|Subject: Mom questions clinic's advice
I need some thoughts on a few points about parenting -- but if it's
okay I'd like to introduce my situation a bit first.
My son Adam (my first) was born last July 1st by an emergency
C-section, 2 months early and very small -- only 2 lb. 10 oz. Thankfully
he was healthy otherwise, but he had to spend his first 6 weeks in the
hospital, in an incubator. I've always wanted to practice attachment
parenting, so naturally I was crushed to be separated from him for so
long. I spent as much time as I could holding him
"kangaroo-style" while he was in there, but I was limited to
daytimes and also limited by various nurses who felt I was doing him harm
by holding him (!)
Once he came home I tried to make up for lost time (although, deep in
my heart, I don't believe I can ever make up for those weeks, and I think
he will always carry some kind of emotional wound). He slept with us from
the first day he came home (actually, on top of me for the first few
months); he's been breast-fed on cue, when he wants, for as long as he
wants; most of his first 6 months he was carried pretty well all the time,
and even now he's in my arms much of the day; I never leave him with other
caregivers; and his cries have always been responded to (even during the 2
months of hellish colic).
Six weeks ago I wouldn't have had any questions to ask you -- as far as
I could see things were going fabulously well (actually I was a little
smug about it, after all the "leave him to cry" and "it's
better if he sleeps alone" advice I was given). He seemed to be
happy, affectionate, patient (!), and unafraid; he had grown amazingly
well, to over 17 lb.; and he was babbling beautifully and running around
the house with a passion (firmly attached to my hands, of course).
At the beginning of May, I went with him to the preemie follow-up
clinic, where the developmental specialists check out all preemies every
few months, to make sure there are no residual problems. I was actually
looking forward to the visit, convinced as I was that he was developing so
well. But the doctors there were upset by two things -- namely that he
does not crawl (he does roll around, and crawl backwards, but as for
forward movement he seems to have bypassed that stage altogether -- since
6 months he's wanted to do little else but walk); and that he does not as
yet choose to eat solids (since 6 months he's been offered a variety of
foods, in a variety of textures, usually twice a day -- but he still spits
out what he can, makes gagging sounds, pushes away the food with his
hands, and turns his head away).
They told me at this point I need to force him to do these things --
force him to lie on his belly and move forward, to reach a toy or to reach
me, and not respond to his cries. And they told me as well that I
need to cut back on the breastfeeding, and push the food into him -- i.e.
ignore his gagging, ignore his refusal signals, and force him to eat the
solids. They said that preemies in particular may have a problem with the
transition to solids, and it was my job to overcome this problem
This just doesn't sound right to me. I've been considering parenting as
a cooperative effort between the parents and the child, and I've always
assumed the child, being a biological creature, will he learn what
he needs to, when he's ready. But I'm not sure if the doctors are just
being "anti-attachment", as I have found much of the medical
profession to be -- or if preemies actually are different, and need to be
forced. Any ideas on this?
And, if I may, I have one other problem now just starting to crop up.
After months of this wonderful, smiling, stoic kid, Adam (now almost 11
months) in the last few weeks has started to whine. And whine. And cry,
instantly, if I leave him for 2 minutes to brush my teeth. And cry,
instantly, if I'm carrying him and he suddenly wants to be walking. And
cry when he wants the diaper change to be over. And cry when I'm trying to
open the snaps on my bra so he can eat. And cry. (You get the picture, I'm
sure.) His crying almost always resolves in a few seconds, when I've
figured out what he wants -- but he has become so impatient and demanding!
What do you think? Is this just a phase (some) kids go through? Is it
just his personality asserting itself? Are the more
"controlling" parenting books right, do I need to stop
"catering" to him now that he's approaching a year? Or is it
possible that he is telling me he needs to be more a part of my adult
activities? (I've been re-reading The Continuum Concept, and
admittedly I have some difficulties with this area of her philosophy). I
have bad knees and Adam hates the sling, so I find it quite hard to go
about my activities while carrying him). Is there anything I can do to
head this behavior off at the pass? Or am I worrying too much about
Thanks so much for any advice you can give me. (And congratulations on
a wonderful web site!)
Thank you so much for writing and for questioning the advice you've
been given. Let me just say right at first that your beliefs about what
constitutes responsible parenting, and your willingness to listen to your
heart rather than so-called experts, are accurate and right.
One of the lessons we're given in childhood when our feelings are
ignored/ridiculed/overlooked is that we are not as capable as others to
know how to do things or to solve problems. Later, even though we are now
adults, it is easy to question even those things that we know directly, if
others who have "credentials" and are in a position of power or
control over us, or simply have a more forceful personality, call our
beliefs into question. I see this as one of the most unfortunate results
of parents ignoring their children's cries and verbal calls for help,
instead of validating their feelings and giving reassurance. Such children
will always question to some degree the legitimacy of their own emotional
responses and ideas, no matter how strongly they may be feeling them.
My heart goes out to you as you try to reconcile your beliefs with the
fact that your son did not have the sort of start you had hoped for. I can
empathize, as my son was also born by Caesarean after a difficult labor. I
know how hard it can be to face this type of seeming inconsistency. I say
"seeming" because in the things that matter, was it really
inconsistent? You gave him all the love and energy you were able to give
at the time, despite the circumstances. In fact, I see your story not as a
failure but as a real accomplishment, given such a rocky start. Have you
considered that you are in fact to be commended for having done all you
could? When you feel like "kicking yourself", stop and instead
pat yourself on the back! After all, what more could you have done?
Is it an absolute requirement to attend the follow-up clinic? If so,
are there other ways to meet this requirement? Could you bypass the clinic
and instead find a compassionate, competent naturopathic pediatrician, for
example? I am appalled at the heartless advice you've been given.
Unfortunately, this type of advice is often given to mothers, at the
expense of their innocent children.
One of the main reasons I started my web site is that parents could
have the kind of information and reassurance they need to speak out
against this type of cruelty. (There really is no other word for teaching
parents to ignore what they know in their heart to be true, and to ignore
what their babies and children are trying hard to teach them.)
Along this line, there is an excellent new book, The
Little Goo-Roo, written by Jan and Tracy Kirschner, who discovered
to their surprise that it was their baby who was teaching them! You'd love
it - and it would be an excellent book to share with some of the doctors
who seem more open than the rest. The book is delightful, and clearly
presents the message that babies need and deserve our love and compassion in
In addition, I recommend these articles on my site:
Crawling is a good example of a skill that is learned in many different
ways and on different schedules. My mother told me that I almost always
crawled backward! My very bright son (and webmaster/site designer) crawled
"too long" and didn't walk until he was 16 months old.
Thankfully, by then I had been fortunate to have read enough and attended
enough La Leche League meetings to know that there was nothing wrong with
this. I'm amazed that specialists in the field of child development would
still believe that all babies must learn every skill at certain times and
in certain ways. It's a good thing that Albert Einstein's mom didn't take
him to that clinic - he didn't speak until age 4! (She was often accused
of "spoiling" him.) I will soon add to our site John Holt's
story about children not being trains. I mentioned it in the newspaper
interview we just added.
Re solid food, many specialists are now saying that a healthy baby
might have only breastmilk for one year, and even a bit longer, if
possible. The reason for this is that there is no better food, so any
introduction of solids means that the baby is getting less nutrition. As
long as nothing is interfering with milk production, there is no reason to
start solids until the baby shows that he/she wants it and can tolerate
it. There is a well-documented and footnoted article on this subject, "Recommended
Your son is trying hard to communicate that he is either not ready for
solids, or there is something interfering. Judging from his age and the
fact that he is crying periodically, it may be teething. When a new tooth
erupts, it comes in razor-sharp, and this can be quite painful. It may be
that he was having tooth pain at a time when you tried to introduce solid
food, and this made the teething even more painful. If that happened, he
might have learned to associate solid food with pain. Because teething is
not always considered or observed, it can be overlooked as a possible
cause of crying and other expressions of discomfort.
If you'll run your finger gently over your baby's gums, you might feel
a sharp new tooth about to come in. Even if you don't, there might be a
tooth that is just about to erupt that is already causing pain. You might
try a mixture of 4 drops clove bud essential oil and 1 tablespoon
vegetable oil (You might need to use more oil, if he doesn't like that
recipe. You could try almond oil or any other edible oil, whatever you
think he would prefer. Organic oil would be best). There are other natural
remedies for teething at health food stores. Of course, there may be other
reasons than teething, or in addition to teething, but I assure you that
there are reasons - he is not being stubborn or difficult just to cause
problems, as I'm sure you know.
Your baby's crying and his resistance to being handled suggest that
there is something painful going on. It may also, at least partly, be his
reaction to your understandable worry brought on by the advice you've been
given. Babies pick up our emotional state very readily - they have been
called the "family barometer", infallibly demonstrating the
level of tension around them.
It may be that there are food allergies or sensitivities that are
leading him to resist certain foods. He may simply not be attracted to
some foods. Babies can be as particular about foods as the rest of us (for
a while, my son, at about your son's age, would eat only crunchy foods).
You may need to do a bit of detective work to figure out what is really
going on. Many of your questions are answered at length in The Baby
Book by Dr. William Sears (an excellent book to show the clinic
staff). A La Leche League leader can also help you to find the answers you
need, and/or to recommend a competent and compassionate pediatrician. If
there is no League group in your area, you can send questions by e-mail
through an e-mail
There is a thorough FAQ
on starting solids at the League web site. Many of your concerns are
addressed at their general
FAQ page. I highly recommend attending a meeting, if you have the
opportunity in your area. You can locate a group at this
page or check the white pages of your phone directory.
It was at La Leche League meetings that I first discovered attachment
parenting concepts. It was an amazing and wonderful added bonus to find
many like-minded friends who offered validation for my beliefs.
Considering the type of harmful advice you're getting at this clinic, I
hope that you can attend a League meeting.
Whatever the cause of your son's crying and other behaviors, he
deserves to have his communcations taken at face value. As they say in the
League, we "can't love a baby too much".
I hope this is helpful. Let me know if you need anything further.
All the best,