Effects of Infant Stress May Be Lifelong

4822437519_c449a79734_qThe Natural Child Project posted an excellent article explaining how childbirth and baby care can set a baby's emotional and physiological tone.

Linda Folden Palmer, D.C, author of Baby Matters: What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Caring for Your Baby, explains simply and compellingly how practices such as letting a baby cry herself to sleep or not feeding her when hungry can lead to permanently elevated cortisol and a reduced oxytocin response.

She writes,

Research on the biochemical factors influenced by child care methods demonstrates that with responsive parenting the body produces substances to help generate effective, loving, and lasting parents for an infant and infants who are strongly bonded to their parents. Over time these bonds mature into love and respect. Without a doubt these chemicals permanently organize an infant's brain toward positive behaviors and later development of strong, lasting attachments. However, the greatest lesson from these studies is that while nature has a very good plan, failure to follow it may lead to less desirable results.

photo by xopherlance

Babies, Sensuality and Sex Appeal

3336779168_cc009ec7ebIs the sexualization of the breast responsible for low levels of breastfeeding? A report in Pediatrics said that breastfeeding babies for the first six months of their lives could eliminate 1,000 infant deaths a year and save billions in healthcare costs. But fewer than one-third of babies are fed exclusively on breast milk by three months of age.

Meanwhile, another kind of breast is in the news. Actress Kate Hudson flaunted augmented breasts, while images of reality TV star Heidi Montag were everywhere, thanks to her new F-cups, which look like they're 25 percent of her total body weight.

Call it the battle between breasts and boobs. Are breasts milk dispensers or sexual accoutrements?

In the Playboy era, people used to sniff that men's fixation on breasts was an urge for their mommies. Then, modern conveniences freed many women from the drudgery of housework, and let them become more ornamental. Mommies were freed from having to use their breasts to mother, thanks to formula, just like having a dishwasher let them keep their manicures. It's not surprising that women's fashion become more artificial in this era. Hair was teased and sprayed into a bouffant and long fingernails became de rigueur. No wonder breast augmentation was invented in this era.

Thanks to technology, breasts kept getting bigger and bigger, as the rest of a woman's body shrank. Look at the movie stars of the early 1960s; none of them would be able to get a job as a waitress in Hollywood these days. Today, Marilyn Monroe would be considered a fat cow. Not only was her waist huge, but her breasts were floppy.

Lane Bryant, maker of plus-size fashion, charged that Fox and ABC refused to run TV spots featuring a woman with ample, pillowy breasts. Real flesh is more shocking than the hard, compact balls of silicon we see on most models. http://www.familygoesstrong.com/real-curves-dont-make-it-tv

And an infant actually drawing milk out of a breast seems like a perversion. It's dirty and disgusting, like poo on a white carpet.

This is a shame. Breastfeeding is crucial not only to a baby's physical health, breastfeeding is crucial to the development of a baby's attachment system, tying the sensual pleasure of physical intimacy to trust and love. Even the U.S. Department of health and Human Services calls breastfeeding an important health choice.

Certainly, working outside the home is one of the biggest barriers to breastfeeding for a new mother. But so are the discomfort with breastfeeding in public places and a woman's fears about losing her primary sexual asset.

It's difficult for today's woman to have it both ways. We can work toward the standard of artificial beauty or give up and spread out. Pregnancy and child birth are where many women hit this split in the road. Becoming a mother should be a natural transition point, as it has been for eons. But the expectation that she'll maintain her virginal charms makes her want to get that baby off the breast so she can get back to the gym.

Let's put the breast back in its place: out in public, serving as a baby's first experience of sensuality and pleasure.

PHOTO: clairegren

Feminists Support Attachment Parenting



A study found that women who identified as feminists were more likely to support attachment parenting principles. This is a bit counterintuitive and very reassuring.

As we learn more about how the oxytocin response -- the ability to connect, trust and love -- develops in the first few years of life in response to mothering, some of us wonder whether you can do a good enough job of mothering while having a career and/or independent, fulfilled life outside the home.

As reported by Holly Rossi in Parents Magazine blogs,

The study [by Miriam Liss and Mindy J. Erchull] asked mothers and non-mothers–who either did or did not identify themselves as feminists–to rate their level of support of a number of parenting principles, including the length of time children should be breastfed (from not at all to more than 18 months), whether mothers should carry their children in slings or arms as often as possible, and whether parents should co-sleep with their children.

Interestingly, while feminists in general tended to support attachment parenting principles, individual respondents thought that they were probably in the minority for doing so.

By the way, you don't have to spend 24 hours a day with your baby to create solid attachment. For more, read Good-Enough Attachment Parenting.

PHOTO: DerPlau

Good-Enough Attachment Parenting

TIME_20120521_CV1_685150_C1Time's controversial article on attachment parenting sparked a backlash: It is impossible for most parents to achieve the ideal of close to 24-hour-a-day physical connection to their baby. That doesn't negate the value of learning to mother and father in a way that gives your baby the best start in life: a system bathed in oxytocin.

As I wrote in Oxytocin Parenting, Donald Winnicutt came up with the idea of the "good-enough mother." He believed that not only do mothers -- and fathers -- not need to be perfect, there may be value in the times when we screw up as parents, maybe by being short-tempered or not able to respond immediately to a baby's cries.

As long as we can consistently meet a baby's needs for security, physical connection, being seen and being fed, we can achieve a secure bond and shape the baby's oxytocin response in a healthy way.

Oxytocin Parenting adds to the concepts of attachment parenting by explaining how the way we parent shapes a baby's neural pathways and his or her ability to respond to opportunities for safe connection in a healthy way.

Janice D'Arcy of the Washington Post sums up the controversy and calls for a more nuanced approach to the idea of attachment parenting -- although she seems to imply that attachment parenting means literally being physically attached to your baby, via breastfeeding, co-sleeping, etc.

Everyone can achieve a good-enough version of attachment parenting, even if your baby is in daycare, even if your baby was adopted, even if you aren't breastfeeding. Let's not throw out the attachment with the bathwater.

Life Experience Critical for the Oxytocin Response

As we move toward Mother's Day, science gave us another reminder of how important mothering is -- mothering as the actions of caring for a child no matter what your biological relationship.

Research led by Michael Poulin of the University of Buffalo looked at genes for oxytocin and vasopressin receptors that have been linked to kindness and generosity. They tested subjects to see if they had these genes, and they also asked them about whether they saw the world as threatening or not, and people as good or bad.

Simply having those kindness genes wasn't as important as life experiences that shaped the person's worldview. According to WebMD:

So although DNA may influence behavior, people do not come pre-programmed to be kind or mean or altruistic or selfish, says lead researcher Michael Poulin, PhD, of the University at Buffalo.

"We are not just puppets of our genes," Poulin tells WebMD. "Genes influence niceness in combination with perceptions of social threat, which come from our past and present experiences."

Sarah Hrdy on the Nature of Mothering

Are human males wired to scatter their seed? Or are we meant for cooperative breeding? Why are kids today so screwed up? Can women mother well while succeeding outside the home? Read an illuminating interview between Eric Michael johnson and Sara Blaffer Hrdy on the SciAM blogg.


Odent: Pitocin in Childbirth Interferes with Breastfeeding

Natural childbirth advocate Michel Odent will present the results of a first-ever study of the effects of Pitocin on mothering and bonding.

Pitocin is artificial oxytocin usually administered in U.S. hospital births to manage labor -- and speed it along. Critics say that the amount used causes pain and distress to the mother and baby, and that it can cause the emerging baby's hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal system (the HPA axis) to be set at hyperactive levels.

Some think that the widespread use of Pitocin can upset the baby's oxytocin system, contributing to autism spectrum disorder or impaired bonding.

By way of MyBestBirth.com. As My Best Birth notes, it's crazy that while the use of Pitocin in hospitals is close to 95 percent, this study is unique. Thanks to @DoniImes for spotting this story.

Self-Worth, Respect and Oxytocin

Sure, there's a connection between how we're treated and our feelings of self-worth. Is there also an oxytocin connection?

Nekole Shapiro of EmbodiedBirth speaks to the connection between how a woman feels about herself sexually--  whether on a date or in the birthing room -- and the production of oxytocin. Learn why disrespecting a laboring woman hinders the birthing process. She finishes by taking us through an exercise that can help you feel more in touch with your own body.

This is Nekole's intro to @RickiLake's movie More Business of Being Born - The VBAC Dilemma at Birth Uncut in Reno NV Nov. 2011.


Optimal Time for Maternal Leave Has Lifelong Health Benefits

Studies of European countries with substantially longer paid maternity leave find that the benefits of up to 40 weeks off are huge. Not only does it reduce infant deaths, according to Sharon Lerner, writing for Slate:

One study tracked Norwegian children who were born after 1977, when that country increased its paid leave from zero to four months and its unpaid leave from three to 12 months, and found that the kids born after the change had lower high school dropout rates. Military draft data, moreover, tied lengthened leaves to increases in male IQ (and height, too).

Lerner looks at several studies showing benefits of longer maternal leave periods, although the reasons aren't entirely clear. It's possible that it's simply that women with better, better-paying jobs have plenty of other resources to keep their babies and children healthy and engaged.

Is 40 Weeks the Ideal Maternity Leave Length?

Huggies Promotes Oxytocin

This is brilliant marketing that also serves the social good. Think about it: Diapers, babies, hugs and mommies. It's a natural fit.

Oh! In fact, that's the name of the product. Huggies Natural Fit is working with parenting expert Dr. Carol Cooper to to help parents further understand the importance of cuddling and the actual cuddle hormone, oxytocin.

Huggies released a survey which found that two thirds of new mothers were unaware of the importance of oxytocin in bonding with their babies. The good news is that more than half strongly believe that cuddling is important for creating a stronger bond.

Oh, wait a minute. That figure is 55 percent. Only 55 percent of mothers know it's important to cuddle their babies? Eek! I hope Huggies can help.