By Sonya Fehér, contributing editor for the API Speaks blog, leader for API of South Austin, Texas, USA, and blogger at www.mamatrue.com
Before my son was born, a friend gave me the book, Babyproofing Your Marriage. The book was based on very traditional gender roles and a husband who expected his wife to have dinner on the table when he got home and justify why the house wasn’t clean when all she had to do was hang out with a baby all day. The advice they were giving wasn’t for us.
Even so, it turned out our marriage did need some babyproofing. Decisions we made about parenting turned into unanticipated challenges to our intimacy and partnership. Continue reading The Marriage Challenge→
As children get older, their needs evolve. Once we’ve parented through infancy and toddlerhood, whether or not we’ve followed the Principles, how can we ensure that we raise compassionate, independent, secure, and cooperative older children? As the need for discipline increases, how can we respond positively and in alignment with the Eight Principles of Parenting?
Attachment Parenting (AP) defines ways through which we can connect with our young children. From the time an infant is born, we use the Eight Principles to establish a secure bond. We prepare ourselves for becoming a parent, we breastfeed, cosleep, and keep baby in our arms. We learn to read her cues and show consistent, loving care. As she becomes a toddler, we meet her tantrums with respect and positive discipline.
For older kids, however, the window for applying some of the commonly thought-of AP practices has closed. It is too late for breastfeeding or babywearing. Tantrums are much less frequent at this age. However, it’s important to remember that AP lays the foundation for positive parent-child relationships from birth through the teen years, and beyond.
Therefore, we might consider reframing some of the Principles in order to offer parents more direction for raising attached, older children. While traditional parenting approaches dictate that we control our children through discipline tactics, AP teaches us to pre-empt the challenges by strengthening the attachment bond and thereby preventing the need for mainstream discipline tactics, empowering children to resolve conflicts independently, and eliciting more cooperation from them.
Respond with Sensitivity by…Listening without Judgment
Learning to listen to children without judging them is not an easy goal. Being able to do this consistently is even more difficult. Be that as it may, it is the single most effective tool a parent can use in order to encourage an older child to open up. When a child feels secure enough to share his thoughts and emotions regularly, the need for discipline decreases.
When a double-digit (age 10+) child sees that his parents are willing to listen to him, respectfully and without criticism, he comes to see them as people who love him unconditionally, regardless of what he has to say, how he feels, or even the actions he takes. In turn, he is increasingly willing to express his love and respect for them. As he begins to see that his family values him just as he is, he is more likely to cooperate with others and be empathetic to parents who need some extra help. He is more likely to enjoy the time he spends with parents and family, and ultimately he trusts that he is safe and loved unconditionally. Children are constantly communicating with us, either through their words or their actions. By taking the time to listen, and controlling our impulse to correct, instruct, criticize, or control, our children begin to learn that they can safely open up and express their authentic selves. Consequently, their inclination to act-out subsides.
Provide Consistent, Loving Care by…Focusing on Feelings, Not Behaviors
Rather than schedule Baby’s feedings and activities according to our schedules, we respect our baby’s needs and provide for them accordingly. For the older child, it is equally important that we do not attempt to control their needs and subsequent behaviors. It is important that we recognize when we begin to replace their needs with our own. When we respond to our children’s feelings, rather than their actions, two things occur:
They feel heard and validated.
Once they feel understood, the hurt feelings and resulting behaviors subside.
When a child is upset, we reflect back to them what we believe they are feeling, rather than addressing their actions, such as “You are frustrated that your little brother keeps using your toys” and “You’re feeling embarrassed that your teacher yelled at you in class.”
There is no need to advise, philosophize, judge, or expand upon their feelings. We need to look beyond any problematic behaviors and acknowledge the feelings that cause them. Acting out is simply the result, or symptom, of the underlying cause. By responding to their feelings, we can address the root of the problem rather than just the symptom. Just as we’ve learned to respond to our baby’s cues, challenging behaviors in our older children are our opportunities to identify their unmet needs.
Practice Positive Discipline by…Empowering Children to Problem-Solve
Children can handle most burdens that come their way. We tend to forget how creative and competent they can be. Once we trust that a child has the compassion and ability to make appropriate decisions on their own, we no longer need to control their behavior with rewards and punishments or force our decisions on them. By listening without judgment and focusing on feelings, we can guide our children to discover their own solutions or make restitution when appropriate. We can also engage them in brainstorming discussions to identify win-win solutions to almost any challenge.
Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life by…Reconnecting
Reconnecting refers to setting time aside for one-on-one time with our kids. By reconnecting, we create opportunities to strengthen the bond with our older children outside of the daily routine. Try something new together or do something special. By leaving egos, judgments, and cell phones at the door, this opportunity to let down our guards and focus on what is special about our children allows us to get to know them at a deeper level. A child who has this type of connection with at least one adult will exhibit fewer behavioral problems.
By Sonya Fehér, contributing editor for the API Speaks blog, leader for API of South Austin, Texas, USA, and blogger at www.mamatrue.com
Curled into a periwinkle micro-plush blanket under a fluffy down comforter, I had the rare option of sleeping in. My husband took the day off work for my birthday and was downstairs playing with our three-year-old son. But my lower back ached, as did the insides of my shins, and I had an urgent need to pee. I was sure before I saw the cloudy urine that I had another kidney infection, the fourth in 15 months. I have also been fighting a hacking cough for weeks.
Besides kindness, I believe my body is asking me for attention, in the sense of needing to be attended to. My body has been asking for this since my son was born in November of 2006, maybe decades longer than that. Mostly, I have not answered the call.
Instead I have stayed up too late at night writing, reading, or watching television because I desperately needed some time and space for myself after mothering all day (and in between nursing and bedsharing at night). Continue reading The Self-Care Challenge→
By Joe Diomede, author of Cycles of a Traveler and owner of Cloughjordan Cycle Co-op in Tipperary, Ireland, CloughjordanCycleCoop.com
Editor’s Note: Attachment Parenting is an approach to childrearing that is defined by Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting. Alternative parenting styles, such as that practiced by the author, and which include natural parenting and instinctual parenting choices, may include Attachment Parenting but do not define Attachment Parenting. API takes no position on homebirth, vaccinations, elimination communication, non-consumerism, and other choices made by this particular family. For more information on Attachment Parenting, visit www.attachmentparenting.org.
When my wife, Angie, and I became parents, a whole new world was opened up to us. We had read books and talked to friends as everyone does, but in the same way that you cannot learn what a good Indian curry really tastes like until you experience it for yourself, being a parent and all that that entails was still only conceptual until the day our son arrived.
On that day our world changed — and not just because we now were three. Just five weeks after Louis was born, we moved to a tiny village in the Loire Valley of France and, in doing so, found ourselves in the situation of being cut off from friends, family, and such networks in a way that rarely happens to new parents in today’s world. It was during this time that we came to deeply connect with a part of ourselves that is buried within all of us and continually trying — sometimes even screaming — to be heard: our instincts.
As parents, we are generally not allowed the space to be able to connect with our inner feelings. There is constant bombardment from all sides telling us what a baby and mother need to be happy, well adjusted, and healthy. While many of these sources may be well-meaning, none of them are without an agenda: Governments, in conjunction with the powerful medical/pharmaceutical industry, want us to raise our children a certain way within their system of medicating and vaccinating our children to excess; baby food and formula manufacturers discourage breastfeeding so we spend on all the accessories to complicate a totally natural process. As new parents we are so vulnerable. We instinctively want to do everything right for our child, but with powerful influences like these, many of us are left shell-shocked and blind to what feels instinctively right. If somehow we could pull away from all of the people trying to sell us and tell us, we would be able to reconnect with ourselves and realize that we are the experts, and that is exactly how nature intended it to be.
A couple of months before the birth, a friend of Angie’s offered us her empty house in the Loire Valley of France — an opportunity we didn’t pass up: house sit and redecorate for her, both of us be there for our child’s first months of life, grow our own veggies, and have a totally different beginning as a family. It wasn’t going to cost much and we had some money saved, so there was not much to lose. We felt it was a perfect move.
It soon transpired, though, others felt very differently: “Your baby will be a newborn. What about a doctor, a phone, a car, your family and friends – your support network?” I can honestly say we didn’t listen to a word. Yes, it’s true our decision to move was made before the little guy arrived. We had not held that small baby and felt his warm fragile body. We had not known what protective instincts would come over us when our child was out of the womb. All we could do was be strong and go with what felt right.
Louis arrived after a 14-hour drug-free labor. The first part of the day was spent walking on the beach connecting with nature and each other. Angie was determined that if she could keep in touch and go with the feelings that were happening to her rather than panic and try to get away from them, then everything would be fine. She also had me to remind her and keep her grounded when things became a bit too much. With labor now behind her, Angie constantly tells people of her belief that a normal labor is about 75% mental and 25% physical and that all the negative programming we hear, often in the guise of education, before giving birth can only disempower and weaken the inbuilt ability that women have to give birth naturally.
A Life-Changing Move
So when Louis was five weeks old, the move was made down to France. Angie’s college-level French came into its own, and with our neighbor’s help and a few borrowed tools, we had some beautiful, weed-free, brown earth ready to be planted.
Louis seemed quite content to lie near us on a shaded blanket and watch the birds and insects fly by as we worked in the garden. We were enjoying every minute of our lives. We had all day and night to spend with our son, no pressures, and the best thing we actually had was time to really get in touch with ourselves. We were able to make so many decisions without any interference. It’s true that we were miles from any social support systems, such as friends and family, and there were certainly times when we might have liked a word of reassurance or a home-cooked meal from a friend or relative, but Angie and I discovered depths of strength we never dreamed existed and the three of us developed a bond beyond anything we had ever known before.
When Louis was eight weeks old, we put a second-hand car seat, which Angie bulked up with comfortable padding, into a bicycle trailer. Now Louis and Angie could accompany me on my four-mile round-trip cycle ride to the nearest town with a market. Louis loved his first ride so much that we started exploring the wider area as a cycling family and became somewhat local celebrities. People were attracted by the novelty of the whole thing and became instantly smiling and friendly when they saw us. It just added to our status already as the quirky foreigners with the cotton diapers hanging on the washing line. I guess this was the reason we didn’t get any strange looks from the olive and cheese stall holder the first time we asked him to weigh Louis on his scale. It was almost expected.
Our veggie patch prospered, Louis was healthy and seemed happy, and our nights were basically calm with him in our bed. Each decision — like co-sleeping and long-term breastfeeding — was less a choice and more an obvious path.
We stayed in that tiny village for ten months. Louis was such a healthy boy that we never needed to call on the services of the local doctor, who also happened to be our next-door neighbor.
Finding Other Attached Families
In March, we were heading back to New York for a year. It was a great opportunity for Louis to be introduced to his large Italian American family and for us to come to New York for the first time as parents.
It was when we got to New York that we went to our first La Leche League meeting and met other attached parents. The instinctive way of bringing up a baby that Angie and I had followed actually had a name, a legion of followers, and libraries of books attesting to its virtues! We were relaxed with ourselves as parents and now had some like-minded friends. We were also introduced to baby sign language, which benefited all of us. Our choices spoke for themselves, and some of my family were actually enjoying the world we were opening up for them as well. Louis’ fruit-eating capacity and his love of ethnic foods gained him two nicknames: “Mr. Spicy” and “The Goat.”
I had to defend our decision not to vaccinate Louis to my well-meaning cousin who is a doctor in New York. Funny enough, two years previously, Angie and I had to defend our decision to have a homebirth to the same cousin. But demonstrating by example, hearing and seeing us standing strong and confident in our position, and seeing the living proof in Louis, I believe we have possibly opened up otherwise closed subjects to his medically-orientated mind.
Back Home with a New Lifestyle
After leaving New York, we headed back to France — this time to our own house in rural Brittany. Growing gardens was becoming a major part of our life. We were getting hooked on living away from it all, and our instincts were taking us down a path towards a simple lifestyle of non-consumerism: Our bike riding had never diminished as much as grown, as we tried as much as possible not to get into the car we had purchased for the further afield shopping trips. We enjoyed living in our small house in the countryside, growing our own food and being “creatively poor” as we liked to call it.
When Angie became pregnant ,we came across a book called Diaper Free. It interested us, and we thought we would give it a go. Raising Francesca diaper free proved to be a challenge, but at the same time was an incredible opening to a world that forced us to rethink some other pre-conceived ideas that, until then, we had never thought to question. It also made us realize just how much small people, even at six weeks old, are capable of, and how truly sentient a human child is.
Since we had fallen off the mainstream path in many ways, my family in America and Angie’s in England were not surprised about our new foray into alternative parenting. It was an incredible journey and humbled us in our realization that, like an onion, we have many layers to yet peel back.
Parenting by Instinct
The attachment style of parenting has always had its benefits in watching our children be a part of their own process of growth and maturation. They have taught us more about ourselves in their short time with us than any self-help course could ever do. We encourage them to safely explore their instincts and to try to work problems out for themselves.
Our instincts brought us together as a couple, then helped lead us to where we are now as individuals, parents, and a family. This is not to say that we are perfect — far from it: Angie is fond of saying that parenting is the hardest, most wonderful, frustrating, fulfilling, amazing thing that can ever happen to you, and the biggest catalyst for personal growth in the world! I whole-heartedly agree.
Instincts have been around a long time. They have helped us survive and evolve as a species, so we are pretty comfortable trusting that they will help us to tread the path of parenting in the challenging years ahead. When in doubt, we always turn to books that have inspired us in the past or new ones that find their way to us. We also look forward to reading other sources such as good magazines, websites, or words of encouragement and advice from friends and others on similar paths. These resources are invaluable as guides, but remember, the inner voice should always have the last word.
These are books that Angie and I have found, and continue to find, helpful in our parenting journey:
How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor by Dr. Mendelsohn
Vaccination: The Medical Assault on the Immune System by Dr. Veira Schreibner
The Vaccination Bible by Lynne McTaggart
Spiritual Midwifery by Ina Mae Gaskin
Three in a Bed by Deborah Jackson
How to Talk so Kids Will Listen, and Listen so Kids Will Talk by Faber and Mazlisch
The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedoff
Superimmunity for Kids by Dr. Leo Galland
Yoga and Birth by Janet Balaskus
Immaculate Deception II: Myth, Magic and Birth by Suzanne Arms
Even though the economy is recovering, many families will still have to put the brakes on Christmas spending. How does one cut down? How do we break it to the kids? What will the relatives think if we don’t participate in the gift frenzy?
Families can do all three if they communicate the changes early, with loving intent and with assurances that the holidays will be about presence and not presents.
To limit children’s demands at Christmas:
Remember that children remember good times and not toys. Create rituals around the tree decorating, baking, other activities, and family and friend visits. Children will remember a special time with Grandma baking cookies much more then the hottest gift that is tossed aside in favor of more gifts.
Try to get the most wanted gift on their list, if possible. It only has to be one special, coveted gift.
If you can’t get or can’t afford the “hot” gift, use your judgment to decide what toys and games have the best play value. Keep in mind that children are often disappointed with the advertising hype when they eventually get the “it” gift. Don’t dismiss the second-hand stores for huge bargains on consignment and gently used toys. Children do not care if the toy doesn’t come in mounds of wire and clear plastic and cardboard packaging; the toys don’t have to be new, just new to them. Make sure the toys are clean and working, though. Keep in mind that as a parent, you know which toys offer more play value than others. Many children like simple, unstructured toys that can be played with in many different ways. Continue reading How to Downsize the Holidays→
Bedtime is one of the most challenging times of day for me as a parent. I am tired from having taking care of a little person all day, ready to cuddle with my husband on the couch and watch a show, or check Facebook, or have any kind of leisure or work time that’s my own.
My son was two before we had a solid bedtime routine. We would read a pile of stories, then he’d crawl out of bed for more. He would nurse, then want to play or read and then nurse again. It didn’t bother me much at first because he was napping, and I got breaks during the day. Also, I listened to mamas all around me talk about their kids waking up at 6:00 a.m. and since my son didn’t go to sleep until 10:30 p.m., he slept until 9:00 or so in the morning. Much better for me since I’m a night owl.
Then we night-weaned and he started waking earlier. The long uninterrupted blocks of sleep meant he was more rested, too. He woke anywhere from 6:00 to 8:00 a.m. When the time changed, my son rose with the sun. I’ve never been so aware of dawn. I bought new curtains at IKEA and sewed black-out material into them. Still the early mornings. I couldn’t start my day at 6:30 a.m. and still be present, attached, and nice by 10:30 p.m. I needed a break.
Even though Cavanaugh was exhausted, bedtime took a couple of hours every night. My husband and I thought we were providing a routine because we’d go upstairs an hour before we intended for Cavanaugh to be asleep so he could have quiet winding down time. We’d change him into a nighttime diaper and pajamas, read stories, and then nurse. But our routine didn’t have specific limits and Cavanaugh had no idea when it was supposed to end. It finally occurred to me that Cavanaugh loved “bed” time because he was getting undivided attention from both me and my husband. He wasn’t looking at a clock and counting the hours until morning. He was lying in between us as we cuddled him and read him story after story. So we changed our routine.
We do the playing downstairs now so that just going up to the bedroom signals that it’s time for pajamas, tooth brushing, three stories, and sleep. Before the first book, his dad or I say, “Three more books and then what?” If Cavanaugh says something other than “milk” or “sleep,” we’ll remind him where we are in the routine. And most of the time, this works amazingly well. Knowing what the parameters are means that Cavanaugh can relax and enjoy the time with us. If he wants me to read the last book, he knows when there’s only one more.
But late afternoon and evening need to occur on a timetable that allows the nighttime routine to flow smoothly. We need to eat dinner between 6:00 and 6:30 p.m. We need to be upstairs by 6:45 p.m. This kind of predictability and scheduling didn’t exist in my pre-parent life. I never wore a watch. I ate cereal for dinner and went to sleep at 2:00 a.m. Some nights, I made four-course meals and was asleep by 11:00 p.m. I could do what the day called for. Those times are no more. Sure, we can make an occasional exception to the routine, but two or three nights in a row of odd circumstances mean my boy wants a little wiggle room himself. If we’re not following the schedule, why should he?
As he’s playing around, pretending to go to sleep and trying to negotiate more time with me, I’m looking at the clock thinking that for every minute he stays up later, we are in some convoluted formula that means he wakes up that much earlier the next morning. The voices in my head say it’s my fault because we weren’t home on time or I didn’t remember to start making dinner before 5:30 p.m. or…. None of this is conducive to responding to him sensitively.
Or, say, we’ve followed the routine to the letter but he isn’t going to sleep. I think back to our day full of play dates, errands, and a lot of time together though he hasn’t had much mama focus on just him. Or his dad’s working that night. Bedtime has a way of dragging out on the days when Cavanaugh most needs me and I most need a break.
On the nights when we’ve gone through the whole routine but Cavanaugh is still rolling around and bargaining for another story, index finger in the air, “Just one more,” I usually don’t want to read one more, or the one he will ask for after that. I manage to be sympathetic to his need for attention up to the point that my impatience wins out over my parenting philosophy and I end up snapping, “Cavanaugh, it’s sleeping time.” Then I give him the five-minute transition notice in an angry tone, “I will stay with you for five more minutes and then I need to go downstairs. What do you need from me to help you go to sleep?” Some nights it’s cuddle, a back rub, one more story, icy cold water. But some nights it is “five more minutes” until it’s an hour or more past his bedtime.
This week, though, I’ve been rereading Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen. So last night when Cavanaugh was rolling around, being silly, asking for more of me than I had, I tried something — to playfully set the boundary. I told him, in a funny tone, that it was time to go to bed and wagged my index finger at him. My anger gave in to silliness, he was laughting, and the impending power struggle dissipated. After a couple more minutes of playing, he turned over to go to sleep. I got to tell him the limit was firm without having to use firm tones. And he got exactly what he needed, a reconnection as I looked into his eyes and acted a clown.
Last Christmas, I had enough of shopping. With five children in the family, even with buying only one present to each other, there would have been 49 gifts to shop, pay for, and eventually add to the inevitable mound in the landfill. I announced to my family that we were going to make gifts to give to each other, rather then buy them. They all agreed (with twisted arms) and by the 20th of December, I was beginning to worry as there was absolutely no action occurring in this endeavor of mine.
I had to get Dad’s buy-in to help the smaller children with my presents and after a quick reminder to the older children, the house turned into a flurry of creative activity going on everywhere: planning, giggles, secrets, and shhhhing was taking place behind closed doors.
By Sonya Fehér, leader for South Austin API (Texas, USA) and blogger at MamaTrue.com
If we’re staying at home to be with our babies full-time, we don’t have to pump milk or offer bottles. We can delay extended separations until our children are older, take our babies with us to run errands, go to appointments, or when we meet friends. And most of the time, we do. We spread out activities, so we can avoid taking Baby in and out of the car for multiple stops. We keep the volume low on the car stereo. We prioritize what we need to get at the grocery and find ways to entertain or distract Baby, so that we can get everything on the list. And we likely plan it all around when Baby may take a nap. That’s what stay-at-home moms do.
What differs for attached moms is that we are likely also sleeping with or near our babies during the night, wearing them during the day, and nursing them every hour or so. Being an Attachment Parenting (AP) stay-at-home mom is an intense 24-hours-a-day/365-days-a-year job.
By Amber Lewis, staff writer for The Attached Family
The first painful hurdle I was to face as a mother was the need to return to work. After a three-month crash course in Attachment Parenting (AP), my daughter and I were well bonded, so going back to work broke my heart. I have to admit it still does — every day that I spend more time working for a paycheck than I do building a relationship with my daughter, I cry a little privately.
I have tried to make the best of this hurdle called work, and in spite of day after day away from my daughter, we are still very much an attached family. When I am home, we use attachment skills that help us best keep and build a good relationship with our daughter, including:
Breastfeeding — Even though my daughter is more than two years old, I still pump twice a day at work. We will practice self-weaning, because I know she needs to nurse. It’s no longer as much of a nutritional need as a psychological need that allows us to reconnect after work and to say good bye without words in the morning.
Cosleeping — We have a family bed. Even though we have experimented with moving our daughter into her own room, we know she’s not ready for that yet and so we allow her to lead the way, at least for the mean time.
Prioritizing — Our daughter is our number-one priority. While we like to have a clean and organized house, this is not always the case. Things frequently get left out or put away in a rush to maximize our time together. I am a stay-at-home mom when I’m home. We take however long we need for library story time, trips to the park in the summer, family walks, crafts, learning, religious study, and anything else I would do if I were a stay-at-home mom.
Tips for Successful Pumping at Work:
Start early and pump often — My breasts are fullest in the morning, so I usually pump twice in the morning. I began pumping even before I returned to work, at night for the last six weeks I was on maternity leave, my daughter would nurse on one side while I pumped on the other, it was the best thing I did to build up my supply. By the time I returned to work, I was a pumping pro and had a freezer full of milk.
Put pumping on your to-do list — I was the only pumping mother in my department, so if I didn’t decide to pump, no one noticed or cared. I added it to my to-do list and set an alarm with the exact time I would pump every day. My breasts got used to the schedule, and if I missed a pumping session, I could feel it. Once I set it as a priority, people knew it was important to me and they respected that.
Be honest and open — If your boss wants to know why you are leaving and what you are doing, be honest. Using the word “breast” in a sentence at work makes people uncomfortable and I used that to my advantage. If my boss needed to know where I had been, I told him I was pumping breastmilk. If I was using a bathroom instead of a nursing room and a busybody needed to know what that funny noise was coming from the stall, I told them it was a breast pump. Anyone who wants to make a big deal about it will usually be too embarrassed at hearing the “b” word, they will immediately back down and none of those people ever mentioned it again to me.
What Fathers Can Do:
Provide support — Remind your wife that she can do continue nursing and working at the same time, because you believe in her.
Help out — Your wife is helping to take care of financial obligations, so you should help take care of home obligations. A little cleaning goes a long way in the heart of a working mom.
Be patient — Your wife feels the stress of working and still wants to be a wonderful mother. Those two things tend to compete for her time, so she can and probably will lose it every once and a while. Be quick to forgive and forget those frazzled moments.
Encourage weekend relaxation — When your wife has a free moment, encourage her to rest or help her so she can catch up on her favorite hobby. A little rest and relaxation can go a long way to preventing those frazzled moments in the point above.
Breastfeeding and Extended Separations
The most challenging time of me was around the time my daughter turned 18 months. I am a Navy reservist and was required to serve my two-week training across the country. We didn’t have the money to fly my husband and daughter back with me, so we set about finding other ways to stay attached.
I began researching everything I could find about nursing while apart. The best information was from a few moms whose travel for work kept them apart from their babies two or three days. I was left with one question as my departure date loomed ever closer: Would my daughter want to continue our nursing relationship when I returned?
Everything I knew about breastfeeding led me to believe it was beneficial for as long as possible, so I made two decisions:
We would nurse up until the moment before I left for the airport. During our last nursing session, I would try to explain to her about my leaving and where I was going and that we would nurse again when I got home.
I would pump throughout the two weeks. So, if she did want to nurse again once I returned, she could.
These decisions I made concerning breastfeeding were just a couple of ways we stayed attached. Here is what I found key to keeping attached with my daughter over the distance:
Video conferencing and lots of phone calls.
Help from Grandma and aunts. This was especially important, not only for giving my husband breaks, but in a pinch, their extra love and attention filled in a bit for my absence. Every time my mother-in-law came over, my daughter was ecstatic. It was as if she needs a woman’s love, and Grandma filled that need for the two weeks.
The decision to pump, with the hope we could continue our breastfeeding relationship, was not one without consequence. Pumps are great and they can do a good job in a pinch, but without a baby to fully empty my breasts, I developed a short bout of mastitis halfway through the two weeks.
My supply did drop, mostly because I was sleeping through the night, so I had to adjust that schedule. Instead of ignoring when my full breasts woke me up during the night, I took the cue and got the pump out. Showers became another tool to help me keep up my supply and fight further infection; using warm water and massaging the milk ducts became a twice-daily routine.
While it was a very stressful and exhausting two weeks, it was well worth all the effort. My daughter immediately nursed after we were reunited at the airport.
It doesn’t matter if you are across town for the day or across the globe for the week, you can successfully continue breastfeeding and AP with a little extra work and dedication. The best part of my time apart was seeing my husband and daughter at the airport when I returned — my daughter squealed with such delight and held on to me so tight, and then that first nursing session after my return was like heaven.
Tips for Successful Pumping during Work-Related Travel:
Bring your best pump — I asked for a second breast pump for my birthday and now I have a pump used only for travel. It stays cleaner and pumps a little more efficiently than the one I use every workday.
Bring lots of photos — This will help you pump more milk and stay connected to your baby. If you have a video phone, take pictures with it to play back while you pump.
Bring lots of batteries — Don’t expect to find a nursing room everywhere you go, especially on a plane. I bring enough batteries to last to whole trip just in case.
Bring a nursing wrap — If you can’t find a bathroom suitable to pump, you can sit in your car or find a secluded chair, cover up, and get to pumping.
Keep your lactation consulant’s number handy — I actually made an appointment just to discuss my plans with my OB/GYN before I left. When I got mastitis, I called her office and got some tips to get over it without medicine and a sympathetic ear, which helps when you are on the verge of tears with two very full and painful breasts.
Keep at it — The first two or three days will be the most difficult. Your body is adjusting to a new type of nursing and it can be hard to get a rhythm going, but once you get a schedule of pumping that works for you, things get easier. Mental attitude will go along way here. If you believe you can keep at this, you can and you’ll overcome any obstacle that gets in your way.
Stay hydrated — Drink lots of water to keep your supply up. I usually don’t drink anything but soy milk as far as dairy goes, but I found that whole milk actually helped increase my supply dramatically. So, the days I was gone, I drank two glasses each morning.
Bring lanolin cream — Invest in a couple tubes of lanolin cream, and don’t be shy when administering it. Pumps can be hard on nipples.
I’m making breakfast for my two-year-old son who stands on a stool next to me. Oatmeal simmers on the stove. “Lid!” Reuben says, pointing to the rattling pan and signing that he hears something. I turn off the flame, then slice an avocado, which I slide into the Vitamix blender. I add half a cup of oatmeal, an ounce of last night’s Parmesan pan-fried pork, applesauce, carrots, and milk. “Mix!” Reuben says, smiling up at me happily as I start the machine.
“Okay, buddy, let’s have breakfast,” I say, strapping Reuben into his high chair. I open the tab of his Mic-Key button, which looks like a beach ball valve on his abdomen, screw in the extension tube, and insert the tip of a syringe filled with the food I’ve just made. I sit down next to Reuben and push ten milliliters, about the volume of an oral bite, directly into his stomach through the tube. Meanwhile, I offer him banana slices and cereal, but he leaves them on his tray.
Reuben’s unusual relationship to food wasn’t always such a comfortable part of our routine.
“Oh, I know,” Other parents say, “my Jimmy is a picky eater, too.” I don’t want to be obnoxious, so I don’t say what I’m thinking: Reuben isn’t picky — it’s that he’s not an eater.
In the Beginning
Reuben’s feeding issues stem from medical complications that arose during birth. He spent 11 weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit, undergoing increasingly invasive treatments to save his life. I could not feed him, talk to him, or touch him. (Unlike some critically ill infants who thrive when touched, Reuben’s blood oxygen levels dropped with any stimulation). But I could pump breastmilk for him. Even though he was so ill that he received only a few milliliters of it each day through a tube into his stomach, pumping became my way of connecting with him and embodying my faith that he would recover.
The doctors warned us that feeding difficulties were often a side-effect of the treatment, but my husband and I assumed that once Reuben was allowed to eat, he would.
He did not.
Common Feeding Difficulties
Oral Aversion Oral aversion occurs when a child is reluctant or refuses to be breastfed, bottle-fed, or eat. The child may have negative associations with food or other objects near or in his mouth, or, in some cases, a child develops oral aversion when she strongly dislikes the texture of certain foods. This often happens when a child has been tube-fed for a long time due to illness or prematurity.
Dysphagia Dysphagia is when the swallowing of food causes it to not pass easily from the mouth to the stomach, which may cause food to get stuck in the lungs and throat. Children with this disorder may also begin to refuse food. This disorder often occurs as the result of another condition, such as prematurity, cleft lip or palate, and large tongue or tonsils.
Comfort in Breastfeeding
We started by offering to nurse him several times each day. Although he never ate enough to allow us to decrease his tube feedings, breastfeeding did give him some practice at sucking and swallowing, and provided him with positive oral experiences. Each time, he would shake his head excitedly, say “ah-ah-ah,” and dive toward me. Then, he would close his eyes and raise his eyebrows in an expression of deep contentment as he settled in. Now, at nearly three, he still asks for nummies as a way to reconnect when I return from work, or when he is particularly tired or upset. He barely latches on, but finds comfort in snuggling.
Through the time that I pumped breast milk for Reuben and he recreationally nursed, I sometimes felt criticized by people on both ends of the spectrum of parenting philosophy. Some people couldn’t understand why I would make the monumental effort to pump milk for 19 months. At other times, I felt pressure from exclusively breastfeeding mothers because Reuben used a nipple shield, didn’t get his nutrition “from the breast,” and received breastmilk calorie-enriched with formula. I had to learn to trust my own instincts, knowing that I was providing the best mix of experiences and nutrition for his unique needs.
Reality Sets In
The doctors reassured us that Reuben would learn to eat when we introduced a bottle or solids. But he did not. Months went by, and the tube remained in his nose; then, the day after his first birthday, it was replaced by one in his stomach. Some family and friends couldn’t understand why Reuben did not eat by mouth, suggesting that the problem would be solved if we simply held his tube feedings and offered only the bottle. They shared stories of breastfed babies who were forced into taking the bottle at day care. We knew this wouldn’t work, even if we had been willing to try it. Babies like Reuben have been traumatized by their oral experiences. They are so out of touch with their bodies’ signals of hunger and fullness, and so lacking in the basic motor skills needed to suck and swallow, that they will starve to death without tube feedings.
But I also understood their discomfort. Eating is central to daily life, social interaction, and celebration. Reuben’s refusal to eat felt deeply strange. More than once, even though we knew all of the medical reasons for Reuben’s behavior, Eric and I asked each other in frustration, “Why won’t he just eat?”
At each meal, I prepared a bottle and a bit of food, knowing in advance that the food would ultimately go in the garbage, and the contents of the bottle would be poured into his feeding tube. “Try to relax,” my husband advised. “Sometimes you focus on the negative, and I’m sure Reuben picks up on that.” He was right, but I wasn’t sure how to remain consistently cheerful when I prepared three meals a day for a child who refused to put them in his mouth.
Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Becky Bailey helped me realize that we can’t ever force another person to do anything; all we can do is set up the situation so it’s easier for them to choose what is safe, healthy, or polite. Or, in the words of one specialized feeding program we researched, “We teach our families the proper division of eating responsibility; it is the child’s responsibility to eat, and it is the family’s responsibility to provide the right environment, foods, and opportunities to eat.”
Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline By Becky Bailey
Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline provides parents with seven basic skills to turn conflict into cooperation through development of self-control and self-confidence on the part of both the parent and child. The focus of the book is to teach parents to learn to understand both their and their child’s motivations for certain behaviors and then how to help their child and themselves to improve.
As our knowledge of feeding issues and confidence as parents increased, we became evermore frustrated with the hospital feeding specialist’s behavioral approach, which didn’t seem to work for Reuben or our family. He suggested we strive to “increase Reuben’s compliance with the spoon” and instructed us to set a timer for a three-minute “meal,” then touch the spoon to Reuben’s lips and say “bite” every 30 seconds. To our surprise, this worked well — for three meals. After that, Reuben screamed and sobbed, turning his head away from the spoon. Although we didn’t know the phrase “feeding with love and respect” at that time, we instinctively felt that seeking “compliance” was not compatible with our parenting philosophy.
When we consulted a different specialist, I immediately felt more comfortable. She approached Reuben and greeted him gently, getting to know him first as a person. She watched me feed him, then sat down to offer carrot sticks and Gerber Puffs and observe his reactions. She explained that she saw eating as a complex skill with sensory, psychological, behavioral, and biological components.
With her help, we discovered that Reuben was not comfortable with the preliminary sensory processing required for eating: He hated to have food on his face. She showed us how to work with carrot sticks and dip, as well as vibrating tools, to help him learn to tolerate sensations in and around his mouth.
She also suggested that Reuben requires strong flavors in order to locate food in his mouth. Refried beans and roasted carrot puree loaded with garlic and tahini became early favorite foods. Still, he only ate a bite or two of these foods at each meal.
Tips to Feeding with Love and Respect in Special Circumstances:
Let goof your sense of how things should be, and accept your child for who she is.
Approach your child’s doctors and other care providers as members of the team. They are experts on particular medical procedures, treatments, and diseases; you are an expert on your child. You should expect that medical professionals will listen to your experience and opinions. It is okay to ask questions like, “What other options are there for treatment?” or “What therapies are offered at other facilities?”
Seek out other parents and families in similar situations for support, advice, and alternative options.
Accept whatever is possible in your interactions with your child around food, whether it is making that food from your body or opening a can of formula with love.
Forgive yourself. Whatever decisions you made were based on the best available knowledge you had.
Trust your own intuition and your knowledge about your child. Be cautious of being influenced by those who see your decisions as either too child-focused or insufficiently pure from an ideological perspective.
Abandon any expectation that you will follow some perfect or pure set of principles.
Focus on the social, psychological, and behavioral aspects of mealtime and the possibilities for bonding they provide.
Relying on Other AP Practices, Too
Because feedings were complicated and sometimes tense, we found that other aspects of Attachment Parenting helped us maintain a secure bond with Reuben. I don’t own as many different wraps or know as many different ways to tie one as some people, but I consider myself a babywearing expert because I can get a baby into and out of a sling without dislodging a feeding tube from his nose — and have, on occasion, administered feedings while wearing the baby.
Cosleeping allowed us to ensure that Reuben didn’t become tangled in his tubes during the overnight portion of his feedings. Through soggy experiences, we learned all the ways the feeding tube could leak — once all in one night. First, I was awakened by cold wetness on my backside when the tube connected to Reuben disconnected from the bag containing his food. Two hours and a sheet change later, the medical port on the tube slipped open. This time we put a towel over the wet spot and went back to sleep, only to be awakened again when Reuben squirmed the tube extension off the button on his stomach.
People who say eating in bed is messy have no idea.
Feeding with Love and Respect in Special Circumstances
Over time, we have found ways to make Reuben’s tube feedings a nurturing and respectful experience for all of us. I choose the content of Reuben’s diet when I make his homemade blended formula (though we also use canned formula). Context is also an important part of eating, and we have learned to integrate Reuben’s tube feedings into our family meal time. We put whatever we are eating on Reuben’s plate, and he usually chews at least some of it. Eric pushes Reuben’s tube feeding while we all talk about our day. Before we start, we hold hands and say something for which we’re grateful. Then I smile at Reuben and ask, “Now what?” and he grins broadly as he says, “Blessings on our meal.”
Someday, the doctors assure us, Reuben will move to eating all of his calories by mouth and I will complain with the mothers of other teenage boys about the difficulty of keeping food in the refrigerator. Until then, we have learned that every kind of meal, whether intravenous or tube-fed, hung or pushed or pumped, eaten by mouth from the breast or the hand or the spoon – all of these are a blessing.
MealtimeConnections.com provides feeding therapy and consultation focused on developing a positive partnership between therapists and families, as well feeding in the context of a positive parent-child relationship. I especially recommend their “Mealtime Notions,” which are feeding aids based on the Mealtime Connections philosophy that “feeding is first and foremost a special relationship between the child and the feeder”; and the Homemade Blended Formula Handbook, an indispensable philosophical and practical reference for families of tube-fed children.
The Pediatric Encouragement Feeding Program at Kluge Children’s Rehabilitation Center is an intensive, interdisciplinary program focused on weaning children from tube feedings in a supportive environment.
Connecting with our children for a more compassionate world.