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.

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