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Posts Tagged ‘Parenting’

I had an article published today on mamamia.com.au – you can read it here.

I wrote the post not long after my first child was born – over two years ago now, and finally submitted it a few months ago to mamamia. It’s essentially the story of an experience I had on one night in hospital after my daughter was born, and my feelings of powerlessness after an interaction with one particular night nurse. It’s been really interesting reading the comments on the article, particulalry to hear about others’ experiences – good and bad. I do want to point out that I am definitely not ‘anti’ hospitals or ‘anti’ midwives at all, but rather I wanted to share one experience that I had to highlight how hard it can be to ‘speak up’ and follow your instincts when you are exhausted and vulnerable.

I have had lots of positive experiences too and with my second child, my experience was far better. The midwives caring for me at the moment with my third pregnancy are great and I am having my third child in a hospital too. With each child though, I am of course more experienced and secure with my plans and choices.

Do feel free to comment – it’s an important area to discuss I think…

 

 

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I have just read this article in the Guardian and sighed when I read it. It refers to an article published a couple of weeks ago in the British Medical Journal (here is the article, but it requires a subscription/payment to read it all) where a research group (Fewtrell et al) questioned the policy in the UK to recommend exclusive breastfeeding of infants for six months. Just to be clear, exclusive breastfeeding means that for the first six months, an infant is given breast milk only: no solids, no formula, just breastmilk.

This follows the WHO guidelines, and the Australian government recommends the same. I should emphasise that the researchers are not recommending formula over breastmilk, and they are talking about the introduction of solid food, not formula.

What are they worried about? Well, the researchers are worried about links between late introduction of solids and iron deficiency, a potential increase in food allergies, and of coeliac disease.

I’m sure that this is going to confuse mothers even more. Any new mum knows that they are bombarded with a huge amount of advice from friends, families, and experts. I know that when I had my first child, I spent a lot of time consulting baby books and the internet for every little thing. But with my second child, I didn’t have the time, or inclination, and used a much more intuitive style of parenting.

I didn’t manage to exclusively breastfeed for six months, despite knowing that it was recommended, and despite having every intention to do so. My first child started solids at about five months, but my second was grabbing food from my plate at four months and I knew she needed more than breastmilk. I didn’t believe that something magical happened at six months of age that was missing at five and a half months, and so I did what I thought was best for my children – which is what mothers have been doing forever.

I’m curious about how many mums do actually manage to breastfeed exclusively for six months. I am very pro-breastfeeding, and had every intention of doing so, but for us, it didn’t work out and I did start solid food earlier (even though I continued breastfeeding for about a year with them both).

Did you manage?

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The following is a guest post by Nadia Jones. Nadia’s daughter experienced her first episode of mental illness while she was living away from home at University, leaving Nadia to have to try and manage this from afar. She has written below about her own advice to any other parents who worry about their child’s mental  health when they are away from home. She writes:

 

“For many parents, worrying about their children, especially when they move away from home for the first time, it is natural. Of course, there are many specific things that parents worry about concerning their college-bound students, but perhaps the most worrisome for those who have a family history of mental health disorders is that big changes—moving away to experience a lack of structure for the first time–could cause stresses that later manifest into full-blown disorders. This was my experience with one of my children, who was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder but had shown no signs of the disorder prior to college. Here are a few of my tips for maintaining your child’s mental health when he or she no longer lives with you.

1.     Be communicative without being overbearing.

When I first began attending college, my parents called me every day, but we never had substantive conversations. It was more of an exercise in “checking up” on me and a way to assuage their empty nest syndrome. Of course, you will want to call all the time, but it is much more effective to call your child every few days and have longer, more substantive conversations in which you can extract how they are really managing the transition. Since your child is experiencing independence for the first time, she will likely be less receptive to your communication if you call too often.

2.     Get to know your child’s friends.

Of course, this won’t happen right away, but it is important to know and have contact information of those who actually live and study with your child. It is very easy for your own child to say “I’m fine, don’t worry.” Close friends who have your child’s interests in mind will be more open to talking honestly if a serious problem begins to arise. Whenever I came to visit my child in college, I would always invite her closest friends to dinner. Being close with your child’s support group is absolutely essential if your child later struggles with mental health issues.

3.     Watch for small signs of anomalous behavior.

Most of the time, it is very easy for a burgeoning mental health problem to slip completely under the radar until it becomes an obvious problem. In my experience, especially if you already know about mental health disorders from relatives who may have them, it’s most important to look for very small changes in behavior. Even seemingly positive behaviors can be a sign. For example, when my child began calling me bubbling over with enthusiasm about a thesis project, I was excited for her. When the calls became more frequent and the enthusiasm turned into obsession, I knew that there was a problem.

4.     Emphasize the importance of consistent sleep and overall balance.

Eventually, my child’s friends and I were able to convince my child to seek professional help. And one thing that parents should know from the very beginning is that professional help is an absolute necessity if mental health problems come up. I have known far too many young men and women whose lives were ruined by mental health disorders because they or their parents were in denial and delayed seeking help. But after seeing an appropriate doctor, the most important aspect of maintaining mental health is sleep and leading a balanced life. Make sure to emphasize this when talking to your child.

It goes without saying that there is much less that you, as a parent can do when your child moves away from home, and it can be extremely stressful. Being as loving and supportive in any way you can be, while trusting your child to grow into independence, is the most effective way to ensure a stable transition from home to adulthood.”

Author Bio:

This is a guest post by Nadia Jones who blogs at online college about education, college, student, teacher, money saving, movie related topics. You can reach her at nadia.jones5 @ gmail.com.

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I just wanted to post a link to a post written by a woman called Danni Miller that includes an article by Jessica Rowe, who has spoken publically about her own experiences with postnatal depression. I think it’s beautifully written, and honest, and is worth a read here.

If you are at all concerned about your own mental health, or that of someone close to you, please talk to your doctor. More information on PND can be found at justspeakup.com.au

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At around 18-24 months, children begin to enjoy scribbling: they are able to draw a squiggle and tell you that it is a ‘lady’ or a ‘doggie. This is the stage at which children use  symbolism, ie representing things with symbols. Language is also a form of symbolism, as well as art.

This has been described by the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget as part of the ‘preoperational reasoning’ stage of child development, beginnning when children are around 2 years old. Children also start to use pretend play at this stage.

In child psychiatry, we use play as a method of communication and ‘therapy’ with children, as play is used by children in the same way as complex language is in adults. A child will explore events that they have experienced, or worries that they have, through play. For example, a child who has been traumatised may act out that trauma with their toys, or a child who is being bullied may reenact this with toy animals.

This developmental stage is a huge leap for children who previously could only express their frustrations directly, such as by crying when upset. It is exciting for both the children and their parents.

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In dealing with newborn infants, I have found the concept of the fourth trimester very helpful. This is a phrase that I associate with Dr Harvey Karp, who has previously commented on this blog. He talks about the need to create an atmosphere similar to that of the womb while the newborn adjusts to life in the outside world, and his suggestions include swaddling, settling the infant on their side, suckling, and white noise. This phase lasts for the first few months of the infant’s life.

I also like the ideas of Dr William Sears, who advocates for attachment parenting. I have previously discussed his book ‘Nighttime Parenting’ on this blog, and his suggestions include frequent breastfeeding and co-sleeping, both of which I have used (note: co-sleeping is not recommended by ‘Sids and Kids’ or the health department.)

From an evolutionary point of view, it makes perfect sense that a newborn baby wants to be held all the time. I have blogged before about mother-infant attachment, and this is linked to the belief that infants are hard wired for survival. Survival for a tiny baby means being close to their mother. Being alone in a quiet room would be frightening for an infant, as they have absolutely no means of surviving on their own – their only chance is to display attachment behaviour which allows them to be in close proximity to their mother. My number one piece of baby equipment, and the one I recommend to everyone I know, is a sling: these help infants to feel safe and secure, and also allows the parent’s hands to be free to get things done around the house.

There is a perception in our culture that things like feeding/rocking/cuddling babies to sleep, responding to every cry, holding them all the time, or co sleeping creates ‘bad habits’ or ‘spoils’ babies, which is ridiculous. They are not infants for very long and our job is to help them transition from being completely dependant to secure children and adults.

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Yesterday, I had two experiences which would have been beautiful to catch on film to highlight the attachment system at work. In the morning, A was playing and I went to the next room to vacuum. When I switched the vacuum cleaner on, I heard a squeal over the noise and A appeared in the doorway crying and speed crawling towards me. She must have been very quick to cover the distance so rapidly. She avoided the machine and reached me quickly, then stood up holding on my legs and reached up to be picked up.

In the afternoon, a plumber came to fix the tap. When she heard the door, she smiled as I think she was expecting her dad to come in, but when she saw it was a stranger, she clung to me.

The attachment system is activated at times of fear. As I’ve mentioned before, the  ‘strange situation’ scenario demonstrates attachment behaviour because it places infants under increasing levels of stress. Yesterday at home, A felt stressed. In attachment terms, she was proximity seeking: coming close to me for security. It is easy to see the evolutionary benefits of this, and it can also be seen in the animal kingdom. Bowlby developed attachment theory based on observations in the animal kingdom, and Harry Harlow in the 1960s did some experiments with monkeys to show some principals of attachment.

Infants are vulnerable: they can’t move very quickly; they can’t climb trees to get away from a predator; they can’t defend themselves. Their best chance of survival, be it from a lion or a vacuum cleaner, is to get close to mum and up in her arms. And we need to pick them up and let them know that they are safe.

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Can you tell us how we should be going about developing a secure attachment? I’m also interested to read how the insecure – avoidant and insecure – ambivalent types come about.

This question was posted in response to my blog post on attachment, and I wanted to respond to this, as it’s probably a question that all parents who read about attachment theory are interested in.

Studies show that the attachment style that we had with our own mother (again, mother can be substituted for primary caregiver) is generally predictive of the attachment style that we have with our own children. We generally parent in the way in which we were parented. There is evidence of neurobiological brain changes in infants and children which relate to their early experiences, and there is therefore an argument that our attachment style is hard- wired from a very early age.

Most children — and adults — are securely attached, so for the majority of people, we can just do what comes naturally when it comes to parenting and our children will develop secure internal working models. The factors which help this are parents being warm, empathic and consistently responsive. Parents respond to their children when their attachment behaviour is activated (crying, trying to get close to mother), and are able to empathise ie put themselves in the child’s shoes and recognise what they need at that time, and provide it.

Parents with insecure attachment styles  with their infants will generally have had that pattern with their own parents(analysed with an interview called the Adult Attachment Interview). Other factors which may influence the development of an insecure attachment include maternal mental illness (postnatal depression, psychosis), trauma, illness of the child, separation of the pair in early life etc – basically anything which affects a parent’s ability to respond to their child as above.

For this group of parents, there are things that can be done to promote secure attachment at-risk groups and individuals. The aim is to help parents develop an awareness of both their own and their child’s internal mental experiences — their reflective functioning –(Slade, 2005); to be able to put themselves in their child’s shoes; and to help with basic parenting skills.

I think that the most important thing to remember that the vast majority of parents are doing the best that they can with what they have. It’s such an important area of intervention for infants that has huge implications for the future health of our communities., and is still under-recognised and under-funded.

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‘Nighttime Parenting: How to get your baby and child to sleep’ by William Sears (La Leche League International book)

Penguin, 1999 (Revised edition)

Dr Sears makes a very valid point in this book when he says that “sleep problems occur when night waking exceeds your ability to cope”. In contrast to much of the parenting advice which says what your child ‘should’ be able to do, Dr Sears is refreshing as he emphasises that your night waking child is normal, and discusses ways to increase your ability to cope with it rather than ‘train’ the child.

Dr Sears is a paediatrician and a father to eight children, and strongly advocates for ‘attachment parenting’ as opposed to ‘detachment parenting’. After birth, this involves breastfeeding, child led weaning, co-sleeping, and responding to your baby’s cries promptly (as well as other emotional commitments and preparation). He is opposed to letting babies ‘cry it out’ or enforcing routines onto infants, which is a reason why this book resonated with me.

In terms of his advice about sleep, he begins by explaining the basic science of sleep and how it differs between adults and parents, and why babies wake at night. As well as listing possible medical causes, he explains the survival and developmental triggers for waking. In contrast to the advice that most mothers — including me — were given, he encourages us to ‘parent’ our children to sleep, whether that be by rocking or breastfeeding, and he also strongly suggests that we sleep with out babies in our beds.

This book is written in simple, gentle, encouraging language and it certainly gave me a feeling of peace and reassurance. Dr Sears states clearly that our culture’s expectations of infant sleep are too high, and that as parents we must expect to rearrange our lives to cope with night waking. There is some sensible advice about ways to stop night feeding, and a great chapter reminding fathers of their role in parenting.

I am not sure how helpful this book would be to someone who was not breastfeeding, as one of his main suggestions feeding your baby back to sleep, and there is no discussion about bottle fed babies. His other big suggestion is bringing baby into your bed, and for families who are not willing to do this, it may again have limited use. This clearly is aimed at parents who are not looking for a quick fix, and unfortunately, so many parents now have expectations which are just too high.

However, for mothers who breastfeed and are opposed to parent-led routines, and know that it is not right to leave your child to cry, it is a lovely book which affirms and reassures you that your instincts are correct. Dr Sears reminds us that the long term gain for your child from responding to her cries is worth the sleepless nights.

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Do working mothers raise couch potato kids?

It was reported in the news last week that ‘children are healthiest when mother works part time’ A study done by NSW’s University of New England found that children of mothers who worked part time ate less junk food, watched less television, and were less likely to be overweight compared to those whose mothers worked full time or were stay at home mums.

At first glance, this could make sense if we think about mothers who work full time as they probably have less time to cook and do activities with their children. Part time mothers, it could be assumed, are more likely to ensure that the time they do spend with their children is of higher quality.

In that case, why would stay at home mothers have unhealthier children? Perhaps when you are at home full time with your children, you are overwhelmed with them and it is easy to stick them in front of the television to give yourself a break. But why would they eat more junk food and be more obese?

The news reports have assumed that there is a causative relationship, ie, that staying at home full time leads to unhealthy children. However, it is probably more likely that there is a factor which is common to both being a full time stay at home mum, and unhealthy children, that hasn’t been examined (a confounding factor).

For example, we know that people of lower socioeconomic status and with lower incomes are more likely to be overweight, obese and unhealthy. It is not clear from the reports on this study whether the mothers were working before having children, or what income or educational achievements they had. Perhaps mothers are at home full time because it makes no financial sense for them to work once they factor in childcare because their income is low. Or, if they have no specific ‘career’ and worked in unskilled jobs, giving up work may not be as difficult a decision for them. So, it may appear as if being a stay at home mum causes childhood obesity, but the reality may be that there is a casuative factor common to them both.

There are more details that are important too: are the parents overweight and how much television do they watch? For working mothers, who is caring for the child while they are at work? A child in day care is less likely to watch television (I assume that child care centres don’t switch on televisions) that one being looked after by a family member. And where are the fathers? Are mothers working full time because they are single parents? This would make it more likely that they have lower incomes, which again is a risk factor for obesity.

It’s easy to see the results of a study like this reported and make assumptions. Mothers have enough to deal with without headlines making them feel guilty and inviting the wider community to make judgements on their work choices.

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