All posts by The Attached Family

The Basics of Breastfeeding Advocacy

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Breastfeeding has seen the gamut in terms of public support. For centuries, it was the most natural thing to do, and then in the mid-20th Century, it suddenly became taboo and nearly disappeared from Western civilization. Through La Leche League International and other breastfeeding advocates, it has steadily made a comeback into mainstream family culture. But, in some respects, breastfeeding still has a long way to go — in normalizing public breastfeeding and breastfeeding for working mothers, and improving access to lactation services for all socio-economic classes by enabling lactation consultants to be reimbursed by health insurance and Medicaid.

“It’s very important that people realize they have a voice and that people will listen to that voice — and you don’t have to have a lot of letters after your name,” said Dr. Laura Wilwerding, MD, IBCLC, FAAP, FABM, a pediatrician in Plattsmouth, Nebraska USA, and a pediatrics professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, where she lectures on breastfeeding medicine, child advocacy, antibiotic overusage, and obesity prevention.

In addition to being a fellow of the International Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, Wilwerding is involved in the Nebraska chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics as the breastfeeding coordinator, the Nebraska Breastfeeding Coalition on the leadership team, and as a member of the Nebraska Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity Prevention Advisory Board. Wilwerding spoke during the La Leche League of Nebraska Annual Breastfeeding and Parenting Conference in May 2011 in Omaha, Nebraska USA.

“Particularly locally, you do have power, and not just with elected officials but also hospital administrators and human services program directors,” she said. It’s all in your approach. Continue reading The Basics of Breastfeeding Advocacy

10 Phrases to Make a Better Parent

By Judy Arnall, author of Discipline without Distress,

Many times as parents, we blurt out sayings that we heard as children and later vowed to never say to our own children. However, that is easier said than done. In times of stress, we revert very easily back to actions and phrases we saw and heard when we were parented.

Parenting skills are learned skills, and we can consciously effect change if we become aware of what needs to be changed. Here are 10 common parenting phrases and alternatives to nurture closer, caring, and more respectful relationships with our children.

INSTEAD OF: You are a bad boy.
TRY: What did you learn from this? What can you try next time?

INSTEAD OF: Hurry Up! We are late!
TRY: It’s okay. Take the time you need… (Next time, leave more time to get ready!)

INSTEAD OF: Oh no! Look at what you have done!
TRY: It really won’t matter five years from now! I will show you how to fix this.

INSTEAD OF: You need to…
TRY: I need you to…

INSTEAD OF: Because I said so!
TRY: I’ll explain my reasoning in five minutes when I’m not distracted so much.

INSTEAD OF: Stop that tantrum right now!
TRY: You feel frustrated and angry. Can I give you a hug?

TRY: I can see you really want that but I can’t provide it right now.

INSTEAD OF: You’ve wrecked my…
TRY: I’m really angry right now. I need to take a timeout.

INSTEAD OF: Stop doing that!
TRY: Would you consider this?

INSTEAD OF: Suck it up and stop crying.
TRY: It’s OK to cry and feel your feelings. Want a hug?

INSTEAD OF: Go play and leave me alone.
TRY: I love you!

Try any one of these substitutions today and you will see how much better your parent-child relationship will be. If you are not sure what to say and how to say it, especially in the moment, just offer a hug. You will be surprised how much body language can communicate empathy and affection, and then you can get on with solving the problem with your child.

A Parent’s Look at: BabyBabyOhBaby

By Beth Hendrickson, blogger at

“They grow up so fast” I hear from everyone. My parents, my friends, other moms at the pool, the sweat-drenched mailman, the harried grocery store clerk, the homeless woman. It’s been a unanimous vote through all of those precious (sleepless?) early months. Mired as I was in the molasses of my days, I felt confident disregarding the dire predictions. Sure, Little Friend would grow up…someday…in the vague and distant future. I forgot about the future’s annoying propensity to turn into today. Yesterday, as I watched Little Friend select her shoes, put on bracelets, and feed her baby (doll) at 19 years, I mean, months old, I had to join the wistful chorus in decrying, “They grow up so fast!” I’m now ever more so grateful for the moments I invested in Little Friend’s infancy to baby massage, thanks to the incomparable BabyBabyOhBaby DVD.

I’m not sure I would have sought out a baby massage DVD if it hadn’t been for having a premature baby and reading all of the accompanying literature singing the healthful, healing benefits of infant massage. I’m not exactly the incense-burning, new age music type of gal, although I do love me a good massage. But I found myself sitting at home in the dead of a snow-engulfed winter, staring at a four-pound baby wondering what in the world I was going to do for the next couple of months until Little Friend was allowed out and about. So began our daily sessions of infant massage. I couldn’t treasure more the memories, both mental and physical, of spending quiet, concentrated moments pressing my love and affection stroke by stroke through the skin, sinews, muscles, and ligaments of my little one’s body. Continue reading A Parent’s Look at: BabyBabyOhBaby

Peaceful Parenting Tips for the Growing Child

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Natasha Hartley doesn’t see herself as an expert in Attachment Parenting, but the many people who know her say she definitely knows what she’s doing with her four children. Hartley lives in Omaha, Nebraska USA, and shared some of her tips in APing the older child during a May 2011 La Leche League meeting.

La Leche League International promotes a Loving Guidance ideal, which is similar to Attachment Parenting International’s Principle of Providing Positive Discipline. Both focus on lovingly setting boundaries and disciplining through teaching rather than punitive correction. Much of what Hartley considers to be the overarching idea behind peaceful parenting, for children of all growth stages, is learning about appropriate child development and applying those concepts to the upholding of age-appropriate expectations.

“A lot of it is just being attentive to children and trying to be fulfilling to them,” she said. “When they’re little, parenting is a lot more physical work. As they get older, you think it’ll get easier, but instead of being physical work, it’s a lot more mental work.”

Hartley gains much of her parenting inspiration from the book, Peaceful Parents, Peaceful Kids by Naomi Drew. From the 17 keys found in this book, these are the ones Hartley finds most helpful now that her oldest children, twin girls, are eight years old and many of the parenting techniques useful with babies and toddlers, and even preschoolers, no longer relate:

  • Peace Begins with the Parent — Family and personal balance is pivotal in helping parents meet the remaining Principles of Parenting. A parent must feel refreshed herself before she can give total, undivided loving attention to her children. “After eight years, I realize that I need to take some mom time. I hope I can help other [parents] learn to do this earlier,” Hartley said, advising the primary caregiving parent to take at least 15 to 30 minutes a day for some me-time. Until that time, if the home environment is getting intense, she suggests remembering to take a moment before confronting a situation to say a positive comment like “I am a good parent; I am a positive parent.” If every day seems stressful, Hartley advises learning to live a simpler life, such as avoiding over-scheduling, getting more organized, and establishing daily routines.
  • Make the Home a Place of Kind Words — Ban negativity in the home. This includes not only perspectives of people outside the home, such as the erratic driver in the next lane, but especially in how parents and children communicate to each other within the family. Examine phrases so that a behavior is addressed, rather than implying that there’s something wrong with a person; this likely means focusing on “I” phrases, such as “I need this room to be picked up” rather than “You’re so messy,” or “I need it to be a little quieter right now” rather than “You’re so loud.”
  • Encourage Positive Behaviors, but Avoid Praise — Praise, such as “good boy [or girl],” is not as powerful in teaching children as is encouraging specific behaviors through encouragement, such as “I like how you cleaned up your toys.” Hartley suggests keeping a list of positive behaviors specific to each child, to read through during times of difficulty.
  • Spend One-on-One Time with Each Child, Every Day — Each child needs at least 15 minutes a day of one-on-one time with each parent, where the parent is keenly listening and interacting positively and not trying to do a household chore or something on the computer at the same time. This time should be during an activity that the child enjoys doing with the parent, or that is entirely child-led.
  • Be Clear on Expectations, and Honor Them — Come together and decide as a family what the principles of the home will be, and then be consistent in upholding those standards. As children grow older, they’ll take more responsibility in shaping the guidelines needed to follow the standards. It’s a good idea to begin holding family meetings when the child is very young, but it’s essential as the child grows older and has more opinions separate from his parents; this doesn’t mean that every idea thrown out by the child is an option but that the child has input into family matters.
  • Say “No” When Needed, but Phrased in Options — When upholding family principles, there will be times when you will need to say “no” to your child, but rather than phrase it as a straight “no,” follow it up with options that the child can do.
  • Provide Children Empty Spaces of Time when They Can Just Be Kids — Especially when children spend the majority of their day in school outside the home, and therefore have to follow rules that may be different or more strict than what they have at home, children benefit from having time to not have to listen to any adults, even Mom and Dad.
  • Develop “Cool Off” Lists — Writing a list of ways to handle anger is great for both parents and children, especially as they grow older. Brainstorm together to come up with ideas to express anger in a more positive way, such as drawing or writing in a feelings journal or yelling into a pillow. It’s critical that parents make it a rule to resolve conflicts peacefully — telling the truth, being respectful, using nonviolent communication or reflective listening, taking responsibility, compromising, and seeking forgiveness — so they can then teach by example to their children.
  • Be a Good Listener — You want your children to listen to you, but you also need to make sure you’re modeling good listening skills to them: looking at the speaker, making eye contact, not interrupting, being open to other ideas, letting the speaker tell his story and not making it about yourself, and focusing on what the speaker is saying.

Sydney Rose’s Birthday

By Kyle Mills

Few things in life are as intense, painful, scary, and mind-blowing as the birth of your child, but I would say that excitement is probably what most people remember feeling when thinking back to the day their child came into the world. At least, that’s how it was for me and my husband when I had our daughter, Sydney Rose.

I remember beginning to feel some strong contractions around 3:30 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon. I was putting some groceries away when they started, and by 6:00 p.m., they still hadn’t let up. We considered going to the hospital, but I didn’t think the timing was close enough and I didn’t want to be turned away. Besides, we had never attended a childbirth class, and we hadn’t even watched the Lamaze video we’d gotten. After dinner, we took a walk, and then settled in to attempt the video before heading to the hospital, all the while keeping a close eye on my contractions, which were getting worse by the half hour. Finally at 9:00 p.m., I said we should head to the hospital because I was definitely in more pain, the timing patterns were right on — anywhere from five to eight minutes — and I wanted to get checked before it got too late in case they were to send me back home.

We checked in around 9:30 p.m. and were told I was one centimeter dilated — one measly centimeter! They were going to monitor my contractions and check me again in an hour, and if I’d progressed another centimeter in that time, they would admit me. An hour later, I had not progressed, and although they could see my contractions were close together and acknowledged I was in active labor, it was their standard procedure to send people home and tell them to come back when the contractions were three to five minutes apart. By the time I walked in the front door of my house, my contractions were definitely closer to the three-minute mark, but I refused to get back in the car until I could barely stand it. After all, checking in, getting in a gown, waiting until the doctor can see you, getting checked, and lying around for an hour — just to be sent home — can take a lot out of an uncomfortable, nine-month pregnant woman. So I got in bed, and basically writhed in pain for five and a half hours, with minute-apart contractions until, at 4:30 a.m., I decided I was getting in the shower and then going back to the hospital. Continue reading Sydney Rose’s Birthday

Staying in Control when Things are Out of Control

By Shoshana Hayman, director of the Life Center/Israel Center for Attachment Parenting,

“When I’m calm, I have no trouble responding patiently, but the problem is that my child’s tantrums jangle my nerves and I lose control of myself!”

I hear parents say this over and over again. They might be talking about their five-year-old son who is whining because he wants them to buy him the toy he sees on the shelf in the store, their 10-year-old son who is complaining because he claims it was his brother who made the mess that he now has to clean, or their 15-year-old daughter who criticizes the family rules. Parents often feel stretched to the limits of their patience because of these daily minor confrontations.

“I just want to get the job done and get on with things!” But trying to find a quick solution usually prolongs these conflicts, and getting angry spoils the atmosphere as well as the relationship.

Seeing the child in a different way can help parents stay calm when their children are not. When parent and child are together, their brains do a dance! The parent can lead the child to a state of calm, rather than the child leading the parent to agitated confrontation. In each of the scenarios mentioned and in many others like them, the child is feeling frustration, one of our most primitive emotions. He is confronted with something he cannot have, a reality he doesn’t agree with, a situation he wants to change. When children are frustrated, it is normal for them to have temper tantrums, bite, kick, hit,  throw things, slam doors, yell, or talk back. They have not yet developed the ability to adapt quickly to the given circumstances. Their brains have not yet reached a level of development that helps them think of their options and choose their responses maturely. These are processes that take years to come into full fruition.

The most important role and perhaps the greatest challenge of parents is to believe in and support the processes which bring out the finest human qualities: caring, patience, thoughtfulness, courage, flexibility, self-control, adaptability, and responsibility. One of the ways parents can fulfill this role is to remain calm when the child is not. It helps to remember that children cannot yet control their impulses to hold on to their demands or to behave aggressively. When the parent remains calm, patient, compassionate, warm, and loving, the child then feels safe, that someone is in charge, and that his parent can handle his out-of-control behavior.  The child can then come to rest and begin to see a different reality.

Parents can see themselves as a safe haven as they accompany their children through the maze of getting from their feelings of frustration and anger to their feelings of disappointment, sadness, and coming to terms with what they cannot change. Perhaps this perspective will help parents remain calm and in control when their children are not.

Breastfeeding after ‘Almost’ Weaning

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves,

Q: My two-year-old had almost completely weaned himself a few months ago. Then I got laid off from work and he began nursing all over again. Now he demands to nurse every two to four hours and will hold on to my boob saying he “doesn’t want it to fly away.” I put a limit of nursing at nap time and bedtime, but I’m not sure if he will re-wean himself. And, I’d really like to resolve his apparent fear that they are going away, or to somehow find a way for him to console himself with something other than the breasts.

A: This is a sweet misunderstanding between you and your son. He didn’t almost wean himself, and his fear that “they will fly away” is valid; he is sensing your intent to take breastfeeding away from him. Continue reading Breastfeeding after ‘Almost’ Weaning

School-Age Children and the Family Bed

By Judy Arnall, author of Discipline without Distress,

“But you don’t have to sleep alone!” Kyle protests to his mom when she suggests he sleeps in his own room. Family bedrooms are increasingly becoming common in Western societies, thanks to the Attachment Parenting movement that recognizes that babies and toddlers are not developmentally ready to sleep on their own for the first few years of life. However, Kyle is seven years old.  The prevalence of family bedrooms among families with school-age children has not been studied, let alone talked, but the trend is growing.

Many children, especially those that don’t have siblings to snuggle in with, continue to sleep in the same bedroom as their parents, well into the school-aged years. Many families do not admit that they sleep with their children. The fear of being investigated by child welfare authorities is the biggest barrier against discussing this practice. So the practice occurs quite often, but is not openly admitted. As a society, we accept family bedrooms for motels rooms, visiting at relatives, camping, and vacations but not for everyday use in a society that values independence at all cost. Still, parents persist. “We cosleep because it’s a cultural choice. My husband is Vietnamese and I am Canadian, and we have decided that it’s what works best for our family. Back in Vietnam my husband’s sisters still sleep with their mother, and my husbands’ brother and father also share a room. The younger ones are all in their 20s and it is not illegal or abnormal or culturally odd like it is here,” says Cheryl, mom of two children.

How does a family bedroom work? Two hundred years ago, before the invention of central heating, most of the family slept in the same room if not the same beds. Fast forward to the 21st century, where bedrooms now have the square footage size of the average 1950s house, the family bedroom can easily accommodate two king-size mattresses on the floor or several beds in the same room.

Not everyone agrees with the concept of a family sharing sleep in the same room. Barbara Evans, a parent educator from Beaumont, Texas USA, worries about the parent’s need for privacy and intimacy.  “My concerns are that, as parents, our job is to raise healthy, loving and lovable, independent children. Not to the exclusion of depriving them of nurturing and cuddling, but this may be the first place to start learning about boundaries and self-care.”

Why do families choose a family bedroom? No separation anxiety issues and no bedtime battles is the biggest reason. For an increasingly separated family where both parents might work out of home full-time and children are away at school, it is comforting and enjoyable to cuddle together at the end of a busy day. “The best thing about having the kids there with us is the emotional bond we have with them. We love the time upstairs to talk in bed, read, write, or just watch TV together. There’s no separation between us and we don’t send our kids away at night to be alone unless they want to,” says Ally, mom of three children. They have a big master bed for the parents and two mattresses on the floor on either side of the master bed for the children.

What age should family bedrooms stop? Children naturally develop the desire for more privacy at puberty and tend to want their own room and sleeping space by age 13.  This occurs naturally whether they sleep alone, or share a bedroom with siblings or with parents.

Most experts agree that the rules are simple. Generally, all members of the family must wear night clothes. Whoever doesn’t like the arrangement and says “no” should have their wishes honored whether they are the parent or the child. The parents might enjoy the closeness, but if their eight-year-old son wants his own room, that should be respected. And of course, couple sexual intimacy must take place in another room.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau once said, “The government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.” And for many families, that rings truer than ever.

Tips to Dealing with Acting-Out Behavior

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Earlier this year, I attended a day session put on by the Appelbaum Training Institute in Omaha, Nebraska USA. The purpose of this session was to train childcare providers, but it gave some great tips for parents, too, in dealing with acting-out behavior from their toddlers and preschoolers:

Be Proactive

  • Stay calm — It’s important to QTIP (Quit Taking It Personal). Children act out for a variety of reasons, but it’s not because they dislike you. It’s because they’re frustrated, tired, not feeling well, hungry, or have another unfulfilled need.
  • Create a positive atmosphere — Children feed off of negative vibes. If you’re feeling stressed, they pick up on that and start acting out how you feel, which of course only perpetuates how you act, and the cycle goes round and round. This tip also applies to the physical atmosphere — children love bright colors and light and fun shapes and music. Decorate your house in your child’s artwork and provide plenty of opportunity for them to get involved in activities. I have a dresser filled with activities, from coloring to puzzles to ink stamps to sun-catcher kits.
  • Give compliments throughout the day — Make sure these are genuine and not conditional, so they’re not confused with a reward-based discipline system.
  • Speak in a quiet voice — We don’t need to shout to make our children hear us. They actually listen more when spoken to in a soft, respectful voice. Try whispering when you really want them to listen. Continue reading Tips to Dealing with Acting-Out Behavior

The Link between Breastfeeding and Mental Health

By Kathleen Mitchell-Askar, Pregnancy & Birth and Feeding Editor for The Attached Family

A study published in the April 2010 issue of The Journal of Pediatrics by The Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort (Raine) Study suggests that breastfeeding may have a positive effect on children’s and adolescents’ mental health. A paper that appeared in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry listed children’s mental health as one of the six priority areas in need of attention to improve the health and development of children and adolescents across the globe. At a time when 10 to 20% of children worldwide suffer from emotional or behavioral problems, a possible solution as simple as breastfeeding is one that could prove both attainable and powerful.

For more than 50 years, breastfed babies have been shown to hold developmental and cognitive advantages over non-breastfed children. Some studies have even shown that breastfed infants are better able to cope with adverse stimuli with more control, and children who were breastfed as infants exhibited greater resilience against the stress and anxiety associated with parental separation and divorce. These previously published studies are limited, however, by their small, often nonrandom, samples.

The Australian study derives its strength from its large sample size, longitudinal nature, and excellent response fractions. From 1989 to 1992, the Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort enrolled 2,900 pregnant women during their second trimesters who went on to deliver at the major obstetric hospital in Perth. Researchers gathered data on both parents’ familial, social, economic, and demographic backgrounds, along with their medical and obstetric histories, and updated the data during the 34th gestational week. The newborns (both singletons and twins) were initially examined by a midwife or pediatrician at two days postpartum, and 2,868 live births were included in the study. These children were followed until age 14.

The study focused on the parent-report Child Behaviour Checklist (CBCL) as the outcome variable at the five-, eight-, ten-, and 14-year follow-ups. The two-year-old children were evaluated with a similar questionnaire, modified with appropriate sleep questions and other subtle differences relative to the age group. Parents completed the 118-item CBCL, which measures behavioral psychopathology in children according to eight syndrome constructs:

  • Withdrawn
  • Anxious/depressed
  • Somatic complaints
  • Social problems
  • Attention problems
  • Thought problems
  • Delinquent behavior
  • Aggressive behavior.

Withdrawn; anxious/depressed; and somatic complaints were grouped and scored as “internalizing problems.” Delinquent and aggressive behaviors were treated as “externalizing problems.” The results from the CBCL were converted into age/sex-appropriate scores. The higher the score, the more problematic the child’s mental health.

A little over half of all mothers in the study (52%) breastfed for six months or longer, and 11% never breastfed at all. Nineteen percent of the children were breastfed for less than three months, 19% for three to six months, 28% for six to 12 months, and 24% for 12 months or more. The study investigated the effects of exclusive breastfeeding but found it did not change the conclusions drawn from the data with “any” breastfeeding (breastfeeding with the addition of solid food).

The study’s findings point to a boon for breastfed children: The longer a baby fed at the breast, the lower the child’s score on the CBCL, and the trend continued through adolescence. The differences between breastfed and non-breastfed children were most distinct in the total and externalizing scores. Even after researchers controlled for such confounding factors as maternal age at birth, maternal education, maternal smoking, family structure (whether the biological father lived with the family), life stress events, and maternal postnatal depression — all of which have been linked with higher rates of mental health problems — shorter breastfeeding duration was “consistently associated with increased risks for mental health problems of clinical significance through childhood and into adolescence,” the study concludes.

Despite the promising findings on the effects of breastfeeding on mental health, whether the positive correlation was due to breastmilk itself or the maternal-child bond cultivated at the breast was unclear. It is known that the fatty acids and other bioactive components in breastmilk positively contribute to child development and health. The hormone leptin, also found in breastmilk, may reduce stress in infants through its effects on the hippocampus, hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal gland.

Breastfeeding mothers have also been shown to touch their babies and gaze into their eyes more often. Such stimulation has not been linked with better mental health in human studies yet, but the Australian researchers cite a study on rat pups, and those that received a greater amount of maternal contact were better able to cope with stress as adults.

According to the study, “Breastfeeding may also be an indicator of a secure attachment status, which is known to have a positive influence on the child’s psychological development into adulthood.”

Even though breastmilk is the healthiest first food for a child, if a mother cannot or chooses not to breastfeed, it is possible that the attachment between parent and child affects the child’s mental health more profoundly than does the food itself. By practicing Attachment Parenting, holding the baby close while bottle-feeding, and increasing the amount of touch through babywearing, the mother of a non-breastfed baby could give her child mental-health benefits similar to those enjoyed by a breastfed baby. Parents who give proper attention to their children and remain present with them, whether breastfeeding or not, will make their child feel cherished and have a positive effect on his or her self-esteem.

But, as the Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort (Raine) Study shows, “breastfeeding for a longer duration appears to have significant benefits for the onward mental health of the child into adolescence…Therefore, interventions aimed at increasing breastfeeding duration could be of long-term benefit for child and adolescent mental health.”