Monthly Archives: August 2014

Sleep Training and the Breastfeeding Infant (The Newborn Sleep Book)

There’s a “New Method” to help newborns sleep through the night and it’s been making its rounds in all of the groups that I’m in. It doesn’t even matter which method it is at this point. A method like this routinely crops up under new names with different explanations. The general idea is this:  You teach your infant to expect to be fed at certain intervals and no sooner. So the child’s body adapts to those feeding times and you get sleep.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

So why are people so against it? Why are the lactation consultants, the breastfeeding advocates, and everyone with knowledge of breastfeeding up in arms? Is it a conspiracy to deprive us all of the sleep we need?

There is a geeky saying. ‘It’s not only not right, it’s not even wrong.” Where something cannot be argued against in a logical manner because the understanding that it was built on is ridiculously flawed. The phrase is attributed to Wolfgang Pauli, a theoretical physicist known for colorful objections to sloppy thinking.

These methods are like that for people that know how breastfeeding works, how the human body works, how the mother-infant relationship work. The idea that you can space out feedings to encourage a newborn to adapt to a specific feeding pattern? It reduces us to jaw-hanging horror because it’s… Not only not right. It’s not even wrong. It’s incredibly naive and… It just doesn’t work. You can’t say that two plus two is five. How do you even go about talking about something that is… that.. off?

You have to back up. All the way. Start from the beginning and teach a person how a baby’s body works. What human milk is made of. How different types of milk mean different things. You have to teach them… Everything. That is how flawed the method is. You can’t even say “the conclusion is wrong”. The entire thing is broken.

Let’s try this.. Did you hear about the method of reducing gasoline consumption by spacing out refilling to once a month so that your car learns to expect to only be refilled then? It works.. technically. Just with some obvious pitfalls for most people.

The newborn sleep training method that spaces out feedings so that the baby will only expect to eat at certain intervals? Remarkably similar. But instead of running out of gas mom’s supply tanks and baby may end up with failure to thrive.

You cannot change how something works without understanding it and respecting it.

These methods capitalize on the mystique and misunderstanding surrounding the most basic biological process. It is snake oil and glitter promising to change how biology functions.

This method should have a huge glaring informed consent warning label on it. “USING THIS METHOD WILL INVOLVE FORMULA SUPPLEMENTATION EXCEPT IN RARE SITUATIONS“.

Let me introduce you to the human mother. The human mother’s body performs a balancing act between her baby’s needs and her own physical health. If a human mother is making unlimited milk constantly across the day and is making more milk than her baby needs then she is rapidly burning through her own resources by funneling all of her energy and vitamin intake into the production of milk. If the human mother makes unlimited milk then she will have constant engorgement and leaking. This places the human mother at a high risk of mastitis and thrush. So how does mom stay healthy? Mom’s body is protected by how breastfeeding works. Human milk has a protein in it called “Feedback Inhibitor of Lactation” or FIL. When mom’s breasts are full of milk they are also full of this protein which signals to mom’s body that her breasts are not being emptied and that her body should make less milk to conserve resources and prevent infection. If mom’s breasts are not emptied regularly then her milk supply decreases.

Let me introduce you to the human infant. The human infant acts as the counterbalance to mom’s body’s natural drive to decrease supply.  The human infant is biologically hardwired to cry to be near mom, to suck when awake, to sleep when full (human milk contains tryptophan which naturally encourages sleep), and to wake when their body needs more milk. Their stomach capacity is small- from the size of a marble up to the size of a chicken egg. They rapidly digest human milk so that they will be ready to nurse again and keep mom’s supply where it needs to be. This on-demand feeding is what helps the small weak infant with an under-developed brain grow healthy and strong. It promotes normal human development and growth. Human infants are categorized as “carry mammals” by science, which has analyzed the milk of different species that rear their young in different ways. Human milk is similar to the species that carry their babies around and feed all across the day and night. The human baby requires frequent feedings.

We now have the basis of the cycle. Mom’s breasts need to be kept empty in order to produce milk. Baby’s natural biological rhythms of hunger and nursing encourage baby to keep mom’s breasts empty by nursing frequently.

You cannot change the human mother’s milk into the milk of a deer which feeds around once every twelve hours and you cannot change the human infant’s digestive system into that of a baby deer which requires the specific balance of its mothers milk.

It doesn’t work. You  just break the cycle.

So now we’ll throw in a “gotcha”. Mom has been told to space out feedings to no more than once every three hours or once every four hours. Mom’s body doesn’t know this. Mom’s body knows that she has a young infant that is feeding on demand. Mom’s breasts fill up with milk. Mom’s milk is full of that nifty little thing that tells mom’s breasts to make less milk. That milk stays in mom’s breasts. Baby screams in hunger while their parents bounce and shush and distract and attempt to pacify the baby that needs to eat. Mom’s breasts start making less and less milk. Baby eats what baby can eat in the time that mom allows him to nurse. (Typically fifteen minutes per side) and consumes either what mom’s breasts are able to let down in that time or what baby’s stomach capacity is. Either way… IT IS NOT ENOUGH. Mom’s supply reduces and instead of taking in what baby needs baby is taking in what mom’s body is able to produce on the schedule that is allotted.

In some mother-baby pairs this will work. Maybe mom has oversupply that is higher than usual in calories. Maybe baby’s rhythm is different.

Let’s go back to the car thing.. Maybe the car that you’re not refilling is a small fuel efficient hybrid or has an unusually large gas tank. Maybe you don’t drive much, or maybe knowing that you won’t be refilling the car as much makes it so you change your patterns. There are ways in which it can work.

There are also ways in which it will fail because it is completely and totally incompatible.

If your baby is asking to be fed more than once every three hours… That’s the low fuel light on your dash. It’s the thing that is telling you that less frequent refillings don’t work for your baby.

To summarize it- if this method is appropriate then your baby is one of those that only wants to feed at that interval. If your baby wants to feed more frequently it is NOT a safe method to use. Not for your baby and not for you.

The methods that purport to “fix” the natural rhythm of infants… Are BROKEN. They are fundamentally flawed from the bottom up. They cannot work any more than you can look at a potato and say “I’ll spell you like tomato instead and you will be red!”

There is nothing wrong with a parent trying a method with the knowledge that it will decrease their supply and require formula supplementation. As long as it is an INFORMED CHOICE and as long as they know that it’s not “my body doesn’t make enough milk” or “I failed to breastfeed”, it is “I made an informed choice to choose a method of sleep training that is incompatible with breastfeeding.”

Even if a baby is fully formula fed you still have to be cautious about restricting feeds this way because a baby’s stomach is tiny. It cannot hold much food. And a baby on a liquid diet simply needs to eat often in order to thrive.

The body can adapt to less frequent feedings. Certainly. But it is far from ideal.

Raising a Clingy Monster Child through Gentle Parenting.. Or Not.

There are many reasons why I have a hard time taking it seriously when people say that a child who is parented in an attached way will be “clingy” or that a child that is parented gently will be a monster. (Note that testing and breaking rules, being clingy, etc. Can be normal too. My kids go through that.  All kids do.)

She is 28 months old. Not even two and a half.

She plays on the lawn and runs down the sidewalk on her own. If she starts to step on the grass between the sidewalk and the street I call out “Keenie, Keenie come on back” and she comes on back. We walk along the sidewalk together. I am not holding her hand. She minds the edges. Sometimes we will be hanging out somewhere and she’ll go running for the sidewalk and whoever I am with will bolt towards her in a panic. I don’t bolt, though. I use my words because she listens. She understands that if she loses trust by doing something dangerous that she won’t have as much freedom because it is my  job to keep her safe. She doesn’t fear that mommy will get angry if she runs towards the street, she understands that mommy will be scared if she goes too far, and that if mommy is scared by what she is doing, that mommy will have to hold her hand. She values her freedom.

She climbs the play structures in the park. Sometimes she gets stuck and calls out to me. I walk over and give her a leg up, and she plays on. She minds the edges and holds on. She understands that if she falls she will hurt. She is not afraid that I will yell if she goes to the wrong part of the playground. She is cautious with new things because she understands falling.

She eats cherries with the pit still in them. She bites around the pit and drops the pit and stem into a bowl. (Except for when she throws them on the floor. o_O) She bites her grapes in half. She plays with the regular Legos including the smallest pieces, even though she’s no where near three. She isn’t afraid that I will yell at her if she puts something in her mouth. She understands that if she puts certain things in her mouth or that if she puts whole cherries in her mouth that she loses the trust to play with the small parts and she loses the trust to eat cherries by herself. She values her autonomy.

She cups a newly hatched katydid in her hand. Tiny. A body the size of a grain of wild rice with long delicate legs and antenna that look about the size of a human hair. The woman helping children hold the baby chicks at the petting farm takes one look at her waiting in line and asks with great concern “She won’t squeeze them, will she?” We are gentle with small things. We value and respect life. We mind the legs and the necks and heads and all the small bits of creatures littler than us.

She sits at the table to eat, in a chair. And she feeds herself. She drinks from an open glass. Glass, not plastic. And she carries her glass over to the water dispenser to get more water when she needs it. She is not afraid of how I will react if she breaks a glass. She is careful because she does not want to break a glass because we cannot put it back together and it is hard to clean up and she doesn’t want to get a glass splinter because I have told her that glass splinters hurt worse than the wooden splinter that she has experienced. Glasses have been broken (more by me than my children). No one gets upset. She knows that if a glass breaks we all freeze and mommy moves anyone with bare feet safely out of the area.

She knows how to put on her clothes and her shoes, although she’s still working on getting them on facing the right way. She prefers to try and get herself dressed because she knows that trying is how we learn.

When she is done with her bath I ask her if she can please put the toys away. And she puts the toys in the baskets and on the shelves, and she pulls out the plug in the drain and puts that on the side of the tub, and when she is done she lifts her arms up to me for help getting out safely. When I ask her to please put something in the garbage she brings it over and puts it in the garbage. When I ask her where a toy belongs she puts it in its place. She isn’t afraid that I will yell at her if she doesn’t do these things. I just asked nicely, and I taught her where everything goes and she knows that if she needs help she can ask and I won’t second-guess her.

When she is playing and accidentally hurts me she stops, looks at me and says “Oops! Sorry mommy!” Not because I yelled but because I said “ouch”.

Gentle parenting isn’t about where your child is. It’s not about keeping your child tethered to you or promoting neediness to meet the parents need for closeness. It’s not about avoiding teaching your child about behavior and expectations. It’s not about permissiveness or laziness.

It’s just about being available. It’s about teaching. It’s about believing that respect is something that goes both ways.

Fireflies in the Night (A Mental Image That Helps Me When I am Depressed)

Depression feels like a darkness. Sometimes the darkness feels complete.

I can sit in this darkness, as I can sit in the grass outside in the darkness of the night. I can feel how it surrounds me, and I can feel myself inside of it until it no longer feels as though it is inside of me. Once it is where I can see it, it is vast and huge and stretches all around me. Dark like a summer night out in the middle of nowhere.

Focus on finding the little spots of light that flicker through this darkness like fireflies. Try and catch one a day, then let the day come as it may. I start to notice all the spots of light that I am missing and just taking note that I am passing by them. Watching them from a distance for a bit makes me want to catch them. I can see stars, too. Little spots of light that I know are too far away to catch. That is okay. I can accept what is far away and what is near.

Catching these fireflies one at a time. A little darting thing in the dark. If I miss one, I wait until it flickers on again, watching where it was, and trying to guess where it will be. Soon I will become so good at catching fireflies that I was so focused on. Soon I will forget to pay attention to my darkness and I will find that it has slipped away into dawn.

This mental image was very helpful when I was dealing with depression in the past, and it helped me create patterns of recovery that I find for myself automatically now.

You’re never alone in the darkness, either. There are many women and many men and children and people of all ages. They’re there, too. Scared and feeling alone, and maybe trying to catch fireflies. You may bump into them while you’re running and jumping. Give them a hug and let them know it’s okay. You’ll see all of them clearly when your dawn breaks.

Depression and Self Hatred

I used to hate myself. Pessimistic judgemental. I hated to try new things and had crippling social anxiety. I was depressed and lonely.

Now I am not.

I feel that it is important to tell you this, as I know how many people feel this way and battle with depression.

Everyone’s journey is different, but it all revolves around change. Learning does not look like doing it perfect when you first begin to practice. I say this often. Not because I am saying it.. But because I live it.

If you are suffering from depression, anxiety, self hatred.. it isn’t a character defect. It can change. Seek help. Accept that it will take time, be uncomfortable, feel hopeless. It is like physical therapy. Like learning how to read, like recovering from a bad illness, like going through chemotherapy. It is about learning and about recovery and sometimes it is about medication.

For me the dislike of myself began in third grade. I did not choose to try and change until my oldest was born when I was 26, and I did not gain much foothold until I was nearly 30.

Other people may have an even longer pattern to break, or their journeys may start at a much deeper and darker place than mine.
Trust change.

For a while I clung to a part of a song by Massive Attack:

“Your mind can never change
Unless you ask it to
Lovingly rearrange
The thoughts that make you blue
The things that bring you down
Will mean no harm to you
And so make your choice joy
The joy belongs to you ”

I needed help to lovingly rearrange my thoughts. For me, the help came in the form of cognitive behavioral therapy. For others they may find that they need medication to help change the chemical balance in their brains. Brain chemistry can be like a drug all on its own. When your chemistry is off you experience things that are not real. This isn’t you. This is a chemical that either should not be there or that is missing. It is no different from reflux or a vitamin deficiency.

Joy is not a thing that I have possessed for my entire life. It is something that I hunted, that I found, and that I tend to lovingly.

And it is beautifully real.

Crying for “Stupid” Reasons- The Emotional Fire Drills of Childhood

Children cry a lot about “stupid” or “silly” things. They cry because their toast broke. They cry because they thought that a pink garbage truck would come after the blue one did. They cry because you made them green eggs when they asked for green eggs.

I’ve written before on broken expectations and how a child’s inability to describe what they see in their head and their inability to understand that other people see something different… Can lead to BIG FEELINGS.  ( )

Right now I want to write about something else, though. Our response.

I think that as parents we all have these “goals” for what we want for our relationships with our children, and for the most part we don’t have any real idea on how to get there. We want our kids to feel safe talking to us when they are teenagers. We want them to come to us if they have heartbreak, if they make mistakes, if they need medical treatment, if they need advice. We want to be trusted and we want to be kept in the loop.

But at the same time our culture pushes us to miss the opportunities for those things.

They push us to minimize the experiences of the very small because we look at them from our perspective and not the perspective of a small child with big feelings, a limited vocabulary, very little capacity for self regulation, and absolutely no experience-based perspective. They are going through something that is quite literally either THE most emotionally upsetting thing ever, or right up there.

A toddler freaks out and cries because she asked for toast and you gave her toast (instead of the french toast that she was picturing). Knee jerk reaction? Nip that tantrum in the bud. Teach her she’s not a princess. Ignore the tantrum or you’ll just be adding fuel to the fire. She has to learn that she isn’t always going to get what she wants. She has to learn that over-reaction is silly.

The emotions are really really real for our children even if they are silly for us. Sometimes it can be hard to take them seriously, but what if we look at them as a fire drill? It’s SILLY to get up and pack up all your things and leave a building when there is absolutely nothing wrong. You’ve been TOLD that it’s a fire drill. You know there is no fire. But fire drills aren’t about responding to what we feel is important right now in this moment. They are about building skills that we can use when a moment that we recognize as “IMPORTANT” comes up.

Broken toast at two and a half.

A teenager is upset because she has learned the difficult lesson that what you imagined a relationship to be doesn’t always match up with what a relationship ends up being. Relationships aren’t toast, but feelings are feelings.

The fire drill comes into play now. What patterns have we created with our children over the years? Are tears silly? Will we distract them with ice cream while refusing to talk about what is bothering them? Will we shove our own perspective down their throat? Will we stop, look, listen, resonate, empathize, and offer help with moving ahead?

We learn perspective not through having someone bigger than us say “YOUR FEELINGS ARE SILLY. WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE I SUFFERED HEARTBREAK AND BROKEN TOAST WHILE WALKING BAREFOOT IN SNOW TO SCHOOL EVERY DAY!”  Perspective comes from learning that we have the capacity to survive things.

When we choose to engage our children at their level rather than forcing them up to ours.. Our kids learn trust. They learn that while their feelings are no emergency for us, that we understand their feelings are an emergency for them. They understand that they will eventually grow to our perspective where a scraped knee just means a wash-off and bandaid. But at the same time they trust us to not make fun of them, minimize their hurt, get annoyed at them for falling, or chastise them for being drama queens.

They learn to find their own perspective, and to seek us out as their guide.