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adele grantWhat do you get when you bring together Dr. James McKenna, Dr. Kersten Moberg, Dr. Ann Bigelow, Dr. Henrik Norholt, Dr. Charles Price and Dr. Raylene Phillips?

You get the latest research on skin-to-skin, oxytocin, “breastsleeping,” bedsharing and all things babywearing presented at the first annual Bond Conference in New York City — which I was privileged to attend.

Here is some of the research I found to be most interesting:

Nurturing Touch

  • Infants are born with immature brains and therefore need skin-to-skin and tactile stimulation for their brains to grow.
  • Skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding are the means whereby the immature-term infant continues gestation outside the womb.
  • Skin-to-skin promotes oxytocin release in mom and is shown to improve breastfeeding rates and improve bonding with baby.
  • With elective cesareans, no oxytocin is released. Thus, it needs to be compensated for through skin-to-skin, massage, babywearing and breastfeeding. While Pitocin injections are used to bring on labor, it is very different to natural oxytocin because it only affects the uterus and does not affect the brain, which would lead to the feel good feelings and bonding.
  • Oxytocin release is especially critical in the early days and months. If it’s missing, such as in the Ukrainian orphans that were studied, it is much harder to form secure attachments later on. When mom and baby get close after birth, there is an oxytocin release — they feel good, because dopamine is being activated; they see this happening in the context of the other; and with repeated exposure, this trains the sympathetic nervous system to expect the same response, which leads to a secure attachment.
  • Prolonged exposure to oxytocin has long-term positive effects of reduced risk of stroke and many other illnesses.
  • Some women naturally have lower oxytocin levels. But the good news is that it can be compensated for with skin-to-skin, massage and breastfeeding.
  • Nerve reflexes of the skin trigger an oxytocin release. If triggered very early on, it will have lifelong effects. The front side of the body has extra sensory nerves with the chest being most sensitive.
  • Skin-to-skin could be used as a possible alternative treatment to depression. Mothers with skin-to-skin contact reported fewer depressive symptoms in the first few postpartum weeks.

Safe Sleep

  • The further babies get from mom (non-bedsharers or solitary sleepers in separate room), the fewer feeds there are. Bedsharing babies nurse or “snack” more, because breastmilk is digested faster.
  • Bedsharing and breastfeeding are positively correlated. Dr. McKenna suggests the term “breastsleeping,” as there is no such thing as an infant — only the mother-infant dyad — so there is no solitary sleeping and breastfeeding: only breastsleeping.
  • Approximately 70% of new parents were found to bedshare at least occasionally. This would equate to 2.5-2.9 million mothers if the study were representative of the larger population.
  • Bedsharing in the absence of other hazards was significantly protective for infants older than 3 months.
  • At age 6, babies who bedshared had increased cognitive capacities. Babies who cosleep and get more touch and reassurance become happier and less fearful toddlers who make friends easier and are cognitively more advanced. Then they become less fearful and more optimistic adolescents who trust their own judgment. As adults, they become parents mimicking their own experiences with their own children.

Responding with Sensitivity

  • Infants as young as 3 months are aware that their behaviors’ impact others. When mom does not respond to baby, the infant increases vocalizations to get mom’s attention.
  • Increasingly, orthopedists are seeing more hip issues. They believe this is because of widespread swaddling. The latest recommendation is to leave hips loose until baby is 3 months old. If a baby’s hip does become dislocated and is not treated by 6 months of age, the hip may need surgical intervention for proper development.
  • Parents should also be mindful of baby’s hip development when choosing a baby carrier. In the baby’s first 6 weeks of life, the joints are very loose and the hips should not be forced into extension. Side-carrying positions are ideal for proper hip development. After 6 months of age, the position doesn’t matter that much.

This is all such reassuring information, because it backs up what I intuitively did with my first child before I even found Attachment Parenting and what Attachment Parenting International promotes for all children and families.

With continued research from these and other medical and scientific professionals as well as parents providing support to other parents, Attachment Parenting practices like babywearing, keeping babies close by holding them, ensuring safe sleep by keeping babies and children close at night, and extended breastfeeding will become the new norm. This is at least my hope for all the children out there and what I strive to promote in my community.

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“Growing up in a household where your emotions are either actively discouraged or punished, or simply ignored takes a toll on you, a developing child. You internalize the message that your feelings, your needs, your views don’t matter. It’s a belief that’s rooted in childhood feelings. That belief/feeling is powerful, and it stays with you throughout your life.” ~ Jonice Webb, PhD, in “Childhood Emotional Neglect: The Enemy of Assertiveness,” Psych Central

Sad ChildIn this week’s Editor’s pick, Attachment Parenting International is shedding light on a form of maltreatment of children that is often kept in the dark: emotional abuse. Unlike physical abuse, there is little awareness concerning emotional abuse — it’s less visible and is rarely covered by the media.

Emotional abuse is often misunderstood, as it’s complex and more difficult to recognize. Although it’s pervasive, and can be as damaging and painful to children as physical and sexual trauma, it’s not considered as troublesome as physical abuse.

Emotional abuse of a child is commonly defined as a pattern of behavior by parents or caregivers that has negative mental impact on the child. It’s also referred to as psychological maltreatment. Some examples of mental abuse are:

  • name-calling
  • verbally insulting
  • shaming or humiliating
  • threatening violence (with or without carrying out threats)
  • ridiculing or criticizing the child’s appearance, abilities or fears
  • failing to express warmth and tenderness to the child
  • neglecting to show interest in the child’s thoughts, feeling or activities.

Emotional needs are intrinsic to our nature as human beings. Attachment Parenting promotes an approach that applies sensitive parental response and practicing nurturing parenting methods that foster strong emotional bonds — also known as secure attachment — between children and their parents. Secure attachment, trust and mutual respect are the building blocks of a strong, healthy emotional foundation that follows children into adulthood.

With increasing awareness and evolved societal norms, many people move away from spanking and other forms of physical abuse. Consequently, however, there is more temptation to shift that punishment attitude toward verbal responses — which may seem innocuous — not realizing that some common responses are actually a form of emotional abuse. Here are a few examples of such comments:

  • “I wish you were more like your brother.”
  • “If you don’t do as I say, I will leave you!”
  • “You’re the reason Mommy is sad.”
  • “Shut up!”
  • “You are a bad boy.”
  • “You think you’re so special, don’t you?”

Verbal abuse is the most common form of emotional maltreatment and results in long-term harm. As noted in this Health Day article, “Yelling at Children (Verbal Abuse),” research shows that verbally abused children are more likely to:

  • become victims of abuse later in life
  • become abusive themselves
  • become depressed and self-destructive later in life
  • develop anxiety.

We are all familiar with adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” But children and adults who have been verbally abused will tell you otherwise: Words are powerful and they do hurt, especially when inflicted upon children by their parents — the leading authority figures in their life and the adults children look to for protection, not only from physical harm but also emotional damage.

There are some who excuse name-calling, shaming or other forms of abuse as effective means to discipline or “toughen up” kids — an outdated idea to make them more resilient and better adapt to the “real world” — when, in fact, the contrary is true: These patterns of behavior by parents produce deep emotional and mental scars that undermine self-esteem and affect the ability to have healthy, trusting relationships.

In this Psych Central article, “Childhood Emotional Neglect: The Enemy of Assertiveness,” Jonice Webb, PhD, uncovers that the reason assertiveness is so much more difficult for some people to learn and practice than others is because “assertiveness is most difficult for those who grew up in households that either actively or passively discouraged emotional expression,” both examples of childhood emotional neglect.

Emotional abuse is painful. It penetrates into the heart and the soul of a child who needs to be loved, cared for, and responded to with sensitivity and compassion by his caregivers — not ignored, not humiliated, and not insulted.

A 2015 study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, found that regardless of the type of maltreatment endured — physical, sexual or emotional — children suffered similar consequences. As reported by Reuters, Dr. William Copeland, a psychiatry researcher at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, USA, stated that: “This study is about righting a longstanding error and prejudice about the differences between these common childhood adversities,” adding: “It suggests that whether we are talking about prevention, screening or treatment, our notions of childhood mistreatment need to be broader and more holistic than they have been. There are no hierarchies when it comes to child maltreatment.”

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Attachment through books

May 17, 2016
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Editor’s note: May is Get Caught Reading Month. Reading is a shared interest among many Attachment Parenting (AP) families as we all like to be well-informed when making decisions that affect our parent-child relationships. Reading can also serve as an easy way to strengthen attachment bonds. Reading has always been a central part of my […]

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Kangaroo Care an incredible part of newborn care

May 15, 2016
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Today, May 15, in observance of Kangaroo Care Awareness Day, Attachment Parenting International (API) honors all mothers and fathers who have given the gift of skin-to-skin contact to a newborn. While Kangaroo Care was first promoted for its life-saving benefits to premature and at-risk infants, it has — since its discovery in 1980 in Colombia […]

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Letting go of what you “should” do

May 11, 2016
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Editor’s note: Welcome to APtly Said’s celebration of mothers! This year’s theme for Mother’s Day is “Life Lessons” as Attachment Parenting International (API) celebrates with an inspiring series from May 7-11. We hope you enjoyed your Mother’s Day and were able to reflect on what you’ve learned through your motherhood journey. The greatest lesson I’ve […]

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A lesson in button pushing

May 10, 2016
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Editor’s note: Welcome to APtly Said’s celebration of mothers! This year’s theme for Mother’s Day is “Life Lessons” as Attachment Parenting International celebrates with an inspiring series from May 7-11. We hope you enjoyed your Mother’s Day and were able to reflect on what you’ve learned through your motherhood journey. When my first son transitioned […]

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Unconditional love

May 9, 2016
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Editor’s note: Welcome to APtly Said’s celebration of mothers! This year’s theme for Mother’s Day is “Life Lessons” as Attachment Parenting International celebrates with an inspiring series from May 7-11. We hope you enjoyed your Mother’s Day and were able to reflect on what you’ve learned through your motherhood journey. My daughters are two of […]

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Sometimes it is all about me

May 8, 2016
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Editor’s note: Welcome to APtly Said’s celebration of mothers! This year’s theme for Mother’s Day is “Life Lessons” as Attachment Parenting International celebrates with an inspiring series from May 7-11. We hope you are enjoying your Mother’s Day and find time to reflect on what you’ve learned through your motherhood journey. This year’s theme for […]

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