Your Baby Didn’t Read the Book

If you’ve ever been to one of my Lamaze classes, then you know I cover a whole lot more than just birth in the last class. The reason I do so is because, while birth is an important part of your story as a mother and father, it’s not the end of the story. We spend a lot of time preparing for birth and breastfeeding, and not a lot of time preparing for the rest. Let’s be honest here, when my husband and I brought our first home, we stared at him sitting in his car seat and asked, “now what?”

Valid question, but the answer isn’t so simple, because every baby is different and every parent is different. My students often ask me, “What is the best sleep training method? What is the best way to breastfeed and work? What is the best discipline book?”

I can’t answer those questions, because even if I suggest a book, your baby won’t read it.

We do know that some things are better than others from the research:

  • When it comes to sleep training, the research shows that parents who get sleep are better parents than those who are sleep deprived. It also shows that graduated cry-it-out methods are as safe as other methods (though straight cry-it-out at a young age is still associated with temporary spikes in cortisol).
  • Breastfeeding shows some advantages over formula feeding, a difference that is more pronounced for preemies. Of course, if the choice is between formula or not getting fed at all (or getting fed any other species/type of milk), then formula comes out the clear winner.
  • Research shows that spanking is one of the least effective forms of discipline, but that not all children respond to gentle discipline or positive parenting principles.

But if you are debating between the Five S’s and the No-Cry Sleep Solution, I can’t tell you what to choose–it will largely depend on your lifestyle and the temperament of your baby. My eldest child responded to ZERO sleep training methods, even Cry-It Out. Trust me, we bought all the books and tried all the methods; he didn’t read the books, and insisted on being put to sleep in the Ergo for every nap and nighttime sleep. Our second child slept so well we didn’t have to sleep train him at all.

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Two kids. Two very different personalities. Two very different parenting methods.

So what do you do when you have to make a decision about how to parent your child? Here are my tips (and don’t worry–your baby won’t read these either):

  1. Trust your gut. There is something to be said for parenting instincts. Ours told us not to put our oldest child down, and he turned out to have some pretty serious special needs that were mitigated by our early attachment parenting. Our gut told us to let our second figure it out on his own, and he was happier with the extra independence.
  2. Take care of yourself first. You can’t be a good parent if you are tired, depressed, or hungry. If breastfeeding is killing you, or sleep training is killing you, or YOU need a time out, take care of yourself.
  3. Do what works for you. There is no one right way to parent. Attachment Parent, Bring up Bebe, Tiger Mom, Soccer Mom–whatever works for you and your family. Just ditch the stuff that doesn’t work and don’t look back, and don’t let other people make you feel guilty for choosing the path that is right for your family.
  4. Don’t preach to or judge other parents. When you find what works for you, celebrate. But remember that your way isn’t the only way, and reserve judgment on other parents for doing it differently from you. I remember how it felt to be shamed for breastfeeding, and how it felt to be told we were doing sleep wrong for our first, and even how it feels when I get the side-eye for being strict with my extremely strong-willed toddler now. I don’t want to make another person feel that way, so I try to avoid it.

Because the truth is that all parents are flying by the seat of their pants, doing the best they can with the information they have applied to the individual traits of their children. Cut yourself some slack and take it one day at a time. You’ve got this!

Research-Based Info: Is it good?

Read the headlines and your newsfeed, and you might be alarmed at all of the conflicting studies and information out there. Tylenol is good for your baby–or is it? Babies should not be born until 39 weeks, 40 weeks, 44 weeks! Cry it out will damage your child forever, but maybe it won’t. And is roundup really in breastmilk? (Spoiler alert–no, it’s not.)

To understand what you are reading, you need to understand that journalists get it wrong all the time, and sometimes even self-titled “scientists” get it wrong, too. To start, watch this excellent summary by John Oliver:

 

Okay, sort of get it?

In my birth classes, I use real peer-reviewed research from real scientists that shows us a true picture of what is and is not healthy for you and your family. And if the research is unclear, or in its infancy, or needs replication, I share that too. It’s important not just to understand what studies say from a general standpoint, but also to understand the limitations and strengths of each study. Here is what I look for when I teach:

Peer review in a respected journal

This is where I start. If a study hasn’t been peer reviewed in a respected journal, it isn’t worth my time. Recently, a “study” came out linking autism and folate in pregnancy. guess what? Not only is the study a denial of many other replicated studies saying the exact opposite, but it hasn’t even been peer reviewed yet!  Researchers fight to get their work in journals, which means they are pretty competitive at shooting down unsound research when it is presented for journal inclusion. With peer review, the study is picked apart to be sure that it is worthy of publication. Also, beware: many journals sound legitimate, but are actually online “pay-to-play” journals. A colleague of my cousin once submitted random text to one of these journals, just to see what would happen, and it was published. Know which journals are accepted as real peer review journals before you cite the study.

Type of Study

The gold standard in research is what we call a double-blind controlled study, which means that we can narrow down what we are studying to only the factors we want to study. One example of poor control is the many studies that link IQ to breastfeeding; as it turns out, many parents who breastfeed also have higher levels of education, which begs the question: is it the fact that the baby was fed at the breast, or is it the fact that the baby comes from a line of higher IQ individuals? Also, in double-blind studies, the patient doesn’t know if they are receiving a regular course of action or an intervention. Naturally, this is hard to do in a situation like birth where a mom will likely know of any interventions.

However, the fact that good studies are hard to come by in this field doesn’t mean we can’t get some good data, so many birth and parenting related studies are retrospective looks at data. Beware studies that rely on the memory of patients (in law, we talked about how witnesses are–correctly–assumed to be unreliable), and beware any study that does not fully disclose or share methods. These are huge red flags.

Sample size and spread

Look, a study of 10 women in a single town in Australia (cough cough the fake roundup-in-breastmilk “study”) is probably not going to speak for the rest of the world. What you want is a representative sample that reflects a variety of environments and is big enough to draw real conclusions. This doesn’t mean the study has to involve millions, especially when we are talking about something like childbearing, which has many variables that are difficult to control. However, a good representation (people from a variety of backgrounds and location) is the best bet to ensure that the results aren’t the product of a particular locale, lifestyle, or medical philosophy.

Funding source/independent verification

Many research denialists love to point to this one as a serious problem in the research realm. Yes, if a major corporation is sponsoring the research, it deserves a closer look. In nearly all of these cases, however, the results are sent off for independent verification to help remove the bias behind a study. Of course researchers are biased–they put their heart and soul into whatever they are studying, and it’s no fun if you don’t discover something cool (after all, we are all human, here). BUT, independent verification by another party ensures that the data remains as neutral as possible. And don’t forget; this goes both ways.

Replication

The real truth-teller: replication. When the roundup-in-breastmilk study was replicated on a bigger scale with a broader sample under stringent controls, independently verified, AND peer-reviewed (the original research met none of these qualifications), guess what they found? Nothing. Not even a trace, not even amongst lactating mothers who mixed the chemical for a living. On the flip side, a detailed study on sleep training methods (not actually straight “Cry-It-Out as the journalists reported) was recently released, which showed no harm (and maybe some benefit) to babies who were sleep trained. This study, though it sounds like something new, is actually a replication of previous studies that have indicated no harm to children who have been sleep trained. The fact that this study replicated several previous studies is promising for parents who worry about getting good sleep. Every now and then, something new will pop up in replication–perhaps a new variant of something scientists had not considered, and that is exciting too! Contrary to popular belief, scientists actually like proving themselves wrong or discovering something new because it means the potential for more research!

That’s the end of my guide to research tonight. I hope it helps you understand the basis for research-based education and why my classes are structured based on Cochrane Database research; only studies that meet all of these guidelines make it into the Cochrane Database, which is the same pool of research used to make guidelines for a wide range of medical and professional fields.

June and July Lamaze Birth Classes

Just a quick update to let everyone know about our June and July Lamaze classes, held in Athens, OH. We have an exciting one-day birth workshop in June and a full weekend Lamaze class scheduled in July! Register soon–spots are filling up fast!

JUNE BIRTH WORKSHOP:

This is an intensive one-day course to help you hit all the topics, while I give you some tools to complete your learning at home!

June 18, 9am until about 5 or 6 pm. We will work through lunch, so pack something yummy or feel free to grab a slice from Avalanche!

JULY 2016 LAMAZE CLASS!  The 12-hour class will meet:

Saturday, July 30, 9am-12pm and 1pm-4pm

Sunday, July 31, 9am-12pm and 1pm-4pm