Tuesday, May 26

Aware Baby - caveats & critics (ii)

Your comments on the first part were fabulous. Thanks for taking the time. Dialogue makes these sorts of topics so much richer.

Following on from part 1.

"One of my major concerns with Aware Parenting is that a baby with very real problems will not be having its REAL needs met. Even in gentle births babies can be subluxated and need chiropractic or cranial support."

The baby's needs should be met. If the crying is prolonged or of a different pitch, the parents should check with their health care provider. Solter suggests all of that. She also suggests checking for allergies, and more. If you've met all the babies needs and you are not confident that the cry is not an indication of something worse than stress, by all means check with your doctor!

The author allows that a physical trauma is possible, but strangely, that it would only require a physical solution. So there is no connection between physical trauma and psychological or emotional responses?

"The Aware Parenting approach dismisses comfort nursing (otherwise known as non-nutritive sucking). ..... In indigenous cultures the mother allows the child to suck from the breast which has already had milk withdrawn, for as long as is needed."

Which cultures, and why? They don't all do that and they do it for various reasons. This is a singular and sentimental use of a practice that has very practical requirements in some tribes.

Nursing a baby for comfort, especially before 3 months of age at least, seems natural to me, but that's just an opinion. I have never read a convincing argument that babies must nurse for comfort, nor a convincing argument against that. So this is an intuitive and personal choice for each mother I feel. Solter says that the only logical time to nurse is when the baby is hungry, but again, doesn't convince me.

However, I do understand Solter's premise that sticking the boob/bottle in every single time the baby cries has the potential for problems. It can remove the baby's ability to understand his/her own hunger needs, as well as suppress a need to vocalise their emotions (cry).
I see it as a very forceful and physical suppression. Like putting a stopper in a hole to halt an overflow, sooner or later, you're faced with a worse problem.

I guess an ideal perhaps is being in tune with the baby enough to nurse for hunger and comfort, and yet allow a release of emotion when that feels right too.

"We are biologically programmed to give a nurturing response to our baby's cries. It is not natural to refrain or to ignore them."

Absolutely. Solter says the same, many times throughout her book. Is it any less natural to allow a baby his/her emotions?

I would welcome further criticisms of the approach, but would prefer more logical and less emotive and biased points.

My other personal caveat with Solter's approach is the length of crying. She suggests, in my most basic interpretation, to allow it all to come out. I don't feel okay about allowing the crying to go on until she is exhausted or becoming more distressed. I want her to feel better or be ready for sleep because she is at peace, not out of exhaustion.

Her first cries after I came to this need to cry insight, did begin with short yells that escalated into a thrashing rage. This only occured twice. I can only imagine what she had to release. I had a stressful pregnancy and a c-section. She was calm and content a while after her cries. Some babies may cry to the point of exhaustion, if you're brave enough to go the distance, because of how much womb/birth/early stress they need to release and how much has been suppressed.

The Wildflower also had to learn to cry. Her early attempts had very little tears. This was heart-wrenching to witness. A tangible indication of how much I had suppressed her emotions. Now she can shed tears. And these days I allow her a chance to get some stress out but don't pressure either one of us to finish the cry. I have found this to be an important approach for both our sakes. Perhaps more for mine though.

Our bedtime routine includes DIY Dad holding her while I get myself ready. She will always cry. No matter how fine she seemed before that, albeit fussing a little with sleepiness. If I take her too soon, she will fuss during her feed and then fuss a long time to fall asleep, and then be a little more restless during the night.

If I take her at the right time, she feeds and falls into a gentle and natural sleep, or soon after. And she sleeps deeper and more restful. The pre-sleep crying isn't distressing nor does it last much longer than 5 minutes. I would say it's more like 3. I feel it is her way to release any left over stress from the day. But again, I don't let it go on too long. Which is why sometimes I end up stopping it too soon.

Incidentally, last night DIY Dad felt bad for her as she was crying and asking for me. I took her but was annoyed at him and told him she needed that cry. Well, she took over an hour to fall asleep. And while she was doing that, and seemed to have fallen into light sleep, she would suddenly say a word. Random words that she has learnt. It was like they were overflowing out of her. She was highly stimulated by her own daily talking. The rest of the night was awful. This morning I told him all about it, and how although it's no fun to hear her cry, it's a loving thing we are doing. I don't care about books, philosophies, etc. I know from experience of the last 4 months.

Ultimately, I believe that I have given her a gift - the chance to be more at peace, and the right and freedom to express all her emotions.


  1. I am absolutely and thoroughly in agreement here. You are following your intuition and that, to me, is a greater tool than any parenting philosophy ever written.
    I believe that we are all hard-wired to respond in the appropriate ways to our infants and babies - unfortunately society and culture has done a grand job of papering over that with all sorts of *you shoulds* and *you shouldn'ts* as well as our own, sometimes negative, life experiences which effectively blocks much of our intuitive Mothering. To tear down that veneer, is to return us to *truly* natural parenting...the kind where we instinctively *know* without second-guessing ourselves, what is the right thing to do at any given moment. You won't find much of that in a book -- although they may jog those ancient memories to the surface.

    As I have accepted an *honouring and supporting* stance for all emotional expressions with my (now older) children, I can look back with the benefit of hindsight and realize that I was doing the same for them as younger babies. The only difference between knowing that now and knowing it back then, would have been my peace of mind back in those moments when I felt helpless and inadequate. And I agree, shoving in bottle or boob at every whimper is entirely misguided.

    I think its wonderful that you have the gift of this knowledge now...I am sure that your peace and calm during the crying help to shorten the length and ease your Wildflower into gentle sleep much sooner than if you were agitated....

    Again, thank you for this discussion...it has been a healing journey for me.

    ~brightest blessings~

  2. There is so much truth in Mel's comment above. I wish I could have expressed it so eloquently myself.

    And, you know, I really agree with what you say about using the boob or bottle as a stopper to silence crying. There is nothing I dislike more than seeing a mother shove a dummy into a baby's mouth the minute it starts crying. As my own mum always says, crying is one of their only ways of communicating... you need to respect that, and see it through, not just stifle it. I hope I don't use the breast in this way with Cave Baby. I hope that if I use it for comfort, it is when comfort is needed. I find that if she really wants to have a cry then she does not stay on the breast anyway. It is as if, sometimes, the crying is just too great a need for her to contain. Maybe she knows more about this aware baby stuff than I do?

    I'm still not convinced by the bit about releasing long pent up stress from early life, but I'm coming round to your way if thinking :)

  3. Mel, I love your 'honouring and supporting' phrase.

    I believe that one of our most fundamental psychological needs is to feel we have worth, to have our feelings validated goes a long way to support that.

    I should clarify, that I never go to bed agitated though. :) I let all the day's worries, etc, fall away at the bedroom door, so that I am a place of calm for our night time together.

    CM - Oh yes, the dummy/pacifier/etc too. I have dear friends who use it ALL the time. Your mum is so right. Like I was saying about validation.

    It IS a fine balance isn't it? But if you're tuned in I think we can manage to do the least amount of psychological damage to our babies, lol.
    The Wildflower was always 'bad' at stifling. But instead of crying, which I didn't allow her to do, she would make a moany type of sound before sleep. She's clear if she doesn't want milk, but I would stifle her with rocking and jiggling. Unfortunately, it worked.

    I think babies can learn very very quickly to not cry, which is one of the saddest things about our supposed soothing.

  4. I've not read thoroughly about aware parenting, but I do know that how you write about the Wildflower and your responses that you speak of nuances many parents don't even notice.

    A "soothed" but not "satisfied" baby/child/adult is a fairly uncomfortable thing to see. Like "big people" our "little people" are all different. My son was often completely satisfied by some of the things that are only soothing to your Wildflower (especially the breast!). But there were certainly times we he just needed a really good cry. Hell, I need a really good cry sometimes, too.

    Crying is a rich and complex means of communication that took me a good long time to figure out. I used to laugh in maniacal frustration when I would read parenting books trying to decifer the different tones of crying and what they meant. But, eventually, we found our way...usually by trial and error at first.

    It makes me heart happy to hear how you and the Wildflower have found your way to a healthy place that includes a range of emotional outlets that work for you both.

  5. You know your baby, and you know what she needs. You've taken the time to know her and her needs. You are an attached parent. These things must be taken into consideration, I think, when discussing the wonderful benefits of crying a stress release.
    I've been thinking about this a lot, and I think there is one danger to this: I think if people who do not understand attachment parenting and holistic parenting come across these thoughts, the consequences could be unloving for the baby. I hope this makes sense. For example, you know about exactly how long to let her cry because you know her. You understand the different types of cries and which ones are beneficial. Someone who doesn't take the time to know her/his child wouldn't know, and it could be detrimental to the little one.
    I think you've stressed, though, that you really, really know your baby. I think others should be encouraged to really really know their babies before trying this.

  6. Excellent post, excellent comments. This whole idea of validating emotions is so important...I echo the sentiments above, your insight into Wildflower's feeling is beautiful. It is complicated I guess, because maybe many moms do not have that insight, hence the many parenting books out there. Maybe that is the book that needs to be written - how to help moms connect to their children intuitively, and trust that, in order to sort through the variations in natural/mindful/attachment parenting that exist out there...
    I do think the first 3-4 months are different, as you noted, and the problem with many baby philosophies is that they lump the entire first year in together, not enough nuance breaking out the changes that occur, in their needs and emotions, during that time...

  7. I really got a lot out of this post - and all the wonderful comments above.

    I agree about crying being one of the only ways a baby can communicate and release emotion. I also feel that babies being able to express their emotions - being allowed to cry is also part of their developing some emotional independence.

    I s'pose this is another way of saying pretty much the same thing as people have discussed above. That is, that putting a 'stopper' in such as a breast, or dummy, or bottle, is also (at times though by no mean always) not only stuffing emotions down, but also possibly teaching them to depend on external crutches and gratification to deal with emotions that are left unexpressed. That they can't manage these emotions 'independently', (and I use that term carefully because obviously 'independence' as it's usually understood doesn't apply to small babies).

  8. Hello again....'tis I who shall be interviewing you and then you put the offer out to others when you post your answers.

    Shall I just email you your questions?

  9. One quick comment about the 'other cultures' comments - especially the near deification of 'indigenous cultures' - that comes up so frequently in 'natural' parenting discussions.

    When I read Raising Our Babies, Raising Ourselves, one of the main understandings that I gained from it was that all cultures raise their children the way they do to achieve certain societal needs.

    A mother living in a tribal situation will raise her children differently than a Japanese mother or an American mother or a Brazilian mother. These different cultures look for different behaviors (dependence, independence, interdependence, everything in-between), so to base my parenting on the 'ideal' indigenous tribal mother - to have my child be totally dependent on their identity within their tribe and their tribe's acceptance of them - would be a huge disservice to a child who will be living in modern America.

    I find a lot of value and ideas in so many different cultures, but to deify - or villify - any specific culture when it comes to their mothering is, well, nonsensical to me.

    I just wanted to pull that part out of the post because it's a sticky point with me every time these discussions come up. It's nice to have a place to say this, to see that other people have the same view.

  10. Another great post and great comments. Coming in a bit late, I can't really add anything new, but so agree with everyone. Sarah's comment above also echos many of the misgivings I have about indigenous cultures being held as ideal.

  11. I have so much to say here! First of all, I wish I was aware of this before my son was born. I felt I had to stop every cry and got so stressed when he cried (which probably added to his stress). I ended up using the "5 S's" technique by Harvey Karp (thinking of writing a post about this). I thought it was great because it stopped the crying. Now I realize that he probably needed to cry all those times, and I just taught him to bottle it up. Teaching a baby to cry is difficult. At first I felt like I was making him cry (even though all I was doing was holding him). But now that he knows it's okay to cry, I just follow his lead. He seems angry sometimes, sometimes the anger melts into sadness. It's difficult to see all his raw emotions like that. Sometimes we go till he stops, and sometimes I'll end up soothing him after a while. It varies a lot. But he is being heard. He can get out all his frustrations and be heard. He can fall asleep on his own, cuddled up to me (or on top of me!) which he rarely did before.

    As for comfort nursing, this is what I am thinking: Nurse the baby when they are rooting for it, otherwise they probably don't need it. Even now, at almost 11 months, I pay close attention to whether he shows some sign of wanting to nurse. I think this would be different, though, if he had been using me as a pacifier before. It would be harder if you had to break a habit like that. I think some moms resent nursing when they are used like that (though some moms love it).

    Anyway, I think you just have to really pay attention to your child. I used to go down the checklist of possible needs, and if all were met, I would do the "5 S's" to quiet him and put him to sleep (because I thought he was tired if he was fussy). If I could go back in time, I wouldn't do the "5 S's", but I would do what I am doing now--allow him to cry in my loving arms.

    The argument about indigenous mothers always nursing for comfort is erroneous, but it took me a while to see that. My thinking, personally, is that babies should be allowed to nurse as long as they want (and Solter advocates this, too), and as often as they are hungry (or rooting for a newborn). Even if they comfort nurse sometimes it is probably fine, because not all "comforts" are preventing us from crying, but may in fact prevent us from having a need to cry (does that make sense?)--for example, a baby being held for several hours a day will be comforted by this and not develop stress as a baby not being held enough would. Just a long as they have an opportunity to release their stress at some time in the day...I dunno, just a thought.

  12. Thank you everyone for your thoughts and personal stories.

    It's good to hear other mamas who don't fall for the 'how are wonderful indigineous cultures' story.

    Lisa - while I didn't actually follow the 5 S's to the letter, they helped cement the idea for me that a baby needed all sorts of shinanigans to get to sleep or to be soothed. Basically, to keep doing everything to get the desired result.

    I'm so glad to hear he's falling asleep on you so easily, isnt that a wonderful result of this?

    Sarah, I haven't read Raising Our Babies, Raising Ourselves, but I'm glad to hear it doesn't support the same theory.

  13. Sorry my previous comment was SO LONG! Anyway, I just realized that I don't know if Sarah was talking about Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves OR Our Babies, Ourselves. They are by two difference authors. I've read Our Babies, Ourselves, and what I loved about that book was that it shows how different parenting methods are from culture to culture, and the result of certain parenting styles. Basically, it told me that I have a choice in the way I parent, depending on how I want my child to turn out. I think it's a great mind-opening book.

  14. Ah, I have heard of both, but less about Our Babies, Ourselves. Will check it out, thanks.

    No comment too long around here. :)


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