Exclusive interview: Natalie of The Baby Borrowers discusses attachment parenting, teen pregnancy

A couple of weeks ago I shared my feelings regarding NBC’s reality TV show “The Baby Borrowers.” If you are unfamiliar with the premise of the show, it takes five teenage couples through a crash course in adulthood tasking them with responsibilities such as a house payment, a job, and for three days, the care of a baby (and later a toddler, pre-teen, teenager and elderly person).

As I mentioned in that post, I was surprised to find out one of the moms of the borrowed children – Natalie Nichols – practiced many aspects of attachment parenting (AP). I couldn’t stop thinking about her and wondering if my initial visceral reaction to the show was entirely warranted or if, like in any situation, there were two sides to the story.

I decided to go straight to the source to find out more about what motivated Natalie to lend her infant daughter (Etta – 6 months at the time of the show) and toddler son (Benjamin – 2 years at the time of the show) to The Baby Borrowers (to be cared for by teen “parents” Kelsey and Sean) and to find out if there was more going on behind the scenes than was depicted on the show.

While I still disagree with the show, writing my initial post and doing this interview with Natalie has been a learning experience for me. All too often in the blogosphere, we (myself included) tend to react off the cuff to news of this, that or the other thing, without delving in for more information or waiting to hear the other side of the story. I think it’s human nature, but it doesn’t make it right. I hope that I will remember this the next time I hear something “outrageous” and before I blow a gasket, I will check out the facts and try to find out the whole story.

What follows is an interview with Natalie Nichols about her participation in The Baby Borrowers, with questions from a few other AP moms as well.

Natalie Nichols and son Benjamin - July 2008First off, what are the names and ages of your children?

I have 4 children total: 3 boys, Mackenzie (13), Zackary (8), Benjamin (3), and then our daughter Etta is now 18 months.

In an earlier conversation you said, “yes, I am an AP parent.” What does that mean to you?

I actually would say that I have some characteristics of Attachment Parenting, and many of a Natural Family Lifestyle. It is important to note though that neither of these titles defines who I am or what I do. I simply do what comes naturally to me, and what feels right as far as my family is concerned. I do not judge others for their parenting choices. Over the years of parenting my 4 kids, I have responded to their cries, and they have been worn in a sling or in my arms. I have nursed with reckless abandon, some would say. I’m “one of those moms” who doesn’t think that breastfeeding should be hidden, so where my kids were hungry is where they nursed. I’ve never seen the need to buy a “hiding” cover, sit in a special room, or God forbid nurse in a toilet stall. I think that babies should be worn or held up close and in the middle of adult conversations as a way of becoming more social and fostering great communication skills. I believe in delayed vaccinations, I co-sleep, I have almost always been a stay-at-home mother, I have homeschooled, I have unschooled, and two of my 4 births were natural by choice (and beautifully peaceful if I might add). If my babies need something, I provide it. I have never used a pacifier for any of my kids. They didn’t need them, they had me, and that worked out wonderfully. Out of the bunch the only one to suck a thumb was Benjamin.

Heather, an AP mom who blogs at A Mama’s Blog and API Speaks, would like to know, “Why did you feel the need to let teens who virtually have no child care experience, “borrow” your baby and let them be your baby’s caregiver? Doesn’t this go against the very parenting philosophy – attachment parenting – that you are trying to apply with your baby?”

I have to begin with saying that I was a very intelligent young girl, but at the same time, I didn’t know anything. I moved out on my 16th birthday to live with my teen boyfriend’s family, we got pregnant on purpose, we were married when I was 8 months pregnant and I delivered my first son 1 month before I turned 18. Although I was in the top 10 in my class, in the National Honor Society, Gifted and Talented, captain on the Drill Team, and in Fellowship of Christian Athletes, I threw it all away to drop out of school and raise my son. Sure I could have kept going to school and placed him in the on campus childcare, but they wouldn’t allow me to physically nurse him, and the few breaks I could get weren’t enough to maintain a milk supply. I tried pumping and having my mom watch him for 1 day but he didn’t eat the entire day and screamed bloody murder. I decided that he was more important than a school with rules that I didn’t agree with, so I quit. I got my diploma from a mail correspondence program but I didn’t get a prom or to walk with my class or anything else that represents being a senior in high school. Sure, I was breastfeeding, and we tried cloth diapering, but I was not patient enough with the leaks and gave up. I was a good teen mom, by society’s standards. However I was not a good mom by my own standards and I know that my son deserved better. It was never fair to ask him to grow up with me, or for me to expect him to just wait until I figured myself out so that I could give him the best he needed. He is a fabulous kid now at 13, and I do not for a second regret that he was born. What I do regret is the timing. I would love nothing more than to rewind the clock and become the woman I was supposed to be and share with him the wisdom that living my life has given me. He understands now that he is older, but he had no idea why I wasn’t mature enough not to yell and why his dad and I argued in front of him all the time when he was little.

It is important for me to reiterate here that while I consider myself an attached parent, I do not go down a check list of ideals and ensure that I’m applying what someone or some organization thinks is best for my children. My style of attachment parenting applies to not just my own children, but to my view on how we should be with society as a whole. I live my life by what I feel is the right thing to do, instinctively and as a mother. For me, the right thing to do is to turn my mistakes in the past into something positive for someone else. My older kids are proud of what our family has been able to do to try to make the world a better place.

I don’t feel that allowing the teens to care for Etta for those three days had anything to do with going against the way I parent. There are many teen girls out there who think so little of themselves, as I did, that they fall madly in love with the first boy who looks their direction. They see their self-worth only in what that boy tells them to think. And they have sex with him so that he will value her even more. These girls just “need” someone to be there for them and show them that it is not the right path to take. They need someone to tell them to look deeper inside themselves and see the beautiful girl staring back at them. They need to know that the right man will love them for the person she is and for the person that she wants to be. He will never try to make her be someone else or try to stop her from achieving her dreams. As an AP and NFL mother, I feel that it is every one of our places to fill this role. In my opinion, these are all of our children. Just because they are teens, they are still someone else’s son or daughter.

Did you hope to educate the teens (and viewers watching at home) about the benefits of breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby wearing, etc.? If so, do you feel that you accomplished this?

I did teach the teens how to simulate nursing with Etta, using her breast-shaped bottle and my expressed milk. I didn’t share with them about co-sleeping, because the teens were not allowed to sleep with the babies in their beds as one of the safety precautions. While I do believe that co-sleeping with your own child is perfectly safe, you instinctively respond to the slightest sounds or movements with a baby you have recently given birth to and that couldn’t be expected of the teens. HOWEVER, Sean did co-sleep with Etta in a sense, after I had my initial tough love discussion with him. He walked holding her, he laid back on the couch holding her, and she slept, well, like a baby. Granted he didn’t get much sleep, but he fostered that feeling of co-sleeping that she was used to, and he made it work. In addition, since unlike me, he was having to prepare her bottles for her night nursings, it worked out well for them to be on the move anyway. I did bring Etta to the show in our sling, however I didn’t leave it for them because it is fitted and they were both much taller than I am. Plus I didn’t feel that they would be totally secure holding her in it and might have a false sense of security anyway. They did have the use of front carriers, but I don’t think they used them.

It has to be said though, I did not participate in this project because I am an AP or NFL parent. I participated to help show teens the realities of being a parent in hopes of deterring them from throwing their teen years away. I just happen to parent this way and was able to share some of that with them. I did tell Kelsey when I met her and saw her in the empathy belly “Congratulations, you have a beautiful baby girl and you are a breastfeeding mother now!” But that did not make the final airing. An additional neat breastfeeding moment was when Sean was caring for Etta alone and visited with his neighbor and fellow pseudo-single dad Cory. They were discussing their parenting tricks they had picked up. Sean told Cory that he needed to pick Karson up and take him to another room for a change of scenery (something I shared with him in the tough love conversation). And then Cory asked Sean if Etta had eaten and Sean said proudly, “Oh no man, I just breastfed her like 10 minutes ago.” 🙂 I’m hoping that his breastfeeding experience will give him some insight and enable him to be very supportive of his future wife.

The Baby Borrowers has fallen under attack by groups like Zero to Three and Attachment Parenting International, among others. How do their responses affect you as an AP parent who willingly participated in the show?

I am not bothered by the negative criticism these groups have given the show or us as parents. The issue of teen pregnancy is a big one and it requires serious communication. Look how people are discussing teen sexuality out in the open now. It is amazing. As far as the research that these groups are using to say that we endangered our children emotionally, I don’t feel that it even applies. There are many situations that these same groups excuse from their criticism. Working parents, military parents, parents who go on a long weekend and hire a nanny or leave their children in the hands of a relative they don’t see on a regular basis, etc. The babies in those situations have no idea why their parents are leaving, whether it be for a weekend getaway or to participate in The Baby Borrowers, and if they are securely bonded in the first place (which is next to impossible to avoid with AP) then they are fine. I truly think it was irresponsible for these groups to speak out about the show without gathering all of the facts first. I don’t know of a single parent or child involved in this program that has been assessed by any of these groups. I have to add that I did not participate so that anyone could decide whether I am a good mother. I was not the best mother at one point in my life, but I am doing the best that I can to right that wrong now. Regardless of any of the claims that these groups, who have no actual knowledge about the filming or the participants, I would do this all over again if given the chance. Every time I get a letter from a young girl who’s life was touched in some small way by this program or by my involvement, it is further solidified in my heart that I made the right choice, and these “experts” are fanning flames when no fire exists to begin with.

Did you, your husband Chet, and/or your children get to spend some time getting acquainted with Sean and Kelsey before they “borrowed” the kids?

We sat with Sean and Kelsey for a good while before we left the children in their care. We stayed maybe 2 hours or a little less with Etta. We went through the manual that the producers asked us to prepare for Etta’s care. It contained the brand of wipes and diapers we use, what she likes to eat, any allergies the children had, the children’s likes and dislikes, etc. We had a chance to thoroughly inspect every room in the house. Everything was age appropriately baby proofed. We were able to observe the teens each holding our daughter, and explained what she liked and what she didn’t in that regard. Chet reiterated to Sean that he had to support her head. We answered any questions that they had and just got to visit with them and find out a little more about them as people. Kelsey explained that she wanted kids right away, which we already knew, and hoped to change. And Sean explained that he was hoping Kelsey would realize that they should wait. We liked Sean’s idea better. We didn’t spend quite as much time with Benjamin there because he was ready to play on the swing set. We sat and explained to Sean and Kelsey that he was like night and day from Etta. And we explained that we wanted them to see that it was not as easy as saying, “Etta was just that way because she missed her mom, my child would be different.” We told them that no two kids are exactly alike, and you really never know what their personality is until you meet them.

On the show I believe they showed you intervening with the teens twice while they had Etta. I know that you expressed milk and brought that over to the house throughout her 3-day stay, but how many times did you actually intervene? Did you spend any time with Etta during any of those interventions?

On a few occasions we sent instructions through the nanny if we noticed something minor that the nanny might not have known to pick up on. Nothing against the nanny, but there are some things only a parent can recognize in their child. That is the benefit we had of seeing and hearing everything that went on. As an example, I sent word to the nanny, via the producers, to be sure that the teens were putting my expressed milk into the fridge in an organized manner and paying attention to dates/time to be sure they didn’t let any go bad, etc. And after Sean’s visit to the grocery store, bless his heart, he came home to tell Kelsey, “Etta’s mom said she loves avocado, but I couldn’t find any jars of that anywhere.” I did zip over quickly to let Kelsey know that they would just buy an avocado and mash it up for her with breast milk. It was not a big deal, just clarification. And before going over the first night, I did send word that they made Etta’s breast bottle and left it sitting on her dresser untouched while they frantically tried to figure out why the child would not just fall asleep.

Although it would have been fine with the producers if I had gone to comfort Etta, I didn’t choose to do that. Because she was nursing and was used to having the AP lifestyle, I just felt that would have been a mistake. It would not have been fair to her for me to show up when she had already gotten used to her surrogate parents and then leave again. My main concern was her smelling my milk and then refusing to take the bottle from Sean and Kelsey. My husband was not able to give her the bottle with me in the room because she wasn’t that easily fooled. But if I was gone, then she took it with no problem. I didn’t view this any differently.

Summer, an AP mom and blogger at Wired for Noise asked, “How sudden were the changes (for Etta) from co-sleeping and breastfeeding to not? Did she have time to gradually adjust to the new situation before the show, or was it sort of last minute? I wonder because I have heard that with many reality shows the people are selected with little to no notice.”

That is a good question. The notice is fairly short I guess when you are considering schedules that many children have, etc. Like I stated in an answer above, Etta continued breastfeeding, just through her breast-shaped bottle. We purchased the Adiri nursers because they feel like a breast more than any other bottle. As long as I was not the one giving it to her, she took it fine. We are regulars at our local gym and she went to the on-site childcare most evenings for an hour. We started taking the breast bottle with us when she went as soon as it was a possibility that she would be on the show. It wasn’t very long, but long enough that we knew if she was hungry, she would take it. Also, I really don’t feel that co-sleeping was taken away from her because of the way Sean gave her that constant touch that she was craving after I spoke to him. You all saw that she wasn’t very happy when they did try to take co-sleeping away from her, and it was not going to happen.

How did you mentally and emotionally prepare your 2-year-old son Benjamin for his 3-day stay away from you?

I guess I prepared Benjamin as much as one can with a 2 year old. When Etta was a newborn, Benjamin went to a preschool program for a few hours a few times per week to give me time to breathe. He was perfectly fine with that and wanted to go all the time. Benjamin, although he is parented the same way, has always been very independent. He has always been the “tough one” of all of them at his age. He doesn’t get phased by much, and separation is one of those things. It is funny that in one scene Sean is standing at the door where Benjamin is crying and says, “I think he misses his mom,” but they didn’t understand his words as much as I did and I had just heard him crying saying that he wanted to go outside and play. Benjamin knows we are here and that we are coming back. He’s always just been really laidback about that and doesn’t get stressed by being around others. Now if he watches us leave, he may protest for a minute or two, but as a general rule for him, when we’re out of sight, we’re out of mind. We always just distract him with something else and sneak out and he is A-OK. They took him out to show him the play equipment in the backyard while we left, so he didn’t have an issue with it.

On the show, they depicted Sean telling Ben that he had to go to his room for a timeout if he didn’t stop crying. He didn’t stop crying and was sent to his room, the door closed while he continued to cry on the floor. How did you feel about that? How do you discipline him at home? Did you intervene at all during Benjamin’s stay?

To be honest, even with 4 kids, I don’t have a lot of experience in this arena. Neither of my older two boys ever threw tantrums, so I didn’t get to experience that before Benjamin. I was the mother in the store in shock that children acted that way because MY CHILDREN would NEVER act that way. Well I believe that everything happens for a reason and I believe that Benjamin’s job was to show me once again that I didn’t know everything and that yes, even my children could act that way. At the time, we were telling him that if he did not stop the behavior, he would go to his room for a timeout. If he did not stop, he went to his room, and at home he threw fits much worse than he did for Sean and Kelsey. I actually felt like he was acting better than he did at home. This brought up an interesting point. We noticed that when Kelsey made deals with Benjamin, he held up his end of the bargain. She told him, for instance, that if he took a nap, he could go to the park. She asked him if he wanted that and he said yes, so he laid down and took a nap without protest. He was a fairly late talker, compared to my other boys so it didn’t dawn on me that he was able to negotiate his behavior like that. But what she was doing was working for him. So at home, we have started doing that. Sometimes, we will still do time out in his room, but it is his choice. He likes to hear that it is his choice. He feels empowered, I guess. We will tell him that he can either stop the behavior or he can go in his room, and then say, “you choose.” And generally very quickly he chooses to stop the undesirable behavior.

I didn’t intervene myself with Benjamin, but my husband did once I believe. At first, Sean and Kelsey were letting Benjamin do whatever he wanted, and seemed afraid to take control of the situation. So Chet went over and explained to them that they had to be the parental figures and that he could not just be able to run wild. They took his advice to heart and each developed their own approach to discipline. Sean wasn’t as creative and just used the time outs in his room that Chet suggested. Kelsey really turned things around and had a great rapport with him. In regard to Benjamin crying on the floor, I was not affected by his behavior. He was not sad or hurt, he was just mad. I had witnessed enough tantrums from him to know that he was just in a battle of wills with Sean, and I was not going to intervene and let him think that he was winning. And Benjamin didn’t actually start throwing tantrums until Chet spoke to the teens and asked them not to let him have his way. For instance he would not get up to the table for them, would immediately get down, etc. and they were just allowing it and ignoring it. We don’t accept that behavior in our home and did not want them to either. Being a parent is showing your children the correct way to behave too, and Sean and Kelsey had to learn that part as well.

Julie, an AP mom and blogger at ChezArtz and API Speaks would like to know, “What do you wish they would have shown as part of the series?”

I wish that they would have shown Sean’s sleepless nights with Etta after he finally did “get it.” It is unfortunate that he came across as this heartless little punk who called my baby girl an “it.” He was not that way at all. He developed such a bond with her and she with him that it is almost unfair to the both of them that you didn’t get to see it. Or maybe it’s better that way and it’s something special that only Sean, Etta, Chet, and I will carry with us forever. I am glad that Cory was shown stepping up to the plate when needed, but he did it reluctantly. Sean dug right in and didn’t complain. Both of those boys earned my respect, and that of my husband. They can hopefully serve to show teen boys out there that if you do get in a situation and you think the only thing you can do is run, maybe they might want to think again. Sean showed that if you relax and just hug and love your child, they will give you that in return, and it is rewarding. And Cory showed that even when it is hard, sometimes you just have to buck up and push through. They both proved that babies of teen parents (and anyone else for that matter) need more than their mothers to stick around.

On a separate note, I wish that there was more time to air the parents’ review of Sean and Kelsey with the toddlers. After having seen them care for both of my children, I did not just sit there nodding my head listening to what Chet had to say. I felt that I had come to know both of them well enough to speak candidly with them and that I owed that to them. So I told Sean and Kelsey that I did think separately they were wonderful people, and that someday they would both make great parents, but not with each other. I told them that they did not display the love and devotion that it takes to make a marriage work. When they were apart, they seemed to shine, but as a couple, they really didn’t support one another or complement each other. I also told Kelsey that I felt that she had low self-esteem, as I did when I was her age and became a teen mother. But that she couldn’t look to Sean or any other man to provide her with that. I told her that she had to love herself enough to know that she was a beautiful person with or without a man.

Do you have anything else that you feel myself or my readers would be interested to learn about your participation in The Baby Borrowers?

I will attach my response to viewers and critics of The Baby Borrowers, including 0-3 and AACAP, so that you can read more about my reasons for participating and what myself and others have gained. In addition, it is paramount to note that my family did not seek to get on television. We are not seeking fortune or fame, or even our 15 minutes as many have suggested. I was contacted by NBC because one of the casting agents found my Myspace page and they invited me to participate in the auditions. I had never heard of the show, and when they explained the potential to help reduce teen pregnancy, I was on board. There was no money or other compensation whatsoever for participation in this “social experiment.”

Thank you again, Natalie, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk candidly with me. I genuinely enjoyed getting to know more about you and appreciated your perspective on The Baby Borrowers. I wish you and your family all the best.

The Baby Borrowers: Reality TV gone too far?

Cross-posted at BlogHers Act

The Baby BorrowersNBC’s new reality show “The Baby Borrowers” takes five teenage couples through a crash course in adulthood tasking them with responsibilities such as a house payment, a job, and for three days, the care of a baby (and later, a toddler, pre-teen and elderly person). Many bloggers and others are up in arms over infants being separated from their parents for so long for a so-called “social experiment” saying it is irresponsible television and some have even called it child abuse.

Although my stomach lurched when I first heard about this show with a catchy name and the slogan “It’s not TV. It’s birth control!” and had no intention of watching it, I decided that if I was going to write about it with any sort of authority I really needed to take a look at least some of it. I watched the second half of the first episode, when the parents dropped off their infants to the teenage couples, and most of the second episode which also dealt with the couples caring (or not) for the babies and their first days going to work outside the home.

As I watched it one word kept coming to mind: exploitation. The whole show reeked of exploitation – exploitation of the infants and of the teens. I’ve read people argue that it’s not like these babies were kidnapped. After all, their parents willingly signed up to participate and handed them over for the show. But my concern is not what the parents’ opinion or thoughts on participating were or that safety measures were all in place, it is that the babies had no say in the matter. They weren’t able to voice their feelings and say, “No, I don’t want to leave you, Mommy and Daddy, and go live with strangers who know nothing about babies for three days.” They were only able to cry, and cry they did. These poor babies had no idea how long their parents would be gone, or really if they’d ever return. My heart broke every time one of them cried, was called “it” (which happened on many occasions), was told to “starve” (as one was when he wouldn’t eat), or was juggled about haphazardly.

Yet not all of the show consisted of upset crying babies. There were happy times for them as well and a few of the teenagers really seemed to rise to the occasion and take their parenting role seriously. But we’ll never know what really went on behind the scenes, how much was edited or how NBC’s “social experiment” will affect these little people in the immediate future or further down the road.

Zero to Three, a national nonprofit multidisciplinary organization who’s mission is “to support the healthy development and well-being of infants, toddlers and their families,” issued a response to The Baby Borrowers citing studies that have been done on babies who have been through prolonged separation from their family. Here is just a bit of it:

For the past 80 years, many studies have shown unequivocally that babies and toddlers suffer when they are exposed to this kind of prolonged separation from family and left with people that they do not know or love. As all parents know, babies and toddlers are very distressed by separation. They cry, cling, and search for their parents. The longer the separation, the more upset they become. Some children are unable to sleep and refuse to eat. The responses routinely last long past the child’s reunion with the parent. Prolonged separations heighten young children’s separation anxiety and damage their trust that their parents will be available to protect and care for them. Children can become angry and rejecting of their parents after being reunited with them, damaging the fabric of the child-parent relationship.

Studies show that babies and toddlers need to feel safe and secure in order to form a positive sense of self, to form healthy relationships, and to feel confident to explore their world. This sense of security is dependent on the availability and stability of their trusted primary caregivers. Being separated for a three-day period from a parent or trusted, familiar adult, and being thrust into the care of a total stranger who has no experience with the child—how he or she is comforted, likes to be fed, held, etc.—and who has no experience caring for young children at all, can be very stressful for the child.

Due to her concern for the “present and future emotional health of these babies,” Jan Hunt of The Natural Child Project wrote an open letter to NBC. Here’s a clip of it:

Babies do not have the mental capacity to anticipate the return of a mother who has gone; they cannot use imagination or project into the future. Research consistently shows that babies separated from their mothers have skyrocketing cortisol levels. This is neurotoxic, damaging brain tissue in the prefrontal lobe areas that regulate emotion, leading to a lifetime vulnerability. When cortisol is produced due to emotional stress, the next stressful experience creates an even larger surge of cortisol. By the time a stressed child reaches adulthood, he is likely to overreact to all stressful situations, making it harder to cope with life’s challenges. For all these reasons, babies and young children should be kept as stress-free as possible, to protect their future psychological and physical health.

As traumatic as this experience will surely be for these babies and children, the effects will not end when they return home. Will their parents then understand and empathize with their inevitable sadness and regressed behavior? Probably not, because few parents are aware of the critical importance of early childhood experiences. There is every reason to believe that this kind of trauma will have long-term effects, making it harder for these children to trust their parents or indeed, anyone else.

Ashlee at Mama’s Nest says, “I can not imagine what would motivate parents to put their babies through this… oh, wait, it’s America- anyone wanna guess how much money they made? ::end rant::”

I actually had the same thought as Ashlee, but according to The Washington Post article, “NBC says the families who came on the show did not get paid to appear.” Really? Wow. That leaves me wondering if not money, then what were their motivations?

The blogger at RunningAmuck wrote, “Watching all those mamas hand over their precious babies to total, very inexperienced and self-absorbed, strangers… left me with a knot in the pit of my stomach. I could not even imagine doing it myself. The parents did get to watch via cameras and there were professional nannies at each home to monitor the safety of the child. They were not to step in unless the baby was in danger. Slight comfort. I had tears welling up every time I watched one of the parents say goodbye to their babies.”

On Mom Exchange jencct wrote, “While I am quite interested to see how things pan out, I also wonder [what] parents in their right mind would “lend” their six-eleven month olds to teenagers who have no clue about babies! I guess I’m not their target market. I could not even think about leaving my kids with other people!”

So what could motivate a parent to leave her child in the care of strangers? The publicity and exposure? The chance to get their little one noticed? According to Natalie Nichols, one of the mothers who gave up two of her children – daughter Etta (6 months) and son Benjamin (2) – for the show, it was because she was a teenage mother herself and says it was that experience that motivated her to let her children be a part of the show. She wanted the teens to learn how hard it really is to be a parent. Lil Sugar blog has an interview with Natalie and The Washington Post posted an article about Natalie, which contained some very surprising information (at least to me) about her being a breastfeeding and co-sleeping mom.

Natalie describes not sleeping for the three days that Etta was with Sean and Kelsey. “It was harder with Etta being there than Benjamin,” she said, “[Etta] was more needy so I had to really supervise.” Because Natalie was nursing Etta at the time of the show, she was pumping and sending milk over to the teen house. As preparation for the show, Natalie and Chet had to make sure that Etta would take milk from a bottle.

On screen, the cameras show Etta crying for much of the episode, frustrating her young caretakers. Off screen, though, Natalie says Etta was happy during the day. Nighttime was a different story. Etta, normally a co-sleeper, wouldn’t settle alone in a crib, so Sean had to stay up holding her all three nights. After several hours of watching the caregivers’ frustration escalate, Natalie went over to have a little chat with Sean and Kelsey. After that, Natalie says, Sean stepped up and put Etta’s needs ahead of his own.

So, what happened to Etta after the show? “You would have never known she had been there. She was not traumatized. It was like she made a new friend,” said Natalie, who gave Sean a cast made from Etta’s hand as a gift.

I’m glad that doing the show didn’t seem to have an effect on her, but no comment on whether or not she may have been traumatized. I mean, how can she really know if it will have a lasting effect on her?

Although Etta was a breastfed and co-sleeping baby, from what I saw on the show there was no mention of pumped breastmilk or that she was used to co-sleeping. I feel like NBC had the chance to educate teenagers (who they claim was their target demographic for the show) that breastmilk is a healthy, normal way to feed a baby, but they dropped the ball (yet again). They did, however, show the teenage boys shopping on the formula aisle in the grocery store. Now that I think about it, I didn’t notice if any formula companies sponsored the show, as I TIVO’d it and skipped over commercials, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case. I don’t know why I would expect NBC to redeem themselves by discussing breastfeeding on the show (which might be a big reality check for these teens – breasts have a function other than to look good in a shirt), but I had hopes there’d be some sort of positive message to come from all of this.

A comment from Asia84 on Lil Sugar‘s blog asks the question that I want answered too, “Has anyone thought about how the infants themselves feel???? One minute, I was with mommy and daddy, and I had my favorite binky. Life was grand. Then, next thing I know I’m being handed over to this pretty girl and this guy who looks at me funny. Do I have applesauce on my nose?? I’m teething, so I DON’T wanna eat, but I’m hungry, so I’m gonna cry. I want my mommy. I want my mommy. I want my mommy. I’ll even settle for daddy. I just want my mommy!”

Angie Felton at Parent Dish believes there are other, better ways to educate teens on the immense responsibility of raising children.

I’m all for educating teens on child care getting rid of the notion that parenting is one big ball of baby powdery fun, but there ARE better ways than dumping a baby off with complete strangers for a television show. Working at a childcare center, volunteering at a church nursery or preschool, or even babysitting are all good ways to get a small idea of what life as a parent is like.
What exactly is going on with our society that makes babies fair game for a reality series, anyway?

I think NBC made some poor choices in creating this show the way that they did. They could’ve taught responsibility without exploiting babies. And then there is the question is this show reaching it’s targeted demographic and is it influencing their choice of whether to have children now or to wait? Or are teens going to watch it, think “hey, that doesn’t look so hard” and have babies anyway?

Edited on 7/4/08 to add:
If you are interested in voicing your opinion regarding The Baby Borrowers to NBC, please take a look at Attachment Parenting International’s response (where they state the show is in direct violation of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child) and they also give the contact information for Mr. Jeffrey Zucker, president and CEO of NBC.

Did you watch the show? What do you think? What would you do?

Edited on 7/15/08 to add: If you are interested in reading more about this show and those involved, I just posted an interview with Natalie Nichols, the AP mom who’s two children appeared on The Baby Borrowers.

On Nursing a Preschooler

When I wrote this post for the Attachment Parenting blog – API Speaks, I was unsure if I wanted to cross-post it on my own blog as well. I think most of my readers know I’m still nursing my almost 4-year-old daughter, and while I’m OK with the fact that I am, it’s not something I try to draw attention to either. I mean, it’s not the most socially acceptable thing to do here in the USA. Anyway, I decided to post it after all. Maybe it will keep another mom nursing a preschooler from feeling like she’s the only one in the world doing it. There have to be others out there, right? It’s just something so few people talk about. But here goes, I am talking about it…

When I was preparing for my daughter Ava’s birth, there were a lot of uncertainties about what motherhood would have in store for me, but there was one thing I knew for certain – I would breastfeed. I didn’t have a time limit set on how long I would breastfeed, I just knew I would do it, as my mom had done with me and my siblings.

My daughter Ava is now just three weeks away from her fourth birthday and she is still nursing. I am sometimes conflicted about how I feel about it. After all, it’s not like I began my nursing journey saying, “I want to nurse my child until she’s at least four. I did, however, believe I wanted my child to wean when she was ready, but I didn’t anticipate how I might feel or what I might do if her idea/time frame of weaning readiness differed from my idea of when I thought she should be ready.

Ava nursed pretty much on demand, or, a phrase I rather prefer, on cue until she was around 2 years old. It was then that I was pregnant with her brother Julian and decided I need to cut back her nursing frequency a bit for my own peace of mind. A few months before Julian’s birth, she was down to nursing once per day (before bed) and that’s pretty much what she’s been doing ever since (for the last year and a half).

A few months ago, I toyed with the idea of weaning her by her fourth birthday, so I threw the suggestion out there to her. At first she seemed amenable to the idea, but has since changed her tune, citing, “But I love mama milk,” which made me smile. And then she also added, “I’m going to nurse until I’m 8!” which made me shift a little uncomfortably in my seat.

I feel like overall (with the exception of a few difficult months during my pregnancy) we’ve had a great nursing relationship and she’s received so many wonderful benefits – great health, emotional security, bonding with her brother at the breast, etc. – over the past four years. I know it would be bittersweet if she weaned now, but I would feel very good about what I’ve been able to give her, as well as what she’s been able to give me. However, I don’t think she’s ready yet and, as much as I’d like to just be nursing one child again, I don’t think I am going to insist that she wean. I may still make suggestions and talk up the very rare occasions that she goes to sleep without having “na-na” by telling her how proud I am and what a big girl she is, but, for now, I think that’s as far as I’m going to take it. When all is said and done, I really do want her to be able to decide when she is done.

Ava, almost 4 yrs oldI didn’t set out to nurse a preschooler, but somehow along the way, my sweet little baby grew from an infant to a toddler and eventually blossomed into a preschooler in what now seems like the blink of an eye. I am confident this won’t go on forever and when I look back on this time when she’s 10 or 20 or 30, and I look at the young woman she’s become, I am hopeful that I will feel good about the choices I made and have no regrets.

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China’s heroic mother and the importance of breastfeeding in natural disasters

By now many of you have probably read about police officer Jiang Xiaojuan of China who became a national, and then international, hero practically over night. After the devastating Chinese earthquake on May 12, the 29 year-old mother of a 6-month-old son, was called to duty. What she encountered when she reported for duty was babies crying in hunger and that’s when her maternal instincts kicked in. Jiang breast-fed the infants separated from their mothers or orphaned from the earthquake, at one point breast-feeding nine babies.

Jiang Xiaojuan“I am breast-feeding, so I can feed babies. I didn’t think of it much,” she said. “It is a mother’s reaction and a basic duty as a police officer to help.”

Jiang doesn’t believe what she did was noteworthy. “I think what I did was normal,” she said. “In a quake zone, many people do things for others. This was a small thing, not worth mentioning.” The local media, however, named her “China’s Mother No. 1” and there are many others around the world praising her efforts as well.

On MOMformation at BabyCenter, Betsy Shaw wrote:

It’s stories like these, stories of ordinary people performing extraordinary, selfless acts in times of tragedy, that make all this bad news just a little bit easier to digest. They also make me proud to be a mom.

Would you do, could you, do the same if you were in a similar situation: lactating in the presence of many hungry babies?

Of the 73 responses there, the vast majority said they would do the same and breastfeed another woman’s baby, though interestingly enough, many also said they would not want a woman they did not know breastfeeding their own child.

A few of the people who commented at BabyCenter, as well as one at Milliner’s Dream expressed their concern about the possible transmission of HIV/AIDS through breast milk. There is conflicting information on what the risk of infection is if the woman is HIV positive, but, as another commenter at Milliner’s Dream noted, Jiang would have likely known her HIV status having just recently given birth 6 month ago.

Over on Broadsheet on Salon.com Jiang was named “Hero of the Day.” Sarah Hepola says:

As the death toll soars past 50,000, it’s nice to have a little good news to celebrate. You can remember Jiang next time someone complains about the evils of women popping out their boobs in public.

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes at The Moderate Voice found the story to be “beautiful” and said:

Most every night, I stay up late-late, long after everyone else is sleeping. I fly over the internet, looking, looking, trying to find something beautiful or restorative to share with you here at TMV, so either you go to sleep with a beautiful idea or image, or wake up with one.

Tonight, finding something beautiful in this wide and groaning world, was easy. Because there is Jiang Xiaojuan, a young provincial policewoman.

She went on to add:

As a mother who nursed til her offspring was practically old enough to go to school, and as the mother of a grown daughter who while nursing her own child also gave her nourishing milk to my ailing elderly father (expressed, not nursed), I feel certain we stand with many mothers worldwide who salute Jiang Xiaojuan profoundly.

It’s a mystery women don’t often speak of publicly, what it’s like to nourish another human being or many from one’s own blood and bones. It is, one of the greatest honors in the world.

I think, despite the restrictive and suspicious regime of China, it’s people like Jiang who really represent the true spirit of modern China, the compassionate soul.

Tonight, it was easy to find a beautiful story to tell you. I would that it were as easy on all other nights too.

It is stories like these of this selfless mother that remind us not only of the power of human kindness, but also how important breastfeeding can be in an emergency or natural disaster.

Melissa Kotlen Nagin notes on the Breastfeeding Blog on About.com:

Unfortunately, natural disasters are out of our control, but women like Officer Xiaojuan remind us about yet another important benefit of breastfeeding. We’re typically so focused on the health benefits and lose sight of the bigger picture. Here is the International Lactation Consultant Association’s position paper on Infant Feeding in Emergencies, which is a wonderful resource.

Tanya at The Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog recently wrote a post dispelling some myths about breastfeeding in emergencies. She also shares:

In a disaster such as the one in Burma, breastfeeding can be a life-saving act. Why? In emergencies f*rmula is often not available. If it is available, water supplies are often compromised. F*rmula mixed with contaminated water can cause diarrhea and dehydration, which can quickly become life-threatening to infants. Power to sterilize and refrigerate f*rmula is also often not available.

Sometimes, well meaning humanitarian efforts result in such an influx of f*rmula that efforts to protect and support breastfeeding are disrupted. This is such a concern that in 1994 the World Health Organization adopted the following policy, urging member states to “exercise extreme caution when planning, implementing, or supporting emergency relief operations, by protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding for infants,” and to ensure that f*rmula is distributed only under specific conditions.

We often like to think of ourselves as untouchable here in the United States, but Hurricane Katrina was just three short years ago and was another instance where breastfeeding saved lives. From an open letter to health care providers attending to families affected by Hurricane Katrina: The Role of Human Milk and Breastfeeding:

Human milk is a valuable resource that can not only protect the vulnerable infant from disease, but can also promote psychological health and comfort during stressful times. Human milk reduces pain and promotes more rapid healing after injuries and infections. While maternal health is of great importance, it should be recognized that even the malnourished mother will produce milk of good quality for her infant.

To learn more about the important role breastfeeding plays in emergencies, please visit the links below.

I will close by adding that I think what Jiang did was amazing and I’m so glad to see breastfeeding receiving such positive attention. I hope she has already been reunited with her son (that relatives were caring for) or will be soon and that her breastfeeding relationship with him can continue to thrive.

And lastly, just a friendly reminder that BlogHers Act/Global Giving is continuing to accept donations for the Chinese earthquake victims as well as other maternal health causes.

More information:
Keep Abreast – Breastfeeding ensures survival in a disaster
Black Breastfeeding Blog – Breastfeeding Saves Babies During Natural Disasters
La Leche League International – Keep Breastfeeding: Supporting Mothers After Natural Disasters
KellyMom – Infant Feeding In Emergencies

One more important breastfeeding note – The Food and Drug Administration on Friday warned women not to use or purchase Mommy’s Bliss Nipple Cream, marketed by MOM Enterprises Inc. of San Rafael, California.

The cream, promoted to nursing mothers to help soothe dry or cracked nipples, contains ingredients that may cause respiratory distress, vomiting and diarrhea in infants, the agency said.

Mothers whose children may have suffered adverse effects because of this product should contact the FDA’s MedWatch at 800-332-1088. – CNN report

Breastfeeding while pregnant: trying at times, but ultimately worthwhile

Welcome to the May Carnival of Breastfeeding, hosted by Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog. This month’s topic is pregnancy and breastfeeding.

When I became pregnant with my son, my daughter Ava was about 20 months old and still nursing regularly. While I had friends who’s children had self-weaned when they became pregnant, I had my doubts that my “na-na”-loving kid would consider weaning for a second, even if my milk dried up.

Photo courtesy seanmcgrath
Photo courtesy seanmcgrath

At that age, Ava was still a comfort nurser, and still woke at night to nurse. After finding out I was pregnant I worked towards gently night weaning her by letting her know she could nurse as much as she wanted during the day, but at night the na-na had to sleep and she had to wait until the sun woke up in the morning to have mama milk.

By 22 months, miraculously (or so it felt) she was sleeping through the night. (Can you hear the angels singing? I thought I could. 😉 It was wonderful. 🙂 She was still happily in our bed, but no longer waking for na-na, and I was able to get the sleep I needed while growing a baby.

Of course, night weaning her did nothing to reduce her desire to nurse during the day, even when my milk dried up (somewhere around 16 weeks I think). However, as my pregnancy progressed, I decided that I wanted/needed to cut down on the number of nursing sessions per day for a variety of reasons. 1) My nipples were becoming increasingly tender. 2) My hormones were all kinds of crazy and the feeling of her nursing when there was no milk to be had sometimes honestly made my skin crawl. 3) I had my qualms about tandem nursing a newborn and a toddler.

The negative and skin crawling feelings were very much a surprise to me and I admit I felt guilty about it. I felt fortunate that I had a group of friends to bounce these feelings off of and was happy to learn that while all pregnant women don’t feel this way, my feelings were certainly not out of the ordinary and others had experienced similar feelings as well.

I used distraction to help reduce the number of times Ava nursed and my husband Jody helped out a lot too. We would ask Ava, “What else could we do to make you feel better instead of having na-na?” and often sang silly or happy songs together rather than nursing. It wasn’t always easy and sometimes I let her nurse even though I didn’t want to, but eventually (about a month or two before Julian was born), she was down to nursing only 1 time per day – before bedtime.

Before Julian was born we talked a lot with Ava about how he would be a little baby and need a lot of mama milk to grow up big and strong like his big sister. We really wanted to get the point across that he would be nursing all the time. And we talked up how she was a big girl and got to do lots of things that Julian was too little to do. I was also sure to let her know that we’d still have our “special na-na time” every night before bed. It honestly worked pretty well.

There were a few weeks towards the end of my pregnancy that I seriously considered weaning her all together. Like I mentioned earlier, my hormones were wreaking havoc on me and nursing her, even only once per day was hard because I had some seriously strong negative feelings that were hard to control. There were a few times that I had to tell her that I was feeling frustrated and needed a break and I would have to take a minute to calm and center myself before letting her latch back on. I think keeping the lines of communication open like that and being honest with her was helpful.

Part of the reason I didn’t wean her completely then was because I felt like it’d be harder to try to do that, than it would be for me to just suck it up and muscle through the last few weeks. I know that sounds horrible, but I knew that when my milk came back in and my hormones weren’t so crazy, nursing her would not affect me so. And I was right. It got easier, much much easier once Julian was born and the milk started flowing freely again.

At the end of my pregnancy, I remember every night I would lay down for some quiet, cuddle time to nurse Ava before bed, she would hold onto baby (put her hand on my belly), and I would wonder if it would be our last night together just the two of us before her baby brother would join us.

In retrospect, I’m glad that I didn’t wean her, despite my strong feelings because I think tandem nursing has been a nice bonding experience for the two kids. On the somewhat rare occasion that Jody is traveling for work and I’ve had to get both kids to bed by myself, we’ve shared some pretty special (though definitely awkward) times together with both of them at the breast, holding hands or giggling at each other, and it’s moments like that that I wouldn’t trade for the world. 🙂

I want to add that this is my experience only. Just because it was trying at times for me, does not mean it will be for everyone. It’s impossible to know how pregnancy and breastfeeding will go for each woman until she experiences it for herself and then can decide what is best for her and her family.

To read more about others’ experiences and thoughts on pregnancy and breastfeeding, please visit the other carnival participants listed below:

Spreading her wings and leaving the nest*

My daughter Ava has slept in the same bedroom as me every night for the last nearly four years now. As a newborn she started out in an Arm’s Reach Cosleeper next to Jody’s and my bed, then transitioned into our bed around four months old. When she was two years old, we bought her her own bed, which we put next to our’s to expand our family bed in preparation for the birth of Julian and adding another person to our cosleeping arrangement.

For the most part, cosleeping (or sharing sleep) has been a great experience for our family. I’ve always loved the secure feeling of knowing my children are close by and safe. If they ever cry out or are sick in the middle of the night, I’ve been right there to comfort them. Mornings full of kisses and snuggles and goofing around in the bed are times I cherish.

For the past few weeks, Ava has been saying she’d like to move into her own bedroom. I admit I was rather surprised to hear it coming from her. We’ve talked before about her getting her own room once we move into a larger house (someday), but never pushed the issue in this house. I figure if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

After she mentioned it a few times, weeks apart, I thought we should take this request seriously and respect it. So last Friday we moved her mattress (not her whole bed) from our “family bedroom” to the “kids’ room,” which has always just been a room to store things – dresser of their clothes, a glider, diapering paraphernalia and some toys.

Ava is very excited about her first night in her own room - 4/4/08Ava was very excited to be moving into her own room. She declared that she was going to go to sleep all by herself and “no mama milk tonight!,” something she’s said more than once lately, but has yet to follow through on. 😉 (I’m gently encouraging her to wean by her fourth birthday in June.) I thought that was a little much to try to tackle all in one night, but since it was at her urging I figured we’d give it a try and see how it went. She soon acquiesced and asked for mama milk and for me to lay with her while she fell asleep (which is our usual bedtime ritual). Before she went to sleep, Jody and I reassured her that we were there if she needed us in the night, and Jody put down a sleeping bag on the floor next to her mattress just in case. We slept with both bedroom doors open so if she woke up, she could easily wander into our room.

After she had some mama milk, we talked for a bit and she fell asleep. I took my time getting up that night. It was a little hard for me to think that my baby girl was growing up and taking the first of many steps towards independence. I laid in bed with her and whispered that I loved her. I gave her three extra kisses before I got up and left her sleeping contentedly in her very own room. It was bittersweet. I snuck back in there a little while later to snap a picture (had to) and cover her back up.

Soundly sleeping in her own room - 4/4/08Around 2 a.m. we awoke to Ava yelling “Mommy” and she came running down the hall towards our room. Jody met her in the hallway and carried her into our room, where she said, “I don’t want to move back in here.” So Jody took her back to her room and slept next to her on the floor.

We made a big deal about her first night in her own room the next day and told her how proud we were of her.

That night, not wanting her to feel like she had to stay in her own room if she didn’t want to, I told her we could move her mattress back into our room if she wanted, but she was adamant that she wanted to sleep in her own room again.

She’s been sleeping in her own room now for the past week. She tends to wake up and call out for one of us around 3 or 4 a.m. most nights at which point Jody goes in and sleeps next to her on a second twin mattress that we got off Freecycle this week. Other than that, the transition has gone really well. She is happy to be sleeping by herself and has no plans to move back in with us. Gulp.

I am very proud of my little girl. While this transition was a little harder on me than I think it was on her, I know that we’re doing the right thing. I feel lucky that we had such a great co-sleeping relationship for the first 3 3/4 years of her life and that she was able to move on to her own room when she was ready.

It’s hard to watch your children decide they no longer need you with this or that, but at the same time it’s also rewarding. We give them wings so they can fly.

Just don’t fly too far yet, honey, k? 🙂

*Alternate title: “Proof that AP kids really will sleep in their own beds someday” 😉

Cosleeping Resources
Kellymom: The Family Bed
Attachment Parenting International: Engage in Nighttime Parenting
The Natural Child Project: Cosleeping
Berkeley Parents Network: Co-sleeping: The Family Bed
Mothering: Sleep articles
The Natural Child Project: Articles on Sleeping

Attachment parenting works for us & announcements from API

API buttonAs many of you know, I’m a big advocate of attachment parenting. I’ve seen the benefits of raising my children according to AP principles such as breastfeeding (feeding with love), baby wearing, responsive nighttime parenting, gentle discipline, etc. My husband Jody and I didn’t start out the road to parenting set on AP, it just kind of happened. For us it just feels natural, like we are trusting our instincts.

We’ve seen the way that Ava has blossomed into an almost 4-year-old who is secure, loving, friendly, healthy, imaginative and independent, and we attribute this largely to the way that we raised her. Julian is only 16 months old, but he too is a very happy, healthy, well-adjusted little person. I believe that by meeting our children’s needs when they are little, they have come to learn that they can depend on us and trust us for the long haul. It’s certainly not all been easy nor a bed of roses, but anyone who thinks parenting is convenient is surely mistaken. It is my hope that by building a solid foundation with them when they are young, we are creating a lasting, trust-based relationship that will endure throughout their adolescent years and into adulthood.

I feel fortunate that I have found a support network of like-minded parents here locally through Attachment Parenting International.

Attachment Parenting International (API), a non-profit organization that promotes parenting practices that create strong, healthy emotional bonds between children and their parents, has several exciting changes they would like to announce, including:

  • A newly redesigned web site and new logo at Attachment Parenting.org (Check out the photos on the home page – at least one might look familiar to you. It’s Jody and Ava on the right and I also took the first picture in that grouping. A few more of my pictures are scattered around the site. My little claim to fame. hehe.);
  • Attachment parenting worldwide support forums;
  • Parent Education Program – a comprehensive series of classes for every stage and age of child development from infancy through adulthood;
  • A new book based on API’s Eight Principles of Attachment Parenting by API co-founders Lysa Parker and Barbara Nicholson which is expected to be available this summer;
  • A series of podcasts, webinars, chats, and forums with API Advisory Board members and other supporters of AP. Future events are scheduled with Dr. Bob Sears, Dr. James McKenna, and Kathleen Kendall Tacket. Check out the events page for more information.

These are just a few of many exciting things going on at API. I hope you’ll stop by the website and check it out for yourself. Perhaps you’ll find something that resonates with you. 🙂

Getting our green groove on!

Amy’s picHello. 🙂 I’m Amy, also known around the internets as amygeekgrl. Welcome to my groovy green blog party, part of the Ultimate Blog Party hosted by 5 Minutes for Mom! I’m so glad you stopped by. 🙂 Come in, have a seat and let me offer you something to eat.

Brownies with heart -2/7/08

Oat-nut scone with strawberry jam

Can I tempt you with some homemade granola or perhaps an oat-nut scone topped with strawberry jam or maybe you’re in the mood for a Grilled Panini with Provolone and Basil or a brownie baked with love? I have a fair bit to choose from here, as I enjoy cooking and baking a great deal. 🙂 I just wish I had more time to do more of both.

Me and the kids on New Year’s Eve - 12/31/07Now that you’ve got something to munch on, let me tell you a little bit about myself. First and foremost, I’m a mom. I stay at home with my two amazing children – Ava (3 3/4 years old) and Julian (15 months). My husband Jody and I try to raise them with the philosophy of attachment parenting in mind, though we really just follow our instincts and do what feels right for our family.

I have a lot of passions that I like to write about on my blog. Some of them include home birth (my son was a footling breech and born at home), breastfeeding (I’ve shared my experiences of nursing while pregnant and tandem nursing), and informed healthcare decisions (why we delay/selectively vaccinate). I also write a lot about the environment (picking up trash in our neighborhood, composting, and recycling) and do a weekly Green Tip of the Week column with suggestions to make life a bit more eco-friendly. Some would call me a hippie or granola or crunchy, hence my blog title. 😉

One of my favorite quotes is “You must be the change you wish to see in the world” by Gandhi. I try to live by that philosophy both on my blog and in my life.

I also write about maternal health as a contributing editor on BlogHer, write reviews for Green Mom Finds and will soon be joining the team of Blissfully Domestic as the Eco-Diva.

I like to do giveaways here at Crunchy Domestic Goddess. In the past I’ve given away t-shirts, natural cleaners, reusable bags, books, toys, and even a digital camera. I currently have a giveaway going on right now for a bottle of Shaklee Basic H2 natural cleaner. It’s good stuff! The deadline to enter is March 13. Hope you’ll check it out and enter to win!

In addition to my blog, I also have two online stores – Attached At The Hip, featuring AP advocacy wear and more and home to the I make milk. What’s your superpower? shirt, and Cute As A Bug, featuring cute and original designs for babies, kids and adults. I enjoy photography (and love taking part in Best Shot Monday), reading, and hiking.

green balloonsYa know, this is my kind of party, very environmentally friendly – no paper or plastic waste and little carbon emissions! 🙂 I hope you enjoyed your visit and will come back again.
Please feel free to sign up for my RSS feed or follow me on Twitter (amygeekgrl)! And, of course, be sure to leave me a comment so I can try to come check out your party too. 🙂

Now it’s time for the kids and I to get our party groove on, but feel free to visit the rest of the other party people linked up at 5 Minutes for Mom.

Julian’s got his cape and is ready to party! Ava’s got her cake and is ready to party!

Edited to add: I’ve donated a prize – an I make milk. What’s your superpower? short-sleeved t-shirt – to the Ultimate Blog Party. It is prize #141 on the prize list.

There are so many great prizes to choose from in this year’s Ultimate Blog Party, but my top fvie choices are: Bead Dangle Photo Tile Necklace by Elemental Memories, Marketing for Entrepreneurs by Lis Garrett, Burt’s Bees Naturally Ageless skin care line by Geggie, Go BPA Free Sippy Sampler Kit by The Soft Landing and Rocking Horse by A Rocking Horse To Love. If my top five picks are already taken, then I’d also love any of the following (in order of preference) #11, 12, 15, 2, 3, 14, 32, 34, 37, 70, 72, 79, 87, and 5 or anything related to a toddler or preschooler. 🙂

Despite flame retardant and other chemicals found in breast milk, breast is still best

Cross-posted at BlogHer

When I made the decision to breastfeed my children, I did so confident in the knowledge that I was doing the best thing for both their health and mine. After all, studies have consistently shown there are numerous health benefits to both mother and baby. What I didn’t consider was that by simply living in the United States, my breast milk might contain toxic chemicals like flame retardant, rocket fuel, Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs), and pesticides. Indeed over the past several years, studies have come out to show that these chemicals have been found in the breast milk of American women. Yes, when my dear son nurses, he is getting all of the nutrients a growing boy needs, as well as flame retardant, in my milk. Gulp.

A study of the breast milk of American women published by the Environmental Working Group in 2003 found “unexpectedly high levels” of chemical fire retardants in every participant tested.

The average level of bromine-based fire retardants in the milk of 20 first-time mothers was 75 times the average found in recent European studies. Milk from two study participants contained the highest levels of fire retardants ever reported in the United States, and milk from several of the mothers in EWG’s study had among the highest levels of these chemicals yet detected worldwide.

Unfortunately, this is only one of many studies showing a variety of toxins in breast milk.

While the news of these chemicals in breast milk is shocking and disturbing to most moms, doctors and experts agree that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risks and breast is still best.

breastfeedingThe Environmental Working Group notes that for mothers who are concerned about their exposure to toxic chemicals, it may be even more important to breastfeed. “In fact, careful study of babies’ toxic exposures indicates that it might be even more important for mothers who are concerned about their exposure to toxic chemicals to breastfeed their babies.”

Several long-term studies have followed groups of babies exposed to PCBs in-utero and found that the breastfed babies appear to be less impacted by the chemical exposures than their bottle-fed counterparts.

After growing concerned about the results found in another study regarding Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) in U.S. mothers’ milk, Libby at The Toxic Sandbox began to wonder if it was wise to breastfeed. She called Dr. David Carpenter at the University Albany School of Public Health to get some answers.

Q: Given everything we know about PCBs and PBDEs, should we breastfeed our babies?

DR. CARPENTER: There is overwhelming evidence that breastfeeding has important benefits, improving immune function in the child, protecting against chronic diseases even when the child grows to adulthood, and promoting bonding between the mother and the child. While the presence of these contaminants in breast milk is not a good thing, under almost all circumstances breastfeeding has greater benefit than risk.

Tanya, a mother and lactivist who blogs at The Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog, had the opportunity to ask Dr. Kathleen Arcaro, an environmental toxicologist from the University of Massachusetts, about environmental toxics in breast milk.

Q: You also study environmental toxics in breast milk. Can you describe any trends you’re seeing in the concentrations of toxics in breast milk?

DR. KATHLEEN ARCARO: The good news is that the concentration of some lipophilic (fat-loving) environmental pollutants in breast milk is decreasing. For instance the level of many pesticides (DDT and its metabolites) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) has greatly decreased over the last 30 years. However, the levels of some other compounds used in household and personal care products including flame retardants and synthetic musks are increasing. In general, if a compound does not easily degrade, and accumulates in fatty tissue it is likely it will be in breast milk. But considering that the pollutants are widely distributed and therefore are in cow’s milk and formula, breast milk clearly remains the best food for most infants.

While the use of chemical fire retardants are widespread in the United States and are included in everything from furniture and mattresses, to computers and children’s pajamas, many have been banned in Europe and even in California, though “the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set no safety standards or other regulations for their manufacture, use or disposal.”

Although the government is not placing any restrictions on the use of these chemicals yet, there are steps we can take to reduce our family’s exposure to these toxins.

Divine Caroline wrote a list of the top chemicals polluting our children and how to avoid them.

Amanda at Hippie Mommy quotes a study that show the levels of pesticides in vegetarian mothers’ breast milk is far less than average and advocates a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.

I think that anything that we can do to improve the quality of our breastmilk (and our personal health) is fantastic, and these statistics are another great reason to consider a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Stacy Malkan at Not Just a Pretty Face writes about Mary Brune, who, when she heard about the study that found rocket fuel in breast milk, “didn’t just get mad; she got together with other new mothers and launched a nationwide effort to get toxic chemicals out of breast milk – called Making Our Milk Safe (MOMS).”

Making Our Milk Safe is “working to build a massive movement of mothers and others who will step out from behind the changing table and speak out against the presence of toxins in our environment, our bodies, and breast milk.” MOMS works through promoting precaution, supporting progressive legislation, changing corporate behavior, and educating consumers. They also have a list of tips that women can do both before and during pregnancy to limit their exposure to toxins.

Like it or not, for now these chemicals are out there in our environment. We can do our best to avoid them, and to support legislation to ban them, but in the meantime we should rest assured that by breastfeeding, we are still doing what’s best for our children.

Photo credit: More4Kids

A little breastfeeding humor

Welcome to February’s Carnival of Breastfeeding sponsored by The Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog. This month our theme is breastfeeding humor, or “What’s so funny about breastfeeding?”

Here are a few breastfeeding funnies – a joke, picture and video – I gathered up from around the ‘net. Enjoy! 🙂

First, the joke:

A woman and a baby come into the doctor’s office.

She was told to go into a room and wait for the doctor.

After arriving there, the doctor examined the baby and asked the woman, “Is he breast fed or on the bottle?”

“Breast fed” she replied.

“Well, strip down to your waist,” the doctor ordered.

She did.

He pressed, kneaded and pinched both breasts for a while in a detailed examination.

Motioning to her to get dressed said, “No wonder this baby is hungry. You don’t have any milk.”

“Naturally,” she said, “I’m his aunt. But I’m glad I came.”

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Next, the picture:

Breastfeedin doin it wrong

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Finally, the video: (Note: this video includes a bit of non-sexual nudity, it’s about breastfeeding after all, but it may not be considered “work safe.”)

I don’t know what the woman says in this (anyone?), but you’ll get the gist of it regardless of the language spoken. 😉

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Other participants in this month’s carnival:
Please take a moment to check out some of their funnies.

– Tanya at The Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog reviews two new breastfeeding humor books.
– Stacie at The Twinkies shares the breastfeeding conversation she fears.
– Andi at Mama Knows Breast shares a dads’ nursing in public video.
– Sinead at Breastfeeding Mums shares a pumping multi-tasking disaster.
– Carol at Happy Sad Mama shares why she loves to nurse her toddler.
– Angela at Breastfeeding 1-2-3 shares some crazy search terms that led readers to her site.