All posts by The Attached Family

The Chemistry of Attachment

By Linda Folden Palmer, DC, member of API’s Editorial Review Board and author of The Baby Bond (www.babyreference.com).

1402625_19862838Human babies are born helpless, needing to be entirely cared for and protected. Luckily, they are born with all the necessary tools and “instructions” to attain such care for themselves, and to become a loved and loving part of their family and society. The ingrained neural and hormonal interactions provided for parent and child to assist them in this process are among the most powerful in nature. The hormonal cues are clear and compelling, and our instincts can provide us with all the appropriate responses. Without taking great efforts to avoid and ignore such urges, parents will naturally follow the advice of their neurons and hormones, nurturing their babies and maintaining physical closeness with them.

Once born, baby’s hormonal control systems and brain synapses begin to permanently organize according to the human interactions she experiences. Unneeded brain receptors and neural pathways are disposed of, while those appropriate to the given environment are enhanced.

Oxytocin and Bonding

Oxytocin is a chemical messenger released in the brain chiefly in response to social contact, but its release is especially pronounced with skin-to-skin contact. In addition to providing health benefits, this hormone-like substance promotes bonding patterns and creates desire for further contact with the individuals inciting its release.

When the process is uninterrupted, oxytocin is one of nature’s chief tools for creating a mother. Roused by the high levels of estrogen (“female hormone”) during pregnancy, the number of oxytocin receptors in the expecting mother’s brain multiplies dramatically near the end of her pregnancy. This makes the new mother highly responsive to the presence of oxytocin. These receptors increase in the part of her brain that promotes maternal behaviors.

Oxytocin’s first important surge is during labor. If a cesarean birth is necessary, allowing labor to occur first provides some of this bonding hormone surge (and helps ensure a final burst of antibodies for the baby through the placenta). Passage through the birth canal further heightens oxytocin levels in both mother and baby.

High oxytocin causes a mother to become familiar with the unique odor of her newborn infant, and once attracted to it, to prefer her own baby’s odor above all others. Baby is similarly imprinted on mother, deriving feelings of calmness and pain reduction along with mom. When the infant is born, he is already imprinted on the odor of his amniotic fluid. This odor imprint helps him find mother’s nipple, which has a similar but slightly different odor. In the days following birth, the infant can be comforted by the odor of this fluid.

Gradually over the next days, baby starts to prefer the odor of his mother’s breast, but continued imprinting upon his mother is not food-related. In fact, formula-fed infants are more attracted (in laboratory tests) to their mother’s breast odor than to that of their formula, even two weeks after birth.

By influencing maternal behavior and stimulating milk “let down” (allowing milk to flow) during nursing, oxytocin helps make the first attempts at breastfeeding feel natural. Attempts at nursing during the initial hour after birth cause oxytocin to surge to exceptional levels in both mother and baby. Mothers who postpone nursing lose part of the ultimate hormone high provided for immediately after birth. Powerful initial imprinting for mother and baby is intended to occur chiefly so that mother and baby will be able to find and recognize each other in the hours and days after birth.

Yet a lifetime opportunity for bonding and love is not lost if this initial window is missed. Beyond birth, mother continues to produce elevated levels of oxytocin as a consequence of nursing and holding her infant, and the levels are based on the amount of such contact. This hormonal condition provides a sense of calm and well-being. Oxytocin levels are higher in mothers who exclusively breastfeed than in those who use supplementary bottles. Under the early influence of oxytocin, nerve junctions in certain areas of mother’s brain actually undergo reorganization, thereby making her maternal behaviors “hard-wired.”

As long as contact with the infant remains, oxytocin causes mother to be more caring, to be more eager to please others, to become more sensitive to others’ feelings, and to recognize nonverbal cues more readily. Continued nursing also enhances this effect. With high oxytocin, mother’s priorities become altered and her brain no longer signals her to groom and adorn herself in order to obtain a mate, and thus a pregnancy. Now that the child has already been created, mom’s grooming habits are directed toward baby. High oxytocin in the female has also been shown to promote preference for whatever male is present during its surges (one good reason for dad to hang around during and after the birth). Prolonged high oxytocin in mother, father, or baby also promotes lower blood pressure and reduced heart rate as well as certain kinds of artery repair, actually reducing lifelong risk of heart disease.

Although baby makes her own oxytocin in response to nursing, mother also transfers it to the infant in her milk. This provision serves to promote continuous relaxation and closeness for both mother and baby. A more variable release of oxytocin is seen in bottle-fed infants but is definitely higher in an infant who is “bottle-nursed” in the parents’ arms rather than with a propped bottle.

Persistent, regular body contact and other nurturing acts by parents produce a constant, elevated level of oxytocin in the infant, which in turn provides a valuable reduction in the infant’s stress hormone responses. Multiple psychology studies have demonstrated that, depending on the practices of the parents, the resulting high or low level of oxytocin will control the permanent organization of the stress-handling portion of the baby’s brain—promoting lasting “securely attached” or “insecure” characteristics in the adolescent and adult. Such insecure characteristics include anti-social behavior, aggression, difficulty forming lasting bonds with a mate, mental illness and poor handling of stress.

When an infant does not receive regular oxytocin-producing responsive care, the resultant stress responses cause elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Chronic cortisol elevations in infants and the hormonal and functional adjustments that go along with it are shown in biochemical studies to be associated with permanent brain changes that lead to elevated responses to stress throughout life, such as higher blood pressure and heart rate. Mothers can also benefit from the stress-reducing effects of oxytocin: Women who breastfeed produce significantly less stress hormone than those who bottle-feed.

Nor are fathers left out of the oxytocin equation. It has been shown that a live-in father’s oxytocin levels rise toward the end of his mate’s pregnancy. When the father spends significant amounts of time in contact with his infant, oxytocin encourages him to become more involved in the ongoing care in a self-perpetuating cycle. Oxytocin in the father also increases his interest in physical (not necessarily sexual) contact with the mother. Nature now provides a way for father to become more interested in being a devoted and satisfied part of the family picture through his involvement with the baby.

With all of its powers, oxytocin is but one of a list of many chemicals that nature uses to ensure that baby finds the love and care he needs.

Vasopressin and Protection

Although present and active during bonding in the mother and infant, vasopressin plays a much bigger role in the father. This hormone promotes brain reorganization toward paternal behaviors when the male is cohabiting with the pregnant mother. The father becomes more dedicated to his mate and expresses behaviors of protection.

Released in response to nearness and touch, vasopressin promotes bonding between the father and the mother, helps the father recognize and bond to his baby, and makes him want to be part of the family, rather than alone. It has gained a reputation as the “monogamy hormone.” Dr. Theresa Crenshaw, author of The Alchemy of Love and Lust, says, “Testosterone wants to prowl; vasopressin wants to stay home.” She also describes vasopressin as tempering the man’s sexual drive.

Vasopressin reinforces the father’s testosterone-promoted protective inclination regarding his mate and child, but tempers his aggression, making him more reasonable and less extreme. By promoting more rational and less capricious thinking, this hormone induces a sensible paternal role, providing stability as well as vigilance.

Prolactin and Behavior

Prolactin is released in all healthy people during sleep, helping to maintain reproductive organs and immune function. In the mother, prolactin is released in response to suckling, promoting milk production as well as maternal behaviors. Prolactin relaxes mother and, in the early months, creates a bit of fatigue during a nursing session so she has no strong desire to hop up and do other things.

Prolactin promotes caregiving behaviors and, over time, directs brain reorganization to favor these behaviors. Father’s prolactin levels begin to elevate during mother’s pregnancy, but most of the rise in the male occurs after many days of cohabitation with the infant.

As a result of hormonally orchestrated brain reorganization during parenthood, prolactin release patterns are altered. It has been shown that fathers release prolactin in response to intruder threats, whereas childless males do not. On the other hand, nursing mothers do not release prolactin in response to loud noise, whereas childless females do. In children and non-parents, prolactin surges are related to stress levels, so it is generally considered a stress hormone. In parents, it serves as a parenting hormone.

Elevated prolactin levels in both the nursing mother and the involved father cause some reduction in their testosterone levels, which in turn reduces their libidos (but not their sexual functioning). Their fertility can be reduced for a time as well. This reduction in sexual activity and fertility is entirely by design for the benefit of the infant, allowing for ample parental attention and energy. When the father is intimately involved with the infant along with the mother, there should be some accord between the desires of the two, and oxytocin and other chemicals provide for heightened bonding and non-sexual interest in each other, which serves to retain a second devoted caretaker for the infant.

Opioids and Rewards

Opioids (pleasure hormones) are natural morphine-like chemicals created in our bodies. They reduce pain awareness and create feelings of elation. Social contacts, particularly touch—especially between parent and child—induce opioid release, creating good feelings that will enhance bonding. Odor, taste, activity and even place preferences can develop as the result of opioid release during pleasant contacts, and eventually the sight of a loved one’s face stimulates surges. Opioid released in a child’s brain as a conditioned response to a parent’s warm hugs and kisses can be effective for helping reduce the pain from a tumble or a disappointment.

Parents “learn” to enjoy beneficial activities such as breastfeeding and holding, and infants “learn” to enjoy contact such as being held, carried and rocked, all as a response to opioid release. Babies need milk, and opioids are nature’s reward to them for obtaining it, especially during the initial attempts. The first few episodes of sucking organize nerve pathways in the newborn’s brain, conditioning her to continue this activity. This is the reason that breastfed babies sometimes have trouble if they are given bottles in the newborn nursery: Early exposure to bottles creates a confusing association of pleasure with both bottle nipples and the mother’s breast. In fact, any incidental sensations experienced during rocking, touching and eating that aren’t noxious can become part of a child’s attachment and will provide comfort. It could be the warmth of mother’s body, father’s furry chest, grandma’s gentle lullaby, a blanket or the wood-slatted side of a crib.

Prolonged elevation of prolactin in the attached parent stimulates the opioid system, heightening the rewards for intimate, loving family relationships, possibly above all else. Just as with codeine and morphine, tolerance to natural opioids can occur, which will reduce the reward level for various activities over time. But this is not a problem for attached infants and parents, because higher levels of oxytocin, especially when created through frequent or prolonged body contact, actually inhibit opioid tolerance, protecting the rewards for maintaining close family relationships. On the other hand, consuming artificial opioid drugs replaces the brain’s need for maintaining family contacts.

Once a strong opioid bonding has occurred, separation can become emotionally upsetting and, in the infant, possibly even physically uncomfortable when opioid levels decrease in the brain, much like the withdrawal symptoms from cocaine or heroin. When opioid levels become low, one might feel like going home to hold the baby or like crying for a parent’s warm embrace, depending on your point of view. Sometimes alternate behaviors are helpful. For instance, thumb-sucking can provide some relief from partial or total withdrawal from a human or rubber nipple and can even provide opioid-produced reminiscences for a time.

Norepinephrine and Learning

Breastfeeding also causes dopamine and its product, norepinephrine (adrenaline), to be produced, which help maintain some of the effects of the early bonding. They enhance energy and alertness along with some of the pleasure of attachment.

Norepinephrine helps organize the infant’s stress control system, as well as other important hormonal controls in accordance with the nature of the early rearing experiences. It promotes learning about the environment—especially learning by memorization that is carried out by oxytocin, opioids and other chemical influences.

Pheromones and Basic Instincts

How does the man’s body know to initiate hormonal changes when he is living with a pregnant female? How can an infant accurately interpret mother’s “odors” that adults often can barely detect? The answer is pheromones. Among other things, pheromones are steroid hormones that are made in our skin. Our bodies are instinctually programmed to react accordingly when we detect these pheromones around us.

Newborns are much more sensitive to pheromones than adults. Unable to respond to verbal or many other cues, they apparently depend on this primitive sense that controls much of the behavior of lower animals. Most likely, the initial imprinting of baby to odors and pheromones is not just a matter of preferring the parents’ odors but is a way nature controls brain organization and hormonal releases to best adapt baby to its environment. Baby’s earliest, most primitive experiences are then linked to higher abilities such as facial and emotional recognition. Through these, baby most likely learns how to perceive the level of stress in the caretakers around her, such as when mother is experiencing fear or joy. Part of an infant’s distress over separation may be caused by the lost parental cues about the safety of her environment. Of course, the other basic sensation an infant responds to well is touch, and coincidentally, body odors and pheromones can only be sensed when people are physically very near each other.

What the World Needs Now…

Infants universally cry when laid down alone. If we allow ourselves to listen, our neurons and hormones encourage us in the proper response. Babies are designed to be frequently fed in a fashion that requires skin-to-skin contact, holding and available facial cues. Beneficial, permanent brain changes result in both parent and infant from just such actions. Contented maternal behaviors grow when cues are followed. The enhancement of fatherhood is strongly provided for as well. A father’s participation encourages his further involvement and creates accord between father and mother. Frequent proximity and touch between baby and parents can create powerful family bonding, with many long-term benefits.

Sadly, over the last century, parents have been encouraged by industry-educated “experts” to ignore their every instinct to respond to baby’s powerful parenting lessons. Psychologists, neurologists and biochemists have now confirmed what many of us have instinctually suspected: that many of the rewards of parenthood have been missed along the way and that generations of children may have missed out on important lifelong advantages.

API Announces “Voices of Breastfeeding” Double Edition of Attached Family

New Magazine Issue Advocates for Increased Support of Compassionate Infant-Feeding Choices

Bf 2014 Challenges smIn honor of the millions of women who have come together throughout history to support one another in motherhood, Attachment Parenting International (API) is pleased to announce the latest edition of Attached Family magazine. This double “Voices of Breastfeeding” issue spotlights both the cultural explosion of breastfeeding advocacy as well as the challenges still to overcome.

“This issue of the magazine has been a long time in the making,” said Rita Brhel, Editor of the Attached Family and API Publications Coordinator. “We wanted to create a resource that is helpful to all mothers, both those who were able to breastfeed their babies and those who were unable to.”

The “Voices of Breastfeeding” edition of Attached Family is divided into an “Advocating for Acceptance” issue that identifies the ever-growing movement of mothers inspired to campaign for society’s embrace of breastfeeding, and a “Meeting Challenges with Compassion” issue that recognizes that there are circumstances when breastfeeding is difficult, if not impossible, highlighting the importance of empathetic support for all infant-feeding choices.

“Ideally, I would have liked to have breastfed all three of my children,” Brhel said. “But Attachment Parenting International supports parents in all walks of life, including mothers who are unable to breastfeed, and I was able to learn how to meet my child’s attachment needs through sensitive responsiveness beyond breastfeeding.”

This edition of Attached Family was also made in appreciation of longtime magazines like Mothering, New Beginnings and Breastfeeding Today, which paved the way to widespread support for breastfeeding and Attachment Parenting conversations among mothers, and now fathers, and by extension, contributing to the breastfeeding movement that eventually influenced the research and medical communities.

“API is pleased to give a voice to our breastfeeding struggles, those related to society’s acceptance as well as those shared by mother and baby,” said Samantha Gray, Executive Director of Attachment Parenting International. “Emphasizing healthy attachment and relationship, it is natural that we speak up collectively to further advocacy efforts and gather together regularly to give personal support. Our contributors, led by Rita’s editorial vision and passion for breastfeeding support, have captured that perspective in this double issue.”

Scattered throughout the “Voices of Breastfeeding” edition of Attached Family are parent stories, project highlights and additional resources from around and beyond API, as well as the following features:

·         “The Real Breastfeeding Story” detailing exactly how far industrial society has come in accepting breastfeeding, yet also how far we have yet to go, which includes a look at “Extended Nursing Around the World”

·         “When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Work” explains the hard decisions some mothers made regarding their infant-feeding choices

·         An interview with Katrina Pavlik, founder of “Breastfeed, Chicago!” and an accompanying photo essay of breastfeeding families in Chicago, Illinois, USA

·         “Nature’s Case for Breastfeeding” featuring Attachment Parenting researcher Jeanne Stolzer from the University of Nebraska, USA

·         A recap of the past century’s infant-feeding landscape in “The History of Formula Use”

·         API’s debut of the Parent Support Deserts project with a presentation of infant-feeding support deserts within the United States

·         “Why Relationship with Your Baby Matters” by API’s Knowledge Base Coordinator Art Yuen

“This edition of Attached Family continues API’s goal of providing research-backed information in an environment of respect, empathy and compassion in order to support parents in making decisions for their families and to create support networks in their communities,” Brhel said.

API thanks cosponsors of this special edition of Attached Family: Arm’s Reach Concepts, Katie M. Berggren, Green Child Magazine, Momzelle and The Infant-Parent Institute for their generous contributions.

Access this double issue free of charge with API’s free membership.

 

How Parents Can Support Their Budding Performers: An Interview with Actress Elisa Llamido

By Rita Brhel, API’s publications coordinator, managing editor of Attached Family magazine, and an API Leader (Hastings, Nebraska, USA)

elisaheadshotFrom the beginning, 20 years ago, Attachment Parenting International has been a community of parents coming together to support one another in raising their children with trust, empathy, affection, compassion and joy. We may come from very different backgrounds and cultures, but we are all alike in our approach to relationships with our children and our willingness to advocate for this in our communities around the world.

I’m excited to introduce television and theatre actress Elisa Llamido (www.elisallamido.com), who lives in Los Angeles, California, USA, with her husband, 18-year-old stepson and a 4-year-old son.

RITA: Thank you, Elisa, for your time. To begin with, please tell us about your career in acting and theatre.

ELISA: I’ve had some fun roles in The Unit, Invasion and Numbers. I’m also a martial artist and acrobat, so I did stunts for the kids’ shows Power Rangers and Big Bad Beetleborgs. For theatre, I did a number of shows at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre [California, USA], including the world premiere of Stephen Sondheim’s first straight play, The Doctor is Out. I’ve also been seen in Los Angeles at the Kirk Douglas Theater in A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings, with Los Angeles Opera in The Imaginary Invalid, with Will and Company, and with Shakespeare Festival/LA.

RITA: Many parents value involving their children in the arts, including theatre, and we’d all like our children to do well in their activities. As an actress, how can parents support budding performers?

ELISA: Children who learn how to perform on stage learn how to present themselves to the world. They learn control of their bodies, projection of their voices and how to be themselves even when someone is looking at them. No matter where a child goes in life, these are valuable skills that they can take with them.

The caveat, of course, is that these skills can only be learned in a loving environment. Parents can very easily make performing, which is an intensely personal act, into a terrible experience where children can feel as though they have done their best and been rejected. It’s important to remember that your “goal” as the parent of a performer should not be to make them the best no matter what the cost. It is highly unlikely that this is what they want or need. Your goal should be to nurture and accept your child and do what you can to help them reach their own goals. What you say makes a difference.

RITA: It sounds like theatre is a great option for Attachment Parenting-minded families seeking activities for their children. How did you first become interested in Attachment Parenting?

ELISA: My mother was a very sensitive mother who thought that children were just little people and deserved the same respect that adults did. When I became a mother, I brought that ideal with me.

When I was pregnant, my mother researched parenting books and bought me a copy of Dr. William Sears’ The Baby Book, which made a huge impact on me. I had never thought of cosleeping before—I thought it was dangerous to do before I was educated—and although the idea of babywearing seemed convenient, I learned that it is very good for the baby, too.

I spent so much time when I was pregnant doing research about natural childbirth, Attachment Parenting, child brain development and pregnancy!

RITA: That is wonderful that you had a great role model in your mother and that you had the foresight to prepare for parenthood during your pregnancy, as API advocates through the first of our Eight Principles of Parenting. How has Attachment Parenting benefited your family?

ELISA: My husband and I have an extremely close relationship with our son. He’s an extremely bright, fearless boy who is endlessly creative and so much fun for us. I also got a wonderful bonus that I never expected: Through the unconditional love that I give to my son, I have finally been able to accept myself in all of my gloriously flawed humanity. I never realized how hard I was on myself before I was a parent. Now, in showing my son how to love himself, I’ve become as kind to myself as I am to other people!

My son was definitely what Dr. Sears calls a “high-need baby,” who just needed more than other babies do. He didn’t want to be on his own at all for the first few years, but because I gave him such a secure base and never forced him to be “independent,” when he was ready, he went forth on his own. Now as he approaches his fifth birthday, he is a very articulate, confident child who loves to perform on stage, go to school and do other things on his own with joy. Because we have such a strong, securely attached relationship, when he comes home, he loves to tell me all about his day and any things that happened that concern him.

Before I became a parent, I had always heard that until you have a child, you will never experience the depth of love that parenting brings. That is definitely true. But Attachment Parenting has brought so much more to us than just love: It’s brought a sense of confidence and self-worth to my son—and to me.

 

API Reads May 2014: Giving the Love That Heals

Giving the Love Book ImageWe’re finishing up talking about Giving the Love That Heals by Harville Hendrix, PhD and Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD. The  topics we’ll be discussing in May will be:

  • The Stage of Concern

  • The Stage of Intimacy

  • The Possibilities for a Conscious Future

  • Wrapping up the book

Our discussions happen on GoodReads. The next book up for discussion in June, July and August will be Attached at the Heart, 2nd Edition by Lysa Parker and Barbara Nicholson.

We hope  you can join the discussion!

Screen-Free Week: An Interview with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood

By Rita Brhel, managing editor of Attached Family magazine, API’s Publications Coordinator and an API Leader (Hastings API, Nebraska, USA)

for-white-TEE-e1390923415217Television, computers and other technology can offer a lot in terms of education and entertainment. Living in a temperate region with bitter winters and sweltering summers, there are seasons when my outdoors-loving family prefers time inside, and I have found creative ways to turn screen time into interactive family time as needed.

However, I also have to admit that it can be tempting, especially in the seemingly endless winter months, to overdo the screen time. Screen-Free Week—being observed this year from May 5-11—serves as an annual reminder to balance screen time with time away from technology.

Attachment Parenting International (API) promotes a balance of screen time within the family as one of the many ways to prioritize the parent-child relationship. Each year, API’s online magazine, blog, social media sites and other online resources go quiet in support of Screen-Free Week. We’re excited to be able to bring you this interview with Sara Adelmann, MA, with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, home of Screen-Free Week, to further inspire your family to take part in this international event.

RITA: Thank you, Sara, for your time. I understand that this is a very busy time of the year for you as Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) gets ready for Screen-Free Week. API embraces Screen-Free Week as an opportunity to educate and support parents in reducing screen time in their homes. Let’s start by learning more about CCFC and Screen-Free Week.

SARA: CCFC is the proud home to Screen-Free Week. We set the dates each year, provide resources and help spread the word. But it’s the thousands of individuals all over the world who organize local events. Anyone can organize Screen-Free Week in a classroom or entire school, with a scout troop, faith community, neighborhood association, at a local library or in any community group. Organizers and volunteers promote the week, reach out to partners, and help children and families discover fun, screen-free activities.

Screen-Free Week celebrations vary from family to family, school to school and town to town. Every year, we hear from organizers and participants around the globe about all of the fun screen-free activities they’ve discovered. Visit www.screenfree.org to find out how you can get involved—for the children in your life, for yourself and for a more positive, healthier future.

RITA: Screen-Free Week is an innovative project and so needed in our tech-heavy culture. What originally inspired CCFC to organize Screen-Free Week?

SARA: Reducing children’s screen time and advocating for screen-free, commercial-free time and space has always been essential to CCFC’s mission. That’s why when the Center for Screen-Time Awareness closed its doors [in 2010] and asked us to become the new official home of what used to be called “TV-Turnoff” [since 1994], we leaped at the chance.

Children are spending way too much time with screens—a staggering 32 hours per week for preschoolers and even more for older kids. And now, with mobile devices, children are immersed in screens, and the things they sell, nearly every waking moment. Regardless of content, excessive screen time changes children’s fundamental connection to the world. It deprives them of hands-on creative play—the foundation of learning, creativity, constructive problem solving and the capacity to wrestle with life to make it meaningful. And the costs are extraordinary: poor school performance, childhood obesity and problems with attention are just a few.

Turning off screens for seven days helps participants realize that life without screens is not impossible and is actually fun. A week-long turnoff allows sufficient time to explore a wide range of screen-free activities and develop more productive and healthy habits. Giving children the chance to play actively, develop relationships and learn to evaluate options will help them become more well-rounded people, better educated citizens and more alert consumers.

RITA: API loves how Screen-Free Week promotes families spending time together beyond technology, but we recognize that in many families, at least some screen time is the norm. How much screen time is too much?

SARA: Research links excessive screen time with many of the health and social problems facing children today, including learning, attention and social problems, childhood obesity and sleep disturbances. In addition, the more time our youngest children spend with screens, the less time they spend interacting with caring adults and in hands-on, creative play—two activities proven to be important for learning. It also exposes kids to lots of harmful advertising and can be habit forming.

It’s vital that parents monitor the amount of time their children spend with screen media. With so many different devices available these days, parents might not realize how much time their children are spending with screens—minutes can easily turn into hours. Setting rules early on about when, where, what and how much is important.

Stop Hitting Kids in School: An Interview with Nadine Block

By Lisa Lord, editor of The Attached Family.com.

spankOutLogoThough research continues to show that spanking and other forms of physical punishment are both ineffective and harmful, and despite many nations across the globe instituting bans on corporal punishment in schools and homes, the laws of the United States still do not reflect this reality. Corporal punishment teaches children that violence is a way to solve problems. Children worried about being paddled are not free to learn. And according to The Center for Effective Discipline (CED), certain groups–poor children, minorities, children with disabilities and boys–are hit in schools up to 2-5 times more often than other children. Nadine Block, cofounder of the CED and SpankOut Day April 30, is committed to changing this for American children and children everywhere.

Block spearheaded the advocacy movement in Ohio, USA, that resulted in a legislative ban on school corporal punishment in that state in 2009. In her latest book, Breaking the Paddle: Ending School Corporal Punishment, Block shares her experience and wisdom to inspire others to join the movement to end corporal punishment of children, and to give them the tools to make it happen.

It was enlightening and inspiring to talk with her about what advocates have been able to achieve thus far, how much farther we all have to go to see the end of child corporal punishment and how the United States compares to other nations when it comes to legally-sanctioned physical punishment of children.

LISA: Tell us about your new book Breaking the Paddle: Ending School Corporal Punishment. What inspired you to write this?

NADINE: I wanted to bring attention to the existence of the practice, because over 200,000 children in 19 states are still being permitted to be hit for misbehavior. This is shameful and unnecessary—and a lot of people don’t know it’s still going on.

I also want to give people tools to protect their children as much as possible if their school districts still permit corporal punishment, and to help end it for all children. It is not enough to say, “No paddling.” You have to show people how it can be ended and encourage them to do so. My experience of more than 25 years of working at all levels–local, state and federal–gives me a unique perspective to be able to do that. About 70 percent of adults in surveys say we should ban it, so I wonder where is the tipping point? When can we get this done?

LISA: How do you feel about the U.S. status globally on the topic of corporal punishment of children?

NADINE: I am embarrassed that we are the only country other than Somalia that has not signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which provides for giving children basic human rights including protection from harm. I am embarrassed that over 100 countries have banned corporal punishment in schools and that 36 have banned it in all settings, even homes, but we allow it in schools in 19 states and in homes in every state.

LISA: As a parent, the thought that someone else would be legally allowed to hit my child is shocking.

NADINE: In some school districts, parents have no right to disagree or to prevent this. In those cases, we tell the parents to write a letter stating that under no condition should their child be hit, and if the school needs help disciplining the child, then the parent will come to school and meet with the staff. Then the parent should sign and date the letter and try to have the child’s pediatrician sign as well. I’ve found that most school districts would be hesitant to hit that child, because the parents have said unequivocally not to.

LISA: You worked as a school psychologist and saw the effects of corporal punishment firsthand. You said in a previous interview with API, “One cannot study learning and behavior without becoming opposed to physical punishment of children. It is harmful and ineffective in the long term.” What kinds of effects on learning and psychological well-being have you seen?

NADINE: We know that people learn best in a more nurturing environment. It is hard to learn when fear is a motivator. Kids may also become school resistant and not want to go to school, and part of the reason is fear of getting paddled, especially for sensitive children who are hurt by even seeing someone else paddled. In my book, I have an example of a reading teacher who tells how kids would come into her reading group anxious and worried, either because they would be hit when they got back to the classroom for something they did, or because of something they saw.

It is not a way to teach children to be independent. What does this teach them about [what to do] when the punisher isn’t nearby? This is not what we want for the long term. We want people who are independent and know that following rules is good for them and the country and their family, not just to escape punishment.

LISA: Why do you think that policymakers ignore research when it so plainly spells out the risks of corporal punishment on children? Who is opposing ending corporal punishment in schools?

NADINE: A lot of it is regional. There are areas of the country, particularly the South and rural areas, where people tend to be more supportive of the use of corporal punishment and do not want it to be interfered with. Some have not fully examined it and give a knee-jerk response. It’s a very emotional issue for them. To question the use of corporal punishment is to question the parenting they had, the parenting they are giving and authority in general.

I believe it shows a fear of losing authority. They look through a prism of tradition, order and faith [religion]. They believe that parents are losing authority and children are worse than ever before in history. They do not believe the statistics that show young people today are less violent, have fewer out-of-wedlock babies, and do less drugs and drinking. They read about a few bad apples and extrapolate that to a whole population.

LISA: What is your strategy when you meet this kind of resistance?

NADINE: The first thing to realize is that social change is slow, but people do change over time. If they hear a message over and over again, they tend to come around. You have to be temperate, consistent and persistent. You may move people, but it may not happen quickly.

In the beginning, it was difficult because I thought that bringing research and reasoned arguments would change hearts and minds. I learned it is much more difficult. You have to appeal to emotions, too, such as with stories about children who are injured. You have to be consistent and temperate in response to critics, who are often quite angry. We move slowly in protecting children but have not gone backward. Knowing you are on the winning side makes advocacy much easier.

If you can get people in the community or the church to come on the side [of opposing corporal punishment], it’s easier. For example, when I found that several African American school board members supported corporal punishment and didn’t want it taken out of schools, Dr. Alvin Poussaint and I asked 20 national African American leaders–including the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr., and Marian Wright Edelman [founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund]–to sign a proclamation calling for an immediate ban on corporal punishment in schools. Having that proclamation come from inside was helpful.

LISA: If you are from one of the states that doesn’t allow corporal punishment, then it might not be on your radar screen at all.

 NADINE: Right. I think that people from the North, such as New Jersey, where corporal punishment has been banned a long time, need to start moving toward the more European model, which is to ban it in all settings, like 36 countries have done. We can do that incrementally, if necessary, like not allowing the use of instruments to beat children or not allowing children with disabilities to be hit. Protecting children still needs to be on the radar.

There have been a few bills in states like Massachusetts where they have tried to do that. But they will have to try more than once to educate people about why this is needed. It’s so much easier to kill bills in legislature than to pass them.

LISA: In a part of your book, you mention that most educators are not sadists, but they are using the paddling because that is all that is promoted at the school for discipline. Perhaps you can recommend some great positive discipline programs for schools that want to consider transitioning from corporal punishment?

NADINE: Our education goal is to improve instruction and behavior for all students. We want to have caring, informed, empathic, productive citizens. It means using misbehavior as an opportunity for teaching rather than just punishing. It means recognizing that most misbehavior is a mistake in judgment. It means thinking about what we, as adults, want to happen when we make mistakes. We want to learn from them, not be hit for them. It means teaching children social skills they need to behave appropriately, such as listening, asking questions politely, cooperation, managing anger and disagreement, and sharing.

The successful programs are data based and provide a decision-making framework that supports good practices every day throughout the district. Many school districts use Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS). It is a U.S. Department of Education system-wide effort that involves using data for decision making, defining measurable outcomes that can be evaluated and supported, and implementing evidence-based practices that can be used for prevention. So instead of punishing kids for specific things, it looks at what we are punishing kids for–perhaps tardiness or fighting in the halls, for example–collecting data so that we know what needs to be changed, then looking at preventive practices that could be used decrease the problems. (See the CED’s website for more information about positive discipline programs.)

In school districts, there is either an atmosphere of looking at things to punish or looking for a way to solve problems. I’d rather be in a district looking for ways to solve problems.

LISA: How can parents and professions start an advocacy effort and locate like-minded policy lawmakers to join them?

NADINE: Advocates for bans should check the list of national organizations that have positions against school corporal punishment. There are more than 50 of them on the CED website.

Start by gathering a support group. At the state level, work on those organizations that already have positions against corporal punishment. Get them to sign a proclamation calling on the state legislature to ban it. Having a long list of organizations shows support for a ban.

Locally look at the organizations that have positions against corporal punishment and find members in the community, such as PTA members, psychologists and mental health professionals, and physicians, especially pediatricians and ER [emergency room] doctors who see paddling injuries. Parents who have had children injured often make wonderful supporters.

Keep informed by reading stories about corporal punishment and doing research on its effects. Join organizations like The Center for Effective Discipline. Help start or join organizations seeking bans in your state. (The CED can help identify these.)

As for lawmakers, take a look at their websites. What bills have they introduced? What is their background? For example, Governor Ted Strickland was a compassionate psychologist prior to becoming a legislator, and he was instrumental in getting a ban in Ohio schools. If you are trying to change a school district policy, attend a board of education meeting. You can tell a lot about the board members by questions they ask, their empathy for children and parents, and their responses.

This is what I did in Ohio. The states around Ohio, like Kentucky and Indiana, still have corporal punishment, but we don’t because we worked at it.

LISA: What effect do you hope your book will have on society?

NADINE: First I want to say corporal punishment in schools is still going on. It isn’t appropriate, and we need to change it. Also I want to tell people how they can do this, to give them the tools and the process they need to go through.

If you take on something like this, you will meet wonderful people, you will feel good about helping children, and you will teach them that giving back is so important. You get so much more back than you ever put in. No state has ever rescinded laws in corporal punishment in schools. Some people have tried, but it has never happened. This is a winning-side argument—and it is a great side to be on. It is the winning side of history.

Visit the Center for Effective Discipline (www.stophitting.com) for information and resources including effective discipline at home, successful positive discipline programs for schools, tools for advocacy efforts, and the latest news from the CED.

Attached Family: Breastfeeding Double Issue 2014

Bf 2014 Challenges smIn this issue of Attached Family, we take a look at the cultural explosion of breastfeeding advocacy, as well as the challenges still to overcome. API writer Sheena Sommers begins this issue with “The Real Breastfeeding Story,” including a look at “Extended Breastfeeding Around the World” by API writer Rivkah Estrin, followed by API Professional Liaison Patricia Mackie’s interview with the founder of Breastfeed, Chicago! and finally, I present researcher Jeanne Stolzer as she makes “Nature’s Case for Breastfeeding.”

This time of learning how to parent is crucial to the mother-infant relationship. Attachment Parenting helps mothers—whether breastfeeding or bottle feeding—view infant care in the context of the holistic parent-child relationship and learn how that give-and-take interaction that builds the foundation of secure attachment can be applied beyond feeding with love and respect. In this issue of Attached Family, we take a look at the “other side” of breastfeeding advocacy—championing compassion for the mother who encounters challenges in breastfeeding and who may not be able to breastfeed at all. API’s The Attached Family.com Editor Lisa Lord opens this issue with “When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Work,” followed by a look at “The Milk Bank Movement” by API writer Kathleen Mitchell-Askar, and an API presentation of API’s Parent Support Deserts project—each with accompanying parent stories (including that of Sara Jones Rust, who graces the cover, on page 9).

Scattered throughout this double issue are parent stories, project highlights and additional resources from around and beyond API.

– See this issue and other issues of Attached Family magazine at: http://www.attachmentparenting.org/attachedfamilymagazine.

Available Now! Attached Family Breastfeeding Double Issue 2014

Bf 2014 Challenges smIn this issue of Attached Family, we take a look at the cultural explosion of breastfeeding advocacy, as well as the challenges still to overcome. API writer Sheena Sommers begins this issue with “The Real Breastfeeding Story,” including a look at “Extended Breastfeeding Around the World” by API writer Rivkah Estrin, followed by API Professional Liaison Patricia Mackie’s interview with the founder of Breastfeed, Chicago! and finally, I present researcher Jeanne Stolzer as she makes “Nature’s Case for Breastfeeding.”

This time of learning how to parent is crucial to the mother-infant relationship. Attachment Parenting helps mothers—whether breastfeeding or bottle feeding—view infant care in the context of the holistic parent-child relationship and learn how that give-and-take interaction that builds the foundation of secure attachment can be applied beyond feeding with love and respect. In this issue of Attached Family, we take a look at the “other side” of breastfeeding advocacy—championing compassion for the mother who encounters challenges in breastfeeding and who may not be able to breastfeed at all. API’s The Attached Family.com Editor Lisa Lord opens this issue with “When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Work,” followed by a look at “The Milk Bank Movement” by API writer Kathleen Mitchell-Askar, and an API presentation of API’s Parent Support Deserts project—each with accompanying parent stories (including that of Sara Jones Rust, who graces the cover, on page 9).

Scattered throughout this double issue are parent stories, project highlights and additional resources from around and beyond API.

– See more at: http://www.attachmentparenting.org/attachedfamilymagazine/breastfeeding2014.

Breastfeeding into Toddlerhood

By Debbie Page, RN, IBCLC, CEIM, director of TheNewBornBaby.com. Originally published on The Attached Family.com on September 28, 2009.

breastfeeding toddlerIn Western societies, it is commonplace to expect a child to breastfeed for six months to a year only. Many mothers set that as their goal unaware of what is normal and natural: children wean naturally. Natural weaning, when allowed, occurs sometime after the child is two and one-half years old, not before. In some societies, children will nurse for five to six years.

Where did the notion that breastfeeding is only for the first year of life come from? It came from modern, industrialized societies. The benefits for the child continue as long as the child receives breast milk. The benefits to the mother continue as long as she produces milk. Therefore, nursing well into the second or third year of life is of great value and critical to the child’s overall health.

What Are the Recommendations?

  • The World Health Organization: at least two years.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics: one year and beyond.
  • Health Canada: two years and beyond.

Continue reading

Every Birth is Natural

By Kelly Coyle DiNorcia, API Leader. Originally published in the 2009 “New Baby” issue of Attached Family magazine

Photo: Bas Silderhuis
Photo: Bas Silderhuis

When I became pregnant with my daughter, I had every intention of having a “natural” childbirth. I wanted to labor at home without pain medication, to fully experience her entry into the world. I left my obstetrician’s practice and found a midwife whom I loved and who assured me that the birth I wanted was within my reach.

Of course, life does not always turn out the way we plan. Complications arose, necessitating interventions that eventually led to a Cesarean birth. The whole birth experience was traumatic, and I was angry and disappointed. I spent the first several months of motherhood feeling inadequate and depressed, and missed a lot of the joy that new babies can bring. After much reflection, I came to recognize my two biggest mistakes:

  1. I treated my pregnancy as an impending deadline—Instead of embracing the coming transition, I used those nine months to finish up projects. I was a student, I worked full time, and I was an active and dedicated volunteer –and all these things were important to me. I struggled with the idea that once I added “mother” to my list, something else would have to give because I wasn’t willing to sacrifice any of them. I insisted on plowing on … when I developed gestational diabetes, when I broke my foot in the seventh month of my pregnancy, when my feet swelled so much that I couldn’t put on shoes, when my blood pressure began to rise. I refused to stop and rest.
  2. I believed that my body would be permitted to give birth as it was built to do—It is certainly true that women are built, from a biological, physiological, anatomical and evolutionary perspective, to have offspring and that most of the time this can be done safely without intervention. However, what I did not realize was that the modern medical system is not designed to allow that to happen for most women, and that it can take a great deal of education, effort and willpower to fight for a natural birth. Most birth practitioners see birth not as a natural process but a necessity to be endured and sped through if possible, using whatever means are available to move things along. Avoiding this pitfall requires a great deal of preparation and soul-searching.

Deciding on VBAC

With this in mind, I began preparing for my Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) within weeks of my first baby’s birth. I quizzed the surgeon about the location and orientation of my scar, the reasons for my daughter’s failure to descend and my chances for a future vaginal birth. He assured me that the surgery had gone well, and there was no reason I couldn’t attempt a VBAC. At the time, I didn’t know this was doctor-ese for “But your chances of success are about nil.”

I joined support groups. I read. I wrote in my journal. I entered therapy. I learned about the current medical model of obstetrics. I researched how I could take care of myself to prevent many of the complications I had experienced. I waited, and when the time was right, I became pregnant.

“By no means is it justifiable for anyone to be made to feel negatively about whatever birthing options they choose or for whatever birthing experience they have had. We all deserve to have our birthing choices and experiences validated.” Read more by Tamara Parnay in “The Importance of Sharing Birth Stories

Unfortunately, my former midwife was no longer attending VBACs, so I was forced to start from square one and find a new provider. I was frustrated that I had to tell my story over and over and face so many negative reactions from providers who were pessimistic about my chances for success, but I came to realize that this was really a gift. I had the chance to start fresh, carefully consider my options and know that I had given myself the best chance for my desired outcome. I ended up going with the first midwives I interviewed – their VBAC success rate was very high, I felt instantly at ease with them, I liked their office and their hospital, and their backup doctors were incredibly supportive of natural birth and even collaborated with most of the homebirth midwives in my area.

I also asked a close friend of mine who is a doula to be with me during my birth. During my first pregnancy, I thought a support person was an unnecessary luxury, but this time, I knew better: having a woman there who was supportive and knowledgeable, and whose only responsibility was to help me through the process, was a necessity.

A Second Chance

I spent this pregnancy resting, eating well (when I wasn’t vomiting) and preparing myself and my family for the impending arrival of my son. I was able to avoid the medical complications of my previous pregnancy, I attended Bradley classes and when the time came, I was ready.

After a few false starts, labor started on a Friday at about 11:00 p.m. Unlike many of the videos I had seen of women giving birth surrounded by family and friends, I preferred darkness and solitude. While my family slept, I paced, showered, squatted, groaned and bounced. When daylight came, I called my midwife, doula and mother and then woke my family.

By the time I got to the hospital, I was 6 centimeters dilated and was having strong and regular contractions. We were given the room with the birth tub, which I was not able to use because there was meconium in the amniotic fluid, and I was allowed to use a fetal monitor that worked by telemetry so I could change position, walk and even shower.

I’m not really sure how long it took, but as darkness fell, the time had come to push. I walked around, squatted, laid on my back and side, and pushed for several hours. Eventually, I looked at my midwife and said, “Check.” But I knew that my baby hadn’t moved, that he was stuck high in the birth canal, that I was headed to the operating room again.

The nurses prepared me for surgery, the surgeon and anesthesiologist came in to introduce themselves, and my midwife helped my husband and friend pack all of our belongings as I struggled against the urge to push, waiting for an operating room to open up.

A little after 9:00 p.m. on Saturday, Harrison “Harry” Herbert Francis was born weighing 9 pounds, 1 ounce. He was healthy and robust, and the surgery went well. As soon as I was in recovery, my doula came in to check on us, and my midwife brought my son so I could nurse him, which he did easily and with gusto. He accompanied me to our room, where he stayed for our entire hospital stay.

Every Birth is Natural

When I met my first midwife, she had told me of her disdain for the term “natural childbirth.” She prefers the term “unmedicated childbirth,” because “natural” implies that there exists an unnatural way to give birth. However it happens for you, she said, is natural for you.

“Yeah, whatever,” I thought at the time, “be that as it may, I am going to give birth naturally, like our foremothers did, with no medication, no intervention, just me having a baby.”

Now, I know exactly what she meant. My second birth was not natural in the sense in which that term is commonly used, but I feel like it was as natural as possible under the circumstances.

I am still bitterly disappointed that I will probably never know what it is like to bring new life into the world on my own power, and I regret that I could not spend my children’s first moments of life snuggling and counting digits. Sometimes I feel like a marathon runner who fell within inches of the finish line and just … couldn’t …make… it … across. I hate that I am another statistic of a failed VBAC attempt and that I was unable to support other women for whom this opportunity is becoming increasingly scarce.

On the other hand, I am incredibly grateful to live in a time and place where the medical technology was available to bring my son and me safely through labor. I am empowered to know that I was strong and determined enough to at least make it to the finish line even if I couldn’t cross. And, of course, I am thankful for my two beautiful children. I won’t say that all the rest doesn’t matter as long as we are all healthy, because I believe that our birth stories do matter and that we are entitled to mourn the loss of the birth we wanted but couldn’t have. After all, whenever a baby is born, so is a mother. But in the end, I also believe that we all have the birth we need to make us better parents and people, and I am no less a woman or a mother because of the way my children came into the world.

To read more birth stories from our growing collection–or to find out how to share yours–visit Your Birth Stories on The Attached Family.com.