Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Rants: Gentle Parenting

I'm a fan of using the gentlest most compassionate method available in your toolbox. When we have mothering decisions to make I am a firm believer that we should first evaluate the decision and then choose the most gentle method available. If that method doesn't work then keep at it or seek out a support system to find other tools of compassion. I cannot back up methods that cause pain or stress for your infant.

There are gentle methods of helping with baby "problems". Spending (even) more time in close physical contact with your baby is one of them and I deeply believe it will help with a majority of the issues people proclaim to have with an infant. Now I know we all spend lots of time in contact with baby. I'm just suggesting more of that! Use it as your tool to get baby to sleep, to nap, to be less fussy instead of finding other tools to do so.

As you know I'm a reader and researcher. I also believe in natural and attachment parenting. Apparently for good reason. If you practice some attachment principles research shows you will have a baby who is less fussy and sleeps better. Instead of using methods like allowing your baby to cry you can use gentler methods that have the same outcome. I do!

Now I've heard several arguments to the contrary: that a high needs baby won't respond to these methods, that working mothers have a harder time using such methods, and that each parent chooses what works best for their family. Of course I agree there is some truth in those arguments but I don't believe they have to be contrary. You can have a high needs baby, be a working mother, and be choosing the best choice for your entire family while making the decision to choose gentle methods. I even believe that if you do you will have less baby "problems" and more happiness!

(cartoon is from The Parenting Pit another compassionate mothering blog!)

The principle is simple and it is two parts.

A. The more time you spend close to baby the more baby feels secure and thus has fewer issues going down to sleep and being less fussy in general.

B. The more you give in to the fact that your baby will cry, be fussy all day some days, be up at night for weeks at a time the better your emotional health will be and thus the better your relationship with baby and becoming less frustrated and overwhelmed.

Things to try:

1. More skin to skin contact. In our society we've created a lot of "tools" to keep baby away from us. Strollers vs slings, cribs vs. our bed, highchair vs. our lap, even baby's holding their own bottles etc...

2. Babywearing!

3. Co-Sleeping or part-time co-sleeping: An example of part-time co-sleeping would be laying next to your baby when you put him/her down for a nap until baby falls asleep.

4. Outdoor Time: Going for a Walk, Time in the Park, Etc..

5. Giving in to the idea that babies are not biologically designed to sleep through the night. Have a set-up so when you are up at night you can have fun (internet, movies, snacks, etc..).

Please feel free to comment with more ideas I can add to this list!

Here is research to back me up:

Research 1: Maternal Emotional Availability at Bedtime Predicts Infant Sleep Quality

This is a research study that is about exactly what the title says. I am research minded and to find a high quality study like this makes me feel quite happy that we are able to quantify some good quality parenting.

Research 2: "Sleeping with your baby by James McKenna" Dr. James McKenna is a leading authority on parent baby sleep. He has a Ph.D. and works from the University of Notre Dame sleep lab in which the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development fund his research.

" Human infants are more helpless than any other animal species. .. Most mammals are born with 60-90% of adult brain size. Humans are born with just 25% of adult brain size. Compared with other mammals, human infants take the longest time to grow up, and they remain in a biologically dependent state for the longest period of time...human infants are "extero-gestators, meaning they complete their gestation after birth, and someones got to be there to help with it. .. Due to this extreme developmental immaturity , babies require parental (especially maternal) smell, touch, sounds, and movement in order to feel secure and have their physical needs met at an optimal level. All primate infants, including humans, biologically expect to be in close contact and proximity with their caregivers. .. There is no such thing as giving a human infant too much contact or affection. .. When deprived of these sensations, a baby will use her primary survival response - crying - and will produce cortisol, a stress hormone, as she attempts to attract the attention of her parents."

Research 3: It is natural to feel stressed your baby is crying! As mothers we release a stress hormone when our baby cries. But the natural response is to soothe your baby not let them cry more that is why we have this hormone to trigger us to respond. It is better for both mom and baby to come together when baby is crying. The more that happens the less both parties will be stressed out.

Quote from Parenting Magazine (link above): "When a baby cries, it triggers the release of the hormone prolactin (dubbed "the mothering hormone") in moms, which creates an urge to pick up the baby and meet her needs. You're hardwired to soothe your baby, and when that doesn't happen, it can make you feel like a failure. But your baby's fussiness is not a reflection on your parenting skills - and it's completely normal for a baby to cry even when there doesn't seem to be a direct cause."

I have an infant now and cannot speak from experience to raising an older child but this is reminiscent of another issue that will be coming up soon for us mother's of babies. We must choose gentle practices now because the decisions only get more complicated as our children age. It strikes me as similar to spanking. There is a method that is non-invasive and harmful (not spanking) and then there is one that is a invasive and painful if not harmful (spanking). They both may work but why not choose the more calm, least painful, more nurturing alternative?

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