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Archive for the ‘Babywearing’ Category

So last week, I attended my first birth as a doula.  An incredible, difficult, tiring, miraculous, and wonderful birth that took a total of 32 hours, 22 of which I was there for.  This week, I’m back on call for my next client and next month – over the holidays, as a matter of fact – there will be yet another.

I left my house at 1 am last Wednesday morning, and didn’t get home until 11 pm, meaning I didn’t see my son from the time he went to bed Tuesday night until he woke up Thursday morning.  My daughter, meanwhile, had a dream feed about an hour before I left, and another right after I crawled back into bed with her.  The hours in between were spent having (more or less) the first bottled meals of her 7 month long life.

I was nervous, obviously, about how all of this would go down for her, but it worked well and I can sum up the reason why in just two simple words: Attachment Parenting.

Thanks to the attachment practice of cosleeping, I didn’t unnecessarily lengthen our separation.  As I said, I didn’t set eyes on my son for 36 hours, but he’s two and a half and not only sleeps in his own room (with Dad joining him as needed), he’s already spent several happy weekends with his grandparents.  But Lady Fair is only 7 months old.  Frankly, even 22 hours felt too long to be away.  Thirty-six hours is just inconceivable.  If we didn’t share sleep, it could have been 36 and the additional hours would have been completely unnecessary.  If we didn’t share sleep because we were trying to follow a book-prescribed sleep program, then an already difficult situation would have been rendered more difficult by a person who has never met me or my child, and who has no actual knowledge of our situation or needs.

Thanks to attachment parenting, I was able to leave at a moment’s notice without worrying that a messed up ‘routine’ would throw the kids into some kind of coping tailspin.  You see, aside from the major time markers of breakfast, lunch and dinner, our daily routine is this: child has need, child expresses need, caregiver meets need to best of caregiver’s ability.  That’s a pretty easy one to follow, and it depends only on a loving caregiver.  Mr Fair, as co-parent, certainly fits the description of loving caregiver and, when armed with a freezer full of booby juice, has every tool he needs to parent solo without trauma for anyone.  The kids obviously felt my absence, but not to the same degree as if a missed snack of 1/4 cup rice gruel at 10:17 am led them to a missed nap at 10:36 am which then made them too tired to focus on their Baby Einstein flashcards from 11:46:30 to 11:59:59.  Their day remained exactly the same as normal, just with a hairier chest to snuggle on.

As an extension to the above, taking an attachment-based approach with my kids meant it was much easier to come home again.  I’m not under the illusion that a human being will have the exact same needs at the exact same time of day, every single day, so when Lady Fair expressed a need to reconnect after my absence, it was no big deal.  She spent the next two days almost constantly in-arms (yay ring sling!), sleeping only at the breast.  And that was lucky for me because, guess what?  I was exhausted!  I couldn’t have spent the day trying to stay awake to reestablish a schedule even if I wanted to.  Instead, I just enjoyed the snuggles without worrying that it was the oft-feared ‘bad habit’, a harbinger of chronic dependence that is sure to persist into adulthood.  And of course, it wasn’t a habit at all, just a need.  One that passed away once it had been filled (she’s upstairs asleep in bed as I type this), and one which I was able to fill thanks to attachment parenting.

It’s not easy transitioning back to work when you have little ones.  The logistics and emotions can be complex and unpredictable.  But for the good of our family as a whole, and my mental health specifically, reestablishing a career is something I have to do.  I’m just grateful that we have so many tools on our parenting workbench that I can do it with few side-effects.

How does attachment parenting help you cope with life’s challenges?

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A friend and I were talking the other day about the struggles of getting our babes to take bottles so we can get out of the house some times.  This particular friend was actually the second person to ever give Little Man a bottle, when we needed to go to Mr Fair’s office holiday party and Little Man was about 6 months old.  And that was only the third bottle he’d ever had.  Yes, you read that right – three bottles in six months. Lady Fair, as it happens, has only been offered a bottle once in her 5 months skin  side.

Advice for new moms about bottles is confusing.  On the one hand if we choose to breastfeed we know to avoid them for about the first 6 weeks in order to establish a good relationship of feeding at the breast, as well as a good supply.  Of course, we all know that by then our babies know better than to accept a boob imposter.  But since we’re made to so firmly believe that a baby should or even must take a bottle from time to time, we go through a lot of stress getting baby to accept a bottle.

I decided not to.

The first, and pretty much last time Mr Fair fed Little Man a bottle.

 

Here’s the deal: I HATE pumping.  It’s not so bad now that I have mega supply from tandem nursing, but when Little Man was new my pumping efforts would produce meager results at best.  It made me doubt my supply, leading to a week of anxious feedings counting swallows and constant head rubs to determine if his fontanelle was sunken from dehydration.  Needless to say, there is no spa treatment rejuvenating enough to warrant all of that.  And of course all of this is before the stress of stalling a hungry baby while we heated milk, which seemed especially silly since I was in the next room literally full of the fresh, preheated version.  And even once we got it going, he was so not impressed.  Cue more crying and the eventual unhooking of the nursing bra to solve the problem.

But I still needed and wanted some time to do grown up stuff, so I had to find some ways to make it work without bottles.  Here’s how I did it.

1) Mark the calendar

The first thing I did was remind myself that the season of my baby’s constant need for me was short.  By the time I really started to feel the need for some time away he was already halfway to starting solids.  (I know everyone’s threshold is different though).  The solid food stage is great for two reasons:

First, it’s a whole new opportunity to introduce mommy-milk in a cup or bottle.  So if your little one didn’t drink the Koolaid (in the non merderous-cult sense of course) the first time, don’t worry you get another chance.

The other thing that’s great about it is, even if they don’t eat much at a time, it’s still probably enough to prevent gnawing hunger pangs in the absence of your boobs, so you don’t need to worry so much about bottle acceptance.

2) Max out those intervals

When you think about it, there’s actually a lot you can do in the 2 hour window between feeds.  You can get a hair cut, read a couple of chapters of a book, or sit in a bath until your toes prune and the water turns cold.  There are lots of options.  So really, the key is to max out those intervals.  To assist this, my doula gave me a great piece of advice: “top up”.  Even though you (hopefully!) feed on cue, you can always offer a breast just before you go out.  If they don’t want it, they won’t latch.  If they latch, you just bought yourself a longer interval so go max it out!

3) Attach and go

This may not be true for every woman, but I really never craved the absence of my babies, rather what I wanted was the addition of adult-oriented activities into my day.  Attachment parenting tools and practices really facilitated that.  Thanks to babywearing, I’ve been able to go to movies, pubs, weddings and conferences without having to leave baby home with a bottle and babysitter or sit alone in the corner guarding a car seat.  Since we parent our kids to sleep, we also know that we can have an unusually late night, or go on vacation without spending a week afterwards getting back onto a book-prescribed evening regimen.  I’ve had my doses of intelligent conversation (or not, depending on the adult I’m speaking with!) and adventure without having to do the bottle thing.

That’s me, at a wedding, on the dance floor, IN 4″ HEELS last weekend. Oh yeah, and I’m wearing a sleeping baby too.

4) Make it a family affair

When all of the above tactics failed what we did was have Mr Fair (or an alternate caregiver) come along for the “mommy’s time” ride.  The instances that are springing to mind here are the postpartum clothes shopping trips.  Believe me, that’s a task no woman can accomplish in under 2 hours and if you figure out how to try on tops with a sleeping baby strapped to you please let me know.  I could have put it off, but who wants to look like a deflated balloon in too-big clothes for the better part of a year?  So we packed up the fam and hit to the mall together.  Dad took charge of the baby, and I got to peruse the racks in peace, looking for clothes to fit my new rack.  When feeding time hit, we’d grab a bench and I’d do my booby duty, then go back to my shopping time.
So if your kid isn’t into the bottle thing, try not to sweat it.  There are ways to still have an adult life, you just need to get a bit creative.

Veteran mammas, what were your tricks for fitting in me time?

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Cosleeping already, awww.

If you look closely you can see the head of his baby triceratops poking out of the pajama bottoms that I rigged into a sling. He wanted his baby to be “nice cozy like baby sisser”.  That dino has also been nursed on several occasions by me AND Little Man 🙂

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Since all of this hullaballoo about the TIME cover started I’ve been thinking to myself that if only we could show the whole picture of attachment parenting, people would get it.  If we could give people not just a snapshot, not just these tidbits about never putting our kids down and never sleeping by ourselves again, but a full day in the life of attachment parenting – or better yet, several days – then they’d realize we’re not totally out to lunch.

Just as I was thinking this, I happened to open my iTunes movie list and there they were: Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg – the original attachment dads. 

Huh?

3 Men and a Baby, aside from being hilarious (25 years later and that peeing on the couch scene still cracks me up) is also pretty much a how-to manual of attachment parenting.

Let’s have a look at how many of the API’s 8 principles show up in the movie:

When a baby shows up on their doorstep out of the blue, our poor accidental dads are quite beside themselves to comfort her.  They don’t know what to do.  But they keep trying until they figure out what she likes.  They never leave her alone to cry until she passes out.  And when they try to give her to the drug dealers (admittedly not the best parenting choice no matter what your style is), they send her with the instruction that “she likes to be rocked to sleep”.  They don’t care whether that’s a socially acceptable way to go to sleep.  They don’t express fear that she’ll never go to sleep without being rocked.  They just respond sensitively to her need to be comforted.

There’s no sleep training going on here

Once they finally get her to go to sleep, the attachment parenting just keeps on rolling.  You may be wondering why you don’t remember seeing a giant family bed on the floor in the movie.  Well guess what?  You don’t have to bedshare to be an attachment parent.  You just have to recognize that babies still have needs in the night and that those needs are no less valid because they occur in the night.  So when Mary wakes up, she doesn’t get Ferberized, she gets a capella.  Talk about creating a physically and emotionally safe sleep environment!

But for the record, in the movie Tom Selleck does bedshare and Ted Danson cosleeps (the baby’s bassinet is in his room, that’s cosleeping).

Clearly, there’s no breastfeeding happening in this movie as none of the 3 Men are in possession of breasts, but they still feed with love and respect.  We never see the bottle propped up, one of the dads is always holding Mary while they feed her.  In the scene where Jack (Ted Danson) is left home alone with Mary for the first time, he offers her a  bottle but when she turns her head away, he respects her fullness cue and puts the bottle down.  That’s the crux of how attachment parents feed their kids, no matter what food delivery system they use.

There are also a couple of really good examples of nurturing touch in this movie.  The dad and baby shower scene is a classic.  Bath time is a great way to bond and attachment parents know the importance of skin to skin contact, so why not get in the bath or shower together?

But of course the media portrayals of attachment parenting always focus in on one kind of nurturing touch: babywearing.  They describe it almost as a shackling, holding mom hostage by strapping a baby to her.  AP parents know that’s categorically not true.  As Ted Danson shows us, babywearing allows us to cuddle our little ones while we get on with our regular daily tasks.  Of course, most of us don’t spend our days foiling drug lords, but the point is we could thanks to babywearing!

Admittedly, our dads are a little a lot overwhelmed by the task at hand when they set out on their parenting journey.  But hey, what parent wouldn’t be?  Especially when you have about 0.001 seconds to prepare!  But they find their groove and soon manage to find balance in their personal and family life.  They each find ways to fulfill their work commitments while providing consistent and loving care for Mary: Peter gets her a pink hard hat, Michael lets her hang out on his desk (and spill his ink… ah the joys of parenting!) and Jack wears her on his back at rehearsal.  They still go out on dates.  The fact that they exploit Mary’s cuteness for the purposes of procuring those dates… well nobody’s perfect!

So if this is attachment parenting, then what’s the big deal?  That’s just it: there shouldn’t be one.  Attachment parenting is, at its core, just about reminding us that it’s OK to follow our innate instinct to respond to our babies. It’s OK to make adjustments and compromises in our life in order to include the needs of the new person in that life.  That’s it.

And what was the result of all of this here attachin’?  The result is that three party-loving, serial-dating bachelors without an iota of childcare experience become caring, competent and confident parents within a few short weeks by following their baby’s cues and finding ways to meet her needs.  Were they extreme?  Didn’t seem so.  Did they martyr themselves? Definitely not.  Did they leave some of their free-wheeling ways behind them?  Yes.  Did they seem to regret that choice?  Not even for an instant.  They are, after all, very attached dads.

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One of the lines of thinking that comes up so frequently from people who don’t understand attachment parenting is that it’s about the mother’s need to cling to the child.  That it’s about her fear of letting him go, of letting him move away from her and be independent.  That is categorically not what it’s about.  But what it is about, is knowing that it’s OK to hang on.

Mainstream western parenting philosophy is rooted in minimizing the child’s need for its parents.  Soothers, swings, schedules, bottles, cribs and sleep training were all created to reduce the amount of time a parent (usually a mother, in the early days of infancy) needs to spend tending to her child’s needs.  New parents are warned not to let their baby ‘get used to’ nursing or rocking to sleep.  They’re told not to respond to a cry too quickly or hold the baby too much for fear of ‘spoiling’ her.  And how many times have your heard that if you let your child sleep in your bed you’ll NEVER get him out?

The thing about attachment parents is that we see through that propaganda.  We understand the universal truth that everyone grows up, that it happens on its own and that it happens faster than you expect.  So yes, we hang on to our kids.  We hang onto them until their adorable little hands let go, because we know unequivocally that they will let go. 

Whether you snuggle your baby in a sling or put them in a swing, when they’re 6 or 7 they’ll still ask you to take the training wheels off their bike.

Whether you breastfeed them for 3 minutes or 3 years, either way, you’ll be the least cool person on the planet when they’re 13.

Whether you cuddle them to sleep or they cry themselves to sleep, they still won’t be asking you to come to their dorm room.

Every day your child will need you less and less, and before you know it he’ll be all grown up and won’t need you at all.  But for right now, he does need you and the point of attachment parenting is that that’s OK.  It’s OK to immerse yourself in this job while it lasts, because it will. not. last. forever.  It’s OK to hold them in your lap while they still fit, to breathe them in while they still smell so sweet and to be there while they still need you.  Because very, very soon they won’t, and that will be OK too.

No one spends their old age regretting the moments they spent cuddling their kids, but if the popularity of Harry Chapin’s song is any indication, then plenty of people do regret the moments they wasted, and attachment parents know that.

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you”

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home son?
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son
You know we’ll have a good time then

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“Why Attachment Parenting drives some mothers to extremes…” reads the sub-head of the much debated TIME Magazine cover.  It immediately affirms that the author is NOT an attachment parent.  If she were, she’d know the truth: that most of us do this because we’re NOT extreme.  We do this because we’re laid back and would prefer to work with our children’s needs than waste time and energy altering or denying them.  Many of us get into Attachment Parenting, not by design, but by accident, because it was the intuitive (aka easy) route.  Yes, the truth is that attachment parents are, in many ways, lazy.

It is true that, generally speaking, we do this because it fits with certain overarching values that we have.  We do it because we feel it benefits our children now and in the future.  We believe that the psychological foundation we’re creating will help to make our children into strong, empathic adults who can form healthy interpersonal relationships because their first relationship – that of parent and child – was so secure.  But let’s be honest, NO ONE actually makes all of their daily decisions about the minutiae of parenting with that sort of forethought.  Not even this notoriously overthinking mama.  If you want to know the truth about why I choose AP, not as a philosophy, but as a daily practice, have a look at this snapshot of my thought processes:

Why spend hours reading safety reviews for, and assembling a crib when you could just tuck the baby into the (appropriately prepared) bed you already own?

Why get up and trudge to another room in the middle of the night to feed a baby if you could just roll over, aim a breast in the right direction and go back to sleep?

Why spend hours plugging your ears to a baby’s scream to get her to fall asleep alone if you could just cuddle her for a few minutes and then enjoy a movie with your partner in peace and quiet?

Why wake up and listen to a monitor to check the baby is still breathing in another room if you could stay asleep feeling him breathing right next to you?

Why speed home from work to catch the last precious minutes before baby goes into his crib for a book-prescribed 12 hours if you could drive safely knowing you’ll get to snuggle him all night long?

Why blend and strain food into oblivion, and coax it into the mouth of a baby too young to do it himself, when you could wait another month or two and simply move a piece of broccoli from your plate to his?

Why spend an hour trying to airplane a bite of food into a kid’s mouth when you could just trust her instinct to stop eating now, and start again well before she starves to death?

Why stalk magazines for tips on filling the gaps in a picky toddler’s diet if the answer could be as simple as ‘nurse her’?

Why count ounces of milk and worry over growth charts if you can let baby eat as often and as much as she wants and know she’s the perfect size for her?

Why struggle to explain to a child that he can’t nurse because he’s 366 days old instead of 365 if you could just continue to enjoy the relationship, knowing that it WILL end either way and that one day you’ll look back and realize it was over in a flash?

Why try to navigate a busy mall/market/airport with a bulky plastic stroller when you can just strap the baby to you with a beautiful piece of fabric and go?

Why race home for elaborate go-to-sleep-in-a-crib routines if baby can sleep in a sling while you stay at the party a little longer?

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I know, I know, it’s all so EXTREME, isn’t it??

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Wow I love babywearing.  I love it so much, I’ve become an ‘evangelist’ of sorts, always recommending it to my fecund friends.  I’ve even convinced a couple of them to give it a shot.  In line with my enthusiasm, I’m always diligent about touting its benefits. For instance, the freedom of movement it gives me to have my little ones nap in the sling.  I never have to cut short a trip to the mall with girlfriends because of nap time, because the sling allows us to take naptime with us.  How wonderful!

But it has occurred to me of late, that I may not be engaging in a fully transparent discussion of the negatives of babywearing.  I pride myself on being fair and balanced, so this oversight is a big deal.  This post is my attempt to rectify the situation.

  • Muscle Soreness.  Carseat-toting parents often report shoulder and arm pain that sounds the opposite of fun.  Babywearers, on the other hand, may find gluteal pain to be an issue.  This is the result of performing the grande plies necessary to carry out household tasks like opening bottom drawers and picking toys up off the floor.  Those with extensive ballet training have an 86%[1] lower risk of acquiring a sore ass.
  • Choking.  Wearing a baby for several hours a day can conflict with parental meal times.  Babywearers are often obligated to consume their dinner while bouncing a baby in the sling and this can, not surprisingly, create a choking hazard for the parent.  At the very least it makes it more likely that your scrambled eggs will get snorted up into your sinuses when they were meant to head down your esophagus.
  • Poor Infant Hygiene.  The above-mentioned choking is only one side of the eating-while-wearing coin.  The other side is that bits of your food will occasionally fall onto your baby’s head, necessitating more frequent baths.  Particularly problematic is mayo as, not only is it sticky, but if not noticed promptly, it can also lead strangers to believe you let your kid hang out with bird crap on her head.
  • Increased Housing Costs.  Attempting to bounce your almost-but-not-quite asleep baby while peeing can cause your toilet to loosen from the floor, upping bathroom reno costs by 8,000%.
  • Maternal Arrest by the Fashion Police.  While many things are made easier with babywearing, putting shoes on is not one of those things.  Consequently, you may find yourself in (frequent) violation of Section 334.6 of the Fashion Code of Conduct[2], which clearly states that hot pink Crocs are NOT an acceptable shoe choice for public outings.

This is by no means an inclusive list, but I hope it does serve to illustrate some of the considerations that must be taken into account before engaging in any babywearing activities, and to begin a frank and open discussion about the darker side of this otherwise valuable practice.

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[1] Please note, this and any other statistics presented within this article are complete bullshit.

[2] For more information, please see [1].

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