This past weekend was La Leche League’s biannual conference. The title this year was “Trails and Trials: Pathways to Parenting” and while there were definitely plenty of seminars on breastfeeding specific issues that help those involved with La Leche League be current on research and help mothers seeking breastfeeding support, there were many, many parenting seminars this go round.
That appealed to me since my kids are 5 and almost 3. Azita has gone through a few new issues with school starting, and Ada’s toddlerhood is not at all the same as Azita’s. Different things make her happy, occupy her time and make her upset than did Azita.
The first morning was a talk to the entire conference by Marian Tompson, one of the original founders of La Leche League back in the ’50s. She has 7 children and many grandchildren (and a few great grandchildren too) and I obviously thought it was cool to be able to listen to her thoughts after having been an advocate for children for so many years.
The title of her talk was “Childhood is a journey, not a race”. She talked about a variety of things– some related to that specific topic and others not. She spoke about being in Japan at a time when most babies in this one clinic did not get any colostrum (meaning they did not breastfeed in the first week) and how a doctor noticed that the children with the highest chance of surviving were the ones that did get the colostrum. If I’m remembering correct, this doctor helped lead Japan to the lowest infant mortality rate at the time (the 70s or 80s? I just can’t remember) by focusing on getting babies that first week of nursing.
It’s amazing, actually, to think she’s been in this arena for so long. You see books and hear people say that there is no actual evidence that breastfeeding is that much better than formula, but a story like that helps you realize that it is indeed a life-saving practice for some kids. I think that when the odds are stacked FOR a baby, by being born into a developed country to wealthy parents (wealthy compared to the world, I mean, not that the parents are millionaires by American standards), then maybe breastfeeding doesn’t seem as necessary.
But to be her, to have been around when kids DID die because they needed the mother’s milk and artificial formulas (inferior to human milk but better than dairy milk or solid foods alone) weren’t as highly developed, really does give a perspective– an appreciation– for how far we’ve come in understanding how to help our children be their healthiest.
She also talked about how rapidly children are changing, though didn’t attempt to tackle all the reasons. How there are now sensory disorders, food allergies abounding (that one I know about!) and suicide rates among teens rapidly rising.
She cited a study in which is showed that some children learn better while standing, as opposed to sitting, and then the conversation turned to how schools must adapt and change to change to how our children’s brains and development are changing. We don’t know why things are different than when she was raising kids, but she seemed to be saying that she is optimistic—that schools and old viewpoints about how to raise/educate children must and will change because they have to.
She hinted that some of her perspective might be that both parents seem to need to work to survive in our economic climate and that it is affecting our children’s early years.
Stress hormones have been studied, and children that release high amount of stress hormones in the first two years of life deal with stress differently throughout their lives. Could this affect the suicide rates and unhappy and unfulfilled adults that seem to be all over the place?
When a child gets stressed from separation from its mother, it appears that it will always have an impact on that child. Of course, Azita stayed with a sitter from 6 weeks of age to 2 years, and I do feel it affected her. But I can listen to this research and these ideas without feeling guilty. I nursed her for a long time, and we let her co-sleep. To me these solutions helped us deal with the realities of modern life. And many moms don’t know, because of doctors and mothers and uninformed friends, that these practices can be safe, healthy and extremely beneficial.
I was aware during that discussion that these concepts, of the research that is becoming widespread about how the way we’ve been raising our children in this country may harm their stress coping mechanisms and emotional attachments to other people they meet throughout their life time might make people feel defensive. Might make people feel defensive out in the mainstream world, that is. In the La Leche League bubble, there is little judgment, and mutual respect for doing things the way that works for your family, balanced by respect for the child as a fellow human with valid needs.
When a parenting aspect, like co-sleeping or toddler nursing respects both the mom and baby’s needs, then it’s probably a good idea, in my head.
She talked more on the economics stuff, saying that in her day when a husband was having a child, his employers typically gave him a raise. Now, we must decide whether or not the mom will keep her job and how to afford it all, or, alternately, how the mom (and sometimes dad) will raise the children on her own on one salary.
“There must be an understanding of what the baby needs,” she said. I interpret what she is saying to mean that our society does not value the child enough anymore to try to help the mother be there for the early years of its life. Mother’s wishes are often ignored in the delivery room, she is not offered good lactation support by hospital nurses, and then she is encouraged to try to make the baby independent from her as soon as possible after birth.
There were many interesting studies discuss and as I go through my notes I may post about them. Don’t have citations, but I’ll bet they could be found.
Lastly, she gave this quote by an economist Hazel Henderson “Economics is not a science, it is politics in disguise.”
How many things do we think we have to buy when we first have a baby? I was told I “had to” have a swing, and a Boppy (nursing) pillow, and a little mesh feeding bag, and a good stroller. Azita hated almost all of those things, and I didn’t find the Boppy pillow that helpful. They each have held a useful place in my raising two kids, but I think her point was that the one thing the baby actually needs to develop best is just the mom, and that’s about it.
We shouldn’t make parenting choices based on our economic conditions or the motives of a corporation. And we have to wade through so much information. But being true to your kid tends to help you wade through the junky parenting books and find the good ideas.
Next post: Azita the perfectionist.