Category Archives: The Editor’s Desk

From Heartache to Hope: Interview with Leisa Hammett of the Autism Society of Middle Tennessee

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

From Heartache to HopeThe personal stories of families and individuals affected by autism in the beautifully photographed book, From Heartache to Hope: Middle Tennessee Families Living with Autism by Leisa A. Hammett, were an amazing read.

The book follows 18 families in how they have struggled with one or more family members receiving a diagnosis of autism and how they moved literally from heartache to hope — with the parenting support offered by their local Autism Society of Middle Tennessee, USA. This book illustrates the vital importance of unconditional attachment between parent and child in a circumstance where autism exists.

Leisa, a mother of a child on the autism spectrum, offers more insight into why this book came to be.

RITA: How did you first became interested in helping other parents of children with autism?

LEISA: I’ve always been a flag waver — guess I was born with one flapping in my hand. And then, after serving as a social justice reporter covering poverty, homelessness, addiction, etc., I was moved to use my life, my faith, my gifts, what I possessed, to work for change. That time in my life, my mid-20s, was catalytic. So, in many ways, it’s a bit ironic that I ended up being the type person with circumstances and challenges about whom I used to write. Also, ironically, I’d finished up a volunteer stint as my local La Leche League chapter’s librarian and had promised to do the same for Attachment Parenting International in Nashville, where I live.

But that’s when the “A bomb” dropped. Resources, time, and energy, of course, had to be redirected. Continue reading

Stay Connected with Your Grown Children: An interview with grandmother Ruth Nemzoff

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

Don't Bite Your Tongue by Ruth NemzoffAccording to cultural standards, I am not an adult, even though I am many years out of school, own my home, have been married for nearly a decade, and have two children. The reason is, I still seek out my mother’s advice on a regular basis. I ask for tips in marriage, suggestions in managing money, and guidance in navigating life’s hardest moments. If being an adult means that you are able to live emotionally independent of the parents that raised you, I am far from grown up.

This is why it was so refreshing to read Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children by Ruth Nemzoff, a grandmother who believes that parenting doesn’t end just because your child turns 18 or 21 years old, gets married, or gives birth to her own children.

Last fall, I talked with Ruth about her views of Attachment Parenting when the kids leave home:

RITA: Ruth, your book definitely fills a need in parenting information — what to do when our children reach the age of adulthood. Your book helps fill the gap for both generations. You mention that your professional studies have mostly been with mothers of children with disabilities. How did this book come about?

RUTH: When my first child got married, everyone came up to me and said to keep my mouth shut and my pocketbook open. I thought that was terrible advice, because what was happening was a change in the relationship with my child and this new person was entering the family with whom I had an entirely new relationship. Plus, I thought that comment was terribly insulting. I didn’t want my relationships with my children to be about giving them money. That’s what first got me thinking about relationships with adult children being a mix of obligation and choice.

When I wrote the book, I wrote it definitely for the grandparent generation. What I found is that when adult children who are parents read the book, they get so much out of it.

RITA: How so?

RUTH: The three-generation relationship — grandparent-parent-child — is incredibly important, because it can either facilitate parenting or debilitate parenting.

For example, when a new baby comes, it’s very important to clarify roles ahead of time. The grandparent may come in and expect to care for the newborn, but the mother wants them to be the cook and dish washer. Or, the mother may say she wants to spend all of her time bonding with her baby but finds she needs a little time to herself here and there, and the grandparent was expecting to clean the house. The grandparent needs to be open to suggestion from the parent. What the mother can do is to voice her expectations but stay flexible, perhaps saying something like, “I want to take care of my baby, and would rather that you help around the house instead. But I may want you to hold the baby sometimes, when I take a shower or lay down for a nap.” If there are multiple children, the parent may want the grandparent to care for the older child, but the older child may only want to be around the mother. So, the parent may want to say to the grandparent, “It’d be most helpful if you could spend time playing with Suzy but know that she may feel the need to spend time with me, too, and that’s OK.”

Another example is when the grandparent is providing childcare for the parent. The key here is to be sure the grandparent is given as much respect as an employee is given, that the grandparent isn’t expected to provide free babysitting just whenever the parent asks. This is easier when the parent is paying the grandparent for babysitting, but even with free babysitting, it shouldn’t be a problem if the grandparent wants to go on a vacation. If you called your mom wanting her to come over to watch the kids and she couldn’t do it, it’d be inconvenient, yes, but just as you would with any other babysitter, you would have to find a way around the problem without putting your mother in the middle. Grandparents and parents need to communicate on each of their expectations when it comes to babysitting, especially when it comes to discipline. If grandparents are babysitting regularly or frequently, the parents need to give them the right to discipline in their own way, just as they would with a daycare provider. And if the parent has a real problem, she or he needs to talk about it. For example, say you don’t like your mother giving your child candy when she’s potty-training, you need to first identify whether it’s the concept of a reward or the candy that you don’t like and then talk to your mother, but do that just as you would with a daycare provider. Accord the grandparents the same respect as you would an employee.

Parents and grandparents need a process to clarify roles but then a way to re-negotiate them, too.

We all parent either exactly the way our parents parented us or in opposition to our parents, unless we consciously acknowledge the parenting practices we do and don’t want to use. When we become aware of how our parents raised us, we have to remember that no parent is the perfect parent. We all make mistakes. We all have the right to our own feelings, but you have to be forgiving in families.

RITA: Does your book address situations in which the grandparent is raising their grandchildren?

RUTH: Custody is not the same as grandparenting. I’m not talking about when grandparents raise their grandchildren; that is a whole topic to itself. What the book focuses on is the normal storms in life between parents and their adult children.

RITA: I understand. What potential do you see in your book?

RUTH: The grandparent-parent relationship is an international problem. I spoke in China to a group of expats from around the world, and in India. In every society, grandparents and their adult children are struggling in their relationships. Grandparents, no matter what country, have the same issues as American grandparents: Kids doing something different than what they want.

Everywhere I go, parents are saying, “Thank God! Someone is talking about this!” It’s been a topic ignored for too long. Parenting books used to end at age three, years ago. Now, we’re up to the teen years. But, there aren’t any books besides this one that goes beyond into the adult years.

RITA: Why do you think there is so much interest in this topic now?

RUTH: All the baby boomers are coming into this grandparent age group. They want to keep the relationships with their kids. They have spent so much time and energy and money on their children that they don’t want to lose that relationship as their children grow into their adult years. They don’t want to let go.

I don’t like to say that grandparents are supposed to let go of their adult children. They are just changing the parental role. They’re realizing that their child has developed new skills and are adjusting in the way they relate to their children.

Attachment goes on forever. We need each other at the beginning of life and at the end of life and in every crisis in the middle. We never outgrow our need for cheerleaders.

That — cheerleading and helping each other out in the crisis, and being able to depend on each other for mutual solace and support — that, to me, is what Attachment Parenting is in the adult years. The grandparent-parent relationship is complicated because of the ambiguity of trying to figure out where adulthood begins and childhood ends and because many of us think that being grown-up means being disconnected from our families rather than being engaged with them as friends, as supports, and caring beings. The aim is not to let go but, rather, to constantly recalibrate the relationships so that both the grandparent and parent have more joy than aggravation from being connected.

RITA: What are the areas of conflict that most often come up in this three-generation dynamic — grandparent-parent-child?

RUTH: When you’re talking about grandparent-parent-child relationships, particularly with young children, the top two issues are:

  • Gift giving — a parent may object to a grandparent’s gift of toy guns or Barbie dolls. The problem is not so much the toys but the philosophy behind it. The parent objects to the guns, because she doesn’t want her child to be exposed to violence, or to the Barbie dolls because of the image of women they perpetuate. One way around this is for the grandparent to give to his or her grandchild the gift of time. They can still spend money on their grandchild but do it in the context of spending time with the child, such as a visit to the zoo.
  • Discipline — it’s very different when grandparents come once a year than when they babysit frequently. It is easier for parents to allow grandparents to break the parents’ rules when the grandparents come only sporadically than when they babysit regularly. In either case, all three generations need to understand what the rules are and why each generation might want them to be different. For example, a parent who does not usually allow TV might suggest to the visiting grandparent that if they are totally exhausted, to sit and watch an educational TV program with the child. In this way, the grandparents get the rest they need and the parents get the relief they need, and the child gets a terrific snuggle!Grandparents also often have concerns with the parent’s approach to discipline. Some people prefer that their children learn through experience; others want more of a part in teaching them. Discipline is on a continuum, and involves varying amounts of justice and mercy. It’s important that grandparents allow parents to choose their own way to discipline. Most kids grow up reasonably well either way.

Reframing is a useful life skill. Reframing is looking at a situation in a new way, so instead of seeing a certain action as a breaking of the rules, one might view it as an opportunity for children to learn that different people have different expectations. We need to realize that the grandparents’ generation entered a world very different than the parents’ generation did, and that each generation required different skills.

Both sides would do well to be a lot less judgmental when it comes to discipline. Kids learn and kids can cope with many different rules. That’s one of the skills you need to learn in life. Your child will get to the point where, when she hears that Grandma is coming, she says, “Yeah, I can go to bed an hour later,” or “Oh no, Grandma makes me go to bed an hour earlier.”

So, first, I’d say grandparents and parents both need to be less judgmental. Second, they need to know themselves and their own parenting styles. And third, they need to be forgiving.

RITA: You emphasize the need for open communication between grandparents and their adult children. How do you suggest grandparents and their adult children go about resolving strong feelings?

RUTH: To give an example, a common problem is that people tend to be taken for granted in families. So when you feel hurt, it’s time to talk about it. Use “I feel…” statements rather than “You…” For example, “I feel taken for granted” rather than “You’re taking me for granted.” Then, problem-solve for a resolution agreeable to both of you.

You can take a lot of lessons from other relationships, such as work relationships and friendships, and apply them to the grandparent-parent relationship. One of the big things in families is learning timing — when to bring up a concern. For example, try to avoid situations where either one of you is hungry or tired.

RITA: Thank you for your time, Ruth. Do you have any closing thoughts?

RUTH: So much of the grandparent-parent relationship is putting yourself in the other’s shoes, seeing the situation from the other’s point of view. This really helps resolve tensions.

What Children REALLY Want: An interview with author Licia Rando

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

The Warmest Place of AllA cup of hot cocoa, a bubble bath, a cozy blanket, a cuddle with a fluffy dog, a steamy bowl of soup, a tuck into bed — all of these are warm, but none compares to a snuggle with someone we love and who loves us. And this is especially true for Sophie, the little girl whose story is told in The Warmest Place of All, a new children’s book by Licia Rando, M.Ed, illustrated by Anne Jewett. After trying comfort after comfort, Sophie climbs into bed with her mother and father and discovers a true sense of peace and wholeness.

Attached parents understand the importance of cultivating emotional attachment with their children, and use the Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting as a guide to do so. But there are many parents in the world, especially in Western society, who may be confused as to what children need. They seek out early independence through sleep training, discouragement of physical affection, punitive discipline, and other practices not consistent with Attachment Parenting (AP) — when what is most important for their child’s development is that warmest place of all: wrapped in the arms of a parent attuned to the emotional needs of that individual child, apart from any cultural influences.

Let’s turn to Rando, mother of three from Boston, Massachusetts, USA, to learn more about how she is working to help parents provide children with the warmest place of all.

RITA: Hi Licia. Your book is such a great read, really taking the reader on a journey, and has a solid AP theme: that what really matters in a child’s life is time with his or her parents. What inspired you to write this book?

LICIA: I became interested in parenting styles as I was growing up and saw kids getting hit and sworn at, and I wanted to do something about that. Then, 17 years ago, while considering adopting a child, I did a lot of research into Attachment Theory, reading John Bowlby’s studies and Harry Harlow’s studies on rhesus monkeys. Through this journey in learning about abuse and trauma and the effect on children, I realized the importance of parenting.

Then, years later, neuroscience began coming out with studies that confirmed what Bowlby had suspected, and that was a very exciting time. I became interested in, and wrote about, how parents who were neglected and abused as children can go about learning to parent in a connected way. You can read about this in one of the sections in my Caring and Connected Parenting Guide for new parents on my website, LiciaRando.com.

So, I wanted to put everything I had learned in a story form that could reach more parents, a story with a warm, fuzzy moment that could help parents realize that snuggling with a parent really is the most important thing in the world to your child.

RITA: A lot of parents really struggle with learning how to raise their children differently than they were raised – where non-AP practices were the norm.

LICIA: Dan Siegel and Mary Hartzell describe this in their book, Parenting from the Inside Out, how people have emotional memories from when they were young, memories they don’t even know they have except that they have certain triggers that stir strong emotions for no apparent reason. Parents really need to evaluate what happened to them as children, first, in order to be able to connect with their own child.

RITA: Some parents don’t understand how their relationships with their children will change if they take the time to examine their parenting style and make a commitment to change. I know parents who are really struggling with connecting with their children, who have anger problems and whose children frequently act-out, yelling back at the parent the same way the parent yells at them. These parents can’t believe that there are families where conflict resolution is peaceful and children are willingly cooperative. Can you give us your top three tips for parents who are seeking this?

LICIA: First, if you have a background of trauma, abuse and neglect, or loss such as of a parent, you need to come to understand how that is affecting your life. It goes back to Parenting from the Inside Out. It’s a matter of learning why you parent the way you do, to identify your triggers, and to retrain how you interact with your child and others when your strong emotions are triggered.

I’ve heard people say, “This is just the way I am.” But it’s never too late to change, never too late to become a better parent and person.

Second is listening and speaking respectfully to your child. You need to set limits, but it should be done with respect while showing that you understand what the child wants. Say, “I understand how much you want to go see this movie, but it is a school night and you can’t be out late. The weekend would be a better choice.“ When there is an altercation, go back and talk about it after you have calmed down or burned the energy with a walk or exercise. Take responsibility for your part in the eruption. Reflect with your child about inner emotions that played a part. For example, you yelled because you were worried about where your child was, because you love him and want him safe.

Third is modeling. Your kids are constantly learning how to act from you. Modeling is the best teaching tool. If you express anger in a certain way, that’s how your child will learn to express anger. So, if you yell and scream and throw things, so will your child. And if you talk respectfully with your child during a conflict, that’s how your child will learn to deal with his anger.

What you’re doing affects more than yourself. It affects your children, too, and it’s passed through the generations and interactions with others. So, your behavior affects your grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren, and all the way down the life — and other children outside your family.

RITA: Which is why AP is so important…

LICIA: It’d be a more peaceful world if we could all interact like that. I really believe that family peace is the way to world peace.

RITA: I love that quote: Family peace is the way to world peace! We should put it on a T-shirt. So, since your book came out in September 2009, what kind of response have you received?

LICIA: I’ve read the book around a lot, in libraries and bookstores. Little kids just love it. From their reactions, I feel like I just hit the nail on the head. They know! They really relate to that feeling of snuggling with Mom and Dad.

RITA: What kind of response have you received from adults?

LICIA: A lot of people are buying the book for holiday gifts. Parents like to use the word, “sweet,” when they refer to it.

I wrote the book in simile, so it can be a good teaching tool, and sent it the reviewers who recommend books for classroom use. They wouldn’t review it! They didn’t like the idea of a seven-year-old child crawling into bed with her parents. I was surprised that it was being censored, especially with the disrespectful and violent books and movies out there. They’re so worried about this one illustration — a very loving and beautiful illustration of what children long for.

But there are teachers who’ve read it and love it and are using it in their classrooms. It just won’t be formally reviewed for teachers for classroom use.

RITA: That just goes to show, unfortunately, how much more work there is to educate our culture about the importance of AP. How do you see your book furthering AP?

LICIA: From all that I’ve learned from abuse statistics and brain trauma research, the really vulnerable age for children is from infancy through four years old. The Warmest Place of All is meant to emphasize the importance of early connection for parents. Research shows that if children get that connection early in life, parents have less difficulty with that child later on. And that the earlier a child receives harsh discipline, the more likely the child will act out later on.

My book also emphasizes the importance of touch. Why touch is so important is that it releases the hormone, oxytocin, which makes us feel good. The Warmest Place of All helps parents to actually feel the experience.

RITA: You have such a vast knowledge base of how parenting affects child development, as well as how to help parents learn the importance of connection. Are there more books promoting AP in the works?

LICIA: This is my life mission. I am always writing books that link or connect people and form community. I want to help people to connect with one another, especially between generations, like older people with the young child, parents with their children.

Another Look at Breastfeeding with HIV/AIDS: An Interview with Marian Tompson, co-founder of LLLI

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

Marian Tompson, founder of AnotherLook and co-founder of LLLI
Marian Tompson, founder of AnotherLook and co-founder of LLLI

When we think of the Attachment Parenting International Principle of Feeding with Love and Respect, what first pops into our minds is a woman enjoying a close breastfeeding or bottle-nursing relationship with her baby or perhaps a family sitting around the dinner table engaged in a lively conversation about the day’s happenings. What many of us don’t picture are the myriad challenges many parents must encounter in order to do what seems to be such a basic part of child-rearing: feed their child.

Unless we’re experiencing a challenge at the time, we don’t think of the working mother pumping her breast milk, the parents feeding breakfast to their son via a stomach tube, or even the parents struggling with emotions toward their picky preschooler. And we certainly don’t think what it must be like for the HIV-positive mother who wants to breastfeed but is opposed by the medical community. But there remains debate about breastfeeding by HIV-positive mothers and whether the mother, particularly in developing countries where there are additional serious risks to not breastfeeding, should breastfeed or formula-feed her newborn.

Even for breastfeeding advocates, breastfeeding by HIV-positive mothers is a gray area. We want all mothers to feel welcomed to nurse their babies, but no one wants to pass HIV to their child through this naturally loving act. When going against what seems natural to us, we have to look at the research — and many of us probably do not fully understand what the studies have found.

It is because of this gap in knowledge and application of that knowledge that Marian Tompson founded AnotherLook as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in 2001, separate and unaffiliated with the La Leche League (LLL) International she co-founded more than 50 years ago. The opening statement on the homepage of AnotherLook’s website, AnotherLook.org, says it all: “The issue of HIV and human milk has been clouded by possibly questionable science, lack of precision concerning the definition of breastfeeding, and premature public policy statements.”

Editor’s Note: Attachment Parenting International finds the mission of AnotherLook to be incredibly important to the HIV-positive community. However, API wants to make it clear that this contents of this article do not constitute medical advice and that all HIV-positive women should consult their health practitioners regarding breastfeeding and their child’s risk of transmission. API cannot be held liable for any personal decisions made by readers based on the contents of this article.

I first heard about the monumental hurdles HIV-positive women face in breastfeeding while attending a LLL conference in Nebraska last summer. The speaker was Tompson, and her topic that morning was the nonprofit organization called AnotherLook (at Breastfeeding and HIV/AIDS), which helps to educate both parents and professionals as to the issue of breastfeeding by HIV-positive mothers.

About AnotherLook
AnotherLookBased in Evanston, Illinois, AnotherLook is dedicated to further its mission to gather information, raise critical questions, and stimulate needed research about breastfeeding in the context of HIV/AIDS. AnotherLook questions feeding strategies based solely on the possibility of virus transmission instead of on maximizing the probabilities for good mother-infant health. The organization calls for clear, published scientific evidence as to the type and manner of feeding that will minimize infant morbidity and mortality and seeks out scientific proof that infectious HIV virus is present in breast milk and is transmitted from mother to baby through breastfeeding.

AnotherLook provides presentations, position papers, and recommendations, which can be found at its website.

Tompson spoke about the variety of information related to HIV/AIDS and breastfeeding, such as that the medical community in industrialized countries like the United States advises HIV-positive women not to breastfeed their babies. The guidance is out of fear of transmitting the virus to their child. One story told was of a woman in only the last couple years whose baby was removed from her care until she promised not to breastfeed, because the authorities called the choice to breastfeed over using formula as dangerous mothering.

It is for this reason that AnotherLook exists — to give HIV-positive mothers and health professionals factual information on what we know and don’t know about breastfeeding when a mother is HIV positive, to ask critical questions, and to stimulate needed research. Knowing the importance breastfeeding has in establishing a strong mother-child attachment relationship, you can understand what this organization means to those women with HIV/AIDS for whom AnotherLook provides a voice in exclusively breastfeeding concerns.

A Call to Action
AnotherLook has issued a Call to Action to assure the best maternal-infant health outcomes in relation to infant feeding in the context of HIV/AIDS. This call is needed because current research, policy, and practice, often based on fear, are focused on the reduction of transmission while neglecting the impact on morbidity and mortality. This not only may be misleading but may inadvertently set back critical gains already achieved in public health as a result of the protection and promotion of breastfeeding.

AnotherLook acknowledges the possibility that HIV may be transmitted through breastfeeding and that there is an urgent need for feeding guidelines.

In light of the above, AnotherLook calls for immediate action to provide:

  • Clear, peer reviewed research, with careful ongoing follow-up, which will provide sound scientific evidence of optimal infant feeding practices that lead to the lowest morbidity and mortality.
  • Concise, consistent definitions of feeding methods, testing methods, HIV infection and AIDS.
  • Development of research based infant feeding policies which are feasible to implement in light of prevailing social, cultural and economic environments; which address breastfeeding (particularly exclusive breastfeeding) as a critical component of optimal infant health; and which fully consider the impact of spillover mortality/morbidity associated with infant formulas.
  • Epidemic management from a public health perspective, with the focus on primary prevention, careful, unbiased surveillance, and the achievement of overall population health with the lowest rates of morbidity and mortality.
  • Evidence-based practices which protect the rights of both mothers and infants including education, true informed consent, support of a mother’s choice, and avoidance of coercion.
  • Funding to support the above actions and those programs which improve maternal/child health in general such as prenatal and postnatal care, nutrition, basic sanitation, clean water, and education, as well as exclusive breastfeeding until clear scientific evidence supporting the abandonment of breastfeeding is available.
  • Continued commitment by local and global researchers, policy makers, health workers, and funding bodies to basic scientific, medical, public health, and fiduciary principles in responding to this critical issue.

In summary, AnotherLook calls for answers to critical questions not currently being addressed that will foster the development of policies and practices leading to the best possible outcomes for mothers and babies in relation to breastfeeding and HIV/AIDS.

With the background laid out, let’s turn to Tompson for more information on the past, present, and future of AnotherLook.

RITA: Hi Marian. I recall hearing you say at the LLL conference that, knowing the time and energy and sheer work that goes into building up a successful nonprofit organization as LLL International is, founding another organization was a task that you never thought you would do. What made you decide to pursue the organization of AnotherLook?

MARIAN: It has always been important to me (and La Leche League) that mothers get correct information.  In 1997, when WHO [World Health Organization] changed its infant feeding recommendations when a mother was HIV-positive from one where the decision would be made on a case-by-case basis as to whether or not she should breastfeed to one where all HIV-positive women were encouraged to formula-feed if at all possible, I set out to find the studies that backed up this change.

I was looking for the evidence proving that babies who are breastfed by HIV-positive mothers are more likely or less likely to get sick and die than those fed formula mixed with possibly contaminated water, which is common in developing nations with HIV/AIDS epidemics such as parts of Africa.

RITA: What did you find?

MARIAN: We question infant feeding strategies based solely on the possibility of virus transmission instead of on maximizing the probabilities for good mother-infant health. We still don’t know if HIV virus in breastmilk is actually live (infectious), and if it is infectious, if there is enough to infect the baby. We have a team ready to research this and have been looking for a grant to cover the cost.

The challenge is that most people in this field think we already have the answers to these questions.

RITA: How has AnotherLook reached out to professionals and the HIV-positive community?

MARIAN: We have had an international focus since the beginning, calling attention to the difference in recommendations depending on where the HIV-positive mother resides.

We have a private chat list that includes researchers, health professionals, speakers on this topic, health workers working with mothers in Africa, and LLL leaders and others interested in this issue.

We were invited to do roundtable sessions at an American Public Health Association annual meeting, did a poster session at the International AIDS Conference in Toronto [Canada], and our abstract was included in the syllabus of last year’s International AIDS Conference in Mexico City [Mexico]. We have given presentations at LLL conferences, both in the United States and abroad.

We’ve had letters printed in major medical journals criticizing published research.

RITA: Do you have any success stories that stand out of how AnotherLook is able to educate mothers or professionals in a way that changed the course of establishing a breastfeeding relationship when HIV/AIDS is a factor?

MARIAN: We have helped to change recommendations on infant feeding in developing countries from one in which mothers were told to formula-feed if at all possible to one where now all mothers are encouraged to breastfeed exclusively for six months.

About these Recommendations

http://www.who.int/hiv/mediacentre/Infantfeedingbriefingnote.pdf

http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2007/9789241595964_eng.pdf

Our poster sessions have pointed out the lack of evidence in the citations used to back feeding recommendations. The research hasn’t been done that would give us the answers needed about breastfeeding when a mother is HIV-positive.

We have become a resource for women in the United States who have no support group, like drug users and gay people have if they are diagnosed with HIV virus.

We also educate professionals about the assumptions that have long been accepted as facts.

RITA: Where do you see AnotherLook heading in the future?

MARIAN: Continuing to provide information through presentations and our website, while responding to inquiries. Even school children have contacted us. Working to get the research still needing to be done accomplished. Raising funds to enable us to participate in discussions of this issue.

When a director from UNICEF, who initially questioned the need for AnotherLook, attended one of our presentations at an LLL International Conference, she said that AnotherLook should participate in all international discussions because we were including elements that others had overlooked.

RITA: Thank you for your time, Marian. Do you have any closing thoughts?

MARIAN: New online at www.anotherlook.org/updates is Rodney Richard’s letter questioning the wisdom of mandatory testing of newborns for HIV. Richards is a bio/organic chemist who worked many years for Amgen, the world’s largest biotechnology company, specifically in the area of HIV test development.

His letter is in light of legislation passed in Connecticut, Illinois, and New York that require mandatory testing for HIV in newborns. Many states, such as Arkansas, Michigan, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Texas, have laws requiring HIV testing of pregnant women as part of routine prenatal care and then testing of newborns if the HIV status of the mother is unknown. We will probably see this legislation being considered in other states.

Also in the works are:

  • A detailed paper on WHO’s changing recommendations on infant feeding when a mother is HIV-positive
  • A report from the session we put on at the LLL International 50th Anniversary Conference, “Breastfeeding and HIV: What Works, What Doesn’t, What Has to be Changed,” with Cathy Liles, BBA, CPA, MPH, IBCLC, a member of the LLL International Board of Directors, and Ted Greiner, PhD, coordinator for the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action Research Task Force.

About Marian Tompson
Marian was one of seven women who co-founded La Leche League as a way for women to seek out support and education in breastfeeding as the best way to feed infants. LLL’s beginnings came at a time in history, 1956, when women were advised to forgo breastfeeding as an infant-feeding option. At this time, the U.S. breastfeeding rates dropped to only 20%.

Marian had an instrumental role in the nonprofit organization of LLL, serving as president for 25 years. In 1958, she started the newsletter that eventually became the magazine we know today, New Beginnings, and in 1973, she began the annually held Breastfeeding Seminar for Physicians.

Today, besides her work with AnotherLook, Marian is involved in the LLL Founders’ Advisory Council and the International Advisory Council for the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, and is vice chair of the United States Breastfeeding Committee. She and her late husband Tom raised seven children. Marian also has 16 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

API’s Connection >> Reedy Hickey, IBCLC
Reedy HickeyAnotherLook and API share a member of their respective Boards of Directors. Hickey not only provides leadership to both organizations but also advocates breastfeeding as a local La Leche League leader and Georgia’s LLL professional liaison. She is the mother of two grown children and 32 foster babies, and practiced AP with each.

Working without Weaning: An Interview with author Kirsten Berggren

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

working without Weaning by Kirsten BerggrenAttachment Parenting International’s seventh of the Eight Principles of Parenting, Providing Consistent and Loving Care, explains how babies and young children have an intense need for the physical presence of a consistent, loving, responsive caregiver who is interested and involved in building strong bonds through daily care and playful, loving interactions. Ideally, yes, this caregiver would be a parent. But, especially in the tough economic climate our world has experienced the past couple years, many families are finding themselves in a situation where both parents must work outside the home.

While a dual-income family may require more creativity in making the time and finding the energy to fulfill API’s Principles, it is certainly very possible to foster a secure attachment.

How does this relate to the second of API’s Eight Principles, Feeding with Love and Respect? According to Kirsten Berggren, PhD, CLC, author of Working without Weaning: A Working Mother’s Guide to Breastfeeding, going back to work is the hardest obstacle an exclusively breastfeeding mother will encounter. A neurobiologist, Berggren shares her own experiences and those of others to create this handbook for mothers who want to continue breastfeeding once they return to work after maternity leave. It’s a tough balancing act — maintaining the breastfeeding relationship despite day-after-day separations — but, as Berggren reiterates in her book, one that is completely worth the effort. Continue reading

Using Media Literacy in the Battle for Our Children’s Minds – and Health

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

advertising and our children's healthWho’s teaching your children about food and nutrition? As much as parents hope the answer is them, even attached children are barraged by food messages from sources you might not have even considered: the media and advertising.

“A lot of people say, ‘Media doesn’t influence me,’” said Melinda Hemmelgarn, a dietician and food journalist from Columbia, Missouri, when in fact, advertising is often the only form of “education” they may be receiving about food and nutrition. Even of those people who have heard about their nation’s nutritional programs, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid, few rely on them to make their food choices, she said.

Hemmelgarn is spending her fellowship with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Food and Society Policy Fellows Program educating parents about the dangers of letting the media make children’s nutritional decisions. Media’s influence on our children is so pervasive, she said, that most of us don’t even realize how much our children – or we – are being exposed.

Advertisers are Relentless – and Want Our Children

The amount of advertising we receive on a daily basis is staggering: television, Internet, radio, billboards, newspapers, magazines, cell phones, video games, at sports venues, in supermarkets, food packaging, even in schools, and the list goes on and on. Children and adults are constantly hearing where they should go to eat or what they should buy. With so much marketing coming at us constantly, it’s impossible for media not to have an influence unless we live somewhere with absolutely no contact with the outside world. Cell phones now have the capability to allow businesses to track where users go, so if your teen walked past a pizza parlor, an ad could pop up for that pizza parlor on the screen of the cell phone. It’s both awesome and frightening what technology can do.

Advertisers are also keying in on trends, which are most influential on children and teens. “Now, with regard to children especially, you got to get them when they’re young, because if you can get them when they’re young, you got them for life,” Hemmelgarn said of how advertisers think regarding children.

Study: Food Marketing Aimed at Children Influences Poor Nutritional Choices
A recent report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies shows that food and beverage marketing targeted to children 12 years old and younger leads them to request and consume high-calorie, low-nutrient products. Advertisers aim for this age group because dietary preferences and eating patterns form early in life, the study says. The report calls for manufacturers and restaurants to direct more of their resources to reshape children’s awareness of food by developing healthy foods, drinks, and meals for children. The report also calls for the government to enhance nutritional standards in school meals and offer tax incentives to companies that develop healthy foods, and for schools, parents, and the media to support the government and food industry to pursue these initiatives.

It’s the Parents’ Responsibility

Parents need to teach their children how to be smart about buying their food – to realize that the purpose of food is to provide nutrition to the body, Hemmelgarn said. Children need to learn that there’s more to buying food than convenience, price, or emotional comfort. They need to learn how food choices affect their health, not just their checking accounts or their schedules.

Parents also need to teach their children that just because an advertiser makes a claim, it’s not necessarily accurate, Hemmelgarn said. For example, 78% of people in the United States say they like to buy green brands because they want to be eco-conscious, but not all advertisers who claim to be green or sustainable or organic actually are. One fast-food restaurant claims that its chicken nuggets are green because they don’t have trans fats, but there’s no information on how the chicken was raised or any other nutritional facts about the food. Even the term “organic” can get confusing, as many companies are now diluting this label to include naturally raised, yet not organically certified, foods.

Media Literacy is a Learned Skill

The key to guiding our children’s ability to make smart consumer choices regarding food is to teach them to be media literate – using critical thinking to sort through the messages they are receiving in order to find the truth about the food being advertised and if it aligns with their own values and beliefs.

“Media literacy is not media bashing,” Hemmelgarn said. “It’s a counter-balance. It’s an antidote to the excess media of this age. But, it’s an alternative to censoring.”

Through media literacy, consumers learn that all media is constructed to deliver a specific message to consumers and to persuade them of something — in the case of food purchases: where to go and what to buy. They learn how to think beyond the plate to find “food truth,” answering questions such as: Where did this food come from? Who produced it? How was it raised? What’s in it? How might eating this affect the environment, society, my community, my family, or me?

There are seven key questions for consumers to ask themselves before basing a food purchase on a media message they received:

  1. Who paid for the message?
  2. What is the purpose of the message?
  3. Who is the intended audience?
  4. What techniques are being used to grab and hold my attention?
  5. What is being sold?
  6. What is not included in the message?
  7. What are the unintended consequences of purchasing this food?

Using the case of a fast-food restaurant’s ad promoting parties to schoolteachers for their classrooms during field trips, Hemmelgarn demonstrated how to use these questions:

  1. Who paid for the message? McDonald’s
  2. What is the purpose of the message? To sell food
  3. Who is the intended audience? Teachers
  4. What techniques are being used to grab and hold my attention? Happy, fun character interacting with happy children
  5. What is being sold? A free event for classrooms
  6. What is not included in the message? That the food is unhealthy
  7. What are the unintended consequences of purchasing this food? Children learn unhealthy food choices from the teacher’s decision, and children learn to overlook healthy food options such as homemade meals or healthier restaurants

Here’s another example using a soft drink company’s pop machines in schools:

  1. Who paid for the message? Coca-Cola
  2. What is the purpose of the message? To sell bottles of a soft drink
  3. Who is the intended audience? Children
  4. What techniques are being used to grab and hold my attention? Bright colors, catchy slogans
  5. What is being sold? Easy, inexpensive drink option
  6. What’s not included in the message? That the drink is unhealthy
  7. What are the unintended consequences of purchasing this food? Children learn unhealthy food choices from the school’s decision, and children learn to overlook healthy drink options such as milk or juice

Sorting through media messages can be difficult to learn and to teach to others, but says Hemmelgarn: “If we love our kids and if we’re interested in protecting them from these media messages, then we need to know how to do this.”

Cheap Food is Often Unhealthy Food
Anyone who has ever walked into a grocery store knows this is true: Healthy food is not cheap. Earlier this year, at the groundbreaking of U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama’s home garden, CBS News reported that people going through the economic recession were more likely to opt for inexpensive, unhealthy foods over whole foods, even when they know the long-term consequences of an unhealthy diet. When it came to saving money, people are more likely to trade their $3 organic apple for a $1 fast-food sandwich rather than look for other money-saving options. As attached parents, we must keep in mind that we are raising our children to grow into healthy adults and to value health over greed. And we must model the decisions we want our children to make. Be careful when you begin cutting the family food budget.

Rescue Your Baby from Obesity

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

Rescue your baby from obesityAs attachment parents, we need to be sure that we love and accept our children no matter what – and this includes their weight. Some children are naturally, genetically, more overweight or underweight than other children, and this is OK. The reason for the national media attention on children and their weight management is because of the high rates of obesity not only among adults but among children, as well.

Obesity is defined as being 20% above the ideal weight for height. Excess body fat puts children at risk for a number of serious health concerns including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obstructive sleep apnea, and bone and joint disorders. Recent studies have found possible links with liver and kidney disease, and cancer. Obesity also puts kids at increased risk for low self esteem, which can later contribute to depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses. Many experts and resources agree that childhood obesity is of epidemic proportions. Continue reading

Is Organic Really Healthier?

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

Is organic scientifically healthier?Georgia Jones isn’t accustomed to addressing a crowd as knowledgeable about food as are many attached parents. An University of Nebraska-Lincoln nutrition professor, Jones spends much of her classroom time educating people about the very basics of what they put in their bodies.

“My students don’t come with an understanding of food,” she said. “Food for my students comes out of a box, a pan. If I told my students to go make a chocolate cake, they wouldn’t have a clue.”

But many families involved in Attachment Parenting are smart about their food. They understand the importance of knowing where their food comes from and how it was produced. These consumers choose to eat food without chemicals, because they realize that organic is superior to conventionally raised food. Or, is it?

Background on the Organic Food Industry

Organic food, a $14 billion industry, is the fastest-growing segment of the food industry, Jones said. National surveys show that two-thirds of Americans have purchased organic food at some point during the last 12 months.

“Organic food started as mostly a niche market, years ago,” Jones said. During especially the last decade, organic foods, farmers markets, and local food networks have spread rapidly into the mainstream consumer market. “Organic food is no longer a niche market,” she said.

Consumer demand for organic food is on the rise for a number of reasons, including food safety issues, such as an avoidance of pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs); a concern for the environment; and because organic food is often fresher and tastier than conventionally grown food, Jones said. But the number-one reason is an increased awareness of the link between food and health.

“There was a time in this country when we forgot that food actually has a purpose in our health, that it is for nourishment,” Jones said. “Now, we’ve moved into an area that I call ‘beyond nutritional eating,’ where we are using food to try to prevent and heal disease.”

That organic food is free of pesticides and GMOs and comes from environmentally friendly farms and gardens are safe assumptions – each documented through federally regulated certification programs. Shocking as it may be, however, there is no certainty that organic food, while its safety is certainly more accountable, is actually more nutritious than conventionally grown food, Jones said.

A New Era in Food Science

Consumers often confuse food safety and nutrition. Food-borne illnesses, pesticides, and GMO allergens are food safety concerns. Nutrition refers specifically to the content of macro- and micronutrients within food. Traditional nutrition centers on macronutrients, which include protein, carbohydrates, and fats; vitamins; and minerals. Micronutrients include substances such as phytochemicals and phytonutrients that were long thought to have no effect on human health. Research now shows that these micronutrients, also known as secondary metabolites, are extremely beneficial in boosting the immune system, protecting the body from cancer-causing free radicals, killing disease-causing pathogens, and more. “This is a new area [for science],” Jones said.

One phytonutrient receiving a lot of attention from nutritionists are flavonoids, which are found in very high amounts in blueberries but also in a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Flavonoids are known to protect against heart disease, cancer, and age-related diseases such as dementia. “You want to eat plenty of fruits and plenty of vegetables,” Jones said. “Something else is, you want to eat plenty of color. This is a key part of nutrition and is not getting enough attention.”

Activated by environmental stress, flavonoids are produced by the plant as a defense mechanism against UV-B radiation and disease stress. “These secondary metabolites aren’t there for us. We just reap the benefits,” Jones said. “They’re actually there to protect the plant.”

Organic Plants Contain More Secondary Metabolites

To determine whether organically raised plants are more nutritious than conventionally raised plants, science is going back to how plants are raised and focusing on the formation of secondary metabolites — the phytonutrients — which are chemicals produced by a plant grown in less-than-ideal conditions. Organically raised plants are subject to more pest and weather stress than conventionally raised plants, which are protected by chemical pesticides, GMO varieties, and commercial fertilizer application. As a result of this added stress, an organically raised plant produces secondary metabolites to provide added protection, as well as to quicken maturation and seed development.

But Theories Are Not Proof

Although organic foods do tend to contain more secondary metabolites, “there are a number of reasons why scientists aren’t coming out and saying this is the better way,” Jones said. There are still too many unknowns in the formation of secondary metabolites, including specific environmental factors, soil properties, and crop management practices that affect the formation of these micronutrients. Plus, there are two crucial questions that must be answered first:

  1. Do organic plant products contain more or less of certain nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and secondary metabolites than conventional plant products?
  2. To what extent are nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and secondary metabolites beneficial or harmful to human health?

Much of the problem with being unable to give a definite answer to the question of whether organic food is more nutrition relates to the type of research that has been conducted on the relationship between secondary metabolites and organically raised food. Most of the studies seek out theories, such as epidemiological studies that link food to health through statistics, retail food analysis, and other studies that are purely observational. Observational studies look for patterns, but they can’t prove a theory. For example, an observational study may find that people who eat oranges tend not to develop cancer but there aren’t any scientific data to prove that oranges prevent cancer. “Just because something organic is statistically different doesn’t mean it’s biologically different,” Jones said.

Below are a number of observational studies related to organic nutrition, each with promising theories:

  • Organic ketchup contains more lycopene than conventional and store brands, and fast food ketchup (Ishida and Chapman, 2009).
  • Flavanoids are significantly higher in tomatoes raised with organic practices such as crop rotation for pest control and organic matter for fertilizer, than in tomatoes raised with herbicides and pesticides and commercial fertilizer (Mitchell et al, 2007).
  • Animals fed with organic feeds have fewer stillbirths than those fed with conventional feeds (Williams, 2002; Bourn and Prescott, 2003).
  • Antioxidant compounds are higher in peaches and pears raised organically than conventionally, and vitamin E is higher in organic pears than conventional pears (Carbonaro, et al, 2002).
  • Organic food products have higher levels of vitamin C and lower levels of nitrates than conventional food products (Bourn and Prescott, 2002).

A follow-up human or animal study must be used to prove any theories found. Human studies are the most influential but are particularly difficult to do. “You can control what a rat does, but you can’t control what a human does,” Jones said. “You have to consider not only diet but lifestyle. You can’t eat organic and drink or smoke all day. … You also have to consider, with human studies, that diseases progress over a lifespan, not just one or two years.”

The Most Promising Study

By and large, the observational study most supportive of the theory that organic food is nutritionally superior to conventional foods was conducted in 2001 among Okinawans, the people living on the southern-most Japanese island of Okinawa.

“They have the longest lifespan of any group alive,” Jones said. Okinawans live to be an average of 81.2 years old, followed by the Japanese at 79.9 years, Hong Kong at 79.1 years, and Sweden at 79.0 years. The United States has the 18th longest lifespan of the world’s societies, at 76.8 years.

Okinawans also experience a delayed aging process and minimized debilitating diseases in the elder years. “These people are healthier longer than (Americans) are,” Jones said, despite U.S. medical advancements superior to that of the Okinawans. The average cholesterol level in the Okinawa centenarian is 102.4 mg/dL, and high blood pressure exists in only 1.5% of the centenarian population, she said.

There are several aspects of the Okinawan diet that differ dramatically from the Western diet. Okinawans have never developed a taste for salt, so “they don’t eat a lot of processed foods,” Jones said. Their flavonoid consumption is six times higher than the Japanese or Canadians, who are next on the list. And the Okinawan diet contains the highest lycopene content of all of the world’s diets. The Okinawan diet has since been called the Longevity Diet, because it improves physical strength, prevents illness, and maintains overall health.

“They look at medicine as food,” Jones said. “They’re really looking at food in a different manner than we do.”

Using the Okinawan study, consumers of organic foods can safely assume that, yes, organic is nutritionally superior to conventional foods, Jones said. But, she warned, this is only a guess until the research proves it so — although it’s a guess that many consumers are confident to say is truth.

Current Trends in the Organic Sector

Consumer interest in organic foods continued to grow last year. Highlights from 2008 consumer use surveys include:

  • Research from The Natural Marketing Institute reveals that consumers are increasingly incorporating organic products into their lifestyles. Total household penetration across six product categories has risen from 57% in 2006 to 59% in 2007. The research also showed that the number of core users has increased from 16% in 2006 to 18% in 2007.
  • Consumer interest in buying environmentally friendly products and organic food remains high among Northwest natural and organic product consumers despite tough economic times and rising food and energy prices. Research by Mambo Sprouts Marketing showed that consumers in Washington and Oregon see buying “green” as a priority: 92% of consumers reported buying the same (54%) or more (38%) environmentally friendly products compared to the prior six months. Rather than cutting out such products, consumers report they are using money-saving strategies, such as coupons, stocking up on sales, and cooking meals at home to stretch their grocery dollars.
  • 69% of U.S. adult consumers buy organic products at least occasionally, according to The Hartman Group report, The Many Faces of Organic 2008. Furthermore, about 28% of organic consumers (about 19% adults) are weekly organic users. Organic categories of high interest to consumers are dairy, fruit and vegetables, prepared foods, meats, breads, and juices.
  • A Harris Interactive online survey conducted for Whole Foods Market showed that, despite rising food prices, 79% of consumers do not want to compromise on food quality and 70% continue to buy the same amount of natural and organic foods. Findings also showed two out of three adults prefer to buy natural or organic products if prices are comparable to those of non-organic products. Overall, the survey found that 74% of adults purchase natural or organic foods, with 20% saying that more than one-fourth of all the groceries they buy are natural or organic. In addition, 66% of adults would like to find ways to buy natural or organic foods within their budget.

API’s Role in Shaping Parenting: Highlights from the 2009 API Think Tank Event in Nashville, TN

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

API's 15th AnniversaryIn an unprecedented move, Attachment Parenting International gathered eight brilliant minds in Attachment Parenting for the organization’s 15th Anniversary Celebration gathering the last weekend of August in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. Never before had all these parenting experts appeared together at an event open to the public. For the hundreds of parents, students, and professionals sitting in the seats of Belmont University’s Troutt Theatre the afternoon of Saturday, August 29, 2009, the “Making an Impact Now: Creating a Sustainable Legacy for Children” Think Tank Event proved truly to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Moderator Lu Hanessian, author of Let the Baby Drive, founder of WYSH, host of API Live! teleseminars, and member of API’s Board of Directors, introduced the panel of speakers, each walking from behind the stage curtain to sit on chairs arranged in a semi circle under a six-foot banner proclaiming API’s anniversary theme: “Growing More Attached.” Making up the panel were:

  • Martha Sears, RN – nurse and lactation consultant, La Leche League leader, mother to eight children, co-author of 25 parenting books, and member of API’s Advisory Board and Editorial Review Board.
  • William Sears, MD – pediatrician and pediatrics professor at the University of California’s Irvine School of Medicine, father to eight children, and author or co-author to more than 40 parenting books, and member of API’s Advisory Board.
  • Ina May Gaskin, MA, CPM – midwife, founder and director of the Farm Midwifery Center in Tennessee, and author of two childbirth books.
  • Mary Ann Cahill – co-founder and former director of La Leche League International, mother of nine children, and author of a parenting book.
  • Isabelle Fox, PhD – psychotherapist, author of two parenting books, mother, and member of API’s Advisory Board.
  • James McKenna, PhD – anthropologist, professor, and director at Notre Dame University’s the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Lab, author of three infant sleep books, and member of API’s Advisory Board.
  • Barbara Nicholson, MEd – founder of API, mother to four children, co-author of Attached at the Heart, and member of API’s Board of Directors, Editorial Review Board, and Research Group.
  • Lysa Parker, MS, CFLE – founder and former director of API, certified family life educator, mother to two children, co-author of Attached at the Heart, co-leader of API of Huntsville/Madison, and member of API’s Board of Directors, Editorial Review Board, and Research Group.

“This is quite an illustrious panel!” Hanessian said. Special tribute was paid to Nicholson and Parker, for “without you two ladies sitting at the table 15 years ago and commiserating about the future, we would not be here,” Hanessian said before launching into a discussion that could have easily lasted longer than the two hours allotted.

Congratulations, Barbara and Lysa!
Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, API’s co-founders, were surprised during the Think Tank Event with recognition for API’s first Award  for Contribution to Parenting going to an AP-minded individual(s) who truly made a difference on parenting. The award was presented by Martha Sears and Dr. William Sears.

Said Dr. Sears of the award recipients: “There are few people – and we really know a lot of people – who I look back on and say, they really made a difference.”

Hanessian opened the Think Tank Event through a series of questions exploring the theme, “Making an Impact Now: Creating a Sustainable Legacy for Children.” To sum it up, she wondered on behalf of parents worldwide what parenting for the future means for the choices parents are making everyday in their homes?

But first, how did API come to be?

API in the Beginning

API, like any effective organization, was borne out a need: “I realized when I had my first child, how few supports there were,” Parker said.

She found new mother support in her local La Leche League, which described a different way of parenting than much of mainstream promoted – one that resonated with her sense of self and where she gravitated toward in her parenting approach. “I think that was a miracle moment for me,” Parker said.

Through the years, Parker and Nicholson saw a need for this parenting approach to get into the reach of more parents. As special education teachers, they encountered children labeled with emotional and behavioral issues and learning disabilities who were, rather, in need of connection with an adult attachment figure. “A lot of problems weren’t really a learning problem but an attachment problem,” Nicholson said.

Read the entire history of API’s founding in the special Attached at the Heart issue of The Attached Family magazine, available at www.attachmentparenting.org/attachedattheheart/journal_aath.pdf.

Ultimately, API came to be as a way to better educate and support attached families, but Attachment Parenting was around long before 15 years ago. Martha Sears and Dr. William Sears, called the Father of Attachment Parenting (AP), coined the term years before API was founded. But the parenting principles that make up AP didn’t start with the Sears.

“In my first year of practice, a wise professor said to me: Surround yourself with very wise mothers,” said Dr. Sears, who is celebrating his 40th year of pediatrics practice this year. “That was my first introduction to Attachment Parenting.”

Empowering Parents

“I worry most about the disempowerment of parents,”  said Dr. McKenna.

“We live in a culture of fear,” Hanessian agreed.

API strives to give the power of parenting back to the mother and father, so that they know how to make the best decisions for their children and family despite the sometimes ill-informed and biased advice offered not only by friends and family members but also by medical and other childcare professionals.

“Take back the power,” Parker said. “For far too long, people in the culture have dictated how we should raise our baby, how we should have our baby.”

Gaskin explained how this empowering of parents best happens when advocated for early – at birth. By choosing a midwife, new parents can ensure that the mother and baby can likely be together from labor and delivery forward. By starting as early as possible in keeping parents with their child, their parenting journey pushes forward with connection being considered “normal.”

Parents’ naturally gravitate toward connection, when not influenced by outside forces. What API advocates is for parents to follow that intuition.

“Our fourth child is the one who taught me about intuition,” three decades ago, Martha Sears said, adding that the first three babies were so-called easy babies – or, in other words as McKenna explained, this fourth child would be one of the babies who aren’t as convenient for parents as they wish they would be. This fourth baby required Martha Sears to cosleep in order for her to get some sleep. Although she was following her intuition, it was a scary time for her because the mainstream culture did not support this sleeping arrangement at all. Sears had to learn how to listen to her baby and trust her intuition despite what was popular in parenting advice at the time.

“Thirty years ago! Isn’t that unbelievable that we’re still plagued by that doubt?” Hanessian exclaimed.

What API does is to help parents realize that they are the experts in their child’s care and that, as humans, we are driven toward connection with one another, especially between parent and child. In Western culture, especially, this often means that how they feel toward childrearing doesn’t quite jive with the mainstream advice. API first empowers parents by allowing them the freedom to look beyond mainstream parenting advice to that connection-building that just feels good and right within themselves.

But the key to helping parents pursue this intuitive parenting style is showing the overwhelming research that support AP and API’s Eight Principles of Parenting. Martha Sears agreed, giving an example of the need to show parents the research discrediting cry-it-out sleep training.

Armed with research, API has helped to turn the tide. Parents are now able to find AP resources to support them in their parenting journey. Even in the mainstream culture, more and more experts are saying for parents to listen to their babies.

There are still challenges, though. Western culture is driven by a working population and both parents in most families work outside the home. Dr. Fox recalled a point in her practice when the family dynamic had noticeably changed – when parents were unable to describe the history of their child’s behavioral problems for which Fox had been called to assess and repair, even unable to provide basic childcare facts such as the child’s fears or the potty training technique used. What she found was that the children she most often saw with behavioral issues were those who did not have a consistent caregiver in the early years of life.

That’s why API is so important, Nicholson said – to get these observations, and complementary research, out to parents to show them the long-term effects of nurturing parenting.

This change in parenting practice among the mainstream culture takes time. As Dr. Sears pointed out, parents have been practicing AP for more than 40 years, and while Western culture is incorporating more AP principles into mainstream parenting advice than ever before, AP is still a long ways from widespread acceptance.

Cahill, one of seven women who co-founded La Leche League International 53 years ago, agreed that cultural change does take time. The reason is, parents want to be “good” parents and it can be difficult for a mother or father to sort through the advice they receive from literally every person they encounter, whether the pediatrician, a teacher, a clergyman, a family member or friend, or even by observing what other parents model at the park or grocery store.

“When I had my first baby, I wanted to be the best mother. I wanted to breastfeed,” Cahill said. “And I utterly failed.”

But what she came to realize is that she didn’t fail; instead, society failed her. She didn’t receive any support for breastfeeding. That’s the value of API – a source of support .

Dr. Fox agreed, saying that it’s common for parents to attend childbirth education classes but that they don’t often attend parenting classes until they have a problem they need help with. “Mothers need help with childbirth, but they also need help with [at least] the first year,” she said.

‘Good’ Parenting vs. Good Parenting

That “good” parent myth is also fueled by the voices parents hear in their heads from how their own parents had raised them, Fox said. “We hear our own parents’ voices, and we hear that parent’s voice be critical to us.” Without being aware of the power of those voices, parents will judge how “good” they are by how well they following their own parents’ paths.

“In the beginning, I had to overcome some deficits myself,” Martha Sears explained. Her mother had spanked and practiced other non-AP approaches. She struggled, like many parents must, against that voice in her head that conflicted with her intuition in terms of discipline and communication. In the end – at the point of decision making – all parents either make the choice to do what their parents did with them, or they change through education, support, and often intense emotional work.

Martha Sears said it’s important for parents to keep the future goal in mind: “Remember that you are raising someone else’s future mother or future father. It’s important to get yourself emotionally healthy, so that you can give that gift to your children that keeps on giving.”

Among API’s Eight Principles of Parenting is Preparing for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting. Through this principle, API is able to empower people early in their parenting journey – which ultimately makes the challenges of raising children, discipline and communication, easier in the long-term, said Martha Sears. “When you can find a solid way to connect with your children early, you have fewer problems [later],” she said.

“This organization [API] is the only one in existence, except La Leche League, where parents can learn that and that teaches this foundation of attachment,” Martha Sears said.

It can be difficult for parents to sort out their own voice from all the other voices they hear. So, how can parents sort out which voices – whether from their own parents or another outside influence, including API – aligns best with their need for connection with their child?

Today’s Western society is the only culture in history that needs to read a book to know how to parent, said Dr. McKenna. Books are wonderful, but the best teachers are other parents – those experienced in AP. Let’s look at what the expert parents said at the Think Tank Event in response to some of the most confusing areas of parenting.

Discipline

Dr. Bill Sears offered a quick reflective question he learned from his wife, Martha, that parents can ask themselves whenever encountered with a tense situation: “If I were my child, how would I want my mother or father to react?”

“Get behind the eyes of your child. Do you yell, do you spank, do you use sarcasm, do you hug? If you ask yourself that question, and answer truthfully, you’ll always get it right.”

Sleep

Someone, at some point, decided that parenting should shut off at night, said Dr. McKenna. Instead of regarding their baby’s cries as a way of communication, they regarded it a non-communicating noise that the baby makes. What makes crying irritating is when parents fail to see the value in it. A crying baby indicates a need and opportunity for attachment-building.

“Does your baby sleep through the night yet?” is among the most frequently asked questions of the newborn period and can make parents feel guilty if their baby isn’t sleeping through the night – as if they are not “good” parents, Dr. McKenna said.

“Sleep is very relational,” Dr. McKenna said. Crying is natural; it’s a sign that attachment exists, that the baby is seeking the parent out and wants the parent close. Dr. McKenna gave this sample reply for the next time someone asks whether Baby is sleeping through the night yet: “Not only does my baby not sleep through the night, he protests and cries loudly when I’m not there – and isn’t that wonderful? He knows when he’s in danger and isn’t afraid to say so!”

If mainstream society regards a baby who wakes and cries during the night as having a sleep problem, the question is why only half the babies have “sleep problems” and not the full 100 percent, Dr. McKenna said. Why  are some of the babies not crying, when crying means there is an attachment bond?

What makes nighttime parenting so difficult is because parents want their sleep and losing sleep is hard. But, “it [parenting] isn’t always going to be easy anyway, because life is like that,” Dr. McKenna said. Even the most informative, well-practiced AP parent can have difficulties in parenting – and infant sleep – if they are caring for a high-needs baby.

Dr. Sears chimed in with a story of a couple who he first saw with their newborn baby and later saw when their baby was three months old. Shorty after birth, the baby was a healthy, happy child and the parents seemed inclined to AP. But, at the three months, the baby wasn’t gaining well and had floppy muscle tone and the parents seemed disconnected.

What had changed? The parents, overwhelmed with their baby’s erratic sleep pattern, had taken a cry-it-out sleep training class. At three months, while the baby was considered “good” in that he slept through the night, the baby’s health was failing in what Dr. Sears refers to as “shut down syndrome” – the baby’s lack of emotional connection with his parents caused him to shut down mentally and physically. It’s a rather common example of the effect that non-AP sleep practices can have on children.

“Beware of baby trainers, because I can tell you, from my practice, it’s a short-term gain by a long-term loss,” Dr. Sears said.

Balance

“This [parenting] is a tough job, and there are a lot of tired moms,” Nicholson said. “What a baby needs is a happy, rested mother.”

Fathers, she said, need to give their wives and partners support – not advice – to ensure that she doesn’t get overwhelmed and is able to find balance between taking care of the child and herself.

But balance is more than self-care; it’s also about healing the emotional wounds left from their own childhoods. “You can’t value someone unless you value yourself,” Dr. McKenna said.

In Utero Bonding

Connection begins even before the baby is born. Nicholson spoke about the importance of parents learning about conscious birth, starting their parenting journey of education and smart choices early. Mothers and babies are not supposed to be separated after birth, Gaskin agreed.

Gaskin recommended that mothers take the time to revel in the baby growing inside them. She suggested mothers focus more on the baby moving and kicking than getting caught up in the technology surrounding pregnancy, such as ultrasounds which unnecessarily distracts some parents.

Consistent and Loving Care

“Babies are ingenious in figuring out who really does what for them,” said Dr. McKenna. Whether this is the mother, father, grandparent, or childcare provider, the baby’s main attachment bond will develop with the primary caregiver. “Our species would not have been successful without significant caregivers,” he added.

That’s why, “what is so important is that mothers have to be there,” said Dr. Fox, who explained that, in all families, one parent should stay at home full-time for the first few years of the child’s life. Often, this is the mother, but more and more, the father is taking on this role in many families. “Fathers can just as well stay home, too,” Dr. McKenna said.

Lately, “fathers are taking more of a role,” Gaskin agreed. “When dads aren’t afraid of babies, I think that’s something very good because that connection is likely to continue.”

Dr. McKenna mentioned the term, “tandem parenting,” in which both the mother and the father share in the care of their child to the point where both are primary attachment figures. This is a new concept, as it has long been thought that a child can only have one primary attachment figure and that the next closest relation would be a secondary attachment figure. The primary attachment preference is based on the father’s behavior toward the baby, not a biological connection.

There is great value in tandem parenting, not only in the benefit to the child who can rely on both parents and to the mother who can take a break here and there, but also to the father himself. When fathers help with their children, their hormone levels fluctuate, Dr. McKenna said. Their oxytocin levels increase and testerone decreases. It’s an actual change in biochemistry.

But, especially with the economic pressures of today’s society, many families are unable to afford one parent to stay at home, so does this mean that they can’t AP? It’s harder for dual-income parents, but certainly possible, Parker said. What they need to do is to focus on reconnecting every day once the parent comes home from work. Hanessian recommended reconnection through cosleeping. Dr. Sears mentioned nursing mothers using breast pumps to be able to continue breastfeeding after they return to work.

“My mother was a single mother juggling two jobs, and what I remember about my mother is that she did the best she could in a less-than-ideal situation,” said Dr. Sears, explaining that while it’s best that a parent is able to stay at home with the children, if it can’t happen, the focus of the parent should be on cultivating that connection as much as possible when together with the child. Children can grow up in situations that are hard but be OK because the memories they have are of happiness and togetherness and connection.

Another way for dual-income parents and single parents is by striving for one, consistent caregiver and being careful about caregiver “roulette,” in which the child’s caregiver is frequently changing. It’s extremely important that a child is able to form a strong, long-lasting primary attachment bond with a caregiver, even if not the parent, and this can only happen with one, consistent caregiver relationship in a childcare situation. Without the formation of a primary attachment bond, as in the case of a child who has many different caregivers, that child will be unable to form healthy attachments and maintain relationships.

Although there are some families who truly cannot afford to have one parent stay at home, Dr. Fox said most families, if they made it a priority, could pull the resources together to do this. More and more jobs are allowing parents to work at home, and the Internet allows parents to more easily start an at-home business, or a family financial budget can help parents adjust to the lifestyle that goes with a lower cost of living.

“You are really needed for the first two years of a baby’s life,” Dr. Fox said. “We go out to borrow money for a house or a car; think about saving that money to stay at home with your baby. It’s not that long.”

What is Good Parenting?

The goal of what mainstream culture considers “good” parenting is how to raise children that won’t embarrass the parents. What API strives to do is to support parents in raising children who grow up connected – that is who are emotionally healthy and able to form strong relationships with others, who want to make good decisions based on their own sense of self and values, and who are empathic and compassionate.

So, how do parents go about doing this?

Dr. Fox explained that AP is based on what is known as the Three Ps:

  1. Protection – that the child feels protected and cared for.
  2. Proximity – that the child is physically and emotionally close with the parent.
  3. Predictability – that the parent is consistent in childcare.

“With protection, proximity, and predictability comes a growing sense of trust and a growing sense of the world’s a pretty good place,” said Dr. Fox.

Dr. McKenna said AP is about parents being conscious of the way they are raising their children. “We tend to think of birth as Independence Day,” he said. “Not that it’s not important, but we’ve overdone it.” Parenting cannot stop at childbirth.

The emphasis placed on childbirth in society needs to spread beyond into childhood; the reason being, babies and children are always developing, always learning. For example, the tastebuds don’t form until the last few weeks of pregnancy, which is why a child tends to like the foods his mother ate during the last part of her pregnancy. And apnea-prone babies can lose up to 70% of their apnea spells by being placed next to teddy bears with a breathing motion. “Every sensory modality that baby has is being regulated by the mother [or father],” said Dr. McKenna.

Dr. Sears said AP is about getting to the basics of relationships in a culture that where the basics can easily be lost in technology. “We’re talking about a low-tech style of parenting in a high-tech world,” Dr. Sears said. He told of a woman in saw in his practice who commented that while she couldn’t afford to buy her son everything that other children had, she could afford to give her son herself.

Dr. Sears also said AP is about parents enjoying parenthood. “Revel in it,” he said.

Highlights from Responses  to Audience Questions

Q: Does AP help autistic children?

Nicholson said that in her research, AP was definitely helpful in building connection between an autistic child and his family members .

Dr. Sears said: “If you were to ask me to write a prescription, I’d write ‘Attachment Parenting,’” because autism is a disorder of the brain and Attachment Parenting directly affects the way the brain develops.

Q: How exactly do you form an attachment bond with your child?

Cahill explained that an attachment is established and maintained by the parent meeting the emotional needs of the child. “All the things you’re doing, it creates this parental antennae,” she said and that antennae – or that sense of knowing what your child needs – develops over time.

Q: How can we change the mainstream perspective on cosleeping?

“Never be afraid to say, this is what you do and that you sleep with your baby,” said Dr. McKenna. “We really need to talk, as individuals, about our choices in positive ways.”

Q: How can we deal with the criticism of babies and toddlers not sleeping through the night?

“Here’s the deal: You’re the best sleep expert in your family,” said Dr. McKenna, adding that there are a number of reasons why young children may not be sleeping through the night but the standard that they should be sleeping through the night is unfounded. Every child is different, and comparing one child to another one isn’t effective in evaluating sleep issues.

Q: What does AP look like in an older child?

“If I had to sum up the long-term effect of Attachment Parenting in one word, it would be: empathy – kids who care,” said Dr. Sears. “If I had to sum up the long-term effect of not doing Attachment Parenting: lack of empathy – kids who don’t care.”

Q: Is there an education approach that is more AP than others?

Nicholson, whose children have homeschooled and attended public school and others, said that API does not endorse any particular education option. However, there is an AP way in selection an education option: “Look at each child and see where are their interests and where are they developmentally?” And, if there is only one option and it doesn’t seem to be a good fit for your child, communicate that you share in her frustration and work to problem-solve to make the situation more ideal.

Dr. Isabelle Fox on Overnight Visitations: As Harmful as We Suspect?

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

Isabelle Fox, PhD
Isabelle Fox, PhD

Attachment Parenting International regularly fields questions from members regarding different aspects of attachment, child development, and challenging family situations. Easily the largest area of concern is among divorced and separated parents who are involved in custody cases in which the other parent is demanding overnight visitation for an infant or young child.

Parents involved in this stressful situation believe that overnight visitation is harmful not only to their individual attachment with the child but also to the child’s overall development. Isabelle Fox, PhD, a psychotherapist, author of Being There, renowned expert on API’s Principle of Providing Consistent and Loving Care, and a member of API’s Advisory Board, wants to leave parents with the truth – that, yes, overnight visitations can be quite harmful to the young child…but that, unfortunately, the courts system is woefully behind on education in this arena of child development. Continue reading