Saturday, July 10, 2010

Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene -by Ingrid Bauer

Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene by Ingrid Bauer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What a sensitively written, supportive, and informative book! Ingrid Bauer is considered to be, I understand, one of the pioneers of Natural Infant Hygiene (aka Elimination Communication (EC), Infant Potty Training). Though initially skeptical of the entire idea of early potty training, I explored the idea of listening to my son's bowel and bladder cues through chatting with another mom about her journey with EC. Still not convinced, the gentle push to try EC came from a recent article in Mothering magazine (June 2010). The article had me running out to get a potty just shy of my son's 6 month birthday with excited curiosity. The basic premises of EC --that infants are born with an awareness of their elimination, that infants (if given the means) will avoid soiling their immediate environment, and that parents and infants can develop an awareness and relationship that enables early elimination habits that don't involve diapers-- make a lot of sense to me from an evolutionary and animal-based approach. Non-human animals demonstrate all of these abilities, and many non-western cultures practice EC as a matter of natural course (though there is no name for it in cultures where it just 'is the way it is done').

Although much of how I got started came from 'sitting in' on on-line chats, Bauer's book clears away any of the confusion that arises as on-line parents apply, adapt, and analyze the various successes and challenges that come along with this relatively fringe (in North America, anyway) idea of offering a potty to a newborn, and not using diapers. Bauer is sensitive to the realities of living in a culture that does not make it easy to apply EC in the same way as non-western cultures. These barriers include maternity leaves that may limit one-on-one time for developing the skills of communicating with an infant about elimination, parents working outside the home, and a culture in which we are not only unaware that infants and parents can develop such a relationship, but also where we have not seen it practiced or modeled for us.

It is important to point out that EC is an approach that is about communication and respect, and is very different from 'potty training' where a child is taught and rewarded at a later age for developing toilet skills. Bauer uses the analogy that breastfeeding mothers gradually develop a breastfeeding relationship with their infants that allows them to 'know' intuitively when their infant is hungry, and that eventually infants develop ways to indicate this need. It is not 'taught' and is not forced or coerced. The same is said of EC.

This book helped ground me in some of the ideas about EC early enough in my own EC journey to feel that I can move forward with more confidence and enjoyment in a process that has already proven to be a fun and rewarding experience.

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Friday, July 2, 2010

Unconditional Parenting -by Alfie Kohn

Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn

This book takes the deeply ingrained ideas that praise motivates and punishment prevents, and turns them on their heads. With ample references to research studies (most of which, however, are a decade or more old), Alfie Kohn makes the case that parents have choices beyond being authoritarian or permissive. Although it was an enjoyable and clearly written book, it is one that needs to be re-read a few times to fully wrap my head around how to truly parent unconditionally.

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Monday, June 7, 2010

The Baby Whisperer -a book review

Two of the first books I read as a mom of a newborn were Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect, and Communicate with your Baby (2001) and the multiple-sub-titled The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems: Sleeping Eating and Behaviour --Beyond the Basics from Infancy to Toddlerhood (2004) by Tracy Hogg. Although I did not read either book cover to cover, I did glean a lot of helpful concepts from the books (while at the same time disagreeing with some of her concepts).

Tracy Hogg was a British-trained nurse who had a knack for understanding infants' needs. She worked with high profile clients in California who, by all accounts, were at their wits' ends with inconsolable infants. She developed an approach that led to clients dubbing her the Baby Whisperer. Tracy believed that a lot of 'problems' with infants stem from "accidental parenting": developing habits that lead to problem behaviours that are more difficult to 'fix' than to avoid. Tracy died of melanoma in 2004.

In a Nutshell:
The basic premise of Tracy's approach is that it is important to develop a routine from day one with an infant. Her belief was that Eating, followed by Activity, then Sleep and time for You (EASY) should occur in fairly predictable increments (e.g. 3 hours for a newborn, 4 hours for an older child). The underlying personal value in her books is a deep respect for infants as human beings who need to be listened to, and responded to. The way we move our babies and talk to our babies should display a respect for them that we would extend to anyone else in our family.

Tracy believed in the phrase "start as you plan to continue" --begin your way of parenting from the beginning (e.g. start them in a crib if that's where you want them later; start them on a routine from day 1 of life), rather than waiting until you think it's the right time. In contrast to Tracy, I believe starting as you plan to continue relates more to a consistent parenting philosophy than to specific 'techniques'. What I do with my son will change as he develops, but my basic approach to nurturing him is consistent.

This book supported my role as a mom with the following:
-I actually have a routine? When I was lost in a blur of breastfeeding, diaper changes, and naps it was a welcome realisation that there was actually some semblance of a routine in my day of which I wasn't aware. It dawned on me after very little reading that my day DID have some routine of eating, sleeping, and activity. Knowing that my day would roughly be in three hour segments helped me get through.

-Diaper changes are worthwhile ways of spending time with my son!. Changing clothes and diapers, burping him, and changing clothes again may be all I do before Andrew needed to sleep or eat again. It was reassuring to know that this is valuable time with Andrew and is an opportunity for quality social interaction and bonding. You do not need to play with an infant for your time with himto be well spent.

-Slow down, don't go too fast. Make the diaper changes last! (sung to Simon and Garfunkel's Fifty-ninth Street Bridge (Feeling Groovy) Tracy's book helped me slow down to Andrew's pace. When he was crying through a diaper change I initially tried to get it done AS FAST AS POSSIBLE which only upset him more. Once I slowed down, talked to him, and sang to him, diaper changes became one of my (and his) favourite parts of the day. As soon as I lay him down on the change table he would start to smile --one more point for diaper changes as worthwhile activities!

-Slow down for everything. The book reinforced pausing and listening to my son's cries in order to learn how to interpret it. This made it much easier to respond to him and meet his needs better. I am not of the cry-it-out school, but responding without first listen to what his cry was saying is as disrespectful as interupting someone trying to tell me they want a glass of water by giving them a cup of coffee!

-Explain before doing. Letting Andrew know what I was about to do (pick him up, change his diaper, whatever) is a respectful way of treating him, even if he doesn't understand. We do not know the point at which infants begin to comprehend, so start early by respecting them enough to ask permission before 'doing' to them.

Tracy's approach fell flat for me when she suggested:
-Don't let babies fall asleep at the breast. Don't let them feed on demand. As many readers have commented regarding her books, good luck keeping a breast fed baby awake after feeding. It's just not nature's way! Tracy does not respect 'feeding on demand' and takes exception with the word "demand" --if it is semantics that is the problem, then call it "feeding on cue". I will feed my son whenever he needs it. And he may not need it solely for the food value. Breastfeeding is nurturing and comforting. If I find that the feeding is really putting a damper on my sleep (e.g. every 1-2 hours) then I will look for a gentle solution. Otherwise, it's not a problem unless I think it's a problem.

-Activity should follow feeding or an infant will get into the habit of needing to eat to fall asleep. Mammals have been breastfeeding for eternity and have somehow managed to emerge as adults without requiring a bedtime snack to fall asleep.

-Bedsharing is not a good idea. Tracy felt this sets children up for poor sleep habits. I believe it is not for every family, but I also feel that there are many benefits to bedsharing and certainly for co-sleeping. If approached as a way of nurturing one's infant (rather than as a reaction to poor sleep), I believe it creates a very healthy attitude towards sleep (and more sleep for everyone).

Overall, Tracy emphasizes that the key is respecting your infant and responds to criticism that EASY is rigid by emphasizing that if a baby is hungry, feed them! (even if it doesn't fall into her EASY plan of Eat Activity Sleep and You Time). "The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems" is a good go-to book for specific issues that arise (sleeping, etc). Looking up the "problem" in the index is easy. The solutions, however, are but one person's view on approaching the issue. I have taken from her books that which I find helpful, but I remember first to trust my instincts about what is right.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mommy Manifesto --In Other Words

I just had to include this "in other words" rendition of my manifesto, courtesy of my sis.

Trust your instincts: In other words, do what feels right. If you do, you will not be the perfect parent, but you will be a pretty damn good one.

Trust your son: In other words, don't fuss too much about what you are doing or not doing. Kids have a way of getting what they need. It's kinda their one and only job. You just need to pay attention as best you can.

Parent with respect: In other words, do more listening than talking. Respond more than you act. Invite more often than you impose.

Avoid Accidental Parenting: In other words, how long before this isn't cute any more?

Coming up next:
My parenting book list and a few documentaries that are worth a gander.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mommy Research Part I -- My Mommy Manifesto

Well, I am five months into the most challenging and rewarding job I've ever had --motherhood. As with most other facets of my life, I have been reading relentlessly on how to do the job better. Any book about parenting that strikes a cord with me is making it onto my library holds list. I've been researching it like it's my master's thesis. I've collected a reference list as long as my arm, and I've "compared notes" with other moms on everything from sleep habits (about which I have nearly been obsessive) to preschool and everything in between. So where is all this coming from, and is it getting me to where I want to go. I am doing this blog for two reasons. The first is that I love compiling information. A blog seems as fun a way to do it as any. Second, in my search for information on all things baby (cloth diapers, baby carriers, etc. etc.) blogs have turned up in my search and have, at times, been the most useful and honest source of information. Perhaps my information will be helpful to someone too. So, here we go.

So where am I coming from?
Infant development is the crux of my (paid) career. I work with families of young babes who came earlier than expected. I will forever be amazed by how infants develop. I imagine I will always be in awe with the ease with which most infants progress towards greater awareness, movement, thinking, communicating, and problem solving; and will be humbled by the determination and resolve that infants have to do what they need to do, even if they figure it out in their own way and in their own time. With my own son, this awe is on an entirely different plane. I did not think I could be more amazed by development, but here I am, riveted and joyful with each new thing my son does.

...and where am I heading?
In watching this amazing miracle of development, my question turns from "what will he do next" to "what do I do next?!" --What do I do to support his development, particularly his emotional development, assuming that most of the other areas will take care of themselves through play and experience. How do I parent him in such a way that he grows into a little boy, a teenager, and an adult who feels good about himself and the world around him? Are there things I can do now that will help my son grow up to be a nice person?

The question is....what is the question?
From such broad parenting hopes, I turn back to academics and science. I see research as a way to explore, to determine what has already been discovered, summarize it, synthesize it, and learn something new. The hope of research of course is to come to discover the "truth" about something. Research can help us learn about the world around us, and it can guide us to make decisions, to improve how we do things, and to understand each other and the world a little better.

Research is about answering a question. My burning question is how can I be the best mother I can be. How do I raise my son to be a loving, kind, "successful" person? I have poured over websites, read a dozen or so books (and counting), and have come to realize a few key things about parenting that I want to put down in writing. Consider it a parent work in progress. Over the coming months I want to review some of the key parenting philosophies out there, what they stand for, what they may be missing, and what I am taking from each philosophy as I grow in this new role as a mom.

Common threads
There have already been a few common themes throughout each of the books I have read so far. Consider these common threads my manifesto as a mother. My words to live by, and grow by.

So here it is. How I want to approach motherhood:

  1. Trust my instincts. Reading books is nice (and I love reading books), but we could all do well to put the books down and trust ourselves. If I can trust our instincts about what our son needs, I will be heading in the right direction. In general we seem to have forgotten to pay attention to our instincts, and instead turn to someone else (an "expert") to tell us what is in vogue in terms of how to raise our children, how to dress, and how to be happy.
  2. Be present. There are so many distractions around me. However, my main job right now is raising my son. The dishes can wait. When I am with my son, I want to be present in the moment. This way I won't miss the ways he is teaching me about the world, and I will get to know him better. By being present I will know and understand him in a way that will allow me to meet his needs and support and guide him from infancy into adulthood.
  3. You cannot spoil a baby. My job is to make sure that my son knows that the world is a safe and loving place to be. This means comforting him when he's upset, feeding him when he is hungry, and carrying him with me as he explores the world around us. There will be plenty of times in his life that the world will seem cruel, cold, and down-right mean. If we give him a foundation of love and security he will be better prepared to cope with the tougher times.
  4. Trust my instincts. I said this already, but it is my mantra. Trust myself to know how best to meet my son's needs. Michael Gurian, author of Nurture the Nature, calls the pressure of following a one-size-fits-all approach to raising children "social trends parenting". Social trends parenting is about the 'hottest new thing' in parenting. It denies instinct, and suggests that what I feel is best for my baby may not be 'right'. I am the expert on my son. No author, researcher, or baby expert will ever know my son the way I do. And no one philosophy or approach to parenting will fit me, my son, or my family to a tee. If I am gathering literature on parenthood, I need to use it wisely --take what I need, reflect on how it supports my role, and discard what doesn't feel right.
  5. Parent deliberately. Trusting my instincts does not mean being unaware and simply heading into motherhood without a game plan. I want to practice cognizant parenting: I want to make conscious decisions about how (and why) I parent the way I do. The author of "The Baby Whisperer" talks about "accidental parenting", the idea that you can slide into patterns of parenting that don't ultimately lead you to where you want to go, but actually lead you in a completely different (and unwanted) direction. I will trust my instincts to know what to do, but will be conscious in my decisions about how to do it.
  6. Trust my son. Trusting my son means trusting that he will tell me (through crying or body language or words) what he needs. Trust also means assuming that his intentions are good, even if his actions are bothersome --screaming at 4 in the morning is not his way of intentionally making me tired. As a toddler, his tantrums are not an intentional way of making me late for work. It is his way of communicating a need that I just haven't figured out yet. I need not fear becoming a permissive parent if I do what I know is right, and trust that he is his own unique little guy.
  7. Parent with respect. Respecting my baby means telling him what is going to happen to him, and giving him consistency and predictability. I will respect his 'negative' emotions (anger, frustration) as much as I respect his 'positive' ones. Parenting with respect means learning who my son is, and letting my son become who he will become.
So there you have it. The nuts and bolts of my long-range parenting plan. So what's in my future blogging moments? Between naps and diaper changes, walks, and play, I am interested in summarizing some of the key approaches out there, as well as some of the more popular parenting trends (this probably falls under "social trends", but even trends can teach us something if we're thoughtful about it).

Next Steps --what I plan to do with this blog
In exploring all of these approaches, I will review the books themselves, and hopefully some research articles too. I'll collect some key references, websites, and resources. As well, I'm looking ahead (already!) to childcare and education, and want to learn what options are out there so that I can wisely choose childcare that best fits my son.

A journey into the blog world, and a journey into motherhood. What a wild ride it will be.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

And so it begins

Stay tuned...I think I'm about to jump into this blogging thing any moment now...

Am I ready for this?