Tag Archives: nurturing touch

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.

Why Ask Permission to Touch the Baby?

By Suzanne P. Reese, IAIMT, author of Baby Massage, www.infantmassageusa.org

The concept of asking a baby for permission for anything can be foreign to a lot of people, not just parents. Resistance often lies in, “The baby won’t (or can’t) understand what I’m saying” or “I don’t ask my children for permission for anything.” Given where we are in Western culture, these are logical filters through which many people’s thoughts run: Babies don’t understand much of anything and children should be learning to ask permission of their parents and elders, not the other way around.

Take an infant massage training or class and get ready for a cultural paradigm shift.

When I meet parents who claim their baby didn’t like massage, so they stopped the practice, the first question I ask is, “Did you ask permission to massage?” Often, parents are a bit stumped and the common answer is, “No, why would I do that?” Ah, let me tell you!

Asking a baby for permission to massage is critical to having a successful exchange of communication. Basically, baby massage is communication. Since baby massage is different from many other ways and reasons we touch our babies, it’s important babies learn they have a say in the matter. Baby massage is not about getting dressed or bathed, it’s not about getting strapped into a car seat — all things that usually have to happen in the course of any given day. Baby massage is a mutual agreement between parent/primary caregiver and Baby that communicates, “I love you.” It’s a reciprocal exchange of love through touch. When a baby is asked for permission to massage, the baby is receiving messages that communicate, “I see you, I hear you, I feel you, I’m listening, I want to understand, I love you,” and, fundamentally important, “You exist.”

Babies learn about their world through the interactions they have with their primary caregivers. When a baby is asked, “May I massage you?”, this is a key moment in fostering empowerment in the child. The child is empowered to learn to follow his/her state, mood, and know that this is a situation in which he has a choice. Additionally, the baby is learning this is a choice that will be acknowledged, understood, validated, and honored — all basic human virtues that babies need modeled for them to emotionally thrive.

With this, the baby is establishing a sense of who he is and is learning an early lesson that will stay with him for life: healthy social boundaries. When parents practice modeling healthy social boundaries with their infants, these babies grow up to understand how to be sensitive to other people. These early experiences can foster the ever-important quality: empathy.

Do babies understand the question? Yes! Babies understand a lot of things. It has nothing to do with spoken language, and everything to do with intention. Babies are intelligent beings who, often, are not given the credit they deserve. Babies know what they like and what they don’t like, and they are always communicating with the people in their world through nonverbal cues. Parents don’t have to actually say out loud, “May I massage you?” All they have to do is think it, feel it, and Baby will respond.

How will parents/primary caregivers know what their baby is saying? In the world of infant massage, we say “The baby is the teacher, and the parents are the experts.” You know your baby best.

So, let’s get back to the massage and asking Baby for permission. Once permission is granted, the massage can commence; however, throughout the massage, the baby’s cues and signals must be observed and honored. If not, then the massage becomes a treatment, a “do to” rather than a “do with” and that defeats the trust factor that asking permission can help establish. An infant’s primary psychosocial task is to establish trust, and being sensitive to the baby’s cues that say “I’m still OK with this, I like it” or “I’m all done, please stop” is critical to the trusting bond that baby massage and other forms of nurturing touch can help build. If the baby cannot trust, if the parent/primary caregiver does not establish that massage is an exchange that is safe, predictable, and reliable, then the success rate of the baby “liking” the massage plummets. For families that report their babies did not like the massage, it is these same families who did not know to ask their baby for permission. They unknowingly demonstrated to their baby that the massage is like any other “do to,” and the baby cannot trust that his signals that communicate “I’m not ready for this” or “I’m not in the mood for this” will not be honored.

Establishing healthy social boundaries early on in life can carry itself with the child throughout all relationships in life. Children who have healthy and safe relationships with their parent/primary caregiver void of blame, shame, and humiliation are children who can cope with the adversity and challenges of potential problems later in life. A well-attached child who is challenged by an attempted violation (physical or emotional) is likely to be a child who breaks that social pattern early. This is the child who is has the insight to recognize the discomfort, to stop it in it’s tracks by knowing how to say “no,” and to not fear going to the parent/primary caregiver — a place that has been established as safe, predictable, and reliable. The child sharing the experience can expect to be heard, understood, and validated. This is empowerment that starts with early health,y physical exchanges that honor a relationship built in trust.

Every time we touch our children, we are communicating something. When we ask for permission to touch, children learn to extend that same grace to others. This is humility in action. “May I massage you?” can make all the difference. All-of-a-sudden, a baby who previously gave signals that he didn’t like his massage is communicating in smiles and coos. This baby is finally part of the conversation, and he is willing participant in the exchanges that will continue to build a solid foundation of trust. It’s an infant’s primary developmental task. Trust is a primary task in any relationship, so this approach works in any relationship, because all humans want to be acknowledged, validated, and understood. When it comes to matters of the heart, infants are not so different from their caregivers, and this is a lesson in human virtues that starts well before kindergarten.

A Touch Today for a Better Tomorrow

By Danielle Buffardi, Nurturing Touch Editor for The Attached Family magazine

Beginning in the womb, your child becomes used to your touch. The swishing of the amniotic fluid and your gentle movements sway your child within the warmth of your body. This need to be touched by the infant never ceases and, if anything, becomes stronger once you deliver your child.

After delivery, mother-child bonding time is crucial. Unfortunately, some hospitals whisk baby away immediately after birth and the time is hectic rather than quiet. The good news is that baby-bonding does not rely on just the first moments after birth; it continues into adulthood.

According to Sharon Heller’s book The Vital Touch, newborns will seek comfort in their mothers immediately. “The human infant arrives hard-wired to seek contact with the mother,” Heller writes. “Take the newborn’s primitive reflexes. First, there is cuddling. When picked up and held, newborns mold their arms and legs into the cavity of our arms. Next there is clinging, the apparent purpose of which is to grasp mother and maintain contact.”

Even body temperature and digestion can all be easily regulated by touch. Simply by holding your baby, caressing, and cosleeping, you help your newborn ease right into her new life because your body is already regulating temperatures for the both of you. During cosleeping, the mother’s temperature fluctuates to accommodate baby and vice versa. If your infant is cold while in your arms, your temperature will rise to make baby warmer. Nature designed mothers and infants to be one, especially in the first few weeks of life.

According to Heller, “massaged babies often show greater weight gain, and fewer postnatal complications. They are more social, more alert, less fussy and restless, sleep better, and have smoother movements.” Mothers who use gentle, constant touching will soothe baby more than any pacifier ever could. Infants are constantly looking to be touched, massaged, and cuddled.

Using gentle touch techniques with your baby helps to ensure that you will also learn your baby and become fluent in his language. Thus, when your infant cries, you will know what he wants almost immediately, and the crying shouldn’t last long at all. Maternal instinct and gentle touch go hand-in-hand. The better you know your child, the better off the both of you will be. Don’t mistrust your motherly instincts; home in on them. No one in this world knows your child better than you: Never forget that. Listen to the advice of the pediatrician, but don’t be afraid to speak up and second-guess that advice. Every child is different, and what’s good for one is not necessarily good for all babies. Getting to know your child immediately during infancy will help you decide how to address any problems that arise later.

Heller states, “The arms of the sensitive mother invite. When the world looms too large, too loud, too bright, too cold, the infant knows that she will be enveloped in a warm protective embrace. This gives the baby a clear message: ‘You are safe. You are loved. You are loveable.’ And so the infant relaxes, secure against the world.” Even now, as adults, we can look back on our own childhoods and understand where our caregivers went right or wrong when it came to motherly love and gentle touching. Our mother’s love affects us from infancy into adulthood and beyond. It’s not only the tie that binds; it’s also the basis on which we form opinions of ourselves and others. The mother who really knew her child and catered to his needs most likely reared a very well-rounded and courageous individual. But the mother who let a child cry herself to sleep and always kept her guessing whether or not she really was her mother’s pride and joy may have produced an insecure and outwardly aggressive adult, afraid of taking chances. A mother’s influence, touch, and protection provides us with roots as well as wings and should not, by any means, be taken lightly.

Practicing Attachment Parenting nourishes you and helps you to meet your baby’s physical and emotional needs. With your baby so close to you, there’s no question about whether he is safe, hungry, or uncomfortable. While cosleeping, both of you get longer stretches of undisturbed sleep while continuing to forge the unbreakable mother-child bond. This utter closeness helps encourage mothers to tap into their instinctive knowledge of their infant’s needs, and it also reassures the baby that his mother is never far away, thus allowing his mental state to remain calm.

In an article entitled “The Breastfeeding, Co-sleeping Connection” on Babiestoday.com, Katherine Dettwyler, an associate professor of anthropology and nutrition at Texas A & M University, states, “Human children are designed to be sleeping with their parents … The sense of touch is the most important sense to primates. The expected pattern is for mother and child to sleep together and for the child to be able to nurse whenever they want during the night.”

Dettwyler continues, “Dr. James McKenna, professor of anthropology and director of the Mother-and-Baby Sleep Lab at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Ind., pioneered the first behavioral and electro-physiological studies documenting differences between mothers and infants sleeping together and apart (in different rooms). He is known worldwide for his work in promoting studies of breastfeeding and mother-infant co-sleeping. ‘First and foremost, cosleeping is beneficial because it is what mothers and babies are supposed to do — what they have been biologically designed to do — as maternal proximity is expected by the baby’s body,’ McKenna explains. ‘Clinically, from scientific studies, a co-sleeping baby sleeps longer, cries less, breastfeeds more, sleeps more lightly (in stages 1 and 2) and spends less time in a more mature stage of sleep.’”

Using, exploring, and learning gentle touch and cosleeping techniques with your baby will undoubtedly bring the whole family closer. The parents will learn to respond to their baby’s needs with a sensitive and nurturing touch, and the baby will realize just how loved and protected she really is. There really is no substitute for a mother’s touch, and a child will never stop seeking it. Knowing that one’s needs will never go unmet instills an unparalleled sense of reassurance in children. Gentle touch gives our children the courage to grow, explore, and consume all that the world has to offer. How we respond to them now forms the basis for their later relationships and, in turn, how they will parent their children.

What Children REALLY Want: An interview with author Licia Rando

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RITA: Which is why AP is so important…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parenting through Business Trips, Military Deployment, and Other Extended Separations

By Amber Lewis, staff writer for The Attached Family

AP during extended separationsEvery child and each parent is different, and family situations differ just as much as the people in them, making each situation unique with successes and challenges all their own. In my family, I’m the parent who works full-time outside the home while my husband stays at home with our daughter. In addition, I am in the military — and that means my work sometimes can take me on extended travel or deployment.

When a parent must be away from her family for a long time, as in the case of business travel or military deployment, it’s important to realize that this can be very hard on children and that these extended separations must be prepared for. One resource I recommend to military families is SurvivingDeployment.com.

A key concept to keep in mind is that children often act-out more during these extended separations as a way of coping. The parent at home can help prepare the environment for this by talking with teachers, friends’ parents, and family members about what to expect and to prepare them for providing support.

Here are some ideas about how to help your child deal with your or your spouse’s extended separation:

  • Keep everyone connected and communicate often – Before deployment, don’t keep it a secret, but you don’t have to make a big deal about it either. During the extended separation, make recordings for each other, send lots of letters and packages back and forth, and put in lots of pictures. Also, the parent at home needs to be sure to talk to the child often about his feelings toward the separation. After the parent returns home, she owes everyone some one-on-one attention and reassurance.
  • Make friends – For both parents and the kids, making friends who have been through or are going through a similar experience will help everyone.
  • Establish the home boss – Remember the parent at home is the one in charge; the other parent should never try to undermine the spouse’s authority while away.

Most of these tips are more about raising the child through an extended separation from a parent rather than what to do when your child acts out because that is a big part of what discipline is. If you’re looking for specific discipline techniques for specific situations, what works best for separations is also what works during times when the family is together: positive discipline done in a loving, compassionate, nurturing, and empathic way.

For more information on practicing positive discipline, look forward to the upcoming Fall 2009 annual Growing Child “Positive Discipline” issue of The Attached Family magazine.

Bonding Begins in Utero…for Fathers, Too

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

Fathers bonding in uteroPregnancy is an amazing time of bonding between a mother and her baby, especially during a first pregnancy. There is no way to describe what hearing the heartbeat or feeling a movement for the first time feels like. Watching her belly grow and grow, the months pass by, perhaps an ultrasound or two giving a glimpse into the womb, and then the transformative power of labor and childbirth – pregnancy is an amazing journey for a new mother.

And for a new father, as he watches his unborn child’s mother’s belly grow, places his hand on her belly, and gets to feel a kick here and there. Childbirth is just as transformative for the father. At one moment, the baby is little more than a dream and, the next, the baby is here! Birth is a joyful event, but it can also be confusing for a new father. He doesn’t have the hormonal drive to attach to the new baby like the mother has, and with so much of the mother’s time wrapped up with caring for the baby, the father can feel a little lost in his role at first.

There are a number of ways fathers can connect with the new baby after birth. What works in a lot of families is asking the father to take on a certain baby care task, such as giving baths, supporting the breastfeeding mother, or filling bottles. But, even then, it can take a while for the father to feel a special connection with this new family member who, at first, only seems to take more and more energy and time without giving much in return.

Fathers who concentrate on bonding with their baby in utero may be able to make the adjustment to fatherhood after the baby’s birth a little easier. Here are a few tips for fathers: Continue reading Bonding Begins in Utero…for Fathers, Too

Use Massage to Reconnect at the End of the Work Day


Infant massageIn today’s world economy, we often find that most parents are working outside of the home. This may mean a two parent home has both parents working outside of the home to keep their bills paid and food on the table. This may also mean that we see a reversal of roles, as compared to our 1950s ideals of families, where a father may stay at home with the children while the mother works outside of the home. Or the traditional stay-at-home mother while the father is working.

In any case, we find that the children are missing out on valuable nurturing and bonding time with their parents.

While it is essential that parents work to support their families, it is also essential that parents find ways to connect and bond with their children. To support children, show them they are loved and provide care and attention. Continue reading Use Massage to Reconnect at the End of the Work Day

AP is Good for Mom, Too

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

AP is Good for Your Emotional Regulation, TooExperts and parents agree – telling and retelling of a birth story is vital for a woman to overcome an emotionally traumatic birth. But there is certainly something to be said for the power of parenting in an attachment-promoting way in healing a mother’s feelings of disappointment, guilt, anger, and other strong and often confusing emotions that may surround her child’s entry into the world.

Women who are struggling with their emotions are not only grieving their lost dreams of what they had hoped for their labor and birth experience, but may also be battling with feelings of guilt and inadequacy as a mother. While we must take time to fully grieve our birth experiences, we must also find a way to move forward. It can be very fulfilling, and healing, to channel the strong emotions surrounding our child’s birth into caring for her in a loving, positive, attachment-promoting way. Just as a hobby or a phone call to a friend can give a release for our strong emotions in a healthy way, so can we heal through our parenting.

It must be noted, though, that by healing through our parenting, I do not mean that we transfer our strong emotions to our baby or that we attach onto our child in any other way than an appropriate parent-child relationship. What I’m referring to is using parenting as a healthy outlet for women to move forward. Harville Hendrix, PhD, and Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD, explain this in their book, Giving the Love that Heals.

“In a conscious marriage, partners grow when they stretch to meet the needs of the other, and they heal when their needs are met by their partner,” they write. “The process is mutual. In marriage, it is appropriate for a partner to grow by meeting the needs of the other partner, but it is not appropriate for a parent to try to heal by having the child meet his needs. The process for parents and children is not mutual. The parent must heal his childhood wounds in an adult relationship and not in his relationship with his child.”

However, while healing through the parent-child relationship is not synonymous with the adult-adult relationship, Hendrix and LaKelly Hunt acknowledge that parenting can be a pathway to personal healing.

“The sense in which marriage can be healing is that partners restore their own wholeness when they stretch to meet each other’s needs, giving to the other what is often hardest to give,” they continue. “The sense in which parenting can be healing is that parents restore their own wholeness when they stretch to meet the needs of their children at precisely those stages at which their own development has been incomplete. Through marriage and parenting, partners and parents can recover parts of themselves that have been lost. Both marriage and parenting give people the chance to receive for themselves what they give to their partner or child. They get what they give. In this way, both marriage and parenting can be transformational, because the healing experiences these relationships can provide will change the very character of the people involved.”

Healing from birth trauma is, of course, not the same as healing from childhood wounds, but this excerpt is illustrative of the difference between a parent inappropriately leaning on her baby to provide emotional comfort and a parent appropriately using parenting her baby in an attachment-promoting way as an opportunity to heal through giving to another.

Virtually all Attachment Parenting (AP) practices can help a mother heal from her birth trauma by promoting a close, positive relationship between her and the baby, but there are a few that research has shown to be especially beneficial to the new mother – perhaps not in magically healing emotional trauma but in providing an atmosphere supportive of a mother’s own efforts in healing.


Breastfeeding is particularly powerful in jump-starting the mother-baby attachment bond. Attachment Parenting International (API) Co-founders Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker describe breastfeeding as the ideal model of attachment in their book, Attached at the Heart, for sale here. There are myriad benefits for the baby and mother, in regards to health and attachment, but what about helping mothers’ emotional well being?

Read API’s review of Attached at the Heart here.

“Breastfeeding triggers the release of the attachment-promoting hormone oxytocin into the mother’s body,” Nicholson and Parker explain. “Often called ‘the mothering hormone,’ oxytocin has a calming effect on both mother and baby. “

Futhermore, “research in depression is showing a correlation between lower levels of certain hormones in mothers who experience depression, so it appears that anything we can do to increase levels of these natural hormones may be a powerful aid in prevention,” Nicholson and Parker write.

Health psychologist and API Resource Advisory Council and API Editorial Review Board member Kathleen Kendall-Tackett echoed this research in her 2007 International Breastfeeding Journal article, “A New Paradigm for Depression in New Mothers: The Central Role of Inflammation and How Breastfeeding and Anti-inflammatory Treatments”: “…although women experience many stressors in the postpartum period, breastfeeding protects them by inducing calm, lessening maternal reactivity to stressors, and increasing nurturing behavior. …breastfeeding can protect mothers’ mental health and is worth preserving whenever possible.”

Responding with Sensitivity & Providing Consistent, Loving Care

Lack of sensitivity toward the baby is a hallmark effect of a mother who is dealing with emotional issues, but a mother who focuses on responding appropriately and quickly to her baby’s cries can improve her mood by reducing how much her baby cries. Nicholson and Parker explain that parents need to respond to their baby’s pre-cry cues; by waiting until the baby is crying, he will be much more difficult to console. Babies are not born with the ability to regulate their strong emotions – they rely on their caregivers to do this for them by responding quickly, appropriately, and consistently.

We don’t need a research study to show us how stressful it can be to listen to our child’s unrelieved cries, but I did want to share one study’s conclusion included in Attached at the Heart. According to a 1995 Pediatrics article, “Developmental Outcome as a Function of the Goodness of Fit Between the Infant’s Cry Characteristics and the Mother’s Perceptions of Her Infant’s Cry,” mothers who responded consistently and appropriately had higher self esteem than did mothers who were inconsistent in the responses to their baby’s cries.

In addition, “mothers who feel low, depressed, anxious, exhausted or angry, who have relationship problems with their partner, or who feel strongly rejected by their baby’s crying are more likely to have a baby who cries excessively,” according to Dr. Gillian Rice in his Netdoctor.co.uk article, “Why Do Babies Cry?” “This isn’t to say that the mother’s feelings caused her baby to become a frequent crier, but they may be a factor in perpetuating the baby’s crying.”

Nurturing Touch

Especially for mothers who are unable to breastfeed, nurturing touch stimulates the mother’s body to also release oxytocin.

“The good  news for a mother or caregiver who is not breastfeeding is that she can still receive oxytocin benefits from holding the baby skin-to-skin, and also by giving and receiving nurturing touch through massage and gentle caress,” explain Nicholson and Parker.

Louis Cozolino suggests through his book, The Healthy Aging Brain, that new mothers add nurturing touch as part of their regular infant care techniques, not just for the baby’s benefit but for their own mental health.

“Studies have found that teaching depressed mothers to massage their infants increased the amount of touching and bonding time between them, and decreased levels of stress hormones in both infants and mothers,” he writes. “The infants showed increased alertness, emotionality, and sociability, and they were easier to soothe. Touching their children not only activated smiles and positive expressions on the part of the infants, but also made the mothers feel happier and more effective.”


I am amazed of how healing it can be at all stages of parenting to sleep in proximity of my children. For the new mother, cosleeping reduces stress and improves sleep by having the reassurance that the baby is nearby and safe as well as the convenience of caring for the baby in the same room rather than in another part of the house.

A study detailed in Sharon Heller’s book, The Vital Touch, describes how “mothers slept slightly better and slightly longer when their babies stayed with them.” Heller goes on to explain how a mother’s instinct is to protect her baby and separation and crying is contrary to this instinct – arousing a mother’s natural impulse to correct the situation.

“From a purely practical standpoint, parents report that they get more sleep with fewer interruptions when the cosleep,” write Nicholson and Parker. “They don’t need to get up to attend to baby’s needs, which keeps parents from having to wake up fully during feedings.”

Cosleeping enhances early mother-baby bonding, because nighttime parenting allows the mother to continue responding with sensitivity around the clock through breastfeeding, nurturing touch, and consistent and loving care.

“Babies feel warm, secure, and protected; therefore, they fret and cry less,” they continue. “Mothers worry less about their infants at night when they can reach out and touch the baby.”


Striving for balance between our personal and family lives is a must when seeking ways to decrease stress on new mothers and improve mood. Though it may not seem so, AP practices are in many ways just as helpful to maintaining balance in the mother’s life as they are in being compassionate and nurturing to the baby. AP practices aren’t solely for the child’s comfort – mothers receive hormonal benefits through breastfeeding and nurturing touch, more sleep through cosleeping, and reduced stress from crying through responding with sensitivity and providing consistent, loving care.

Still, especially for the first-time mother or for mothers who are going through a difficult postpartum recovery, balance can be an elusive goal. The key is to rely on others for their help in taking care of you. Postpartum Support International names social support as one of the most effective factors in prevention and treatment of postpartum depression. This social support may come in the form of your spouse, mother, friend, local API leader and API Support Group, or even through the virtual connection through the API Forums.

Nicholson and Parker describe the crucial importance of balance in a new mother’s life in Attached at the Heart, warning that “without support and other resources, we are taking a big risk for our children and ourselves. Margot Sunderland addresses the critical issue of stress and balance from a brain chemistry perspective in her power book, The Science of Parenting. She describes the positive effects of the hormone oxytocin and its role in helping calm all human beings. We are designed to help provide emotional regulation for children and each other. When a parent is alone most of the time without other caring adults to talk to, stress hormones rise, feelings get out of balance, and irritability and anger lash out.”

Sunderland’s advice: Mothers need to seek out nurturing touch from their partners, which triggers the release of oxytocin, which then gives a warm, calm feeling. And a sense of balance.

If you’re partner isn’t available or if you’re a single parent, talking to empathic friends can provide a much-needed outlet for stress. Other activities that can give you that oxytocin release include: meditation, acupuncture, massage, physical affection, yoga, warm bath, spending time in the sun or bright artificial lighting.

Discuss this topic with other API members and parents. Get advice for your parenting challenges, and share your tips with others on the API Forum.

Parenting without Spoiling

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

AP doesn't spoil childrenNeighbor: “Oh, your children are always so wonderful to be around! I can tell that you take parenting seriously.”

Parent: “Thank you! I think they’re wonderful, too, but of course I’m a little biased, so it’s nice to hear compliments from others. Thanks again!”

Neighbor: “I just don’t know what’s wrong with the world today. What don’t more parents be parents? Back in my day, parents didn’t put up with what they put up with now. We weren’t afraid to discipline our children. I’m so glad there’s someone in this younger generation who spanks their children.”

Parent: “Oh, but I don’t spank.”

Neighbor, surprised: “Oh, oh, of course not. Too controversial. Well, those timeouts must certainly be working then. I wouldn’t have thought it, you know, since the paddle worked so well for my children. I guess the point is that you’re punishing your children when they need it.”

Parent, calmly: “I don’t use timeouts, either. In fact, I don’t use any sort of punishment.”

Neighbor, obviously disapproving: “Well! You’re going to ruin your children! They’re going to grow up to be spoiled brats like all the other kids in this neighborhood!”

Parent, firmly but also calm and empathic of Neighbor’s view: “I may not punish, but I choose to use gentle discipline. I focus on teaching my children calmly and lovingly. I find this is best for my family, and as you had said, my children’s behavior show that it’s just as effective – if not more so – than other discipline forms that focus on punishments.”

Neighbor, defensively and indignantly: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. What you’re doing is not discipline. You’re spoiling your children. You’re an irresponsible, selfish parent, and you’re going to pay for it as your children grow older and walk all over you and turn into drug users and criminals. If you really loved your children, you’d spank them or at least use timeouts.”

Oh, how quickly, this real conversation turned sour once the neighbor learned of the parent’s childrearing approach and began to apply her judgments on the situation. How ironic that the neighbor began by praising the children’s behavior but couldn’t accept the parenting style responsible for it.

What is this fear of spoiling? Much of it is probably rooted in religious doctrines as well as in past generations’ cultural norms, but there is definitely a pervasive fear that if parents choose certain parenting approaches that don’t align with the popular childrearing techniques, that they’re going to spoil their children – and apparently bring the whole of society to a ruin. Continue reading Parenting without Spoiling

Don’t Give Up on Babywearing

By Marie Blois, MD, member of API’s Board of Directors

babywearingOne of the biggest mistakes that new parents make is giving up too soon on soft carriers. Because we often do not have real-life models, wearing our babies can initially feel awkward. Babywearing is a learned skill that takes patience, and the best way to become an expert at wearing your baby is to wear your baby often. To help you do that, here are some general tips:

  • All soft carriers should hold baby high and tight for maximum comfort and safety.
  • Baby should be rested and well fed before trying a new carrier.
  • Adjust carrier before handling baby, as babies tend to get very impatient with a lot of fumbling about.
  • While adjusting your carrier, try bouncing baby up and down (small, fast bounces) and shushing to soothe baby.
  • Once your baby is safely in the carrier, get moving! Babies love the soothing motion. Try walking outdoors.
  • Be persistent: Try new positions until you and baby are comfortable. Observe how your baby likes to be carried in your arms and then try to duplicate that favorite position with your carrier.
  • Start with baby’s head out of the fabric and plan to tuck it in when baby falls asleep. Many babies do not like having their head inside fabric.
  • General back wearing tip: Always lean forward while tightening the carrier to position baby high and tight.
  • Practice in front of a mirror until you feel confident.
  • Practice at home, with another person if necessary, until you feel confident.
  • Watch other experienced babywearers – at local Attachment Parenting International groups, La Leche League meetings, or on the playground.

Don’t be afraid to try new positions and new carriers. Your baby will let you know when she is uncomfortable or when she has had enough. Enjoy this time with you baby.

Excerpted from: Blois, M. (2005). Babywearing: The Benefits and Beauty of This Ancient Tradition. Amarillo, TX: Hale Publishing. www.ibreastfeeding.com.

Discuss this topic with other API members and parents. Get advice for your parenting challenges, and share your tips with others on the API Forum.