News Article: Crying-it-out ‘harms baby brains’

April 22, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Posted in Controlled crying | Leave a comment
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Reported by the BBC today

Leaving young babies to cry themselves to sleep can harm their developing brains, a parenting expert claims.

Dr Penelope Leach says recent scientific tests show high levels of the stress hormone cortisol develop in babies when no one answers their cries. If this happens over long periods and repeatedly, it can be “toxic” to their brains, she says in a new book.

Dr Leach suggested unattended extreme crying bouts of 30 minutes or more could be damaging to babies. The claims come in a new book called The Essential First Year – What Babies Need Parents to Know.

Dr Leach told the BBC News Website: “We are talking about the release of stress chemicals. The best known of them is cortisol, which is produced under extreme stress.”

“One is not talking about a wakeful baby lying there gurgling, one is talking about a baby that is crying hard and nobody is responding. When that happens, and particularly if it happens over a long period, the brain chemical system releases cortisol and that is very bad for brain development. Some neuroscientists describe it as toxic.”

The psychologist and parenting expert, who first found fame in the 1970s with her book, Your Baby and Child, said the important thing was for a parent to respond. The mother-of-two said it was not necessary for the parent to discover why the baby was crying. “If you do not respond and if you refuse to respond, the baby knows no response is coming,” she added.

“The reason that a baby gives up after half an hour, three-quarters of an hour or an hour is that it has given up and that its expectations have been altered. I’ve heard it said that babies stop crying because they have learned that mummy wants them to go back to sleep. Babies are not capable of that sort of learning.”

‘Harder work’

There was no scientific evidence that suggested allowing a baby to “cry-it-out” taught them how to go sleep, she added. It was possible for a parent to make it clear to a baby that they always come, but that they would not always do what the baby wanted, she added. “You can show you are quite different at night – that you don’t pick him up and play with him, try to stimulate him or get his Lego out. We are trying to teach the baby to become diurnal – to know the difference between day and night.”

She said it was much harder work than closing a door on a shrieking baby but made for a better loving relationship. She said she was not “getting at parents” in her new book, just trying to provide them with good advice grounded in science.


Article: Family under the microscope

April 18, 2010 at 9:26 am | Posted in breastfeeding, co-sleeping, Controlled crying, Routine | Leave a comment
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Interesting article today in the Guardian from Oliver James:

To follow a routine or not – that is the question when it comes to your baby’s care. Several studies find that if parents do controlled crying (leaving the child to cry for gradually increasing periods), babies and toddlers will sleep for longer uninterrupted periods than ones whose mothers pick them up and cuddle or feed them. There is similar evidence for feeding: if you gradually increase the gap between night-time feeds, the child will eventually demand them less often, with larger gaps.

This suits parents, especially working ones. However, it’s not necessarily so good for the child. There is persuasive evidence that babies are more secure and less difficult (irritable, fussy, standoffish) if they are responded to quickly, sensitively and lovingly when they indicate they want attention (mostly by crying). Unresponsiveness has been proven to have long-term adverse consequences. To take an extreme example, a key indicator of personality disorder (called dissociation) is predicted 30 years later by unresponsiveness of care, aged 0-2.

Early unresponsiveness from carers makes us emotionally insecure in later relationships. In one study, maternal negativity towards their four-week-old baby predicted insecurity 30-40 years later. This is a bad sign: the insecure are much more prone to mental illness.

On its own, this evidence is strong grounds for concern about the modern vogue for taming the beast in the nursery with routines that suit the parents. The defence is that when a baby is left to cry it learns to “self-soothe” or “self-regulate”. However, this may be “too much, too young”.

Severely neglected orphanage children are prone to indiscriminate friendliness, a people-pleasing false self. One-year-olds who are not picked up and soothed sensitively when crying at night are significantly more likely to be insecure. Mothers who respond rapidly to crying in the night have babies at three months who are less fussy and irritable. Breastfed on demand, babies are more secure. It looks likely that, while it suits parents to get a baby to fit in with them, it may not be good for their state of mind and long-term mental health.

A comprehensive review of the evidence on co-sleeping bears this out. It demonstrates that having babies or toddlers sleeping in a separate room is completely at variance with human history. In 127 cultures surveyed around the contemporary world, 79% of the societies normally have their infants in the same room, 44% in the same bed. Despite social and medical pressures against co-sleeping in developed nations, as much as half of babies do so sometimes in the first months. Some developed nations still do co-sleeping normatively: 59% of Japanese under-fours are in the bed.

The review challenges medical advice on the danger of cot death, showing that co-sleeping may be safer. It promotes more and easier breastfeeding, and although both partners wake more frequently, when carefully observed they get more hours overall than if sleeping alone.

Babies do need routines, but originating in their needs, not the mother’s. If a parent-led routine is the only way a parent is going to stay sane, then that is ultimately best for the child – a depressed parent is even worse. But for those who can tolerate being led by the infant in the early months, that is best.

Co-sleeping review: McKenna, JJ et al, American Journal of Physical Anthropology 134, 133-161. Oliver James’ How Not To F*** Them Up is out in June,

I wouldn’t CHOOSE artificial limbs over real ones… and that’s why I breastfeed.

January 12, 2010 at 10:49 pm | Posted in breastfeeding | Leave a comment
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It’s necessary to start this post by stating my position. Despite being a breastfeeding mum, I am not what you’d call a “lactivist”. I am happy to raise my children in the way I want to, and for others to do the same with their children. You’ll never find me on a breastfeeding march or picnic – I’m about people making their own choices – hopefully informed – but their own choices none-the-less.

Frankly, I can’t think why someone else would really care about how I feed my babies, as long as they ARE fed and well looked after, and that’s how I feel about other people’s children. I have supported a number of friends who WANTED to breastfeed, and am always happy to offer my own experiences, useful internet links and contacts etc, but I certainly wouldn’t consider anyone a worse parent for choosing not to or try to persuade anyone. So….

This morning I was catching up with my Twitter feed  and happened to click on a link to Dr Miriam Stoppard’s “Opinion” piece from the Mirror. In it Dr Stoppard set out her counter-argument to an earlier story of a study that had thrown some doubt on the benefits of breastfeeding over formula feeding (sadly, no link or specific information about the article was provided !!!?!).

In the article, Dr Stoppard says:

My fear is that this sort of story can turn women off trying to breast-feed. And while I’ve always been in favour of women having the right to choose, in the UK we have the lowest breast-feeding rates in the whole of Europe and this troubles me.

Reading this page got me wondering WHY so few British women choose to breastfeed. And how come MOST of the mums I know have at least breasted for a short time. Do I live in an unusual area where breastfeeding is more of a norm? Is it something particular to my socio-economic group, my age,  or just my circle of friends?

While I was pondering this I came to think about what it was that lead me to choose to breastfeed my own children, something I was very insistent on despite DS being born early and having time in SCBU and being unable to feed properly for almost a week leading to jaundice. There are obviously many benefits for both mother and baby…. plus it’s free…. it’s convenient…. it just “feels” right…

As all this was going through my head, I looked up to the TV where the BBC news was reporting on a story about a percentage British Soldiers being unfit for their jobs. On the screen was a group of soldiers exercising, including one with an artificial leg. He was doing fine, keeping up with the rest of the group, but despite looking very “hi-tech” it was obvious that the artificial leg just wasn’t as good as the other legs.

I laughed to myself and stopped searching for the “reasons” I breastfeed. I really didn’t need to think about it any more at all. I breastfeed for the same reasons I wouldn’t CHOOSE to cut off my healthy leg and replace it with an artificial one.

Loving more than one child

October 19, 2009 at 11:37 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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9071f73c-d54c-4805-a5ee-d200a4d91621When I was expecting DD, I had this terrible fear that I couldn’t possibly love another child the way I loved DS – it often kept me awake at night. Talking to friends with more than one child, I realised this was a common fear, but couldn’t really believe their reassurances. The past 2.5 years, more if you include my first pregnancy, had revolved around DS. How would he share me with someone else, and how would I find sharing my love with another child – a girl? I really couldn’t begin to imagine it.

The first few months of DD’s life was a major change for all of us, but I especially felt the change in my relationship with DS. I felt guilty for adding another child to the family and not being able to give him my undivided attention, and also shocked at how I felt so protective of my little baby to the extent I was constantly having to reprimand her boisterous and over-enthusiastic brother.

Now that we are settled into our “new life” I can see that my children love each other and being together (the baby is very unsettled when DS is at nursery or out with family) and I can see that far from taking away from DS, I have added something far more valuable to his life.

After discussing my feelings with a mummy friend, she emailed me this  beautiful poem which I think sums it all up perfectly.

I walk along holding your 2-year-old hand, basking in the glow of our magical relationship. Suddenly I feel a kick from within, as if to remind me that our time alone is limited. And I wonder: how could I ever love another child as I love you?
Then he is born, and I watch you. I watch the pain you feel at having to share me as you’ve never shared me before.
I hear you telling me in your own way, “Please love only me”. And I hear myself telling you in mine, “I can’t”, knowing, in fact, that I never can again.
You cry. I cry with you. I almost see our new baby as an intruder on the precious relationship we once shared. A relationship we can never quite have again.
But then, barely noticing, I find myself attached to that new being, and feeling almost guilty. I’m afraid to let you see me enjoying him—as though I am betraying you.
But then I notice your resentment change, first to curiosity, then to protectiveness, finally to genuine affection.
More days pass, and we are settling into a new routine. The memory of days with just the two of us is fading fast.
But something else is replacing those wonderful times we shared, just we two. There are new times – only now, we are three. I watch the love between you grow, the way you look at each other, touch each other.
I watch how he adores you — as I have for so long. I see how excited you are by each of his new accomplishments. And I begin to realize that I haven’t taken something from you, I’ve given something to you. I notice that I am no longer afraid to share my love openly with both of you.
I find that my love for each of you is as different as you are, but equally strong. And my question is finally answered, to my amazement. Yes, I can love another child as much as I love you—only differently.
And although I realize that you may have to share my time, I now know you’ll never share my love. There’s enough of that for both of you – you each have your own supply.
I love you—-both. And I thank you both for blessing my life.

—Author Unknown

UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative statement on new research into Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and bed-sharing

October 17, 2009 at 4:59 pm | Posted in co-sleeping | Leave a comment
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unicefFollowing the publication of new research on risk factors involved in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) 1 and subsequent media coverage, UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative has issued the following statement.

The SWISS study, designed to investigate the factors associated with SIDS in 0-2 year-olds, draws a clear link between increased risk of SIDS and alcohol or drug use when co-sleeping with a baby, particularly on a sofa.

The study, examining 80 SIDS infants and two control groups, one randomly selected, one of babies at high-risk of SIDS, showed that many of the deaths in a co-sleeping situation could be explained by “a significant multivariable interaction between co-sleeping and recent parental use of alcohol or drugs (31 per cent v 3 per cent random controls) and the increased proportion of SIDS infants who had co-slept on a sofa (17 per cent v 1 per cent).” Other
significant factors included pillow use, swaddling, smoking during pregnancy, whether the infant was preterm and whether the infant was in fair or poor health for the last sleep.

The authors conclude that “the major influences on risk were from factors amenable to change within the infant’s sleeping environment….Parents need to be advised never to put themselves in a situation where they might fall asleep with a young infant on a sofa. Parents also need to be reminded that they should never co-sleep with an infant in any environment if they have consumed alcohol or drugs.”

Much media coverage yesterday focused on the study’s statistic that 54 per cent of the infants in the study died whilst co-sleeping, without noting whether it was in a bed or on the sofa. In fact, the percentage of infants that died whilst sharing the parental bed was 38 per cent, which was the same as the percentage of infants that died in the cot.

Furthermore, “the proportion of SIDS infants found co-sleeping in a bed with parents who had drunk two units or less of alcohol and taken no drugs was no different from that of the random control infants (18 per cent v 16 per cent). If parents who regularly smoked were further excluded, then five of the SIDS infants (6 per cent) were found in this less risky co- sleeping environment compared with nine of the random control infants (10 per cent).”

In their conclusion, the authors state “The safest place for an infant to sleep is in a cot beside the parents’ bed. Based on evidence from research into SIDS it is questionable whether advice to avoid bed sharing is generalisable and whether such a simplistic approach would do no harm.”

UNICEF UK has noted previously that bed-sharing has several benefits, such as helping parents to cope with babies who wake frequently to be fed or who are unsettled in the night. Bed-sharing is also associated with an increase in breastfeeding – possibly because many mothers find it hard to get enough rest if they do not breastfeed lying down 2. Breastfeeding is universally recognised as one of the pillars of child health and survival with well established evidence regarding the many health benefits to both babies and mothers. Of particular note is a recent review of the impact of breastfeeding which identified that breastfeeding reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by 36 per cent in the industrialised world 3. Strenuous efforts are now being made by the Department of Health and others to increase the UK’s low breastfeeding rates in order to improve public health 4,5,6.

Young babies wake and feed frequently both day and night and tired parents are at risk of falling asleep with their baby, especially during the night, whatever their intention. Therefore, parents require full information regarding the various strategies for coping at night, along with the benefits and risks of all approaches in order to allow informed decision making.

In an interview with UNICEF UK, Dr Peter Blair, a co-author of the SWISS study, said “We need to remind parents that there are certain situations where you never share a bed and balance that with sharing a bed at other times…It might be that if you demonise the parental bed you’re still going to get tired mothers with young infants where the infant has woken up three or four times in the night and needs feeding and the mother’s walking around thinking
they can’t take them into the bed, so they go onto the sofa and there they fall asleep. That will and does happen. So coming out with a simplistic statement about bedsharing can do more harm than good.”

In recognition of this, the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative has for some time been working to assist health professionals to discuss bed-sharing with parents so that risks can be identified and minimised, rather than attempting to promote restrictions which cannot be applied in parents’ real worlds.

A sample bed-sharing policy has been developed for hospitals and a leaflet for parents produced with the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths (FSID). Both are designed to promote safety whilst protecting breastfeeding, by educating health professionals and parents on the benefits, contra-indications and safety issues surrounding this practice. UNICEF has also been urging NHS trusts to acknowledge the gap in health professional’s
knowledge and provide training on all aspects of bed-sharing, including best practice for hospitals and how to communicate the key messages effectively to parents depending on their needs and circumstances.

1. Blair PS, Sidebotham P, Evason-Coombe C, Edmonds M, Heckstall-Smith EMA, Fleming P (2009). Hazardous cosleeping environments and risk factors amenable to change: case-control study of SIDS in south west England. BMJ 2009;339:b3666
2. Blair PS and Ball HL (2004). The prevalence and characteristics associated with parent-infant bed-sharing in England. Arch Dis Child 89:1106-1110
3. Ip S. et al (2007) Breastfeeding and Maternal Health Outcomes in Developed Countries. AHRQ Publication. No.07-E007.
4. HM Government (2008) PSA Delivery Agreement 12: Improve the health and wellbeing of children and young people.
5. Department of Health (2008) Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives A Cross Government Strategy for England. London: The Stationery Office.
6. Department of Health (2008) Health Inequalities: Progress and Next Steps. London: The Stationary Office

A Friday rant

October 16, 2009 at 9:18 am | Posted in tantrums | Leave a comment
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f9f50af4-2cfd-4633-9b3b-b246ba86aa1bMy pre-schooler has officially driven me crazy this week. He had a reaction something at the weekend and the nursery didn’t want him in for his usual 3 sessions as the rash *could* be contagious. There is nothing wrong with him  at all so he’s been my lively, loud, energetic shadow all week – 24/7. Don’t get me wrong,  I enjoy his company, he’s a beautiful boy – funny, full of life and an absolute joy in most ways …… until he wants to do something himself and then his independent and totally irrational streak takes over. Some examples:

  • When getting dressed or undressed he must not be assisted. Even if he shouts “HELP! My head is stuck!” – you must not help his head through the hole. Helping him (even when his top is the last thing on) means he has to TAKE IT ALL OFF and start again. Not calmly and methodically, oh no – he’ll scream, cry real tears, turn red in the face and make the most pitifully unattractive face possible.
  • When baking a cake together, even though he KNOWS he can’t do the ‘oven bit’ and has been allowed to do almost everything else in his own way, failure to be allowed to touch the oven will result in a huge tantrum.
  • When reading a book together, he must turn the pages. If you so much as touch a page, another paddy will ensue (this gem lasted about half an hour!)
  • When getting into/out of the car he must not be touched for any reason. Even if he is about to fall when getting in – you MUST NOT save him. Touching him (saving him from falling) means the entire task has to be started from scratch – out of the car, back to the front door, walk back to the car, climb in without falling etc….

This last one has happened a few times this week, most recently in the supermarket car park in town, when it was raining and the baby was tired and grizzling too. I tried talking him down, reasoning (that one never seems to work), even the bribe of watching a DVD when we got home, but no – he had a total top-of-lungs screaming fit. By now we were all getting soaked, the baby was crying, I was feeling frazzled, and we were drawing a lot of attention. I picked him up and put him, kicking and struggling, into his car seat and strapped him in. To my absolute horror and embarrassment he started repeating “HELP ME! GET ME OUT OF HERE!!!”  at the top of his voice . To several passers-by it probably looked like an abduction. I did the only thing I could do – smiled at them, and got away from there as soon as I could.

Mother in law, of all people, happened to witness one of these outbursts. “Have you tried getting down to his level and talking to him, dear?” was her brilliant contribution. What does she think I’d do? Slap him and lock him in a room like they used to “in her day”?!? – GRRRRRR!

At the end of my tether, and unable to channel Zen Mum however hard I tired, I sought advice from my  greatest confidants – my DH and my Mum, and guess what they both said… “Oh yeah, he’s just like you” (I think Mum muttered something about revenge too) !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I know ‘they’ say what we detest in others is a mirror of what we are like ourselves, but I was quite astounded by this. And if it’s even half true, my DH deserves a medal.

So my task for the next week (half term) is to find an effective way to deal with the tantrums …. and to work on being less independent myself. Tips welcome.



SAFE co-sleeping…. (the debate continues)

October 15, 2009 at 9:17 am | Posted in co-sleeping | Leave a comment
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Mother_holding_infant_aa3dIf you read my previous post, you’ll know where I stand on this. When safety guidelines are followed, I think co-sleeping is a great option for many families – including my own.

When Darling Son (DS) was a baby, I had many months of sleepless nights – constantly getting up and down to feed him, settle him, comfort him. He would often end up in our bed, simply because I was so exhausted. I didn’t know about the safety guidelines in advance, only that it was taboo to sleep with your baby, and it became something Darling Husband (DH) and I didn’t discuss with others.  And therein lays the problem, if you’re told you shouldn’t co-sleep, you are ill-prepared when and if it does happen, and if the reports are read carefully, this seems to be when tragic accidents are most likely to happen. We were in the fortunate majority – DS was fine and is now an active pre-schooler who regularly still appears in our bed during the night if he has a bad dream or just needs a cuddle.

When I was pregnant with Darling Daughter (DD) I read-up co-sleeping safety so we could be properly prepared and so that I’d be able to get some sleep this time around!

General Safety Guidelines are:

  • Parents should not sleep with their babies if they are smokers or have ingested alcohol or drugs.
  • Bedding should be tight fitting to the mattress.
  • The mattress should be tight fitting to the headboard of the bed.
  • There should not be any loose pillows or soft blankets near the baby’s face.
  • There should not be any space between the bed and adjoining wall where the baby could roll and become trapped.
  • The baby should not be placed on his stomach.
  • The surface should be a hard bed/mattress not a water bed or other soft surface such as a sofa or chair.

Here are some of the useful resources I found on safe co-sleeping:

There are some great benefits from co-sleeping, and I feel that as long as we are aware of the risks and act responsibly, our DD is safe with us. We have a large Kingsize bed, and a co-sleeping cot alongside which acts as a bed extension – our mattress is very firm and DD sleeps next to me – generally I wake up curled around her while she is flat out on her back. At 6 months she is already strong enough to kick her blanket off, and as a breastfeeding mother, I sleep lightly enough to keep putting it back on her without fully waking.

Each parent needs to do what they feel is the best for them, and hopefully this debate will help more people to become informed and for health professionals to provide more balanced information on something that WILL continue whether they like it or not.

Welcome to Baby-led Mama!

October 14, 2009 at 7:03 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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fd3fe161-db22-441f-bc33-80b8ad8a62beI woke just before 6 this morning. It was still quite dark, my husband was already in the shower and both our children were in our bed – the baby (6 months old) was gurgling at my breast, waiting for her morning milk, and our 3 year old had, at some point during the night, come into our room and climbed into the baby’s – empty – bedside cot (right next to me) and fallen back to sleep. I felt so happy….

…. Then I turned on the news to see more scaremongering headlines about the terrible dangers of co-sleeping… even though the reports discussed seemed to have confused “co-sleeping” with parental drug/alcohol use and falling asleep on the sofa with the baby!?!

After breakfast I checked a few of the parenting forums I frequent (both ‘natural’ parenting and more mainstream) and was astounded at how many mothers were starting to doubt their own instincts based on a headline that didn’t really reflect the content of the report they were ‘covering’.

This type of sensationalist reporting is far too common-place these days. As is the steady stream of comments from people who take it at face value, including many so-called Health ‘Professionals’, and it doesn’t have to be this way.  Raising children is a natural part of life – as mums, we are already equipped with instincts and tools to do a pretty good job of it, so why are we encouraged to disregard our natural feelings (to hold, cudddle, nurture, respond to our babies’ needs) for fear of “spoiling” or damaging them in some way? Making a “rod for your own back” when doing anything instinctual with your children is particularly prevalent these days, don’t you know!!

I’ve been mulling this over all day and felt it was time to start a blog. Somewhere to put forward another point of view.  Somewhere to share the successes and frustrations of attempting to be a more natural parent who co-sleeps, breastfeeds, wears her baby in a sling, uses cloth nappies and tries to provide a loving nurturing home.

I hope you enjoy reading my ramblings. Please feel free to comment – I may not always agree with what you have to say, but I’ll be sure to read it with interest 🙂



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