis said...

Sorry - a PS on that site I mentioned:
From their 'principles' page:

"Staylistening -
The adult stays close to a child who is shedding emotions through crying, tantrums or trembling and raging. The adult listens and allows the child to express the feelings of hurt that have skewed his judgment. When the child is finished, he can feel the caring the adult has offered, and he can relax, learn, and play well again."

Babywearing Sales & Consulting said...

Thank you for writing this. This has been my gut sense all along and why I was never willing to actually read her work. Three trusted friends fell into the trap of gushing about her work and I still wasn't willing to let it in to my life because it feels so wrong. Thank you!

Erin said...

I just did a search for aware parenting and found your blog, so I know that this is old, but have you read her books? A lot of the things you are saying, she does not promote. Aware parenting is about first meeting the needs of your child. She advocates breastfeeding on demand, shared sleep, cranial-sacral therapy, and whatever else.

Are there not times when you just need a good cry? Why are children any different? When a child really needs to cry, and we tell them they don't, that does cause problems.

I would much rather listen to someone who has raised two children (Aletha), than someone who has none (Jean), or an expert like Harvey (Happiest Baby fame) who says in public that mothers aren't needed for babies, that fathers are better parents.

Aware parenting ideas are very nurturing. They are instinctual to mothers who have done their own work on expressing their feelings. Life is about getting through the rough spots and finding ourselves whole. Why not help our babies learn that they can get through them in a supported, loving way?

I did not use aware parenting with my first two children. I used the normal AP ideas, and was very crunchy. Wow, it was so hard! I used Aware parenting with my last two children, and wow, it was hard as well, but I felt so much more assured that I was a good mother! When my kids cried, and nothing else would help, I could just hold them and love them. I focused in on them, and really tried to see the world through their eyes. I talked with them if it was needed. I connected to them.

Nursing was so much more enjoyable as they got older (1 year plus), because they nursed only when they needed to (for comfort and for food), and I never had all night nursing sessions that I had with my older two children (and if we realistically look at, we know becomes more habit that need).

Please don't disregard these ideas because at first they sound contrary to what you may have been doing. They may just be helpful and nurturing, and just what a mother needed to keep parenting in the best way that she can. They may help with her own healing, and make her a better mother.

Read the books, and then talk to people who have used these ideas to see how they implement them.