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  Parenting Advice Column
  Subject: Mom questions clinic's advice

Letter:

I need some thoughts on a few points about parenting -- but if it's okay I'd like to introduce my situation a bit first.

My son Adam (my first) was born last July 1st by an emergency C-section, 2 months early and very small -- only 2 lb. 10 oz. Thankfully he was healthy otherwise, but he had to spend his first 6 weeks in the hospital, in an incubator. I've always wanted to practice attachment parenting, so naturally I was crushed to be separated from him for so long. I spent as much time as I could holding him "kangaroo-style" while he was in there, but I was limited to daytimes and also limited by various nurses who felt I was doing him harm by holding him (!)

Once he came home I tried to make up for lost time (although, deep in my heart, I don't believe I can ever make up for those weeks, and I think he will always carry some kind of emotional wound). He slept with us from the first day he came home (actually, on top of me for the first few months); he's been breast-fed on cue, when he wants, for as long as he wants; most of his first 6 months he was carried pretty well all the time, and even now he's in my arms much of the day; I never leave him with other caregivers; and his cries have always been responded to (even during the 2 months of hellish colic).

Six weeks ago I wouldn't have had any questions to ask you -- as far as I could see things were going fabulously well (actually I was a little smug about it, after all the "leave him to cry" and "it's better if he sleeps alone" advice I was given). He seemed to be happy, affectionate, patient (!), and unafraid; he had grown amazingly well, to over 17 lb.; and he was babbling beautifully and running around the house with a passion (firmly attached to my hands, of course).

At the beginning of May, I went with him to the preemie follow-up clinic, where the developmental specialists check out all preemies every few months, to make sure there are no residual problems. I was actually looking forward to the visit, convinced as I was that he was developing so well. But the doctors there were upset by two things -- namely that he does not crawl (he does roll around, and crawl backwards, but as for forward movement he seems to have bypassed that stage altogether -- since 6 months he's wanted to do little else but walk); and that he does not as yet choose to eat solids (since 6 months he's been offered a variety of foods, in a variety of textures, usually twice a day -- but he still spits out what he can, makes gagging sounds, pushes away the food with his hands, and turns his head away).

They told me at this point I need to force him to do these things -- force him to lie on his belly and move forward, to reach a toy or to reach me, and not respond to his cries. And they told me as well that I need to cut back on the breastfeeding, and push the food into him -- i.e. ignore his gagging, ignore his refusal signals, and force him to eat the solids. They said that preemies in particular may have a problem with the transition to solids, and it was my job to overcome this problem forcefully.

This just doesn't sound right to me. I've been considering parenting as a cooperative effort between the parents and the child, and I've always assumed the child, being a biological creature, will he learn what he needs to, when he's ready. But I'm not sure if the doctors are just being "anti-attachment", as I have found much of the medical profession to be -- or if preemies actually are different, and need to be forced. Any ideas on this?

And, if I may, I have one other problem now just starting to crop up. After months of this wonderful, smiling, stoic kid, Adam (now almost 11 months) in the last few weeks has started to whine. And whine. And cry, instantly, if I leave him for 2 minutes to brush my teeth. And cry, instantly, if I'm carrying him and he suddenly wants to be walking. And cry when he wants the diaper change to be over. And cry when I'm trying to open the snaps on my bra so he can eat. And cry. (You get the picture, I'm sure.) His crying almost always resolves in a few seconds, when I've figured out what he wants -- but he has become so impatient and demanding!

What do you think? Is this just a phase (some) kids go through? Is it just his personality asserting itself? Are the more "controlling" parenting books right, do I need to stop "catering" to him now that he's approaching a year? Or is it possible that he is telling me he needs to be more a part of my adult activities? (I've been re-reading The Continuum Concept, and admittedly I have some difficulties with this area of her philosophy). I have bad knees and Adam hates the sling, so I find it quite hard to go about my activities while carrying him). Is there anything I can do to head this behavior off at the pass? Or am I worrying too much about nothing?

Thanks so much for any advice you can give me. (And congratulations on a wonderful web site!)

Doris


Jan's reply:

Hi Doris,

Thank you so much for writing and for questioning the advice you've been given. Let me just say right at first that your beliefs about what constitutes responsible parenting, and your willingness to listen to your heart rather than so-called experts, are accurate and right.

One of the lessons we're given in childhood when our feelings are ignored/ridiculed/overlooked is that we are not as capable as others to know how to do things or to solve problems. Later, even though we are now adults, it is easy to question even those things that we know directly, if others who have "credentials" and are in a position of power or control over us, or simply have a more forceful personality, call our beliefs into question. I see this as one of the most unfortunate results of parents ignoring their children's cries and verbal calls for help, instead of validating their feelings and giving reassurance. Such children will always question to some degree the legitimacy of their own emotional responses and ideas, no matter how strongly they may be feeling them.

My heart goes out to you as you try to reconcile your beliefs with the fact that your son did not have the sort of start you had hoped for. I can empathize, as my son was also born by Caesarean after a difficult labor. I know how hard it can be to face this type of seeming inconsistency. I say "seeming" because in the things that matter, was it really inconsistent? You gave him all the love and energy you were able to give at the time, despite the circumstances. In fact, I see your story not as a failure but as a real accomplishment, given such a rocky start. Have you considered that you are in fact to be commended for having done all you could? When you feel like "kicking yourself", stop and instead pat yourself on the back! After all, what more could you have done?

Is it an absolute requirement to attend the follow-up clinic? If so, are there other ways to meet this requirement? Could you bypass the clinic and instead find a compassionate, competent naturopathic pediatrician, for example? I am appalled at the heartless advice you've been given. Unfortunately, this type of advice is often given to mothers, at the expense of their innocent children.

One of the main reasons I started my web site is that parents could have the kind of information and reassurance they need to speak out against this type of cruelty. (There really is no other word for teaching parents to ignore what they know in their heart to be true, and to ignore what their babies and children are trying hard to teach them.)

Along this line, there is an excellent new book, The Little Goo-Roo, written by Jan and Tracy Kirschner, who discovered to their surprise that it was their baby who was teaching them! You'd love it - and it would be an excellent book to share with some of the doctors who seem more open than the rest. The book is delightful, and clearly presents the message that babies need and deserve our love and compassion in all circumstances.

In addition, I recommend these articles on my site:

Crawling is a good example of a skill that is learned in many different ways and on different schedules. My mother told me that I almost always crawled backward! My very bright son (and webmaster/site designer) crawled "too long" and didn't walk until he was 16 months old. Thankfully, by then I had been fortunate to have read enough and attended enough La Leche League meetings to know that there was nothing wrong with this. I'm amazed that specialists in the field of child development would still believe that all babies must learn every skill at certain times and in certain ways. It's a good thing that Albert Einstein's mom didn't take him to that clinic - he didn't speak until age 4! (She was often accused of "spoiling" him.) I will soon add to our site John Holt's story about children not being trains. I mentioned it in the newspaper interview we just added.

Re solid food, many specialists are now saying that a healthy baby might have only breastmilk for one year, and even a bit longer, if possible. The reason for this is that there is no better food, so any introduction of solids means that the baby is getting less nutrition. As long as nothing is interfering with milk production, there is no reason to start solids until the baby shows that he/she wants it and can tolerate it. There is a well-documented and footnoted article on this subject, "Recommended Breastfeeding Practices".

Your son is trying hard to communicate that he is either not ready for solids, or there is something interfering. Judging from his age and the fact that he is crying periodically, it may be teething. When a new tooth erupts, it comes in razor-sharp, and this can be quite painful. It may be that he was having tooth pain at a time when you tried to introduce solid food, and this made the teething even more painful. If that happened, he might have learned to associate solid food with pain. Because teething is not always considered or observed, it can be overlooked as a possible cause of crying and other expressions of discomfort.

If you'll run your finger gently over your baby's gums, you might feel a sharp new tooth about to come in. Even if you don't, there might be a tooth that is just about to erupt that is already causing pain. You might try a mixture of 4 drops clove bud essential oil and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (You might need to use more oil, if he doesn't like that recipe. You could try almond oil or any other edible oil, whatever you think he would prefer. Organic oil would be best). There are other natural remedies for teething at health food stores. Of course, there may be other reasons than teething, or in addition to teething, but I assure you that there are reasons - he is not being stubborn or difficult just to cause problems, as I'm sure you know.

Your baby's crying and his resistance to being handled suggest that there is something painful going on. It may also, at least partly, be his reaction to your understandable worry brought on by the advice you've been given. Babies pick up our emotional state very readily - they have been called the "family barometer", infallibly demonstrating the level of tension around them.

It may be that there are food allergies or sensitivities that are leading him to resist certain foods. He may simply not be attracted to some foods. Babies can be as particular about foods as the rest of us (for a while, my son, at about your son's age, would eat only crunchy foods).

You may need to do a bit of detective work to figure out what is really going on. Many of your questions are answered at length in The Baby Book by Dr. William Sears (an excellent book to show the clinic staff). A La Leche League leader can also help you to find the answers you need, and/or to recommend a competent and compassionate pediatrician. If there is no League group in your area, you can send questions by e-mail through an e-mail form.

There is a thorough FAQ on starting solids at the League web site. Many of your concerns are addressed at their general FAQ page. I highly recommend attending a meeting, if you have the opportunity in your area. You can locate a group at this page or check the white pages of your phone directory.

It was at La Leche League meetings that I first discovered attachment parenting concepts. It was an amazing and wonderful added bonus to find many like-minded friends who offered validation for my beliefs. Considering the type of harmful advice you're getting at this clinic, I hope that you can attend a League meeting.

Whatever the cause of your son's crying and other behaviors, he deserves to have his communcations taken at face value. As they say in the League, we "can't love a baby too much".

I hope this is helpful. Let me know if you need anything further.

All the best,

Jan

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