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Promoting instinctual parenting in childbirth education classes.

Parenting today is different. More confusing. Parents are faced with even more decisions and options. They no longer have the security of close relatives to answer questions and guide them. And the at-home mother no longer has a wide base of support on which to lean, since she is a minority in today's world. And if this weren't bad enough, everywhere a new parent turns, he or she is face to face with another "baby expert"!

The childbirth educator has the important, unique opportunity to help couples. She can prompt discussions concerning parenting beliefs and myths to help the couples release their fears, to help them prioritize, and to ease their minds and prepare them for what lies ahead. The educator can help the couples to accept the existence of the parenting instinct and can inform the parents-to-be that they will find themselves faced with doubts, guilt, and others who don't agree with what they choose to do for their children and their family as a whole. And she can reassure the expectant parents that there isn't just one right way to parent... but that a family must find their own way and do what "feels right" for them.

How can a childbirth educator do all this? By weaving information on instinctual parenting throughout her class series. One class is probably not enough, especially if it is the first or last class of the series.

Pregnant Parenting

While good nutrition and prenatal care are obvious ways to urge parents-to-be to get caring for their baby off to a good start, there are indeed other interesting ways they can parent while pregnant! According to Dr. William Sears, a pediatrician, author, and father of eight, "Two important stages in which parents can have a dramatic and often lasting impact on the baby's temperament are the last several months of pregnancy and the first two weeks after birth."

A mother's emotions, movements, sounds, and even thoughts (some believe) can reach and affect the unborn. Fatal awareness is an exciting field of research. The baby-to-come is acutely aware of the joys and the stresses of his environment, and his temperament can be affected for better or for worse by what he feels and hears during life in the womb (Liley 1972; Verney 1981).

As an educator, you can tell your couples to:

Pay attention to the way their baby acts in the womb: Ask them if they ever attended a parade with loud drums while pregnant? Listened to loud music with a heavy or a disturbing beat? Fought heatedly with a spouse or other? Been extremely tense or stressed for some reason? Perhaps they have noticed that their baby suddenly moves within them as if upset himself! Urge them to adjust their activities accordingly. They aren't "losing their mind"... the baby probably is upset!

Sing and dance: Some expectant parents have found to their delight that when their unborn baby seems agitated, the same song and dance that calmed him prenatally, calms him after birth also. By starting prenatally, the parents weren't later left wondering what to do for their fussy baby.

Feel good feelings and practice relaxation and/or visualization exercises regularly. The better the mother copes with anxiety, stress and daily upset, the better for her baby! Studies have shown that a mother's attitude toward pregnancy can be a self-fulfilling prophecy (Verney 1981). The moms who gave birth fearfully and were uninformed had a difficult birth. Women who were ambivalent about becoming mothers had apathetic babies. Research has also shown that the same hormones that produce stress reactions in a mother also pass through the placenta to the baby so that when mom is upset so is baby. Researchers theorize that if an unborn baby is continually exposed to stress hormones from the mother, and is continually producing his own stress hormones in response to an anxious environment, he has a greater risk to develop an overcharged nervous system and greater chance of being fussy, colicky and/or "high-need.

Work for a peaceful birth: Make sure your couples are thoroughly informed and develop birth plans (if only to clarify values). Studies have shown that babies who are the product of a birth characterized by fear, mother-baby separation, etc. are more likely to be fussy. This has also been shown to be true in babies whose mothers have been medicated (Meares 1982).

Postpartum Parenting

At baby's birth, parenting instincts immediately begin to flow. Tell parents to follow their hearts! They will know immediately how to care for their new baby. Nature provides all parents with instincts... and they will last indefinitely as long as the instinct is regularly heard and acted on.

You might give parents the following example to prove "nature knows best": Research has finally proven what mothers through time have always known. Skin-to-skin contact, early and frequent breastfeeding with supplementation, and rooming in (if they choose to birth in-hospital) all serve to achieve important and positive goals:

* Early bonding (a sensationalized term that simply means truly getting to know the baby, and forming an attachment to him/her and vice-versa);

* Security and peace outside of the womb;

* Uterine contractions that expel the placenta, prevent hemorrhage, and return the uterus to pre-pregnancy size;

* Giving baby the important colostrum advantage and getting breastfeeding off to a good start.

Help your couples learn to realize that when parenting becomes a set of schedules, rigid expectations, and/or a scientific formula," both mother and baby lose. Help them accept the fact that it is wonderful and right to follow their instincts. Drill in the need to not let others make them feel "bad" or "wrong" for the decisions that they will make regarding their baby and their family.

Dispel myths: Babies can not be held too much, nursed too much, or even slept with too much. If their baby is only happy in their arms... it's great to carry or wear him! If their baby insists on nursing every hour during the wee hours, and they are tired of being forced to get out of their warm bed to the cool of a wood rocker... enlighten them on the case, and benefits of "sharing sleep" with their little one. They will not be fostering dependence, they will be ensuring future independence. Humans are a continuous contact species, throughout life. Babies are indeed small, but their needs are the same size as ours.

Their baby will grow up faster than they could ever begin to know. What's more important to them? The dishes in the sink and baby's 3-hour schedule or baby's needs and mother's needs? Sometimes putting it in these terms, makes parents-to-be see how silly some of our western beliefs and practices concerning childrearing truly are.

Some Class Discussion Starters

If your couples still are not too sure about how all of this might make sense for them, prompt them with some of the following discussion starters. They will surely see that although babies are tiny, they are people. * Has there ever been a time when you stood in front of an open refrigerator hungry for a snack not long after a meal? Have you ever had a case of the hungries and known that you didn't need that pickle or that slice of cheese? Didn't it just "hit the spot" when that bit of hunger was satisfied? Have you ever sat down to a meal and not eaten quite enough to completely fill you up because you were upset, ill or in a rush to get to other activities? How would you have felt if your partner had come up behind you and slammed the refrigerator door shut and led you away remarking that you weren't really hungry, and that in two hours he would allow you another bit to cat?!

* As an adult, doesn't it feel absolutely wonderful and secure to snuggle up to your partner at night? Do you remember as a child how secure and loved you felt when/if your parents allowed or invited you to slip into bed with them (or vice-versa)?

* Has there ever been a time when your mouth felt unusually dry and you needed a drink often? Or possibly a hot day when your need for fluids and more frequent meals increased? Would you have not minded being denied fluids?

* Have you ever had a rotten day or just didn't feel well in general, and found yourself needing to be held? Have you ever felt plain lousy, and at the same time felt unsure why exactly you were feeling this way? Didn't that simple pat or hug prove to be the best medicine? Wouldn't you have felt worse had someone ignored your distress and put you in bed alone "for a nap," denying you the physical and emotional nurturing you needed?

Parents today are faced with more than just inner conflict. They are faced with a society, in general, that doesn't value the major tasks involved in parenting. Every day they see parents making use of plastic baby seats, swings,

and confining playpens. Every day they watch commercials on television advertising bottles and formula, and every day they hear another story of a poor, poor woman who couldn't breastfeed because her milk just "wasn't plentiful enough." Every day, they hear experts" on talk shows or even on the city bus tell them never, ever to allow their child into bed with them... or they will never "get them out." Parents are rushed in this society to force independence on a being who isn't capable of being independent! Parents-to-be need to have positive role modeling and need parental preparation today more than ever before.

You can do this by teaching them how to use baby slings, breastfeed discreetly, and tune in to their instincts. You can reassure them that, yes, baby will not be dependent on them forever. You can help them understand that if needs are met when they arise, they will not see those needs later manifest in their children when they become adults. Be a role model! If you have a small child, this can be accomplished in many ways. If, for example, you teach while someone watches your child nearby, they will see you meeting your little one's needs while still maintaining your own.

And to those parents who dismiss attachment parenting, openly admitting that it sounds too "time consuming," remind them that following a baby's lead is only tiring if one expends a lot of energy elsewhere needlessly, doesn't have support, and has unrealistic expectations, or goes against what "feels right."

And aren't their babies so special that all the time in the world with them would be like the most lovely gift ever?!
COPYRIGHT 1994 Association of Labor Assistants & Childbirth Educators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Hobbs, Carrie
Publication:Special Delivery
Date:Sep 22, 1994
Words:1784
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