Tag Archives: attachment parenting

Ivory Tower Parenting and the Foster Problem

This past Wednesday evening, while I enjoyed a cozy dinner at home with my husband and daughter, a New Jersey woman fatally stabbed HER OWN SON. I wish I could have somehow saved that child from the pain and suffering he must have endured at the hands of his mother, a person who should be a refuge from all things hurtful. Although this story made the news, there are so many cases of child abuse, neglect, and endangerment every day that do not reach the news. Sometimes when I close my eyes, the stories and images that DO reach me, via our media and from others, haunt my thoughts and dreams.

But I do nothing.

It is overwhelming to know that there is so much misery and pain in the world. And it is much easier to focus on the positive. To avoid the “bad” parts of town, to move to the suburbs for the “good” schools, and to blame these problems on others. I tell myself that I am just one person, what change can I possibly bring? So I pile more and more on my proverbial plate, telling myself that maybe soon I’ll have time to volunteer somewhere or help someone in need. I’ve built an ivory tower around my home, my family, and my life. Do you ever do the same?

A few Sundays ago, someone from a local foster program non-profit, the 111 Project, spoke to my church about the foster problem in my state of Oklahoma. As of January 2012, there are over 8,000 Oklahoma children without a home and in need of foster parents. Nationwide that number rises to over 400,000 kids in the foster system, of which a quarter are waiting for a home. The problem has become so dire that Oklahoma City is considering opening back up a shelter for babies and toddlers that they were previously able to close. My friends, no child should spend a single night in a shelter. But there are just not enough people trained and willing to foster. Listening to the presentation, I had tears in my eyes. This is an initative that I can support.

The longer I am a mother, the more I realize that my love and my ability to care for others is a renewable resource. I often feel like the more I give it away, the more it comes back to me. Attachment parenting is such a beautiful gift, both for the giver and receiver. I may not be able to stop all of the bad things happening in the world that overwhelm and sadden me, but perhaps I can make a difference for one child, in my community.

For more information about the current U.S. Foster Crisis:

Are there any social issues that you feel more strongly about since becoming a parent?

Ever since she read a book called “Ministries of Mercies,” Kate has been searching for a way to serve her community. She and her husband will be attending a foster parent information meeting at a local placement agency very soon to find out how they can help. And then maybe, just maybe, she’ll quit feeling like an ostrich burying her head in the sand. When she’s not losing sleep thinking about these things, she cannot get enough hugs and kisses from her sweet and rambunctious 17 month old.

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Let’s Fight For Our Right to Pump

Moms, it’s time to take a stand. Whether you breastfeed or use formula, whether you make alternative choices or mainstream ones, whether you work or stay home, let’s support mothers who pump at work.

Yes, we’re making great headway. The recent legislation for nursing moms who work and need to pump is an important start. It sets the ground rules from which mothers and companies across the United States can find understanding and build support.

But when a manager feels he can stop a mom from pumping at work because he finds it “disgusting,” we see that there’s still a lot of work to be done. This is where we can all make a difference.

Be aware and listen. Do the pumping moms around you have the support they need at work? Or do they face barriers? How often do they encounter unusual and/or inconvienent circumstances? Women should not be so discouraged at work that they would rather stop breastfeeding than face unneccesary obstacles.

Share the facts. If you see someone facing obstacles, let them know about the U.S. Department of Labor’s requirements for pumping at work. Here are their general requirements:

Employers are required to provide“reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.”  Employers are also required to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”

Know the details. As with any legislation, there are exceptions to the rule. In this case, employers with fewer than 50 employees are not subject to break time requirements if compliance with the provision would impose an undue hardship. Working moms in these situations should not, however, be immediately detracted from pumping. The legislation specifies:

Whether compliance would be an undue hardship is determined by looking at the difficulty or expense of compliance for a specific employer in comparison to the size, financial resources, nature, and structure of the employer’s business. All employees who work for the covered employer, regardless of work site, are counted when determining whether this exemption may apply.

These factors provide much more flexibility than many moms realize and, if they need more information, the Department of Labor encourages moms to visit their Wage and Hour Division’s website or call their toll-free information and helpline, available 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in your time zone, 1-866-4USWAGE (1-866-487-9243). They should also look into their state’s legislation, which may be even more beneficial.

Spread confidence. Not everyone is comfortable with discussing breastfeeding, especially in a work environment, but this should never prevent a mom who wants to pump at work from doing so. As each one of us pumps at work, we make it easier for the next mom to feel secure about what she’s doing. It becomes less of an alternative choice and more of a mainstream solution that’s far from “disgusting.”

Let’s look out for each other, ladies (and fellas! we need you too!). Let’s cheer when things are working well, acknowledge when things can be improved and take immediate action when they’re wrong. Mothers, and most importantly, our children, are worth every effort.

Working moms, does pumping at the office work for you? If so, what is your company doing right? If not, what can be improved? 

Kristen is the proud mom of two, Will (5) and Joy ( 2). She feels lucky to work for a company that let her pump in peace and hopes that soon every breastfeeding mom who works away from home has the same opportunity.

 

 

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Did you know The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year is now for sale? Are you interested in learning more about gentle, mom and baby-friendly practices that foster a joyful, connected relationship? Want to introduce a pregnant friend to natural parenting? Check out our website or head over to Amazon to grab your copy today!
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A Peek Into the Past: Touching Our Babies

Once upon a time, Miriam and I wrote a book. And in that book, we had over 400 pages of material. Our vision, however, was to give new and expecting moms a nursing companion–a book they could hold in one hand. So we snipped. And trimmed. And cut. It’s hard to say no to hundreds of hours of work, but thankfully, all’s not entirely lost. We’re bringing you some of our largest unseen sections from TOBB, in a series of blog posts.

A Peek into the Past” is a pithy round-up of our societal evolution of parenting practices, mostly in the U.S. You’ll learn about the history of birth, breastfeeding, potty training, co-sleeping and more–eight posts for our eight chapters. Enjoy, ask questions, and share with friends! ~Megan

Touch, Hold, Carry, Wear

Touch has long been instinctively understood by mothers as one of the most important baby care tools. Holding babies close with fabric or woven carriers, served the dual purpose of enabling moms to continue their daily work, and meeting babies’ needs for physical closeness. Baby carriers have likely been used since the beginning of time. Some of the earliest images come from Egypt during the rule of the Pharoahs.

In the U.S., there were two major styles of babywearing in the 1800s. Native Americans wore babies on their backs in cradleboard carriers made from wood or natural fibers, padded with animal fur or moss. European immigrants often used shawls, bedsheets, or traditional carriers from their native cultures. But as the century wore on, and hostility between the first Americans and immigrants grew, scientists and doctors dubbed native practices outdated and uncivilized. Not surprisingly, most European settlers shunned the practice of babywearing altogether. Intellectuals sought to create a “smarter,” more efficient way to raise babies.

The Demonization of Touch

In the late 1800s, American child-rearing literature began reflecting now-familiar fears of “spoiling” babies through physical touch and soothing. The first stage of attack was launched against the cradle, the nearly extinct cozy predecessor to the crib. Dr. Luther Emmett Holt, a man described as cold, efficient, and never having said “good morning” to his secretary, helped overthrow the practice of soothing through rocking by calling it an “unnecessary and vicious practice” in his bestselling guide The Care and Feeding of Children.

Times change, trends change. People used carriers, then cradles, then cribs. No problem, right? And yet the ideas that shaped these arms-length baby-rearing trends were actually dangerous. During the 1800s, more than half of American-born infants died before their first birthday, due to a disease called marasmus, which means “wasting away,” also known as infant atrophy. As the movement against “spoiling” babies through touch picked up speed, in the 1920s, almost 100% of institutionalized infants died before their first birthday. The implications? Without touch, babies were literally left to waste away. Sounds like the very definition of spoiling.

In 1915, a chilling report on children’s institutions in ten American cities revealed that in nine out of the ten institutions, every single infant under the age of two died. Seeking to slow this epidemic, Dr. Fritz Talbot of Boston visited a clinic with low death rates in pre-WWI Germany.

“The wards were very neat and tidy, but what piqued Dr. Talbot’s curiosity was the sight of a fat old woman who was carrying a very measly baby on her hip. ‘Who’s that?’ inquired Dr. Talbot. ‘Oh, that is Old Anna. When we have done everything we can medically for a baby, and it is still not doing well, we turn it over to Old Anna, and she is always successful.”[i]

Enter John Watson, the father of behavioral psychology, who sought to “condition and control the emotions of human subjects.”  (Watson, Muskingum 2004) For those whose babies made it past infancy, he shared some solemn parenting advice in his 1928 book ironically titled Psychological Care of Infant and Child:

“There is a sensible way of treating children… Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit in your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say good night. Shake hands with them in the morning. Give them a pat of the head if they have made an extraordinarily good job of a difficult task. Try it out. In a week’s time you will find how easy it is to be perfectly objective with your child and at the same time kindly. You will be utterly ashamed of the mawkish, sentimental way you have been handling it.”

As you might imagine, Watson had a poor relationship with his children. Despite his unchecked parenting credentials, Watson’s book was hailed as a “godsend” and a must-have for “intelligent” mothers. His work launched a major trend, as described in Touching.

“This … approach to child-rearing greatly influenced … pediatric thinking and practice. Pediatricians advised parents to maintain a sophisticated aloofness from their children, keeping them at arm’s length, and managing them on a schedule characterized by both objectivity and regularity. They were to be fed by the clock, not on demand, and only at definite and regular times. If they cried during the intervals of three or four hours between feedings, they were to be allowed to do so until the clock announced the next feeding time. During such intervals of crying they were not to be picked up, since if one yielded to such weak impulses the child would be spoiled, and thereafter every time he desired something he would cry. And so millions of mothers sat and cried along with their babies, and, as genuinely loving mothers obedient to the best thinking on the subject, bravely resisted the “animal impulse” to pick them up and comfort them in their arms. Most mothers felt that this could not be right, but who were they to argue with the authorities?”

In addition to cradles, which were “vicious” in their ease of calming babies, shawls and wraps used for babywearing went into serious decline around 1920, when relatively lightweight strollers were mass produced at a price most Western families could afford. As popular culture’s infant authorities advocated a movement away from “spoiling” babies with too much affection, strollers conveniently filled the niche of reducing babies’ time in arms.

As the 1960s counterculture movement took off, the return to a gentler, more compassionate form of parenting began. The next generation of white, male doctors stepped in as baby experts, espousing slightly more hands-on care methods. 

The Game Changer

Pediatrician Dr. William Sears, who coined the term “Attachment Parenting” and launched the associated movement in the 1980s, helped Westerners reclaim compassionate baby-rearing practices including responsive soothing, consistent holding and babywearing.

Meanwhile, Sears’ pediatric colleagues have made slow but steady movements toward more responsive parenting. It’s no longer taboo to pick up a crying baby during the day; however, many nighttime attitudes still reflect those of the late 1800s. As often happens, yesterday’s tools have been retranslated to suit modern concerns. Our societal fears of spoiling the baby have been repackaged to reflect today’s concerns for mom’s independence.

We’re all for independence. But during those early, crucial months, our babies literally teach us how to parent. So strapping your wee one to your chest instead of resting him at your feet in his carseat is a great way to keep your hands free and your loved one close. Touch is a gift, for baby and parent alike.

Want to read more? Check out The Other Baby Book on Kindle or in paperback. 

What do you think? Is it becoming more socially acceptable to keep in close physical contact with your baby, whether carrying in arms or in a carrier? Or are strollers, and baby “buckets,” like carseats, bouncy seats, and cribs more prevalent than ever?

 


[i] Montagu, Ashley. Touching. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.

Toddler Nursing, Through Sickness and Health

Enjoying some time together at the park

Have you ever nursed a toddler? If you haven’t, just ask someone to poke your eyes, stick their fingers in your mouth, and repeatedly pinch you as their “soothing mechanism.” The only thing soothing about nursing a toddler is that when the wind is blowing just right and all the moons align, I can sometimes catch up on a half episode of “Property Virgins” on HGTV. Sometimes it still surprises me that we’re going strong with nursing at 15 months, an age when most little ones have ventured into cow’s milkland, never to return again. Alas, my little one is hooked on the boobjuice.

When my daughter was 7 months old, I experienced a nasty breast yeast infection (in medical terms, candida). Painful, raw skin was my burden and every nursing session was equal parts patience and mild torture. My husband said I should stop nursing. My mom, a lactation consultant, even gave me “permission” to supplement. I dreaded nursing, but hated the idea of giving up more. All I can say is that I pray my daughter doesn’t inherit too much of my stubborn streak.

After a couple of months (and a bout of mild eczema, thank you very much), it magically went away. OK, well it went away after I tried every natural and not-so-natural method under the sun. Let’s just say, if you experience thrush, let me know because I’ve got the lowdown. I sampled every method out there: elimination diets, coconut oil, grapefruit seed extract, antibiotics, garlic, APNO (all-purpose nipple ointment), prayer, etc. God help me if I ever get it again!

So we stuck with it, my little nipple biter and I. And it hasn’t been all “suffering.” Nursing a little one is a pretty sweet gig, and might I say a very useful tool when sickness invades your home as I found out all too recently. You see, my little peanut caught strep and a bacterial infection, one after another, and was sick for nearly two weeks. She was miserable, feverish, and crying for nearly that entire time. And there was one thing that was her nearly constant comfort. No, it wasn’t fruit popsicles (which did help, by the way) but nursing.

Good old mom and her battle wounded “nanees” (her word, not mine) saved the day. The combination of comfort, nutrition, and hydration helped heal my little girl (OK, along with some antibiotics). For a brief period, I felt like I was nursing an infant again with our round the clock sessions. I’ll admit, I felt slightly frustrated with the (nearly) nonstop nursing she needed over the past few weeks. But I am so grateful I didn’t give up on nursing months ago and could be there for her in such an intimate and loving way.

My little girl and I have come a long way in our nursing relationship, and I’m not sure when the ending point is. But really, does it matter? Every day with her gives me incentive to continue for now, pinching, giggles, and all.

 

 

Kate keeps a secret stash of APNO in her bathroom drawer “just in case” and will, without a doubt, attempt to nurse any future nipple pinchers that may or may not be in her future. When her little one isn’t nursing, they enjoy reading books together, making farm animal noises, and playing with the dogs.

How Important is Time Away from Your Child?

As our toddlers played together at the train table in our neighborhood’s coffee shop, another mother and I were talking about summer vacation plans. She was sharing details about a spectacular 10-day  vacation she and her husband took to a resort in Central America last fall. Instantly, my daydreams ferried me to the shade of swaying palms, where I sat on a picnic blanket sharing sweet drinks made from local fruit with my husband and our tyke, adorably clad in a bucket sunhat and buttered up with sunblock.  My husband and I traveled a good amount before we welcomed our son into our lives, and we often talk about what kind of trips we want to take with him when he’s old enough to have fun memories of family travel.

Photo credit: mmsea (Flickr Creative Commons)

I turned to my coffee-swigging mama acquaintance and replied, “I love your sense of adventure–packing up your little one and trekking out of the country like that!” Questions about the logistics of international travel were bubbling up in my brain–infant passport? lengthy air travel? vaccines?–but before I could ask, she responded, “Oh, we didn’t take her. She stayed with grandma.”

Wait, whaaaa?  I quickly did the math, realizing that her daughter was 9 or 10 months old at the time of her parents’ tropical trek out of the country.   Ten whole days? Outside of the country? Without their babe? But…why? How?  I hoped my face belied my shock and confusion. I thought back to my son at that age. In the span of a week around that stage, my son took his first steps. He was nursing every 3 hours or so.  I couldn’t imagine being away from him for one night at that age, let alone a solid week and a half. My chest tightened at the thought. The mama went on to say that it was, indeed, a bit hard being away from her daughter at first, but she and her husband relaxed into their vacation and had a stellar time. Her daughter had a great time bonding with grandma, too, she said, adding with a laugh that her daughter didn’t want to leave grandma’s  when it was time to come home.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve left my son in the care of someone else while my husband and I went out. Our friends’ rehearsal dinner; a fancy dinner out and a movie as an early wedding anniversary celebration; and just this past weekend when my husband and I went out to see a late movie. Sprinkled amongst these big events and date nights are the random long solo walks for coffee or a child-free errand jaunt, but seldom has it been, in these almost 18 months, that we’ve gone out without our son.

I’m not judging, complaining or glorifying. It’s what it is: we simply do not feel the need to go out often without him. We’ve never felt the desire to travel without him (in fact, we’d hate that). The first ten years of our marriage were filled with travel (domestic and international), parties with friends,  expensive meals out, and regular concerts and shows. We enjoyed our share of excess. We waited a long time to become parents, and, right now, we simply want to just be with our son.

We have felt pressure from others, though: You guys should go out more! You need time to yourselves!  Don’t feel guilty for going out without him! You’re more than parents, you know! It’s healthy and necessary for your child to develop relationships with other adults!  It’s good for your child to see that you have a social life! The implications and undertones of these kind of statements are irritating at best. We’re not helicoptering. We’re not sheltering. We’re not excluding other adults from our son’s life. Dudes, we just like the company of our kid.  Sue us.

When I do go out, I don’t feel guilty for going out without my kid. But, sometimes, other people make me feel guilty for NOT wanting to go out more without him.  Am I somehow neglecting a part of myself or my marriage by not going out more? I do wonder, but I always come to the same conclusion: nope.

A couple of weekends ago, after I had a particularly trying week at home with my toddler,  my husband took him to a festival in the park, and I took a long shower by myself, blow-dried my hair (a very rare occurrence in my motherhood), put on a cute skirt, grabbed the just-delivered issue of Food & Wine, walked to our other neighborhood coffee shop (the one without a kids’ area), ordered a very large iced Americano, propped my feet up on the shady patio, and read my magazine cover to cover. It was a glorious couple of hours, just what I needed to recharge.

It was enough for me.

What about you?  How often do you spend time away from your child? Would you ever go/have you ever gone on a long vacation without your little one? Has anyone ever made you feel guilty for spending too little or too much time away?

One of Rhianna’s all-time fave vacations was a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway with her husband. She gets lost in daydreams about making the same trip with little ones buckled in the backseat. She faithfully renews her subscription to Budget Travel magazine every year.

Social Work Primed Me to be an Attached, Gentle Parent

I have a bachelor’s degree in social work and a master’s degree concentrated in clinical social work. When I walked across the stage in 2010 to be hooded for my MSW, snug in my uterus was the 8-week old embryonic version of the toddler who is, at this exact moment, sprawled next to me in bed, face blissfully soft with slumber.  I was clueless then just how significantly my education and career would color how I parent him.

I often say that I came to gentle, attached parenting through the back door; I ardently embraced some of its tenets long before I was ever a parent, long before I even knew there were these things called “attachment parenting” or “gentle discipline.” From the moment I saw those two pink lines on my pregnancy test, my parenting approach has been very much informed by my life as a social worker.

I  spent the 12 years preceding my son’s birth working at first in the domestic violence arena,  then in the protective services world, and, finally, in a hospital setting. When I hear or read people portraying attachment parenting as “extreme,” when I hear its practices (such as nursing beyond infancy and sharing sleep) depicted as “abuse” or “neglect,” I get downright pissed off. Because in my time as a social worker, I have been horrified by truly extreme parenting. I have cradled true neglect in my arms. I have testified against true abuse in court. There is nothing extreme, abusive, or remotely neglectful about nurturing secure attachment in your child. And people who posture otherwise need a dramatic expansion of their worldview.

Along with its extensive Code of Ethics, very specific values and principles undergird social work practice. I found that this undercurrent of values and practices naturally and effortlessly flowed into my parenting; below I’ve slightly modified some of these social work values and practices to show how they inform my parenting, swapping in the word “child” for the word “client.”

  • My child has inherent worth, dignity and strengths: My child is unconditionally worthy of my respect, and that respect is the centerpoint of my parenting. My actions as a parent are designed to nurture my son’s sense of worth and safeguard his dignity. I do not view him through a lens of deficit (what he cannot do), but rather from a perspective that acknowledges his strengths.
  • I begin where my child is: For me, this means I recognize that my child has unique needs, and these needs might vary from month to month,  day to day, even hour to hour. For example, my toddler has never slept through the night.  I remind myself that he is waking for a need, that this is simply where he “is” right now. I could  measure him against other children who were sleeping through the night significantly earlier, frustratedly and desperately wondering why he can’t string together a minimum of 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Instead, I try to remind that this is where he “is” developmentally. Sleep is a developmental milestone like any other, and he will achieve it at his own pace.
  • I respond to my child with empathy. I’m sure you’ve seen this compelling statement before: My child isn’t giving me a hard time, he’s having a hard time.  This view is grounded in empathy. Very little is as powerful as the feeling of being understood. When I respond with empathy to my child–to a hurt, to a behavior I’d like to curb, to a tantrum–I am not only acknowledging and reflecting his emotions, I am also helping to gently and naturally cultivate his own sense of empathy. I am modeling an effective, compassionate way to navigate interpersonal dynamics.
  • I respect my child’s right self-determination and autonomy. Within carefully constructed limits, obviously. A toddler’s favorite word? “No,” right? And that’s because he’s taking his autonomy for a test-drive and learning to assert himself. Engaging my child’s choice-making–however simple it may seem–fosters feelings of empowerment, stokes feelings of competence, and honors his voice. It can be this simple: “Would you like strawberries or bananas with your breakfast?” or “Would you like to put that lotion back in the cabinet, or would you like me to help you put the lotion back in the cabinet?”
  • The human relationship is…everything. The relationship I am nurturing with my son is, essentially, the blueprint for his future relationships. This is  the crux of attachment parenting, isn’t it?

And, of course, social work education is also chock full of other worthy, parenting-applicable insight, such as the stages of human and growth and development and theories surrounding attachment, family functioning, and the like.

I chose social work more than a decade ago out of passion for social justice and advocacy, and I full-heartedly feel it has made me a kinder, gentler, and saner parent than I would have been otherwise.

Rhianna returned to her social work career after the birth of her son…and lasted a whole three days before submitting her letter of resignation. She’s been a stay-home mama ever since, way more fulfilled in her role as mother than she ever was in her role as social worker. And that’s saying a lot.

Play, the Natural Family Way

The value and significance of childhood play has been broadly documented. Once believed to be an activity of indulgence, play is now understood to be a vital component of a healthful childhood and a springboard for adaptive and positive functioning in adulthood. It promotes emotional and cognitive development, cultivates social skills such as conflict resolution and cooperation, and stokes creativity. In my social work education and career, I have even studied and observed the brilliant, skilled use of play as a means of therapy for children. Play is powerful stuff!

I’ve learned in my relatively short parenthood journey that it is ridiculously easy to get pulled in by the promise of “educational” toys, music, and DVDs. Our love and dedication as parents makes us vulnerable; we lovingly want to give our babes every possible advantage towards becoming well-thought, kind, creatures. Studies have revealed, though, that those blinging, singing educational toys actually fail to deliver on their marketed promises. And others now recognize what we as attached parents have always understood: the best, most influential toy your child can have is  you.

We’ve tried hard to stem the surge of those kinds of toys into our home. We don’t buy them. Usually these toys have been given us to as thoughtful, well-intentioned gifts, and we’re grateful that someone cares enough to think of our son in this way. We pull those toys out as a matter of exception, usually for specific circumstances (like, for example, a long road trip), and as we rotate one in we rotate another out.

We’ve visited the homes of friends where shelves bulge and erupt with toys, where even I feel a bit overstimulated by the bounty of bright, loud, plastic playthings. In our home we’ve deliberately chosen to limit not just the types of toys, but also the amount of toys present. I especially love this perspective on why having fewer toys actually benefits your children. (Really, if you click on only one link from this post, make it this one. It’s an insightful read. And if you are interested in ways to cull your current toy stockpile, here are some pointers.)

We focus, instead, on time spent and activities enjoyed together as a family. Play is darn fun and can serve to expend our little ones’ bottomless energy, but it can also be a delightfully effective way to enrich attachment. And, you know what? These kinds of activities are often free or awesomely inexpensive–just one more example of how natural parents are richer.

Taking walks is a huge hit for us right now. We live just blocks away from a sprawling park with towering old trees, winding walking paths, and a safe playground. We collect leaves, smell flowers, pet moss on tree trunks, wave to robins and count squirrels. We take our shoes off and kick balls in the grass. Nature is free and wild, and little ones benefit from time spent outdoors with their caregivers.

Looking for other ideas for easy, mostly inexpensive ways to play with your toddler? Here are some fun ideas. Or perhaps other nifty ways to get your nature on with your half-pint? Here is a good place to start.

What kinds of toys does your child dig the most? What kind of activities do you enjoy doing with your kiddos? Have any favorite resources for natural play?

Best play space Rhianna ever made for her 17-month-old son? Dedicating a whole kitchen cabinet to him and filling it with random inexpensive kitchen related items like egg cartons, empty spice containers, herbal tea boxes, wooden spoons, and play food. She lives in St. Louis and spends a good deal of time in Tower Grove Park, where her toddler enthusiastically gifts her with sweetgum balls, chunks of mulch, pebbles, and beheaded flowers.

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Did you know The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year is now for sale? Are you interested in learning more about gentle, mom and baby-friendly practices that foster a joyful, connected relationship? Want to introduce a pregnant friend to natural parenting? Check out our website or head over to Amazon to grab your copy today!
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3 Money-Saving Tools for New Parents

Growing numbers of new parents gaining access to tools that have been used across time to save money and raise thriving babies. Check out the baby registries  of these mavericks (if you can find them, because they recognize that few items marketed as “baby essentials” are necessary or even useful), and you won’t find the funtime froggy bathtub, a baby swing, and most notably a crib. Usually, that is. It’s important to recognize that every family is different and while sweeping generalities can be used to give you a sense of their typical lifestyle choices, every family makes its own decisions independently, based on its own needs and preferences.

Anyone who’s purchased baby food, including infant formula, baby cereals and purees, not to mention all those fun teething biscuits and snacks with cartoons on the boxes, will tell you—they cost a pretty penny. But they’ve been around so long—and, more importantly, marketed so successfully—you’d never know they weren’t necessary to feed your children.

If foods like baby formula are such staples, then why aren’t babies born with a bottle and can of formula? Because they are born with something even easier to access, healthier, and cheaper. We humans are called mammals because our bodies are genetically equipped to feed our babies with human milk, and we begin making milk in preparation for the baby’s birth. It’s true, not all women make enough milk for their babies. I know—I  was one of the few who didn’t, at first. But it’s far less true than we’re led to think. More than 90% of women have enough milk, or can make enough milk to feed their babies. It’s just that new moms don’t get all the support we need to do it, in the form of skilled professionals like Lactation Consultants—or better yet, a wise community of elders—who can help us through the early days and the inevitable bumps in the road.

While we’re on the topic of baby food, I’m excited to share a revelation that changed my life, and kept our bank account healthy. Babies don’t actually need baby food! Really. I know what you’re thinking—here’s one of those blender ladies who is going to tell me to puree my own baby food. Actually, no. It’s much easier than that. Our babies—beginning around age 6 months and older—can eat the vast majority of foods that we eat. Things like whole fruit, cooked veggies and whole grains such as rice, quinoa, beans and even meat.

Not only can babies eat our food, they can also feed themselves. This is where the real fun comes in. Maybe you’ve seen a parent feeding their baby, or maybe you’ve been that parent airplaning mashed bananas into his mouth. You know that it takes both of your hands and your complete attention. You’re spooning the mush out of the jar, aiming it into the baby’s mouth, possibly making sound effects while encouraging him to eat it, then cleaning up when he’s done. Picture this instead. Cook dinner as you normally would, then put some food on his tray or plate. Let him practice picking it up, aiming it towards his mouth or just playing with it. Then clean up when he’s all done. What’s the difference between these two ways of feeding babies solid foods? In the second scenario, the parent can actually eat and enjoy the show! Chances are she has many comical pictures of her baby wearing his dinner, what with her hands free and clear. The long-term outcomes are even more impressive, though. Babies who are self-fed are less likely to overeat or be obese later in life. Not bad for budget-friendly dining.

Another top money saving baby-care secret is called Elimination Communication (EC), or infant pottying. Yes, really. Infants can be taken to the bathroom, and, in fact, they really want to be. No one wants to sit in their own filth, not even babies. Most parents who potty their infants notice that babies stop pooping in their diapers within a week or two. By tuning in to our babies’ cues, we’re able to better meet their needs. ECing parents also report less incidences of unexplained crying. You know those times when you fed, clothed, napped and changed your baby, and he still wouldn’t stop crying? Millions of parents chalk it up to a mystery of babyhood. But it just might be that your baby wants you to take off his diaper so that he won’t have to soil himself. It sounds crazy at first, I know. But pottying is fun for everyone – the baby who doesn’t have to poop in his diaper, and the parent who “catches” his eliminations and doesn’t have to change her baby’s diaper—not to mention pay for all those expensive Pampers!

We’ve all heard about life in the trenches – the first three months of a baby’s life when he’s crying all the time, waking up multiple times to feed and needing to be swaddled, rocked, pacified, sung to, driven in the car, or shushed to sleep. I’ve been there, and they were the longest and most miserable three weeks of my life. But thanks to conversations with parents in-the-know, I learned that I didn’t have to keep muscling through, all three of us miserable as my baby cried her way through the nights. I learned that I could bring her into bed with me – that bed-sharing wasn’t unsafe, as my post-partum hospital nurse had told me, as long as it was done safely. Safe co-sleeping is one of the best-kept secrets in Western society, even though it’s practiced across the rest of the world. The U.S. government in particular has done an impressive job publicizing the perils of bed-sharing, citing many tragic deaths from co-sleeping, without mentioning that they are actually 46 times less than crib deaths over the same time period.

What’s so great about co-sleeping? For nursing moms, sharing a sleep surface enables a baby to feed quickly and easily, without mom’s feet once touching the ground. (Babies who aren’t nursing are safest on a separate sleep surface, close to their parents.) For babies, who have spent 10 months in utero, co-sleeping allows them the nearness to their moms, making the world less scary and helping them relax and sleep! Also, while the baby’s lungs are developing, nearness to his mom helps him to regulate his breathing, resulting in fewer instances of apnea and SIDS.

As one who has tread both worlds with the same baby, I can tell you that the tools in our parenting toolkit have fattened our bank account, built a close intuitive relationship with our daughter and increased our sleep. Taken together or separately, the experience has been priceless.

Miriam is a fun-loving mama who literally can’t stop kissing Dalia, her delicious 2 year old.  She loves reading, yoga, crafting and helping others find their paths through life coaching. She is co-author of The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year.

What about you? What are your top money-saving baby-care tools?

Attachment Parenting in the Time of Zombies

I’ve got zombies on the brain, y’all. I don’t mean the I-Nursed-Mah-Behbeh-Seemingly-Every-Hour-Last-Night-and-I-Need-Coffee-STAT brand of zombie. (Although I extend  an empathetic embrace to those mamas. Hang in there, fellow Mombies. You’re doing an awesome job!) Rather, I mean the I-Am-an-Ambulating-Putrid-Corpse-and-I-Want-to-Eat-Your-Behbeh brand of zombie.  After getting hooked on The Walking Dead television series this past season, I recently and eagerly pored through the first five books of the graphic novel series upon which the show is based. I have never ever read a graphic novel before, nor have I ever been a fan of zombie flicks or lit, but somehow I got sucked into the creepy vortex of the shuffling, decomposing undead.

Babywearing, mombie and zombling style.

**(Fair warning: there are mild spoilers about both the show and graphic novels in the following. If you care about that kind of thing, it might be a good idea to stop reading. )**

In the graphic novel, one of the characters gives birth to a healthy baby. As I was tensely reading that particular chapter, it hit me like a shovel through the brain that there is a place for natural, gentle, attached parenting in the zombie apocalypse.

There are no functioning hospitals in the zombie apocalypse, which means…you can can finally have the home birth and birth bonding you always wanted without interference from your family, friends, doctor, or health insurance company! You will meet your tender wombling for the first time in the comfort of your own home! Or in whichever uninfested home you’ve been forced to squat!

No epidural? No problem! Since you can still feel and move your legs, you can kick that attacking zombie in his rotting chest! You’re all jacked up on birthing adrenaline and endorphins–who else wants a piece of your birth-empowered ass?

Mama’s milk is free and won’t require a risky mission to that neighborhood grocery store overrun with creepy cannibal corpses. And who couldn’t use repeated hits of oxytocin and prolactin–those lovey, warm, relaxing hormones induced by nursing–in the terrifying times of zombie apocalypse? Nature’s own anti-anxiety drugs!

By the time you start thinking about introducing solid foods, those grocery stores will have probably been looted down to their last tic-tac. Baby-led weaning it is!

And you know what else? Media empires will have fallen, so you can put those mammaries to “extended” use without fear that a major news magazine will distort your parenting ethic with a provocative cover photo! You’ll be too busy fighting the zombie world war to worry about reloading for the mommy wars anyway.

Sharing sleep in the zombie apocalypse? Don’t mind if I DO. You’ll sleep more soundly knowing that you can protect your wee one and respond to any of his needs quickly and quietly. Prolonged crying would be tantamount to ringing a dinner bell for the undead–an “extinction method,” for sure.

And babywearing? Yes, please. Grab a bed sheet, tie that sucker on, and tuck your half-pint in close to you, and voila: your baby is content and comforted in an uncertain time. And it also frees up both of your hands for zombie slaying, natch.

It just might be, friends, that the key to surviving World War Z is the Baby B’s. What do you think?

Rhianna hasn’t had a full night’s sleep in nearly a year and a half, which, by her estimation, makes her at least half-zombie. She credits her husband for getting her hooked on The Walking Dead and her 16-month-old son for making her feel like the walking dead. Enormous thanks to her friend, Amber, for the zombie-fied picture above.

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Did you know The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year is now for sale? Are you interested in learning more about gentle, mom and baby-friendly practices that foster a joyful, connected relationship? Want to introduce a pregnant friend to natural parenting? Check out our website or head over to Amazon to grab your copy today!
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Empty Nester

What do you think of when you hear Empty Nest?  For me I think of middle-aged couples converting the last kid’s room into a hobby room (and maybe having a resurgence of friskiness in celebration of their new aloneness?).

A few nights ago, with everyone else asleep, I found myself clicking around a custom bunk bed website.  Oh man they were awesome. I would have loved any of them as a kid- twins over queens, fulls over fulls, L-shaped, low ones with trundles, and loft beds over hideouts.

There’s really nothing weird about me fantasizing about furniture when I should be zonked. My husband and I bought our first home last April and my inner home decorating junkie has been jonesing to make this place shine.   But since we moved here with a 2-year-old and a 6-week-old, eh, the decopage headboards and any other overly ambitious DIY projects have had to wait.

Anyway, as I was imagining how I would arrange the coolness from this site in our home, I was struck by what that signified.  That some day soon I’ll be facing an Empty Nest of my own — no more children in my bedroom.  Wow.  Even writing that just now stirred up all sorts of fluttery stomach stuff.

Call it whatever you like–family bed, cosleeping, sleep sharing; for me this has been my favorite and simplest of the famous Baby Bs.  I definitely never planned it; we had a gorgeous nursery right across the hall like most expectant couples.  But from bassinet to twin and several funny iterations in between (I’ve heard this lovingly called “musical beds”) , this scenario has worked for our family, and I will mourn it when it ends.

I’m going to enjoy it for now.  My 14-month-old giggles in his sleep sometimes. I need to file that away for later. Some nights, when he is restless, he will throw an arm out, and when that fat fist makes contact with me I feel his whole body relax and his breathing slow.  My 3-year-old talks about his working Dad all day, and I know that having his bed pushed up beside  Dad at night reconnects them.  These days, and nights, are short.

Our relationships will evolve and change again and again.  Soon I will honor their nighttime needs in a different way by creating a new nest, a bedroom for them to share.  Perhaps I’ll let them choose some novelty sheets with Buzz Lightyear on them that do not in any way fit into my fantasy design aesthetic, and I’ll smile anyway.

Rebecca is a wife and mother living in a town brimming with to-die-for antiques and home decor… which she admires from the sidewalk while she wheels her enormous double stroller past. 

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Did you know The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year is now for sale? Are you interested in learning more about gentle, mom and baby-friendly practices that foster a joyful, connected relationship? Want to introduce a pregnant friend to natural parenting? Check out our website or head over to Amazon to grab your copy today!
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