So why do mainstream parents need support, anyway?

Some APers are incensed when they come across this blog. Not only for the AP heresies it espouses (OMG She thinks CIO is OK!!!), but because the idea that mainstream parents need, or more likely deserve, support for their parenting practices really irks them for some reason. This comment (culled from a mommyboard) is typical:

Thank god those mainstream parents have you estherar. Its so difficult doing what everyone else is doing. They really need your support. (rolleyes smilie)

Your blog comes off pretty douchey.


As I put it in my very first post, I do feel there is a need to support mainstream parenting as a practice, and mainstream parents as individuals, because AP ideology has been encroaching upon the mainstream for quite a while now. Support for mainstream parents involves not only moral support – reassuring them that despite what they’ve read in The Baby Book or Mothering Magazine, they haven’t destroyed their child’s trust forever by following their hearts and vaccinating/CIO’ing/formula feeding her. This blog also, and perhaps mainly, deals with informational support – providing a fact-based response to those who would feel ‘sad’ for mainstream-parented children because they will not know the ‘joy’ of attachment/’natural’ parenting.

And while support of either type may not be needed in the amounts that those oh-so-beleaguered (now it’s my turn to insert a rolleyes smilie!) APers feel they need, there are new people arriving at this blog every day by typing “mainstream parenting” into search engines. Some of them even like, and refer others to, information they find here. Imagine that! 😉

I thought again about the issue of support for mainstream parents when I encountered this review, entitled “Mothers’ experiences of bottle feeding: a systematic review of qualitative and quantitative studies”. While formula-feeding would definitely fall into the category of mainstream parenting – most mothers in the developed world end up at least partially bottlefeeding their child for a variety of reasons – the practice itself has fallen out of favor in the eyes of medical and child advocacy organizations the world over. Thus, though many women bottlefeed, there is little support or information to be had for women who do so.

The researchers searched exhaustively through online databases and refererence lists, also contacted authors of relevant papers on the subject, and came up with 23 papers (6 qualitative and 17 quantitative) involving a total of 13,263 participants, all dealing with the mother’s experience of bottlefeeding in developed countries – mainly the USA and UK.

Despite the fact that the studies varied quite a bit in design, focus and quality, several themes ran throughout the literature on the subject:

* The experience of bottlefeeding was fraught with negative emotions. Guilt about not breastfeeding and feeling pressure from others (mostly healthcare professionals) to breastfeed were a common theme in many of the studies, as were worry about possible negative effects on the baby from the formula, as well as a sense of failure and shame over the act of bottlefeeding – especially if the woman had originally planned to breastfeed. On the other hand, many women concurrently expressed relief once the decision to bottlefeed was cemented; this was especially relevant if the mother was previously concerned whether her baby was receiving enough nutrition, or found breastfeeding an arduous task.

* Women often felt they were not given enough pertinent information on how to bottlefeed correctly, leading to feelings of uncertainty and initial mistakes. In one study reviewed, both breastfeeding and bottlefeeding mothers agreed that the midwives spent far more time with breastfeeding mothers, teaching them the ropes, whereas bottlefeeders were often left to figure out the mechanics of feeding for themselves. Because mothers perceived healthcare professionals to be unsupportive of bottlefeeding, they often avoided asking them for information, instead relying on their friends and family.

The study also notes that while many mothers would have appreciated being able to make a fully informed decision about feeding methods in advance, the WHO code discourages health professionals from actively disseminating information about bottlefeeding before a woman has given birth and/or actively decided to bottlefeed.

* As noted earlier, mistakes in the preparation and administration of formula were very common. Use of warm water straight from the tap (instead of boiled water) to prepare formula feeds, formula reconstitution errors (feeding either over-concentrated or over-diluted formula), and warming bottles in the microwave occurred in a significant percent of cases.

The authors also noted that over-concentration of feeds could be a possible reason for a baby’s rapid weight gain in his first six months, which is a risk factor for obesity later in childhood.

They conclude:

Since the vast majority of babies receive at least some formula milk during the first year of life, it is important that this is prepared and administered safely and correctly. While it is important to increase the initiation and duration of breastfeeding, it is also necessary to minimise the risks associated with bottle-feeding by providing adequate information and support in a sensitive and non-judgemental manner to parents who choose to bottle-feed their infants. As suggested by Mozingo, ‘‘when the decision is made to start formula-feeds, mothers should be reassured that bonding, attachment and infant health are not irreversibly damaged, and the quality of their mothering should not be questioned because of the feeding method chosen.’’…

…healthcare providers should ensure that the needs of parents who bottle-feed are not overlooked.

Sounds like Peggy Robin was on to something way back when…

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26 Responses

  1. I’m sort of a AP/MP hybrid and I definitely feel MPs need more support. I was on a bf-ing chat board the other day and one mom was having a TON of trouble bf-ing her new one, and I flat out told her to switch to a bottle (because her health and well-being and ability to bond with her baby to me was just as important, if not more important than her baby being breast fed)and pretty much got ripped up one side and down the other, and while I didn’t care so much about me I definitely felt bad for the new mom that was now being made to feel guilty for not bf-ing her baby, no matter how stressed and upset she was.

  2. Your blog is “douchey,” all right. As in, “summer fresh, but with a vinegar kick.”

    Aren’t all parents deserving of support, whether they’re uber-crunchy or whitebread-mainstream?

    Parenting is hard, whether you’re doing “what everyone else is doing” or not.

  3. I won’t thank God for your support, but: thank YOU, Esther!

  4. I came to this blog after months of searching for mainstream parenting information.
    I’m in Australia, and from the moment I fell pregnant I was bombarded with alternative (only here they’re not so much alternative as mainstream) parenting theories. In the public hospital system here, most pregnant women only see a midwife for all their prenatal care. That’s where it started. From the first visit, there was an evident bias against the use of pain relief during labour and an extremely carefree attitude to the dangers of childbirth. There was no information about bottle feeding – not a single pamphlet. The midwife conducting my birth classes repeatedly used the word “discomfort” to describe the pain of labour and told us that less than 10 per cent of women at the local hospital had an epidural (it’s actually close to 40 per cent). During labour, I had to beg for pain relief. If my partner, a lawyer, wasn’t there to make my feelings clear I don’t think I would have recieved any.
    It wasn’t until several months after my son’s birth that I actively started to search for information to validate the choices I was making (having an epidural, combining breast and bottle, rejecting the stupid sling, going back to work, following the vaccination schedule) instead of making me feel like some kind of devil mother. Every time I opened a newspaper it seemed there was an article about how my choices were inferior to the “natural” way. For every mother I found who agreed with me, I found three who wanted to tell me how wrong I’d got it.
    My first realisation that perhaps I wasn’t completely alone in the world happened when I stumbled across Dr Amy’s Homebirth Debate. It was such a relief I cried. There’s only so long you can go having your choices belitted and demonised before you start to completely lose confidence in yourself as a parent. It is such a blessed relief to know that I’m actually doing just fine. I really should have just looked at my happy, healthy, beautiful son for confirmation of that, but a bit of reassurance never goes astray. What I’m really trying to say is… thankyou.

  5. Yes, THANK YOU. AP is insidious.We all want to be good parents, and AP has a way of inducing guilt in those of us who already have detrimental perfectionistic tendencies. AP sounds good on the surface–who doesn’t want to bond with their baby and follow his/her cues?–but many of the associated practices have nothing to do with becoming the parent you want to be, and everything to do with your crunchy “natural” status.

  6. And I’d like to add: the guilt is demoralizing, and ultimately undermines the development of confidence in one’s parenting. At least that was my experience.

  7. When I first read about AP I felt like that was where I belonged. I tend to go the route of baby carrying, breastfeeding and for the first four months I also did bed sharing. The latter was not actually part of my plan I just kept falling asleep while my kid nursed.

    It wasn’t until later that I realized those AP-ers are against strollers at all, view formula in the same light as McDonalds food, and think that teaching a baby to sooth themselves is cruel and ‘lazy’ parenting. They’re BONKERS!

  8. I went for breastfeeding for purely selfish reasons. Like: why should I pay for something that had been leaking out of my boobs for months, why should I deal with formula poos (stinky, and more of them!) etc etc…
    however, the pain and anxiety I had at her first growth spurt, when I’d run out of milk at 2 am and cry every time she latched on, were completely missing in all the glowing descriptions of breast feeding. “some discomfort” doesn’t even begin to cover it…
    and, sure, the baby is still in the bed, but we’re still in the “whatever gets us some sleep” phase. I like sleeping with my husband alone…

  9. I don’t know that bottlefeeding “isn’t supported” – I think this very much depends on local culture. Where I’m from, I NEVER see a mother breastfeed in public, and the majority formula feeds. OTOH, I have friends from other parts of the USA who say that the situation is reversed where they live.

    BTW, my NCT antenatal classes did cover the correct preparation of formula and bottles and I’m sure there was information on it in hospital (I would have ignored it since I’d already seen the video and gotten the pamphlet).

    (Although, I did notice something interesting yesterday: Enfamil tells you to use cooled boiled water for formula. The UK DoH emphasizes using boiling water to kill any germs in the powder. The irony is that the push to boil water came after another Mead Johnson formula, Pregestimil, was contaminated and killed a baby.)

  10. I’ve just been able to put my finger on what’s bothering me. The problem is that a segment of the media/parenting press is pushing or inflating AP/NFL ideals, while the majority of people aren’t actually doing them. (Compare articles on home/natural birth, vaccination, or breastfeeding with actual statistics sometime.) What you get is an enormous disconnect between ideal and reality, and one that leaves everyone feeling “unsupported”. “Mainstreamers” feel that “everyone” is breastfeeding, delaying vaccinations, etc because that’s what they read; NFLers in many places don’t feel that people are actually living up to the ideal. It’s the worst of both worlds.

    • I think you’re onto something here. Also, since many of the writers at “mainstream” periodicals and others in the media live in major cities, they tend to be surrounded by AP/NFL practitioners somewhat more than in Podunk, and thus tend to write to that audience more.

  11. Anyone who lurks or posts at nearly any mommy board anywhere needs all the support she can get.

    Your site is a valauble tool to help provide it.

    This is particularly true on subjects such as vaccination where the case against can look so superficially compelling at first glance.

  12. I’m one of the many who needed (and still need) support for being a mainstream parent. I din’t nurse my first one becuase she was a preemie, I tried for about 3 months and 2 Lact. consultants, gave up so I pumped for another 2-3 months. You can’t even imagine the guilt I felt about it. Sure, everyone was saying that it was OK because my child was a preemie, as if only because of it I was allowed to bottlefeed. Those first 6 months I couldn’t bond with my daughter because I simply didn’t have time between feeding her, pumping every 2-3 hours, sleeping, and feeling guilty. It took me over 2 years and many many MP blogs to realized that formula is fine and I would’ve been better not pumping for so long. I would love to bf the next one, but I’m going with the attitude that I will try my best, but ultimetly I will do what’s best for us, Babies needs more than breastmilk, they need a mother, preferably a sane one.

    The funny thing is that here is Israel I feel more out of sync regarding medicine in general, I feel I need more support for choosing western medicine over woo and other forms of witchcraft. I have a tyroid disease and I don’t mind telling people about it, but at some point I simply got tired of refusing the names of the latest woo practitioners and really tired of having to justify why I chose to take medicine for it and go to an endocrinologist.

    Keep up the good work

  13. I am happy to embrace the term “mainstream parenting” because I don’t live parenting as an aesthetic experience, and for many self-ascribed “non-mainstream” parents it is. I find parenting deeply humbling, and I don’t understand how some find it possible to retain their worst narcissist traits while raising children.
    Like you said, AP is a lifestyle choice of cultural elite, people who are perfectly positioned to have their opinions heard and influence people and institutions. AP is insidious to the point that my HMO, Kaiser, picked up quite a few of their points. Kaiser offers childbirth classes where Lamaze and Sears books are “assigned” and breastfeeding classes that are push all sort of LLL b.s. After my childbirth prep class the instructor gave me some sort of a magazine with a “very important article” about vaccinations. After I gave birth w/out anesthetics, the nurses congratulated me on giving birth “the right” way. It was purely incidental; I fear any kind of pain.
    When I had my first baby I was bombarded by [mostly unsolicited] advice from all sorts of sources. Sears’s “Baby Book” was recommended. I started reading it, and I just couldn’t believe he was for real. I’m not a doctor, but I do have an MA in Anthro, and so I knew that Sears doesn’t have the command of what he tries to pass as ethnographic material, e.g. women all over the world “wear” their babies. Then I read negative reviews of his book on amazon and felt better.
    Once I was talking to other new moms who were all getting acquainted with Sears. I asked how many were actually wearing their babies all the time as Sears suggested. Only one said she was. Another mom said “well, good for you; it’s supposed to be so good for them”. I countered “But my mom didn’t ‘wear’ me, and I’m OK.” That caused quite a sensation. A year and a half down the road many of them were belatedly ferberizing their babies, of course, but as new moms they were fed paranoia-inducing sentimental garbage and putting undue pressure on themselves and their families.
    I like Esther’s cite because I can get mainstream medical opinion, including reliable info about latest studies. Like I said, I’m not an M.D., I don’t pretend to understand medical papers, and even if I did, I have interests other then parenting. I’d rather read a good synopsis, and spend time on my hobbies. Thank you Esther.

  14. I don’t know. I don’t see anything wrong with being AP. When I have kids I want to AP mainly because I want to parent differently than my parents parented.
    Which is an odd sentence.
    Plus it’s not as if someone has to follow every AP rule. I imagine a lot of AP parents have strollers, don’t co-sleep and believe in vaccinating and don’t think the MMR vaccine causes autism or that autism and mercury poisoning are the same thing.

    They are not…

    • If you’re thinking that AP will be an antidote to every parenting sin your parents committed and a sure-fire method to raising perfect kids, you might want to reconsider that assumption.

      • It’s not as if I want to raise perfect kids.
        They don’t exist… I myself am not perfect since I want to eat ice cream for breakfast and like to stay up until 3 am…
        But I like attachment parenting, as it seems very warm and kind. And it seems to understand the importance of looking at age appropriate behaviour and the like. Of viewing babies as babies.
        Plus I feel as if my parents were… somewhat abusive. When I lived with my mother she often hit me, my father was extremely distant, and I’m lucky that I had grandparents, especially my grandmother to help raise me when they couldn’t.
        I mostly stumbled onto attachment parenting reading about adoption as I’d like to adopt in the future. It seems to be a way of establishing love and trust that might have been missing in my relationship with my mother, at least the trust, because she really loved me, but had a hard time due to being abused as a child and dealing with me having cancer at the age of 2.
        I went too long.
        Point is, it doesn’t seem like a bad thing to me, I don’t have to follow every rule, I don’t like the idea of co-sleeping with newborns for example, and I believe in vaccinations. (as autism isn’t caused by vaccinations!)
        And I’m not very…*hands gesturing* I don’t know. I just want to give my future kids the foundation of love and trust I didn’t get as a kid. Not get them into harvard when they are only 3 years old and have them become doctors when they are 5.

        • @Synesthesia, just my opinion quickly:

          I see nothing at all wrong with carrying your baby around most of the time, or with extended breastfeeding (as long as you’re careful of the child’s teeth – I’m wary of the ‘on and off the breast all day and night’ way of doing things that AP-ers often advocate), or with taking your child into bed with you with proper safety precautions and after the first few riskier months. I think these can be great ways of enjoying time with your child – and hence bonding – and I’ve done them all myself with both children.

          But my problem with AP *as a movement* is that a) it advocates these ways of doing things not just as part of a range of possible, perfectly good and valid ways of raising happy secure well-bonded children, but as some sort of objectively superior way, and b) they misrepresent scientific evidence in order to make it look as though their position has a scientific backing when it doesn’t.

          It’s this latter issue that Esther aims to counteract in her blog. I do so as well, but to a much lesser extent purely because I don’t have the time to write all the things I’d like to on the way that evidence gets misused by AP gurus. I love the fact that Esther’s debunking myths in the way she is.

          • I don’t know, new discoveries are made all the time. AP for the most part seems harmless and kind to me…
            I’m more against Ezzo and Pearl and the like. They totally spread misinformation because they just don’t know anything about babies and think they need to be trained from birth, which doesn’t seem rational.
            Plus, there’s extremist on every side, annoying extremist AP people sneering at everyone who leaves their baby to cry for five seconds.
            It doesn’t mean everyone is like that, but I must admit CIO makes me cringe. Harvard has done studies saying it could be damaging and a friend of mine had a child have a severe seizure from it, which doesn’t mean that could happen in every case, but if there are alternative solutions, it’s not a bad thing to question it and find them…

            Especially since I hate the sound of babies crying anyway. It’s the worse sound ever. Very jarring. I have trouble self-soothing myself to sleep, so it seems like it would be hard for a baby until they mature enough to be able to do that.

            • Synesthesia, there is no evidence that AP is produces superior results that plain old loving mainstream parenting. There is nothing intrinsically kinder about breastfeeding, babywearing or cosleeping. If you want to do it with your kids, fine. But realize this is a personal preference of yours, not a recipe for perfect (or even good!) children.

              And as I implored you before, please read my entries in the infant sleep category. You’ll find, for example, that your statement “Harvard has done studies saying it (CIO) could be damaging” is completely false. See here. I can believe a child had a seizure while crying, but not necessarily because of crying. And if you don’t like the idea of babies crying, by all means find another solution (though I’m afraid that no matter how you parent, crying is going to happen regardless, if not over sleep then over an illness, and injury, or your refusal to give them something that’s bad for them). That does not make crying harmful.

              • True, and when I have kids, I won’ t be aiming for a perfection that doesn’t exist.
                It’s just too much prolonged crying can be bad for a child. Anything can if it’s taken to an extreme. Anything is too easy to abuse.
                AP appeals to me the most due to anti-spanking and the like…

                • I don’t think that anti-spanking is something unique to attachment parenting so to like it for that is kind of flat. I don’t spank, but I also don’t compromise my well-being in the service of my child’s upbringing.

                  Glad to hear you’ll be back at it, Esther. I’ve been asking around when the end of Succoth was so a favorite blogger could be back at it again.

  15. I feel like cheering, Esther. I am so, so glad to have found your blog. I think we share a lot of the same philosophies and I completely agree that mainstream parents need support. I read this bottle-feeding study with both anger and ecstasy that someone was FINALLY looking at this emotionally-fraught issue.

    Whatever AP-er said that about your blog is ignorant and scared. My feeling is, when people are comfortable with their decisions, they don’t need to push them on others, or resent those who try and support people with different points of view.

    Anyway- I really dig this blog. I hope you will continue standing up for us “mainstream” parents!

    • Welcome and thank you, Suzanne! I was really happy to find your blog as well. 🙂

      BTW, regular blogging will resume next week, I hope. I don’t know how people manage to blog through having kids home for the holidays and house (in this case, only one room!) renovation and other distractions w/o going bonkers…but I don’t seem to have been up to the task. Sorry.

  16. Its so nice seeing blogs like this!

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