Friday, January 28, 2011

Intergenerational Conflicts: Five Tips for Gentle Disagreement

No one is sure how it happened, but last month, my mom was surprised with a subscription to a popular "mainstream" parenting magazine. My dad suggested that my husband and I had sent her the subscription as a subtle way to challenge their views on parenting, with which we disagree. This is the last magazine I would send if I wanted to assault my parents with my parenting views. However, it did bring up an interesting point: how can we reconcile the differences when our parenting philosophy differs from that of our own parents? The following suggestions have worked for me in dealings with my parents--perhaps they can help you.

  1. Don't judge. Even if you disagree with your parents about absolutely everything, it's pointless now to criticize the way they parented you. They may not have had access to the same information or support system that you have. Emphasize that your methods do not reflect a judgment upon them. Rather, you are doing what is right for you and your family in your particular situation.
  2. Draw clear expectations. Sometimes parents cross boundaries with our child because they are unsure where the boundaries lie. Communicate with your parents and let them know exactly where you stand. Establish clear roles, both for yourself and for them. Don't be afraid to stand your ground to defend the best interests of your child.
  3. Stay well-informed. Read all that you can about your parenting choices: books, magazines, scholarly articles, etc. Ultimately, you must only answer to yourself and your child for your decisions. Still, when your parents challenge you, you may wish to defend your position. Every bit of information you can bring helps your case. Ideally, your parents might be convinced to re-evaluate their beliefs. If not, at least they will have a better understanding of your perspective.
  4. Be understanding. Even if they understand your expectations, your parents may not apply them perfectly. If you do not believe in praising your child and they occasionally utter a "good job," cut them some slack. As a parent yourself, you no doubt understand that transitions are difficult. Imagine how difficult it must be to adapt to the changing needs of an adult child who is a parent herself!
  5. Know when to walk away. This doesn't necessarily mean you should stop visiting your parents. It may suffice to avoid certain topics of conversation (e.g. discipline) that cause strife. There is no harm in disagreeing. However, if your parents insist upon treating you or your child with disrespect, you may want to re-evaluate the amount of time you spend with them. As important as it is for children to have a relationship with their grandparents, it is even more important to surround them with positive, uplifting people.

Many of us place the parent-child relationship at the center of our philosophy. Everything we do revolves around building a strong bond with our children. Sometimes we forget that we are involved in another very important relationship with our own parents. It can be complicated, but when properly nurtured, this relationship benefits our parents, ourselves, our children and generations to come.

-Connected Mom, Mandi

Thursday, January 27, 2011


A few weeks ago I wrote about the gentle discipline tricks and tools that I find useful in parenting my preverbal toddler. One of the tools I mentioned was a ‘time-in’.

To recap: a time-in basically involves allowing your child to experience and express big emotions in a calm and supportive environment that includes your presence.

Shortly after writing this I had a very interesting conversation with a friend of mine who was unsure of how that is different from a time-out, and why I don't believe that time-outs are a gentle or effective parenting tool.

I'll start with how it is different. While the practice is similar in that it often requires leaving an overwhelming/over stimulating/frustrating situation or environment in favour of a calmer and safer one, I think it is very different in that the child remains emotionally and physically supported throughout the process of a time-in, where as a time-out usually involves leaving the child alone and/or ignoring the child for a specified amount of time. Unlike a time-out, a time-in is not a punishment. And I believe that the lessons it teaches are much more valuable.

Here's an example from my home just the other day:

Oliver, always the dare devil, is using a riding toy with wheels to climb on and jump off of. I am sure this is a fun game, but totally a head injury waiting to happen.

After a few attempts to show him the safe way to play with said toy and distract with other games, it becomes clear that the temptation is too great and my expectations of his behaviour are too high with the toy still in the room, I decided to put it away for another day.

Oliver, despite my attempts to do so when he is momentarily distracted, becomes incredibly upset when I do this.

After re-offering a safer jumping game to play involving stacked couch cushions, as well as crossing hunger, fatigue, and over stimulation off the list of reasons for his behaviour it is clear that he is simply upset about loosing his toy.

I sit on the floor beside him so that I am at his level and tell him 'I know you really like that toy, I am sorry it had to get put away' I open my arms to offer a hug. Oliver declines but does take my hand to hold. He continues to cry, he points at the closet door where the toy is put away, he signs 'more' and 'please' over and over in rapid succession. I tell him again 'I had to put it away because we were having trouble playing safely. We can try again another time' I then lead him away from the closet door (away from the immediate situation/reminder of the toy) and to our nursing chair. He is still upset, but we sit together in the chair until he signs to nurse, then later shows interest in the couch cushion game I had set up.

Through gentle discipline (teaching, distracting, meeting needs, and finally removing temptation) the original unwanted behaviour of standing on and jumping off his toy was stopped. And through the time-in Oliver was allowed to feel and express his feelings with my support and guidance.

Acknowledging his feelings and providing a safe environment for him to express them by using the time-in technique, I reinforced that his thoughts and feelings are valid and important and that my love and support is unconditional.

This brings me to why I don't personally believe that time-outs are a gentle or effective parenting tool.

I believe that, using the example situation above, had I chosen to try and teach Oliver how to play safely with his toy by using a time-out method, I would have created a Him vs. Me situation that would have only escalated and not provided a workable solution to the problem.

Instead of coming away from the situation feeling calm and ready to start a new game as we did after our time-in, we would have likely felt resentful, disconnected, and perhaps even guilty. My own memories of being put on time-outs as a child are of feeling dismissed, angry, and like nobody would listen to what I had to say.

The likely hood that all of that would prevent Oliver from going straight back to the toy to jump on is very low.

First of all, he is too young. Though I often see parents of toddlers using various forms of the time-out technique, many professionals who promote the practice do not recommend it for children under 3 years of age.

Oliver is not yet old enough to understand cause and effect the same way you and I do, and even if he did eventually learn that action A = punishment B, he completely lacks any form of self control. Even knowing that A=B he would still jump on the car toy. Not because he is ‘testing boundaries’ or being ‘manipulative’ and in need of further punishment, but because it's a fun game. In fact, even after repeatedly experiencing the natural consequences of jumping on the toy by falling off and getting hurt, a toddler or young child will still repeat the action over and over again.

Secondly, I do not believe that punitive discipline techniques like time-outs are effective for older children either. More then resulting in an actual understanding of right and wrong, or acceptable and unacceptable, I think it causes children to become secretive and less trusting.

In short, I believe punitive discipline results in children who will do the right thing close to 100% of the time someone is watching, and none of the time they are alone, and then hide those times they did the wrong thing with lies. Personally, I find more value in teaching my child to be accountable to himself, instead of relying on external authority to police his behaviour.

I also think punitive discipline, including time-outs, creates relationships and environments where children are afraid to make mistakes. This fear of mistakes comes at a cost to a child's creativity, problem solving skills, and ability to learn valuable life lessons. (Many adults I know are still so afraid of making mistakes that they studiously maintain a status quo that makes them completely miserable instead of stepping outside the box to find a life more fulfilling.)

So while time-outs may be effective for producing desirable behaviour under very specific circumstances with some children (certainly not all), I do not think they are as effective and healthful for children as mainstream parenting wisdom might lead you to believe.

But like most things in life, parenting or otherwise, there are many paths to choose from. I do not claim to be on the right path for everyone, merely the right path for me. Each of these paths has pros and cons that each parent must weigh for themselves and their families. I believe that the cons of punitive discipline far out weigh the pros, and have therefore researched and come up with a system of gentle discipline that works for my family and does not include the use of time outs or other punishment/reward based techniques.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Confused About When To Wean? Your Baby Has The Answer.

It has been nearly a full week since the first media buzz about a new study that contradicts the World Health Organization’s recommendations to breastfeed exclusively for at least 6 months. Originally published in the British Medical Journal, a new review basically states that waiting 6 months to introduce solid foods (wean) may leave babies at an increased risk of iron deficiencies, obesity and food allergies. Instead the authors suggest starting the weaning process at 4 months of age. Not surprisingly, the main stream media took it upon themselves to turn this into fear mongering headlines like ‘Breastfeeding for 6 months is too long and could hurt babies’.

The World Health Organization and UNICEF have both released statements backing up their 6 month recommendations, sighting that this one review in the British Medical Journal is contradicted by thousands of other studies and the data used in this review is incomplete. It should also be noted that 3 of the 4 authors received funding from the commercial baby food industry. You can find a summary of this article's many flaws on the Baby Milk Action website.

UK officials have apparently asked that further studies be conducted to review their own official recommendations that babies be exclusively breastfed for 6 months. In the mean time, confusion and fear have won out causing many new parents to question their decision to breastfeed, and when to start the weaning process. I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that is exactly the reaction the baby food industry was hoping for.

Regardless of how this whole scenario plays out, and whether or not the UK changes it’s current recommendation from 6 months to 4 months, here's what I think:

Instead of health professionals adding confusion, stress, and pressure on parents by advising that they mark a date on a calendar to start introducing complementary foods, why not educate parents about the physical and developmental signs that their child is actually ready to eat solid foods? While the recommendation to start the weaning process at 6 months is a nice guideline that loosely fits the average baby, there are some babies who show all signs of readiness before 6 months and still more who don’t show all of the signs until later.

The developmental signs that a baby is ready to start solid foods, and the reasons they are so important are*:

- The ability to sit upright unassisted. A baby who is sitting upright without being propped or supported is better able to chew and swallow foods without choking. Tipping a baby too young to sit up backwards to feed them is a very real and dangerous choking hazard!
- Loss of the thrust reflex. The thrust reflex causes babies to thrust their tongue forward to spit out any foreign objects or substances. This reflex protects a baby’s airway from becoming blocked and is your baby’s way of telling you ‘I am just not ready’. Many parents who start solid foods too early will remark that their baby ‘spits it out and doesn’t seem to like it’ this is a sign to stop, not to try different foods.
- The ability to grasp and bring objects/food to the mouth. With the ability to place objects in his or her own mouth, comes the ability to feed him or her self. Just like a breastfed baby self regulates how much milk to drink at the breast, he should also be able to self regulate how much or little solid foods he eats by feeding himself. Spoon feeding infants before they are ready to self feed can lead to over feeding, and without taking proper care to read baby’s cues and offer solids without decreasing breast milk intake, this over feeding can cause milk supply issues and end nursing relationships before the recommended one to two years.
- An interest in food such as watching and mimicking others eating, and grabbing at food that others have. It should be noted that some very young babies show this behaviour so it is important that this be taken as a sign of readiness only AFTER all other milestones have been reached. Conversely, if your child has hit all of the above milestones but does not show any interest in eating it is better to wait until they start to show interest instead of forcing the issue.

Looking at these developmental signs of readiness, it is laughable to suggest that the average 4 month old would be ready to eat anything other than his or her mother’s milk. But I can see why those who work in the baby food industry wouldn’t want parents to wait for all of these signs. Once your baby is ready, REALLY ready to eat solid foods, there is no need to finely puree and mash all of his or her food or buy jars of liquid fruits and vegetables or feed them powdered cereals mixed with water or milk.**

Once your baby has hit ALL of the developmental milestones needed to start solid foods, he or she will be able to start with finger foods, a practice known as baby led weaning. The basic principle of baby led weaning is to offer pieces of nutritious whole foods for your child to explore and self feed while still receiving most of their nutrition from breast milk or formula. Avocado chunks are a popular first food for baby lead weaning, other popular early foods include whole bananas and steamed vegetable spears. You can learn more about the practice of baby led weaning here.

If you're still not convinced, and are not interested in making your own mashed baby foods, there is certainly nothing wrong with that, but I would still steer clear of commercial baby foods and encourage you to look for mom-preneurs in your area who may deliver home made baby food for a fee, or click here to read a Connected Mom review of organic preservative-free super yummy and flavorful baby food by Ella's Kitchen.

No matter how you choose to introduce solid foods to your baby, the when is still very very important. Anyone who may be swayed by this latest review, and the media blowing it far out of proportion by making bold statements with incomplete information, I encourage you to look further into what the data is actually saying. Think about what the baby food industry has to gain, and what you and your family has to loose in making the decision to introduce solid foods early***. I am not trying to sound alarmist or paranoid, but the baby food industry is not exactly known for their ethics where their bottom line is concerned. If you are concerned about obesity, iron levels or food allergies, please talk to your doctor about it, and know that there are many other less bias studies that show delaying the introduction of solids until your baby is 6 months old is the safest and healthiest choice.

*These signs were gathered and consolidated into the bullet points on my list from the Ask Dr. Sears website and my favorite baby food website Whole Baby Foods.

**Kim, a nutritionist who runs Your Green Baby has written this must read article about baby rice cereals.

** See Dr. Sears on Allergies, on benefits of delaying solids, Le Leche League Information on unwanted/early weaning

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Secret to Motherhood

"How do you do it?"

(image by bonnie-brown and appears courtesy Flickr CC)

The question was asked of me in the middle of an intensely therapeutic phone conversation with my best friend who lives seven states away from me. I'd just been detailing the latest trials and tribulations of my perpetually sleepless son and his food reactions and she'd been telling me all about her two children's health issues and sibling squabbles. Her kids are only thirteen months apart and were aged 3 and 2 at the time. As a (now) single mom, she often has her own hands full. I think that was what surprised me the most about her question. It had been one that I am often on the verge of asking her! I told her this and I could almost hear her shrug over the phone. "Honestly, I don't know how I do it some days, but I just do, I guess." I had to admit that my answer was pretty much the same. I'm not sure there is any truer answer than that, but it's not the whole picture.

It seems to me that becoming a mom is like showing up for your first day of work and there's no one there to train you, you are under intense pressure to perform, and you have no idea how you are doing until years down the road! In response to this pressure, when my son was first born, I read every article I could get my hands on and studied every mom I saw relentlessly looking for whatever it was that I was apparently missing. Everyone else who had kids seemed to be happy and together and I felt like I was constantly drowing. Nothing I ever did felt completely right and everything I read seemed to give me different answers. In fact, the more magazine articles I read, the more utterly hopeless I felt! Not only did I feel like I was failing at being the kind of mom I wanted to be; I was also failing as a researcher! Meanwhile, I was terrified that someone would find out just what a mess I was and how little I deserved to be entrusted with such an amazing little soul. It's not that I didn't have a supportive partner and supportive families behind me, I just felt like I needed more . .. particularly during the hours when it was just me and the baby and prayer!

Being a mom is an awe-inspiring, powerful, and sometimes scary thing. This is especially true now, when it seems like there is so much more information out there and so many more options than our mothers or our grandmothers had. Many of us are attempting to do things that have not been done in our families for generations. Some of us are choosing (and struggling) to breastfeed, cloth diaper, co-sleep, stay home or work out of the home. Many of us live far, far away from our families in communities that may or may not agree with our choices. It's not that our mothers didn't feel the way we do about mothering, but we have many more choices and opportunities (and more access to information) than they had and that can make our decisions more difficult. There is no more "everybody's" doing it this way, because through the internet we can find people doing things in a million different ways. That's where building your own community comes in. That's where other moms come in!

I found that the more I talked to other moms, the more I realized that we were all in the same boat with many of the same insecurities and the same concerns. I also found that the more open and honest I was about my own struggles, the more forthcoming other moms would be with me both in person and online. It's important to find those moms in your community for connection as much as possible, but for times when that is not possible, it's important to also reach out online. With the internet, we have a powerful tool that our moms didn't have. We can find likeminded moms anytime of the day or not and connect with them. We can build our own "mom" communities. In fact, without my "mom" community, I don't know how I would have survived the past seventeen months. Whether it was a shoulder to cry on in a support meeting at the local yoga studio, heartfelt advice given in response to my latest status update about the trials of breastfeeding/teething/sleeping, or just desperately googling the words "my seventeen month old has never slept through the night" just to know I wasn't alone (I'm not!), other moms have lifted me up and made me believe I had strength I never knew I had before. It is through talking about their own trial and error parenting, that I've found the rhythm of my own mothering.

The only secret there is to successful motherhood is that there is no secret to it! Reaching out to others, building a community (both locally and online) is the only way to survive the greatest, most rewarding, and challenging experience of your life. Motherhood is dangerous territory and no mom should do it alone! That's why I'm so excited about joining the blog here as a contributing author. Now, I have the chance to build a community with you!

-Connected Mom, Shawna

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

After A Loss, There Is Hope

I didn't want to write this post, but the thought just wouldn't leave. As if my heart knew something my mind didn't.

Almost six months ago, we lost our fourth baby, the latest loss we have ever had. Next month is his due date, and even having gone almost six months since I went into labor at almost fourteen weeks, it is still so hard to talk about.

The pain with a loss never goes away. My first "miscarriage" (I really hate that word. I didn't accidentally misplace my baby, it just sounds so ugly to me) was three years ago this coming April, and it still hurts. The pain is different, but it is still there. With each loss, the pain has been different, more intense or more dulled, but it has been its own version of pain.

After I lost our son (what we saw and what we knew instinctively from our 14 week baby though it can't be proven), one of my friends sent me a link to a story or poem, not sure which it is, that described exactly how I felt. Even almost six months out, I still feel this is the perfect summary of how I still feel.

There is a site, Angel Baby, that has beautiful poems, stories, and forums so you can share with others that have been there too. The one that I still love is called The Brick Wall. Everything is passing by, but there is an infinite shadow that it seems no one else can see.

Having been through four "miscarriages", I don't know how others feel, and it has opened my eyes that I truly don't know how anyone else will grieve. All of my losses were so different, and the way I handled them was night and day.

Though the one thing I do know for sure is that a baby is a baby regardless of whether you lost it before you knew you were pregnant, if you were a week past your due date, or even after birth. That baby is a part of you, and even when people think a "miscarriage" isn't as significant as a stillbirth or an infant death, it is.

For myself, I crave people asking me about my babies. I have a three and a half year old daughter, and ever since August, it has seemed weird that people ask me about her but not about my other children, which is what my other losses are to me. They shy away, they avoid, and in the end, it feels like my husband, my daughter, and me are the only ones that remember him. I know it isn't true, but when you face loss, and everyone else is living their lives, it can feel that way.

If you have been through a loss, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Just like the story I linked to, one day you will wake up and not instantly be filled with sadness and regret. That wall will always be behind you, and some days you will think on it more than others, but each day the sun will shine a little brighter, and you won't have to find a reason to smile. You will have more good days than bad days, and you will be able to find happiness again.

I'm not saying it is an easy road. I'm nowhere near being there, but I know it is there somewhere. I know that one day I will reach it, and even if I look back with sadness at what passed, it will begin to be a little bit brighter every day.

They say you need ten good memories to outshine one bad memory, but I like to think that after something awful has happened, sometimes it is easier to look back on the good so it is the one thing you can remember. I remember the feel of my baby kicking me, the way that my daughter used to rub my belly and talk to her brother. I remember how happy I was, even if it was only a little time in passing.

Loss isn't something a lot of people talk about, especially miscarriage, but there are those that will listen. There are forums all over the internet to help women after loss, regardless of when it happened. And, if anyone having been through a loss ever needs a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen, you can always email me. I may not be the best choice, but the option is there.

Sharing your grief can be so very hard, but if it opens the eyes of someone that might not have understood otherwise, it truly can help so no one else is made to feel small or broken.

If you have been through a loss, here are a few links that might be able to help, different organizations and groups you can check out for information.
If you are interested in more information, you can email me anytime at

Remember, you aren't alone, and there are people that can help. You don't have to struggle through this alone, you can reach out and have someone hold your hand through the darkest parts.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Spotlight on a Breastfeeding Partner #2

The Spotlight on a Breastfeeding Partner series aims to highlight the fathers, partners, or cheerleaders behind a breastfeeding mom.  This celebration of breastfeeding support underscores the role support people play in successful breastfeeding and provides encouragement for future breastfeeding partners.  To nominate someone in your life for the spotlight, click here.

Role: Dad
Supporting breastfeeding since 2010

From his wife, Kat: He encouraged me through the long days and nights of a newborn when I said I wanted to give up. He didn't want me to have formula in the house "just in case" (which had been suggested to me numerous times). I'm so glad I didn't because I think I might have given into the temptation. He also encouraged me to nurse in public when my daughter was newborn -- he didn't want me to feel I had to use a cover or hide in another room. He also explained it to his two sons who live with us part-time (12 and 16) that it was natural and I was feeding their sister and that they shouldn't be embarrassed or feel they had to look away. 

I don't know that I would have made it without him. My daughter is 6 months now and I still nurse on demand and plan to until she weans herself.

My 12-year old step-son is another of my biggest supporters. He tends to sit next to me or stand in front of me wherever we are to "protect" me from anyone staring or confronting me. It's quite cute.

Q: What do you treasure most about our nursing relationship?
    A: the 4-6 second mark when you both sink back in unmitigated connection and peace.

 Q:How have you bonded with our breastfed baby?
    A: burping her, holding her, talking to her, playing with her, watching music videos on youtube with her.

 Q: Why was my breastfeeding important to you?
    A: health and connection reasons. helps the baby feel immediately secure, safe and loved. fastest way of reducing anxiety and pani

Friday, January 14, 2011

Not Crunchy Enough?

Often, in attachment parenting circles, people refer to themselves as "crunchy." This word generally refers to someone with a deep respect for nature. In terms of parenting, it can involve using cloth diapers, purchasing sustainable clothes and toys, and feeding one's children organic, locally grown foods. These principles sound ideal to me, but I often find myself falling short. I am guilty of such atrocities as covering a disposable diaper with a reusable cover when the sticky tabs go bad. Sometimes I find myself lurking in attachment parenting communities and feeling like I don't quite measure up.

So, I am throwing out a question for you to think about. How crunchy must one be find a place in the attachment parenting community? Dr. Sears, who helped popularize attachment parenting, encourages parents to "do the best you can with the resources you have." Where do we draw the line? At what point can we acknowledge that a mom has done her best?

I would never advocate for parenting that is violent or disrespectful toward children, but I do think there is some value in finding common ground. Perhaps not all of us share the same political views. Maybe one mom chose more interventions for her birth than another. So what? This is not to say we will always agree. When we do not, let us treat each other with the same gentleness with which we aim to treat our children. We have one thing--the most important thing--in common. We respect our children and value their needs. That is enough to form a connection. The rest will work itself out.

-Connected Mom, Mandi

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Gentle Discipline for Preverbal Toddlers

I can’t say I know for sure, but I really really hope that parenting a preverbal toddler is the most frustrating thing one can do. As my 15 month old son, Oliver, transitions from infancy to toddler hood, he is showing less interest and responsiveness to many of my old tried and true parenting methods and as his ability to communicate falls behind his evolving needs, I find myself constantly grasping for a better handle on my patience, and searching for better ways to connect with him despite his limited vocabulary.

Gentle discipline is labor intensive, especially with a preverbal toddler. It requires a lot of repetition, a lot of patience, and most importantly I think, a number of different approaches and tools to use for different situations. Here are the gentle parenting tools that I have found the most effective with my preverbal toddler.

Anticipating and meeting basic needs:

Toddlers, like infants, are still pretty much 100% dependent on us. They may seem as if they are ready to leave us in their dust while they learn and explore, but when their basic needs go unmet there are a number of toddler behaviors that inevitably result. These can include tantrums, hitting, biting, or other aggressive behaviors, whining or perceived neediness, demanding behaviour, and hyperactivity. The list goes on. When I see a toddler storm brewing my first step in preventing it is to figure out which of my son's needs have not been, or need to be met. 

A general rule to prevent about 50% of preverbal toddler tantrums is to try offering frequent healthy nutrient dense snacks (an added benefit of extended breastfeeding is that half these snacks are ready just when you need them!), make sure your child is getting the appropriate amount of sleep for his or her age during the day and at night, and make sure you are available for frequent snuggles, nursing sessions, or just to sing silly songs or read a favorite book.


When undesired toddler behaviour cannot be prevented, it can often be diverted. The basic idea is to distract your child from one action with an object or action that is more interesting and/or appropriate.

Maybe your toddler has lost interest with dinner and is throwing his food on the floor but you are not ready to clean him up yet. Offer a cup or small bowl and ask him how many bits of food he can put in it. Need an extra few minutes? Dump the bowl and start over again. Toddlers eat that stuff up!

When my son gets excited he often starts throwing toys around. When excited throwing is imminent, why not try distracting with a more appropriate way to show excitement, like “Wow! This is exciting! Let’s do an excited dance!”

Develop routines:

There are many activities that must be completed regularly and yet are totally despised by most toddlers. Brushing teeth and sitting still for a diaper change are two that come to mind, as well as bundling up to go out doors and going to bed at a relatively reasonable hour. 

I have found that creating some kind of routine or ritual around these tasks makes them a lot easier to swallow for my toddler.  This routine or ritual could be as simple as singing a special getting dressed song, or as involved as giving goodnight kisses to every single toy as it gets put away before bed. A routine not only cues your child into what is happening or about to happen and what is expected of them, but also serves as a way for your child to transition smoothly from `play` mode to `cooperation` mode. 

Keep in mind that these routines should not be set in stone, nor should your toddler be forced to participate if he is not interested. By staying relaxed and flexible you make the routine inviting and fun, when you try to force the issue it becomes a power struggle (something I find gets me absolutely no where with my preverbal toddler). In the case of our bed time routine, if Oliver does not seem interested in putting the toys away I simply start the process myself, saying goodnight to the toys and giving them kisses until Oliver decides that it looks like fun and joins in.


I think the most frustrating part of dealing with a preverbal toddler is the limited communication. At this stage, a child’s wants and needs are growing in complexity and his communication skills are having trouble keeping up. Helping him learn to communicate can go a long way.

I highly recommend teaching your child a few words of basic sign language. Even if you never tried baby signs with him or her as an infant, one or two key signs can totally change your life. We find the signs for ‘help’ ‘nurse’ ‘hungry’ and ‘all done’ to be especially helpful, but you may find that other words would be more helpful for your family. It really is as easy as signing whenever you say the word, and/or signing while talking with other adults. You’ll be surprised how quickly your toddler picks it up.

If you are not interested in teaching your child sign language, there are still ways that you can teach communication as a part of gentle discipline.

If your child seems to be acting out of intense emotions, help them to identify these emotions, while being careful not to label them for your child. You can do this by modeling what you would like to hear. Try something like ‘I feel frustrated when I can’t get my toys to work’  then offering a solution like ‘When I get frustrated I ask for a hug and some help’. Your child may or may not respond to this tactic, and it may seem like a silly exercise with a child who cannot speak, but just because they cannot speak does not mean they cannot hear. As your child starts to communicate more he or she will benefit from a good example and the repetition.

Get a job:

It’s true, toddlers are busy, and that makes them exhausting. Equally exhausting is the flip flopping between wildly independent explorer and ‘I need you right now mommy or my tiny brain might explode PLEASE!!!’ Both of these are a problem when I am trying to complete tasks other than directly caring for my toddler. Either he’s using my inattention to get a head start scaling my book shelves, or he’s absolutely indignant about not having my undivided attention to begin with.

By giving my busy toddler a job to `help` me with my task, I am effectively killing two birds with one stone. I am focusing his energy into something that keeps him where I can see him and out of my house plants. And he is engaged with me and what I am doing instead of in competition with it. 

He may not really be helping, in fact it’s more like un-helping. But when I do laundry he knows that he can take things in and out of the dryer, and carry my soap to the laundry room and back. When I unload the dishwasher he stacks the plastic cups and containers. When I am reading he sits in my lap and either ‘reads’ along or looks at his own book. 

Giving your child a job can also help to avoid power struggles. Example: I often let my son walk from the top of the stairs to our apartment door when we are coming home. Most days he will go straight to our door, but some days he decides that he’s going to run and knock on the doors of our neighbours instead. If I try to block or heard him he gets frustrated, so I give him my keys to carry.  This simple action is enough to get him back on the desired path about 80-90% of the time. 

Run/climb/jump it off:

This can be especially helpful for toddlers who are having trouble playing gently with other kids, pets, or you. 

A month ago I found myself repeating the exact same phrases over and over until my throat became hoarse. `gentle Oliver, please be gentle!` followed by `We don’t throw toys at mummy Oliver` or `It hurts mommy when you hit, can you please kiss it better`

I could feel Oliver growing as tired of my constant nagging as I was of his over-excited aggression. I cam to realize that I am not always laid back and docile, so why would I expect the same of my son? It still was not acceptable for him to throw toys or hit me, but there are other perfectly acceptable ways for him to vent off some steam and expend some of that excited toddler energy. 

Make sure that your toddler is getting enough romping time. in the back yard, play ground, or other outdoor space is a great option, but even indoor activities like building a jungle gym out of couch cushions to jump and climb on, or rocking a pots and pans drum solo, or dancing like crazy with mom and dad can serve to vent off a lot of that energy that would otherwise be used to hurl projectiles. 

Making sure your child gets enough active play will also help with common young toddler problems like climbing or getting into things they ought not to, though both of those are completely normal activities that you will never prevent entirely!

Realistic expectations:

As illustrated in the above story of my ‘gentle’ mantra, my expectations don’t always line up with what my toddler is actually capable of.  This can cause a lot of frustration for both parent and child.

While it is true that teaching with gentle discipline takes a bit (ok a lot) of repetition, you may want to stop and examine some of your most recurring problems and decide if the problem could lay in your expectations of your toddler’s behaviour. 

Is it reasonable of me to expect that my 13 month old not touch breakable items within his reach, even after I tell him ‘no’ or try to distract him with another toy?

Is it reasonable to expect that my 15 month old spend an all day , or even few hour, shopping trip quietly slinged on my hip without any breaks to run around, nurse, snack, or nap?

It may seam like a reasonable request to you and me that a 13month old play with the toy he’s been offered, or a 16 month old to remain calm and quiet in her caregiver's arms, it may even be what we NEED them to do at the moment, but if it’s not something he or she is capable of you may need to find an alternate solution.

Try a time-in:

With preverbal toddlers especially, but also with verbal toddlers and preschoolers, there will always be the occasional time where a tantrum simply cannot be avoided or diverted, and that’s Okay!

Our children experience emotions, some of them are very strong emotions that they are not yet able to cope with. In fact, most adults occasionally experience emotions so strong that they have trouble coping with them. Can you really say that YOU have never sworn at a driver who cut you off and leaned on your horn longer then you should have? Or been so upset that you needed to step away for a good cry during a stressful day? Have you ever been so excited that you jumped up and down and screamed with joy?
Just as it isn’t healthy for an adult to bottle up or ignore their feelings, I don’t think that it is healthy or necessary to stop all of our children’s tantrums or crying fits with distraction or playing games.

In the event that your child is truly upset or angry or sad about something that cannot be changed like a parent leaving for work, or a broken toy, or frustration over not being able to do something, you may want to try a time-in.

For me a time-in basically consists of allowing my toddler to experience his emotions in a safe environment with my supportive presence. Sometimes this means leaving the situation entirely and moving to a different room or our favourite nursing chair. But more important is that I do nothing to convince Oliver to stop crying or yelling while still letting him know that I am there to support him. I say something along the lines of. ‘I am sorry that daddy had to leave for work, I miss him too’ or ‘I know we have stayed out too long, and I promise that we will go home very soon’ then I offer some kind of physical support like a hug or hand to hold. I then simply sit quietly with him until he is ready to nurse or play or otherwise move on with his day.

What gentle parenting techniques do you rely on with a preverbal toddler? Do you have any issues that you’ve had trouble finding gentle solutions for? Please comment!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Placenta Encapsulation - Not Just For Hippies!


When my midwife had her baby in November, I was thrilled to be able to encapsulate her placenta for her. My amazing friend on the other side of the continent sent me her instructions on how she went about the process, and I was amazed how easy the entire thing was.

Even though a lot of people don't know about ingesting the placenta after birth, it is slowly coming around. Just like homebirth and unassisted birth, the numbers are slowly climbing, and more women are learning the benefits of either cooking and eating, just eating, or encapsulating their placentas for use after birth.

When I was encapsulating her placenta, I found an amazing resource that helps show the benefits of encapsulating a placenta, plus it can hook you up with someone that does it in your area, which I think is really cool. Though, anyone can do it, it truly isn't hard, you just have to be able to stand the sight of placenta, the smell, cutting it, cooking it, and grinding it. Which to me is amazing.

On this site, they list the benefits of ingesting the placenta after birth. The list is truly phenomenal.
  • Contain your own natural hormones
  • Perfectly made for you
  • Balance your system
  • Replenish depleted iron
  • Give you more energy
  • Lessen bleeding postnatally
  • Increase milk production
  • Have a happier postpartum period
  • Hasten return of your uterus to prepregnancy size
  • Be helpful during menopause
(All from this page)

There is so much more that ingesting your placenta can do for you, but these are they key. For myself, anything to lessen the bleeding after giving birth and helps me stay happier by slowly dropping my hormones instead of a sudden drop is why I would take it. On that link, there are articles talking about each point in detail, I really encourage you to check it out and see for yourself why it is an amazing thing.

Since I encapsulated my midwife's placenta, I was recently able to encapsulate another one for a single mom where I live. Even my three year old daughter loves to help, and it is a great learning experience for both of us to be able to study the placenta and help women with their postpartum period, even if it is just this little bit.

Placentas come in all different shapes, sizes, colors, weights, everything. The first placenta I did was from a cesarean, so it wasn't completely whole, and this last one I did was from a vaginal birth and the placenta was intact and beautiful. I am always amazed the difference between them depending on how the birth went.

The encapsulation process that I do, for anyone interested you can google the raw hydration method (NOT the chinese method), for me it takes about 5-6 hours, but my oven doesn't go as low temperature wise as I wish it did, so mine cooks a bit faster though I keep the oven door cracked to help circulate the air.

When I start, I always love to look at the placenta. Check out the cord and the sacs, if there are any calcifications (spots where the placenta has started to age and doesn't work as well), if there are any problems with the placenta in any way. Now, I don't know much about them yet, and thankfully both the placentas I have done were very healthy, but I like to check anyway.

My favorite part of the entire process though, and this is just something that I do for the women, something my midwife taught me, is I do a placenta print for them before I start the actual process of encapsulating.

She uses ink pads (but I keep forgetting to go out and get some) so I just use craft paint, though it doesn't work as well as the ink pads.

The first placenta I did :)

The second placenta :)

I love how they end up looking like a tree, the tree of life per se, and if I had used ink they would have come out better. With ink, you can see the veins better, so it looks more like a tree with branches and such instead of just a big blob thing.

Ok, now we get to the good stuff :). If you are squeamish about placenta, this is probably where you should stop. The next few pictures will be actual placenta, though they aren't really gory, but better safe than sorry.


The placenta not only feeds your baby for duration of your pregnancy past the first trimester, it regulates all the hormones you have in your body. The ovaries are the first to maintain your hormones, but once your placenta is ready to go, it takes over the production and maintenance of all the hormones needed for pregnancy. Which is quite a bit deal.

The placenta has two sides, the side that faces the baby which the cord comes out of, and the maternal side, which to me looks like ground beef, but in bigger chunks. The fetal side is very smooth, very shiny, and the maternal side is the exact opposite. In the middle of the placenta is where the blood flow switches between the vessels from the mother to baby, without the blood ever actually mixing. It is such an amazing process, and the placenta does this for 7+ months! How is this not the coolest organ in our bodies?!

Plus, after birth, your body automatically expels it the same way it does the baby, without any outside help. It clamps the blood flow on its own after the placenta is detached, and shrinks back to normal size. Seriously, coolest thing ever.

My first placenta, very round, though I hadn't cleaned it off yet, and the cord attached was very short.
My second placenta. Oval shaped, the cord wasn't in the center, but what was still attached was really long. It was fun to be able to check it out in its entirety instead of just a stub.

Throughout the process of encapsulating (you can see the pictures of the process with the first placenta on my blog) I cut the sacs off, cut the cord off, cleaned the blood out, cut it into pieces, slow cooked it, ground it, and then put it into pills. My first placenta made 147 placenta pills, my second one made 216, which just shows the difference between a whole placenta and one that is ripped out and in pieces.

Now, there isn't really any research on how many pills a woman should take a day, but I tell the ones I do that it is anywhere from 2-4 a day, though it is up to you since you are just putting your placenta back in your body. Some women pop one whenever they start to feel run down or sad or just need an extra boost. It truly all depends on what you are comfortable doing.

The placenta is absolutely fascinating. It is treated as waste and a biohazard when in truth it is one of the greatest organs we have that we expel after birth and throw away. It does so much for the body and the baby, and even in birth videos, they never show the birth of the placenta, which is always something I love to watch almost as much as the birth of the baby. It is such an integral part of the birth process, and in most countries and cultures, the placenta is put into rituals, eaten, buried, and sometimes not even cut from the baby until it falls off on its own.

There are so many things that we don't understand about how the birth process works, and maybe we will be able to have more than a handful of people in the next few years wanting their placentas so they can start a ritual with their family, whether they just want to bury it under a bush, or if they will ingest it.

The placenta is remarkable, I wish every woman knew if its incredible power.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Busting Common Pregnancy and New Mommy Myths

Photo credit: Dizznboon (Flickr)
Take it easy!
Perhaps you've heard you're in a delicate condition, you aren't. You're pregnant not sick!  While some of your activities may need to change and you may encounter different challenges at different points in your pregnancy, you can take it normal.  If you exercise, try to keep it up and switch to different activities to meet your changing body's needs like giving up the elliptical for swimming.  If you don't regularly exercise, an evening walk is a great way to keep connected with your partner and reduce your risk of complications like gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia.  When sitting try to stay in a good position and avoid always lounging with your feet up during your last trimester to encourage optimal fetal positioning.

You're eating for two!
This justification usually results in an extra slice of cake not more carrots.  Listen to your body's cues and eat healthful snacks throughout the day like cottage cheese, nuts, or a boiled egg. You should eat to satisfy and while it's okay to indulge a bit, try to meet your dietary needs with whole foods not sweets and junk food which can help prevent blood pressure and glucose complications.

Birth classes are pointless
Many people who tell you this have only attended the classes offered by the hospital.  Those classes often offer more info on procedures than techniques for birthing.  Consider attended a childbirth education class utilizing the HypnoBabies, Bradley or Birthing from Within methods.  These classes will help you learn coping techniques and other labor positions.  Sidenote: As an ICAN leader, a lot of women tell me they don't pay attention during the c-section info because they were planning a natural birth.  With the c-section rate over 32%, it is wise to know what to expect, especially since having that info can help you AVOID a c-section!

Photo credit: futurestreet (Flickr)
You should only gain X amount
I'm always shocked, and a bit disgusted, when a women says her doctor will only let her gain 10-15 lbs.  While it can be easy to put on more weight than seems healthy by modern obstetric guidelines, if you are following a healthful diet and staying active, weight gain should not be restricted to a predetermined amount regardless of your size.  Your body knows what it needs to grow this baby.  Offer it healthy food and activity and you'll gain the amount right for you.

You will become a sex fiend/you won't allow your husband to touch you
Truth is that hormones are different for everyone.  You might jump your partner every night or it may be a long nine months.  Sex can be beneficial during this last trimester in preparing your body for birth.  Even if it sounds a bit hard, give it a try.  It may take some adjustment, but as with any time in your life, the more sex you have, the more sex you have.

You'll feel great after the first trimester
For a lot of women as the placenta takes over hormone production, morning sickness and fatigue fade at the end of the first trimester but there's no concrete rule.  If you are still suffering talk with you midwife or physician about dietary and lifestyle changes that could help.

I bet you're ready to have that baby
Let go of your due date, baby is going to come when he's ready and don't rush him!  Believe it or not, you're going to miss those final days of blissful pregnancy - the tiny kicks and rolls, the beauty of your blossoming belly, the special bond between you and your unborn child.  Don't let people pressure you to rush your pregnancy, enjoy it and nurture it.  Baby will be here before you know it.

You'll never sleep again
You will.  In fact, if you're like most of us you'll be up every hour for the last month of your pregnancy peeing anyway!  The first few weeks do require more time awake feeding and changing diapers, but you won't feel like you're missing anything holding that baby!  Co-sleeping and breastfeeding will help reduce the amount of time you spend awake in the night and attachment parenting can help by reducing baby's fussy periods, leading to more restful sleep!

Swelling is normal
I still remember my OB laughing off my tree trunk ankles when I came in for a third trimester appointment as "pregnancy."  Swelling is one of the first signs of pre-eclampsia and other conditions.  Increasing the protein in your diet and getting enough water will help keep swelling away and reduce your risk of pre-eclampsia.  If you notice swelling, eat a steak dinner and some watermelon or grapes to help flush it through your system.  Nutrition can have a direct influence on this "common" pregnancy issue.

Photo credit: Raphael Goetter (Flickr)
Breastfeeding is hard/easy/too much work/awesome
Breastfeeding is an art.  Have moral support, be prepared to nurse frequently on demand, and realize it gets easier!  Don't romanticize breastfeeding or fear it.  It's a natural process that takes some skill.  Get involved with LLL before birth, have the number of a good Lactation Consultant handy, and ask for help if you need it. Like with any art, other breastfeeding moms are there to help you master it!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Mom 2011 Giveaway!

We're ringing in the new year with a giant giveaway for one lucky mom!

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