16 Nov

Book Review: Trust Your Body Trust Your Baby, by Rosie Newman

Rosie Newman’s book aims to inspire confidence and trust in a mother’s own instincts, through pregnancy and birth, feeding and mothering. It is a book for women who need help with the paradigm shift of becoming a new parent. One of the things that really comes across is the value of surrounding oneself with like-minded, positive people. Newman is well-read and draws extensively on the literature of attachment parenting and straightforward birth.

Trust Your Body Trust Your Baby is sensibly structured with a logical progression, starting with a practical chapter on preparation for the baby’s arrival. The birth chapter gives an interesting history of obstetrics, an explanation of the role of hormones, and a valiant attempt to convey the reality of labour.

The following chapters cover life after birth: establishing breastfeeding, sleep, attachment, and the emotional and psychological adjustment. All of this is extremely good stuff that I would recommend to new parents; it is well-referenced and although it comes from a firm base in attachment parenting, and includes a great deal of Newman’s own experience, it is written with empathy and compassion for both the mother and the baby.

The last chapter is on elimination communication, and might make some new parents wonder if this really is the book for them, or whether it is too far from the mainstream. My clients tend to think The Baby Whisperer is a “a bit of a hippie,” so I’m conscious of wanting books like this to be accessible. Of course there is a huge part of me that really doesn’t want to pull any punches, too.

I was writing this review at a very quiet breastfeeding drop-in. Two mothers came in and we were talking about the conflict between trusting your instincts as a mother, and coping with the pressures of modern life, lack of sleep, lack of support, and the weight of expectations that babies should behave in a certain way by a certain age (both babies were 3 months old and not behaving in a certain way at all). So I gave one of them the book; may it help her find her way.

[Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the publishers. You can get your own copy here, and a 10% discount using the code SPROGCAST at the checkout].

06 Jul

Book Review: Why Babywearing Matters, by Rosie Knowles

For such a small book, Why Babywearing Matters is an absolutely comprehensive guide to carrying your baby. It is intelligently written, with a solid set of arguments for the biological, psychological, and social importance of babywearing.

Rosie Knowles begins with the theory: how carrying has evolved, and how it has re-emerged as a coping skill in modern times. She outlines the benefits of carrying for the individual baby, for parents, and even extrapolates to society as a whole. She cites studies that demonstrate both that carrying is biologically normal for a newborn baby, and that closeness facilitates healthy neurological development, reduced stress, bonding and healing.

The ensuing chapters give practical information about different types of carriers, how and when to use them, safety, and where to get support.

This is another useful book from the Why It Matters series, and I would strongly recommend it to doulas and sling consultants, as well as expectant and new parents.

[Disclosure: I was given a free review copy, by the publishers Pinter & Martin. For 10% off, use the code SPROGCAST at the checkout].

03 Mar

Book Review: Beyond the Sling, by Mayim Bialik

Mayim Bialik is a neuroscientist, an actress, and with this book a real spokesperson for Attachment Parenting. If you imagine a spectrum with absolutely routine-focused, parent-led families at one end, and completely baby-led, bed-sharing, nappy-free families at the other end, then Bialik is telling a story set right at the tip of the baby-led end of that spectrum. The title “Beyond the sling” tells us just how far along it is.

As she tells us at the start, this is not a quick-fix parenting manual. Although she clearly is writing about what, in her view, is the best way to parent, she delivers most of this through anecdotes about her own family. I spoke to a new mother recently who liked that because it gave her a new perspective to think about, rather than telling her what to do.

Attachment Parenting considers parenting to be “the most natural and instinctual event on the planet.” (p11), fostering respectful and loving relationships between parent and child, and ensuring a securely attached, happy individual. Bialik argues that this process is innate and this outcome biologically inevitable, and devotes one chapter to explaining some very basic science behind attachment theory. This section was disappointingly thin on actual science.

Part Two of the book is entitled “What a baby needs,” and covers birth, breastfeeding, babywearing, bedsharing, and elimination communication, which she feels gave her a deep intuitive connection with her children. These chapters are mostly evidence-based, however they frame this style of parenting very much within the limitations of natural birth, exclusive breastfeeding, and easily cleanable floors, which I fear would make her exhortations inaccessible to many parents.

Part Three is about what babies don’t need, and while there is much to admire in keeping one’s home free of battery-operated toys, I absolutely cannot get behind her “informed decision” not to vaccinate her children, and feel that the resources offered to support this very brief section are rather one-sided.

The chapter on discipline gave me a lot to think about; I felt like I violently agreed or disagreed with every other paragraph. There is much clear and logical thinking about how to deal with behavioural matters, but many of the anecdotes about how she and her co-parent implement this thinking seem not to line up with the theory. I think that a child would understand “not for Miles” (p195) to mean exactly the same thing as “no,” but perhaps it depends on the parenting context. I feel like I must be missing some very subtle nuance here.

I would be unlikely to recommend this book to someone who hadn’t specifically asked for something on Attachment Parenting. I am uncomfortable with dogma at any end of the spectrum. Bialik states that “this is not a judgemental book,” nor is it one of those books that “make me feel that I am failing and inadequate,” (p13); and yet this is exactly how I felt reading it – and this is from the perspective of a straightforward birth, bedsharing, full term breastfeeding, and a pretty good grasp of brain development myself. When Bialik claims that she does not need to put her own needs on hold to parent in this extreme way, she also contradicts herself by repeatedly telling us how tired she is, but that it is the right thing to do. I think it would be okay to be honest about the amount of sacrifice needed to parent in this extreme way, and that there are parents who will choose it anyway, or moderate their approach to meet both their own needs, and those of their children.

Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of Beyond The Sling by the publishers Pinter & Martin. You can currently buy it on their website for £6.99.

12 Jul

Book Review AND GIVEAWAY: Kiss Me! by Carlos Gonzalez

Subtitle: How to raise your children with love

Dr Carlos González sets out his stall very clearly in the first pages of his book:

This book assumes all children are essentially good, that their emotional needs are important, and that we as parents owe them love, respect and attention [p13]

He demonstrates this last point over and over again, by taking the statements of various childcare experts and graphically substituting the word ‘child’ with ‘wife’ or ‘colleague’ or ‘prisoner,’ revealing shocking double standards in our expectations and our treatment of children.

The book is roughly divided into two main chapters, the first of which presents children’s behaviour in terms of survival, adaptation, and genetic predisposition. González reframes disobedience as instinct, explaining for example a toddler’s preference to be carried rather than walk as a deep instinctive drive for safety and security.

The other half of the book is given over to demolishing various parenting theories including sleep training, therapeutic crying, and smacking. It is particularly gratifying to read his meticulous critique of Dr Christopher Green, that unpleasant advocate of smacking, whose basic assumption is that children are all ungrateful tyrants in need of taming.

González’ style is ranty in the extreme, and occasionally it is hard to tell if he is being sarcastic. This book gave me a lot to reflect on with regard to the way I talk to new parents and try to help them understand their babies’ behaviour. But however much I enjoyed this most arid humour, and however valid his premise and instructive his examples, I am wondering whether I would recommend Kiss Me! to new or expectant parents.

González writes with great empathy for children, but much less for parents; who, he explains, are inevitably confused by woolly and non-evidence based ‘advice’ from authoritative experts. His suggestion to combat this is that all parenting books should state on the cover what the author’s basic philosophy of human nature is.

Kiss Me! is an interesting book, and its most useful chapter focuses the mind on understanding, respecting, and empathising with children. Despite his strident tones, this is a very healthy approach to parenting.

I’ve got a copy of the book to give away to a commenter. I’ll draw names out of a hat on Thursday 19th July, and the book will be sent to you.

To order Kiss Me! with a 25% discount, just follow the link and use the discount code KH25 at the checkout.

06 Jun

What backlash?

The recent Time article has provoked quite a controversy, not least (in my opinion) the decision not to use that cover in the UK. According to The Guardian, this controversy about a photograph of a mother breastfeeding her 3 year old constitutes a ‘backlash against breastfeeding,’ and at the weekend they published Zoe Williams’ wide-ranging thoughts on this matter.

Williams’ article is littered with factual errors, assumptions, judgemental remarks, and references to ‘protests’ that never actually happened. She refers to extended breastfeeding in the first paragraph, but then goes on to discuss ‘breast is best,’ attachment parenting and government policy on health promotion, without ever coming back to her initial, rather impolite remarks that breastfeeding advocates are ‘evangelical to the point of dogmatism,’ and that she thinks we think ‘extended breastfeeders make [us] all look a bit weird,’ and that this is why we don’t discuss extended breastfeeding very much. In fact, we don’t discuss it much because it doesn’t happen much. If fewer than 2% of babies in the UK are exclusively breastfed at six months, just try and quantify the number who still get any breastmilk at all by the age of three years.

Williams goes on to dismiss the ‘benefits’ of breastfeeding as mostly syllogistic, methodologically flawed, and generally ignored by parents, while also noting that “I didn’t care whether of not the health benefits were real, I’d do it again even if it made the baby’s IQ go down,” thus negating the point of her entire argument against the ‘benefits’ of breastfeeding: like most mothers, she is not basing her decision on health or any other benefits. Mothers are biologically driven to nurture their young.

I use the term ‘benefits’ very cautiously. Breastfeeding is the baseline; it is formula milk that needs to prove its case. Research into breastfeeding may be methodologically flawed (because how can you carry out randomised controlled trials on babies?), but there is certainly no robust research showing health benefits for formula. As for the research, Analytical Armadillo has recently posted an excellent round-up of some very current research from a number of peer-reviewed journals. Williams’ guru in this matter is one Joan Wolf, who supports her view of parenting as a world of extremes, without nuance.

Moving on to attachment parenting, Williams quotes feminist criticism of co-sleeping which describes “putting the child in the bed between the father and the mother.” This is an unsafe practice, and UNICEF guidelines for safe co-sleeping can be found here. The feminist angle here seems pretty spurious, pitting notional extremes of motherhood against each other. Feminism, surely, means we all have the right to choose our own pathway?

Mothers do not divide neatly into two camps: Breastfeeding Mothers versus Formula Feeding Mothers. As Williams points out, the majority of mothers in the UK do initiate breastfeeding (though she quotes an imaginary 91%; the most recent Infant Feeding Survey gives an initiation rate of 81%). NHS South Central provides some interesting data on duration of breastfeeding; locally, we have a high initiation rate of 88%, down to 79% by five days, 72% at two weeks, and just 58% of mothers are still breastfeeding at six weeks. Therefore most of the mothers in the supposed Formula Feeding camp are mothers who have breastfed for at least some amount of time, some of whom will have made a positive decision to stop; but we know that 90% of the mothers who have stopped by six weeks would have liked to continue for longer. So it’s not the case, as William proposes, that the majority of people are not taking any notice of the public health messages about breastfeeding. In the 2005 Infant Feeding Survey, 84% of mothers said they were aware of the health benefits of breastfeeding; those who stopped before six weeks cited, in the majority, lack of support. Williams lightly dismisses the struggles and the disappointments felt by women who choose formula feeding because it’s the only choice they have.

Williams’ main premise seems to be that the government is trying to brainwash mothers into breastfeeding out of misguided social policy. She misses the point, and she misunderstands the research, but at least she gets a plug for her own book.

04 Jan

Book Review: When Your Baby Cries, by Deborah Jackson

You are the still waters – p.57

You get the sense that, when giving the book its subtitle ’10 Rules for soothing fretful babies (and their parents)’ Deborah Jackson’s tongue was firmly in her cheek, as the basic tenet of the book is that there are very few rules, only a handful of general guidelines that each parent will apply in their own way.

The first, and probably most important of these, is to relax. Despite having been given a copy of When Your Baby Cries by a wise friend, towards the end of pregnancy, it took me a long time to master the art of calm. I’m constantly surprised when my feedback as a BFC describes me as calm, and I wish I could harness this within my own family! Motherhood maximises our potential for guilt, anxiety, self-doubt, and sleep-deprived irritability; inner calm can be hard to find.

The ‘rules’ in the book are based around learning about babies, and specifically, learning about your own baby, so that each parent finds their own way to respond. There is an emphasis on understanding and meeting the baby’s needs through love and attention, as opposed to trying to make the baby conform to modern notions of good behaviour. Scattered throughout the text, quotations, statistics and facts about baby care in other cultures illustrate the author’s gentle suggestions and explanations.

As the mother of a colicky baby, I found rule 4 particularly helpful, as this gave me permission not to have to stop him from crying, but simply to be there for him and hold him, and accept that I could not understand why he cried. It was a good lesson that we were both on the same side.

I have some concerns with the suggestions of homeopathy and chinese medicine, both of which are expensive treatments shown to work no better than a placebo. These could only be described as doing no harm (p.81) if there was definitely nothing wrong with the baby; and in that case, it would almost certainly be more effective to turn to one of Jackson’s other suggestions instead.

The section on feeding is clear and factual, but again emphasises the important of comfort over and above food, as illustrated by the study of tube-fed babies (p.21) showing that a full stomach does not always stop the crying.

Deborah Jackson has addressed co-sleeping in her book Three In A Bed. This is condensed into a single chapter in When Your Baby Cries, including safety information, along with many other gentle ways to help your baby sleep.

Other ‘rules’ include carrying baby in a sling, establishing a support network, and not bothering too much about the housework, all of which I fully agree with.

This book is firmly based at the attachment end of the parenting spectrum, but without any smug or judgmental tone. It allows space for parents to find their own style, and to cuddle their babies as much as they want to.


To Order When Your Baby Cries with a 25% discount, just follow the link and use the discount code KH25 at the checkout.