For Better or For Worse? Childbirth in Popular Culture

After watching the live cesarean birth on the TODAY show last week and then the commercial for Jennifer Lopez’s new movie The Back-Up Plan during the Superbowl*, I’ve been thinking a lot about the way childbirth is portrayed in popular culture – on TV and in the movies – and how that influences us. In a perfect world I’d like to believe that women (and men) would learn about childbirth from reading books and websites and talking to their care provider (doctor or midwife), to a doula, to their mother, aunts and friends, but the truth is that unless ya live under a rock, women (and men) also learn about childbirth every time they are bombarded with images on TV and in the movies that depict childbirth as something scary, painful and out of control. Whether we want to believe it or not, our perceptions of birth are bound to be influenced – for better or for worse – by what we view and hear in popular culture.


Movie: The Back-Up Plan, photo credit: Jezebel

On Rixa’s blog Stand and Deliver she lists 61 film clips she compiled for a conference presentation about depictions of childbirth in cinema. That’s just movie clips. Think about all of the episodes of A Baby Story, or ER and many other TV shows where women are giving birth. Each one further reinforces popular culture’s birthing stereotypes.

Birthing Beautiful Ideas believes:

it’s pretty foolish to dismiss the effects that popular culture has on a woman’s beliefs and decisions about pregnancy and childbirth. In fact, I would venture to say that these effects are pretty widespread. Of course, I’m not saying many of us literally turn to pop culture when we’re deciding whether or not to consent to an episiotomy or to request pain medication in labor or to choose one care provider over another. That would be stupid, right? But that doesn’t mean that what we see on television or read in a (non-birth-related) book or watch in a movie has no effect at all on our thoughts about pregnancy and childbirth. Quite the contrary, in fact.

Because every time a woman reads that she “won’t be able to make it without an epidural”…

…every time she sees natural childbirth portrayed as something only for hippies and freaks…

…every time she sees a movie in which birth is a crisis or a catastrophe or a comedy of errors in which the mom is a crazed, expletive-hurling woman who is seriously out of control…

…those images and words start to affect the way she thinks about birth in general, and they may even have an effect on her specific beliefs about birth.

She goes on to give a real-life example (a positive example) of how a TV show changed her beliefs about birth. She describes an episode of Sex and the City where Miranda gives birth. Miranda asks Carrie to be there for the birth and tells her that when it’s time to push, she doesn’t want everybody getting all “cheerleader-y” on her and shouting “PUSH! PUSH! and shit like that.” She said that when she saw that scene, “it signaled a major change in the way I thought about how I was going to give birth some day.” Her birth paradigm shifted and she believes she has the ladies of Sex and the City to thank for that. She’s currently a doula and future lactation educator who’s working on a PhD in philosophy.

Not all examples of how popular culture influences women are as positive though.

Heather from A Mama’s Blog told me that watching TLC’s A Baby Story – which she described as “high drama” and ending more often than not in a c-section – “seriously warped” her view of childbirth.

The Feminist Breeder said:

When I first found myself pregnant, I was just like the vast majority of pregnant American women who never get truly informed about the birth process, and instead spend their pregnancies watching “A Baby Story” and reading Jenny McCarthy books. I got my hands on “The Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy” by Vicki Iovine, which told me that Lamaze was useless, as were all other birthing classes, and what I really needed to focus on was how quickly I could get the epidural.

Yeah — I got the epidural. The epidural that only went down half my body, that caused me uncontrollable shaking, that shut down my labor, that necessitated more pitocin, which put my baby in distress, which then necessitated a nice, traumatic cesarean surgery. Yep. That epidural.

Honey B., in her post Childbirth: Hollywood’s Take, wrote that after year of watching A Baby Story, 18 Kids and Counting, Knocked Up, Four Christmases, etc., she realized how much of what she thought she knew about childbirth was based on TV. She then shares sarcastically all that Hollywood taught her about birth. (The descriptions are longer on her blog.)

Natural Birth: The choice of masochists, women who don’t shave their armpits and have children named Moon Flower, and optimistic first-time mothers who don’t know any better. (My note: Case in point, The Back-Up Plan‘s home birth scene)

Birth with Epidural: This is the smart woman’s choice. This is what she does for the second birth, after going through the above ‘Natural Birth’.

C-Section (Emergent): These are completely normal, and happen all. the. time. And the doctor always knows best.

C-Section (Planned): This is the choice of the truly enlightened woman, the Real Housewives of Orange County type who view pregnancy as an invasion of their body. (My note: Perhaps this is why, according to the most recent data available (from 2006), the United States’ c-section rate was 31.1%, ranging from 21.5% in Utah all the way up to 37.4% in New Jersey. The World Health Organization actually recommends that the cesarean section rate should not be higher than 10% to 15%. When the rate is higher than 15% there is some research which shows it results in more harm than good. But who wants to talk about that in movies?)

Mallory who blogs at Pop Culture believes, “Childbirth in Hollywood movies is from a male perspective; rarely does childbirth show angles from the female viewpoint during the actual birthing.

We show killings, bombings, shootings, rapes and torture in movies, so why not show a woman giving birth accurately? Is it really that obscene and disgusting?”

Naomi, a birth doula, wrote her top 10 suggestions for an easier birth. Number two is “Prepare for an easier birth, now!” She cautions:

Don’t watch A Baby Story! Instead (if you are interested in watching birth videos), watch movies like The Business of Being Born, Orgasmic Birth, Pregnant in America, Water Birth, Special Women, and normal birth videos on YouTube which represent birth as it usually is. TV specials on birth are designed and promoted to offer drama and attract viewers, not to support women preparing for birth.

I also want to add What Babies Want and Birth Into Being to that list.

Teba told me that her sister was there when she had a home birth two months ago. “She said after seeing birth in movies she never imagined it could be so peaceful.”

That’s just it. Birth can be peaceful. It doesn’t have to be a hysterical emergency, but as a result of popular culture, most women are never exposed to anything that suggests a peaceful birth is even a possibility.

How has popular culture affected your beliefs and decisions surrounding childbirth?
* I didn’t actually watch the Superbowl, but have Lynn to thank for telling me about The Back-Up Plan commercial.

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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Live c-section on the Today Show

Thanks to ICANtweets I learned that the Today Show aired a live Cesarean section from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston as part of the “Today Goes Inside the OR” series. A healthy 10 pound baby boy was born via scheduled c-section to Carrie and Josh Johnson. According the The Today Show’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman, they elected a c-section because babies “run big” in the parents’ families and Carrie was “past her due date.” Dr. Snyderman adds, “And those are two indications that a Cesarean section is a lot safer than having a vaginal delivery.”

A lot safer? Really? You might want to weigh the risks for yourself.

Photo courtesy: tifhermon (Flickr)
Photo courtesy: tifhermon (Flickr)

Here’s the link to watch the Today Show c-section video

I found it hard to watch how the baby was handled and the way mom seemed to be left out of the process. Why can’t they clean up the baby where mom can see?

I also found a few other things quite disturbing.

At one point in the video, the doctor doing the c-section comments to Dr. Nancy that one reason for having a c-section is if the mom has had a c-section before. Then when asked if this mom gets pregnant again and has a “normal size” baby if she can have a vaginal delivery? The doctor responds, “absolutely, absolutely.”

That sounds like she’s giving mixed signals to me. Not to mention that many doctors and hospitals no longer allow vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) due to insurance costs. I left a message with Beth Israel hospital to find out what their policy is re: VBACs. I’ll update if I hear back. Joy Szabo had to move 350 miles from home to have her VBAC. And some women are being denied insurance after having a c-section.

After the baby was weighed (10 lbs.), Today Show co-anchor Meredith Vieira commented: “They chose the right way to deliver that’s sure by section.”

Dr. Nancy Snyderman agreed: “They sure did.”

So having a larger baby vaginally is the wrong way to have a baby? I strongly disagree. I think so would Justine who had her 11 lb. son at home on Jan. 6. And Kara who gave birth to an almost 10 lb baby vaginally. And Cathy who describes herself as petite and said both of her boys weighed 9 lbs. 4 oz. at birth. And Arwyn who said, “At home in the water was the right way to “deliver” my 10lb 6oz baby!”

What did you think about all of this?
Email the Today Show your thoughts at: TODAY@nbcuni.com

Read more about my reaction to the live c-section.

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Where do your kids’ toys go to die? Children, consumerism, toys and trash

A few weeks ago I overheard a woman say (online) that she cleaned her basement and subsequently “threw out 10 bags of broken, crap toys!” The comments that followed applauded her efforts. I’m not sure if they were happy that she cleaned the basement or that she discarded numerous toys, but I couldn’t help but feel saddened that so many “broken, crap toys” were on their way to the landfill.

I can’t say I’ve never thrown out a broken toy myself, but generally speaking I try to make an effort to acquire toys that are the antithesis of “crap” and, thus will stand the test of time and, once they’ve lived out their time with us, can be given away to someone else (or saved for my kid’s kids…someday). Of course some less than stellar toys inevitably make their way into our house, but 10 bags of junked toys seems like a lot to me.

It had me wondering, is this scenario the norm or the exception? What do you think?

According to Earth911, “Recent studies show nearly every household purchases at least one toy a year (often more), and toy sales in the U.S. in 2007 totaled to $20.5 billion.” How many of those toys make their way into the landfills?

I have to admit that I feel guilty every time I throw a broken anything into the trash. I know that throwing something away doesn’t really make it go away. There is no “away.” It just means that it’s going to sit in a landfill or in an ocean somewhere for years and years and years. That bothers me, which is why I try to avoid it. (If you haven’t yet watch The Story of Stuff, I highly recommend it.) This is also why this weekend I was trying to Freecycle a bunch of stuff that we’re no longer using.

I wrote a bit about my process for getting rid of stuff in the post “Decluttering your house, the green way.”

Even if I know the garbage can is my last option for stuff, I still feel bad about throwing it out. I hate to think about it ending up in a landfill and staying there forever, but then I also have to be realistic and not completely beat myself up over it. It’s a good reminder to make wise choices when buying things and think:

* Do I really need this?
* Is it good enough quality that it will last for years or will it break after a year and have to be replaced?
* Should I save my money for a little while longer and buy a better quality item that will last me longer?
* What will I do with it when I no longer need it (or when it breaks)?

Of course this is a bit harder when you have kids (and toys) and it’s not always practical to go through this list every time you buy something, but it’s a good practice to get into and will help to avoid unnecessary purchases in the future. It can also help you avoid buying cheap, plastic toys that might as well go directly from the assembly line to the landfill for as long as they are usable. But don’t get me started about those. ;oP

Good toys vs. Junk toys

Jennifer Lance wrote Green Family Values: No More Junk Toys! and offers some tips on how to tell a good toy from a junk toy:

How can you tell a junk toy from a good toy? Field naturalist Alicia Daniel offers the following list of questions to ask when selecting toys:

  1. Will this toy eventually turn into dirt-i.e., could I compost it? Stones, snowmen, driftwood, and daisies-they will be gone, and we will be gone, and life goes on.
  2. Do I know who made this toy? This question leads us to search for the hidden folk artist in each of us.
  3. Is this toy beautiful? Have human hands bestowed an awkward grace, a uniqueness lacking in toys cranked out effortlessly by machine?
  4. Will this toy capture a child’s imagination?

So what do you do with the old toys?

Earth911 has some tips for recycling toys including:

  • passing them on to other family members
  • donating them
  • repairing broken toys
  • or selling them.

They also list the benefits of recycling toys.

Think before you buy

I think the best advice though is to think before you buy. I know not every single toy purchase can be a thoughtful/practical one, but if you can change that so the percentage of thoughtful purchases is increased by 25%, 50%, 75% or more, think of how much crap that will keep out of the landfills. Also, you might want to consider the carbon footprint and the safety of the toy. How far did it have to travel to get to your toy store? If you live in the United States, could you buy an American-made alternative instead? There have been a lot of recalls of toys in the past several years. When you buy well-made, quality toys, you reduce the risk of a recall.

Children and consumerism

Mrs. Green from My Zero Waste in her post A Plastic Frisbee for the Landfill wrote:

I have to say, this is something that concerns me about 21st century life – the massive volume of ‘pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap’ toys that our children are growing up with. They last a few days at best and then become ‘rubbish’. Our children are bought up to look for the next fix and move on to the next thing, like good little consumers. I wonder how we can ever solve the landfill issue until we pull back from so much mindless consumerism. We try and stay away from it as much as we can, but we can’t live in a vacuum or turn our child into the village freak.

I agree. I don’t want my children to be turned into mindless consumers, which is why I support the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood, but I also realize they cannot live in a vacuum and I don’t want them to be ostracized by their peers.

So, what’s the solution?

Think before you buy, have a plan in mind for what to do with a toy when your child is done with it, and remember: everything in moderation.

One of my favorite Native American proverbs is, “We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children.” Yes, a cheap plastic toy might make your child happy for a few minutes or weeks, but how happy will it make them in 20 years when their generation is responsible for cleaning up the mess that resulted from all of those cheap plastic toys?

Related links:
Second Chance Toys: Rescuing and Recycling Plastic Toys for Needy Children
Tips for Choosing Eco-friendly Toys
Simple toys are better for children
Toys from Trash

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Got breast milk to spare? Denver milk bank is in desperate need.

The freezers are nearly empty at a Denver milk bank, which is experiencing its lowest supply ever in the bank’s 25-year history. The Mother’s Milk Bank at Presbyterian St. Luke’s hospital is one of only 10 milk banks in the country that collects breast milk from mothers across the country and delivers it to sick and premature babies. The shortage has been due in part to a rough flu season and an increased need from hospitals and parents seeking breast milk.

If you are wondering in this day and age, with formula readily available, why milk banks are so important, there’s information in this Breastfeeding.com article, Banking on Breast milk. The majority of milk from the milk banks goes to babies who are sick or need milk because of medical conditions such as formula intolerance or feeding issues related to prematurity. Unlike formula, breast milk contains immunologic properties to help fight infection and illness.

Milk banks exist because many babies will not thrive without human milk. Infants with failure to thrive (FTT), formula intolerance, allergies and certain other medical conditions may require real human milk for health and even for survival.

A typical candidate for donor breast milk might be a formula-fed infant that exhibits prolonged episodes of inconsolable crying, ongoing vomiting and classic allergy signs such as purple or black circles under the eyes, pallor, skin inflammation, lethargy and frequent or bloody stools. Another typical candidate might be a premature infant whose mother cannot (or cannot yet) supply breast milk.

All donors to Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) member milk banks undergo a screening process that begins with a short phone interview. Donor mothers are women who are currently lactating and have surplus milk. Donor mothers must be:

  • In good general health
  • Willing to undergo a blood test (at the milk bank’s expense)
  • Not regularly using medication or herbal supplements (with the exception of progestin-only birth control pills or injections, Synthroid, insulin, pre-natal vitamins; for other exceptions, please contact a milk bank for more information)
  • Willing to donate at least 100 ounces of milk; some banks have a higher minimum

The Denver milk bank welcomes donors both local and out of state
For donating mothers who don’t live near Denver, the milk bank ships supplies and a box with dry ice to mail the milk. Mothers are not paid for donating. Also, the HMBANA milk banks will often loan pumps to donor moms if they don’t have one of their own.

I donated milk to the Denver milk bank when my son Julian was a baby and had previously donated to a local mom directly when Ava was a baby. I’ve been blessed with a plentiful supply and was happy to do what I could to help others. Although I wasn’t able to collect as much as I had hoped, it all adds up.

Brandie also pumped her milk for the Iowa milk bank. She describes the process she went through when she donated nearly 400 oz.(!!) to the milk bank in 2003. As she packed up the cooler to mail her milk in, she couldn’t help but get emotional.

I was sending a piece of myself off in that cooler. Lots of hours of pumping (or at least what felt like lots of hours). I cried. As silly as that sounds, I did. I thought about how that milk might go to feed another baby and help another family – who for whatever reasons needed breast milk for their baby and couldn’t provide it themselves. I thought about how when so many around me thought breastfeeding your own baby was gross, disgusting, something only to be done behind closed doors where no one would have to actually see it, there were people out there who so firmly believed in it that they would use my milk to feed their babies.

Jodi, Milk Donor Mama, and Cate Nelson have all been milk donors too.

Emily from Et Cetera recently found herself with a surplus of pumped milk. As her freezer stash grew, she began to get concerned that it would expire before it was consumed. That’s when she learned about breast milk banking. She’s signed up to be a donor and encourages others to as well. “Why let your extra breast milk go to waste? Share it with a baby who desperately needs it. And even if you can’t donate, you can get involved. The more people know about milk banks, the more babies will thrive.”

A doctor’s prescription is required to receive breast milk from a HMBANA milk bank.

Deanne Walker of Colorado Springs received donor milk from Mother’s Milk Bank at Presbyterian St. Luke’s hospital for her twin boys who were born 10 weeks premature. In addition to the babies being born early, Deanne had several infections which dramatically affected her milk supply. I spoke with Deanne via email where she pointed out the importance of breast milk for preemie babies.

When babies are born prematurely the mother’s milk is different – it’s called super preemie milk loaded with even more protein, antibodies and dense nutrition than regular breast milk. Preemies need the extra nutrition because their digestive tracts are not fully developed, they are so small and need to grow more rapidly, and also because they are so much more prone to infections in those early weeks. Formula just cannot deliver the nutrition and antibodies provided by nature.

Deanne is thankful for the donor milk her now thriving 3 1/2 year old sons received until her supply was established enough to provide full feedings for them, but wishes it was covered by her insurance like formula was. (Note: Medical insurance sometimes covers the cost of donor milk when there is a demonstrated medical need for the milk on the part of the infant.) She and her husband had to cash in their retirement account to pay for the milk. The cost of breast milk from the Denver milk bank is currently $3.50 per ounce (which covers the donor screening, processing of the milk, etc.), which adds up very quickly especially when feeding more than one baby.

Please see the information below if you have breast milk to spare and would like to help babies in need. Or if you are looking for a worthy place for your tax-deductible donation, please consider making a donation to a milk bank. The HMBANA milk banks are non-profit organizations and depend on community and private donations to keep the doors open.

Information on donating or receiving breast milk:

Edited on 1/26/10 to add:
This morning the United States Breastfeeding Committee released a statement and urgent call for human breast milk for premature infants in Haiti. The first shipment is getting ready to go out to the U.S. Navy ship Comfort. You can read the entire statement and find out how you can donate by reading Give Them Roots blog about it: URGENT: Milk Donations for Haiti Infants. Thank you!

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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Is there more to the Christmas “miracle” mom & baby “mystery?”

In what’s being called a Christmas “miracle,” a mother suffered cardiac arrest and died while in labor on Christmas eve 2009, her lifeless baby was born after an emergency cesarean section, and then “inexplicably, astonishingly” both suddenly came back to life. At least, that is the picture that was first painted by ABC News.


Photo credit: ABC News

Tracy Hermanstorfer of Colorado was without a heartbeat for four to five minutes while her husband Mike undoubtedly stood by in shock. “‘Half of my family was lying there right in front of me — there’s no other way to say it — dead,’ Mike Hermanstorfer told ABC News’ Colorado affiliate KRDO. ‘I lost all feeling. Once her heartbeat stopped, I felt like mine did too.'”

First I must say that I’m so very thankful that Tracy and her son Coltyn were revived and both are doing very well. I can’t imagine what her husband Mike must have gone through in those moments. I wish the Hermanstorfer family a happy, healthy and uneventful new year.

While the story of a Christmas miracle such as this warms one’s heart, many people, myself included, thought there must be more to the story than the media was reporting. Dr. Stephanie Martin, the doctor who responded to the Code Blue and performed the emergency c-section, said she cannot explain the mother’s cardiac arrest or the recovery. “We did a thorough evaluation and can’t find anything that explains why this happened,” she said. In the video linked above Diane Sawyer says, “To Tracy’s doctors, the events are still a complete mystery.” A complete mystery? Really?

If you watch the ABC News interview (below) with Tracy and Mike Hermanstorfer and Dr. Stephanie Martin it looks like the “mystery” may have been solved after all and there could be a very valid explanation for why Tracy went into cardiac arrest – the epidural. Cardiac arrest is a very rare, but very real possible complication of epidurals.

Tracy was pregnant with her third child and had given birth to the previous two without an epidural. However, after her membranes ruptured (water broke), she went to Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs and was given pitocin to speed up her labor. She found the contractions were “a lot harder” than she remembered so she opted for the epidural. It was not long after she received the epidural that Mike noticed Tracy’s hand was cold, her fingertips were blue and a nurse noticed the color in Tracy’s face was completely gone.

Henci Goer, “an acknowledged expert on evidence-based maternity care” and blogger at Science and Sensibility, transcribed the relevant parts of the ABC interview.

ABC: Code Blue was declared, a scary thing in any hospital. [Dr. Martin arrives in response.]

Dr. Martin: . . . When I ran into the room, the anesthesiologist had already started breathing for Tracy. There were preparations already being made to start a resuscitation should her heart stop. About 35 to 40 seconds after I got in the room, her heart did stop and we started making preparations to do an emergency cesarean delivery right there in the room in the event that we were not successful in bringing Tracy back. Unfortunately, in most of these situations, despite the best efforts of the team, Mom is often not able to be revived, so we anticipated that possibility and when it became clear that Tracy was not responding to all the work that the team was doing on her, we had to make that difficult decision to do the cesarean section, primarily in an effort to give Coltyn the best chance at a normal survival and also hoping that it would allow us to do a more effective resuscitation on Tracy, and fortunately, she cooperated and we got a heartbeat back immediately after delivering Coltyn.

Henci explains her assessment of the situation:

So, according to Dr. Martin, Tracy is an example of how things can go suddenly and horribly wrong for no discernible reason in a healthy woman having a normal labor. All I can say is that Dr. Martin must have slept through the class on epidural complications. Tracy’s story is the classic sequence that follows what anesthesiologists term an “unexpectedly high blockade,” meaning the anesthesiologist injected the epidural anesthetic into the wrong space and it migrated upward, paralyzing breathing muscles and in some cases, stopping the heart. High blockade happens rarely… It does happen, though, and I am willing to bet that high blockade and its sequelae happened to Tracy.

The moral of the print version would be: have your baby in a hospital where you can be saved should this happen to you. The video interview, however, reveals a different picture. The real moral of the tale is that the safest and healthiest births will be achieved by avoiding medical intervention whenever possible.

Danielle from Momotics asks, “Why was there a need for pitocin? Because no one wants to be sitting around waiting to deliver a baby on Christmas eve?” She also wants to know why the possible correlation between the epidural and the cardiac arrest isn’t being talked about in the media. “Why is the mainstream media not reporting these things? Mass hysteria? Loss of money for the pharmaceutical companies that make pitocin and these anesthesia drugs?”

Jasmine who writes for The Examiner offered up her own take on the situation:

Knowing the side effects of both pitocin and the epidural, Hermanstorfer’s history of having unmedicated births, she probably experienced a dropped heartrate from the pitocin which may have caused her cardiac arrest upon administering the epidural. We all like the story of hearing “miracles” and they do happen, however, we have to know a little more about modern medicine and the side effects and dangers of modern drugs.

Nicole from It’s Your Birth Right speculates a few possibilities of what may have gone wrong. She admits that there is no way for her to say for sure what happened in Tracy’s case, but she wants people to know that having an epidural does carry risks.:

I just want it to be clear that Epidurals can indeed cause cardiac problems and can also stop a woman’s breathing immediately after administration. Does it always happen? NO. Does it usually happen? NO. Can it happen? YES. And did the media completely ignore the possibility of the epidural having anything to do with the cardiac arrest? YES.

Nicole adds:

Often when I tell people I don’t want an epidural they don’t understand why. THIS is why. The risks in my humble opinion are high for a procedure that is considered elective.

Often when I tell people epidurals carry risks that are not discussed with women resulting in misinformed consent for a procedure they know little about, I am considered an extremist. PLEASE if you want an epidural, that’s your choice but get INFORMED!!!

Here are the reported side effects of epidurals on both mother and baby.

Conspiracy theories aside, I think one of the reasons the possible cause of Tracy’s cardiac arrest wasn’t reported by the media is because it diminishes the feel-good Christmas miracle aspect of it. I think the media sensationalized the story to draw as much attention to it as possible. They succeeded.

The truth is we may never know what caused Tracy Hermanstorfer’s heart to stop beating, but it seems likely that the sequence of events – pitocin, epidural, lying on her back (which can cause “problems with backaches, breathing, digestive system, hemorrhoids, low blood pressure and decrease in circulation to your heart and your baby. This is a result of your abdomen resting on your intestines and major blood vessels (the aorta and vena cava).”) may have had something to do with it. While this story had a very happy ending, most like it do not. What can we learn from this? Educate yourself, learn about the risks of common interventions, and hire a doula.

Once again, I wish Tracy and Mike Hermanstorfer and their family all the best. :)

Cross-posted on BlogHer

Time magazine advocates “tough love” approach to infant sleep

Time magazine recently published a section called The Year in Health, A to Z in the Dec. 7, 2009 issue. The letter B is for Babies and what Time advised regarding babies, “tough love” and sleep has many people shaking their heads in disagreement.

The article states:

When a baby has repeated problems falling asleep, Mom and Dad may need to show some tough love. Lingering with cranky babies too long or bringing them into the parents’ bedroom can make them likelier to become poor sleepers, according to psychologist Jodi Mindell, who gathered data on nearly 30,000 kids up to 3 years old in 17 countries. “If you’re rocked to sleep at bedtime, you’re going to need that every time you wake up,” she notes. Her advice: have children fall asleep 3 ft. away. “If they’re slightly separated, they sleep much better,” she says.

Parents, pediatricians and proponents of attachment parenting strongly disagree with Time’s advice.

On Attachment Parenting International, Samantha Gray, executive director of Attachment Parenting International, and Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, founders of API, published the letter to the editor they wrote in response. Here is a bit of it:

Contrary to the very unfortunate and detrimental advice on sleep in Time magazine, API’s Principle outlines the need to be responsive to children during the night and not to brush aside their needs as inconsequential to them or to their development in the name of “tough love.” The magazine and this proponents’ advice is framed in such a way to alarm parents into unfounded fears about their children being poor sleepers if they respond in loving ways such as rocking their child, breastfeeding, or lying down with the child. We know, in fact, that these practices are not only healthy for the child, but, for the very short period of a child’s life that needs are met in this way, parent and child benefit.

Science indicates that a comforting nighttime approach helps children achieve healthy sleep habits. Research and the experience of parents throughout the ages have proven that effective nighttime parenting includes prompt, calm response, as well as holding, cuddling and soothing touch.

We pray no one takes to heart this advice you have quite surprisingly chosen to publish, all the more in the midst of the availability of substantial quality parenting information. This advice goes against parents’ good instincts to care for their very young child in the ways their inner knowing tells them to.

We implore Time to urgently correct this harmful information in such a way to command even greater attention than received by the original article. Our children are worth it, and so are their parents.

At the time of this posting, Time had not responded to API nor published any sort of correction.

Pediatrician, father of eight, and author of numerous parenting books Dr. William Sears suggests in his own letter to the editor to Time:

Rather than issuing rules or cautions about being “over attached” concerning nighttime parenting we should be encouraging parents to sleep safely and closely with their babies. In my experience and that of others who have thoroughly researched the issue of co-sleeping, namely Dr. James McKenna, babies who sleep close to their parents sleep physiologically healthier and a mutual trust develops between parents and child.

Remember, we have an epidemic of insomnia in this country necessitating a mushrooming of sleep disorder clinics. When babies start out life with a healthy sleep attitude, that sleep is a pleasant state to enter and a fear-less state to remain in they’re more likely to grow up with a healthy sleep attitude and both children and their parents will sleep better later on.

On his website, Dr. Sears has 8 Infant Sleep Facts Every Parent Should Know including:

  • babies have shorter sleep cycles than adults
  • there are developmental and survival benefits of nightwaking
  • and as babies grow, they achieve “sleep maturity.”

Kayris who blogs at The Great Walls of Baltimore said, “considering the amount of adults who suffer from sleep problems or use sleep aid medications, I’m truly surprised at the amount of people who expect sleep to also be easy for children.”

Micki AKA ADDHousewife is one of those people who has trouble sleeping and said in response to the Time article, “That’s pure crazy. Some kids are just lousy sleepers. Plain and simple. I am still a bad sleeper!”

Hannah Gaiten, owner of Natural Choices, had this response to Time’s article:

That type of position is based on what is perceived to be best for parents, not taking into account what is truly best for the kids, in my opinion. Heaven forbid a child need to nurse to sleep…why is it regarded as such a “problem?” We do it everyday, every time my daughter needs to sleep, she needs to nurse. Sure, it’s not the most convenient at times, but if I were looking for convenience, then perhaps being a parent wasn’t the best road to take.

To make a blanket statement like, “If they’re slightly separated, they sleep much better” is unwise, in my opinion – each child is different and instead of this author telling parents how to parent their child, they should give unbiased information and encourage the parents to do what is best for their family (not just what is in the best interest of the parents).

Susan, who blogs at Two Hands Two Feet agrees, “I hate it when ‘experts’ tell parents what is best for them and their kids. You need to do what is right for your family, not what an expert says. This stuff caused me a lot of grief when my girls were tiny. I read books because I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing. But what I really should have done was just gone with my instincts.”

Suzanne at The Joyful Chaos who co-sleeps, but also says she’s “not actually an advocate for co-sleeping,” drives the point home that you have to do what works best for your family in her post The Cosleeping Edition of my Attachment Parenting Freako-ness and sometimes that may very well differ from child to child.

A Mother In Israel Hannah asks in her post Sleep Training at the 92nd St. Y:

Are our babies robots? Or dogs that we need to train? No, they are very small people who can’t understand why everyone ignores them once the sun goes down, even when they cry hard enough to throw up. A baby’s cry is intended to be disturbing. If we train ourselves to ignore it, we lose our instinctive rachmanut (compassion). And a baby whose cries are ignored learns that his feelings don’t count for much. Eventually he will give up and go to sleep, but pay a steep price.

Who are we to say that our need for a solid eight hours (which we usually don’t get anyway for all kinds of trivial reasons) trumps the baby’s needs? Adults can learn to cope with less sleep and babies need concern and sympathy no matter when they are in distress. Trust your baby; she will tell you when s/he is developmentally ready to fall asleep without your help.

As for my opinion, I think it’s very irresponsible for Time to make a blanket statement like that, especially when there is evidence that proves the contrary is true. I do believe it is up to each family to decide what works best for them and their children. While I don’t think it’s for everyone, co-sleeping worked for my family for years. Nowadays my children are still co-sleeping with each other at age 3 and 5 and sleep side by side in a room together. Just as they have different personalities, they are very different sleepers. My daughter has a harder time falling asleep than my son, but both are parented to sleep in a way that works best for them.

There’s nothing that is convenient about being a parent. It is a physically, emotionally and mentally taxing job. Parenting doesn’t end just because the sun sets. It’s a 24/7 365 days of the year job.

Instead of trying to put more distance between parents and their children, I think Time should be encouraging more connections. The time that our children are infants and toddlers is so fleeting in the grand scheme of things, we should be embracing them, not pushing them away.

Jan Hunt, director of The Natural Child, points out, “As the writer John Holt put it so eloquently, having feelings of love and safety in early life, far from ‘spoiling’ a child, is like ‘money in the bank’: a fund of trust, self-esteem and inner security they can draw on throughout life’s challenges.

Children may be small in size, but they are as fully human as we are, and as deserving as we are to be trusted to know what they need, and to have their voices heard.”

There is a wealth of information about infant sleep on Attachment Parenting International’s Baby Sleep Strategies page, including infant sleep safety, co-sleeping, nighttime parenting and more.

Annie at PhD in Parenting also has an informational post Gentle Baby and Toddler Sleep Tips that “provides tips for sleep deprived parents that want their babies to sleep better and… do not want to use the cry it out approach.”

If you’d like to respond to Time about “B” for Babies, please do so online using their letter to the editor web form or snail mail to:
TIME Magazine Letters
Time & Life Building
New York, N.Y. 10020
“Letters should include the writer’s full name, address and home telephone and may be edited for purposes of clarity and space.”

Cross-posted at BlogHer.

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