Google+ Authentic Parenting: Even With the Best Intentions...

Monday, February 11, 2013

Even With the Best Intentions...

A while back, I was invited to join in a group based on the principles of Aletha Solter's Aware Parenting. I was happy to join, as the universe had been pointing me in Solter's direction time and again and I was interested in finding out what this was all about.
Anything called Aware Parenting can only be a good thing, as awareness is something I am very profound about.

I haven't' had the chance to read any of her books, but have read some of the articles and interviews she did. One thing she says is that sometimes, breastfeeding can constitute a control pattern. I had to stop and think about this for a while. Are there times when it is wrong to breastfeed your child?

Now this is my interpretation of what she means with this: indeed, sometimes, we could carelessly put our babies on the breast when they're upset, or crying, just to shut them up. Most babies will accept the breast when they're upset and will then indeed be quiet. yet in doing so, we squish their authentic expression and tell them, it's not ok to voice your concerns and you better be quiet.

Now this is a profound thought. I had never stopped to consider this.
Now to be quite frank, I also don't really use breastfeeding in this way. But still, I know it happens, so the remark is an intelligent one to make.
To not use breastfeeding as a way to shush authentic emotion…

image: bbaunach
Yet on this group, it seemed to become a sport to refuse the breast, to elicit as much 'releasing' (i.e. crying) as possible.
What the people in this group had come to understand was that children need to cry and breastfeeding them when they do takes away their capacity to heal. Breastfeeding them for comfort would in fact just be a control pattern you place upon them in order to shut them up, and thus avoid the expression of emotion.

Again, yes, I agree that sometimes children need to cry to express their emotions, to heal their sadness. Some more than others.
My daughter - a very sensitive child - used to need to cry to release tension at night, but at that time, I didn't know that and thought there was something wrong, that I was doing something wrong. Solter introduces the principle of 'Crying in Arms' in order to create a safe and nurturing environment for children to release their emotions.

But this notion resulted in parents refusing the breast for comfort, refusing the breast for falling asleep, refusing maternal comfort when crying (baby had to stay with daddy when reaching for the mother - in order to 'release').

It just proves that even with the best intentions, which I truly believe Solter had, people will misinterpret and it can create very distorted situations.

So just to be clear:
Yes, sometimes children need to cry to release the pent up emotions, this can be the stresses of the day, or deeper emotions, like separation, birth trauma, illness… If your child isn't hungry, or cold or doesn't have any immediate apparent need, it is ok for your child to cry. Make sure you are there and present, that you don't close off mentally. And you don't need to shush them.
  • nursing your infant to sleep is ok.
  • offering your breast for comfort when your child wants to be comforted is ok. In the early months - and years - you will act as regulator of your child's emotions, it is from you that your child learns to gain control of their own feelings. And if you are breastfeeding, breast is a huge part of comfort and emotion regulation.
  • refusing your breast for comfort or sleep is just as controlling as pushing breast to shut them up.

In the words of Dr. Thomas Lewis in A General Theory of Love:
"A distraught baby reaches for his mother because an attuned parent can soothe him, he cannot soothe himself. As a consequence of thousands of these interactions a child learns to quiet himself. His knowledge, like knowing how to keep a bike upright, is implicit, invisible, inarticulate, and undeniable."



  1. This was a really interesting read, thank you for sharing.

  2. Totally agree with you! Maybe I have used the breast sometimes too much/too eagerly, but I don't feel guilty about it! I would much rather try to have met my child's needs, than withheld comfort and nourishment from her!

  3. Mmh. If you offer the breast and the child takes it, I don't see it as imposing breastfeeding in order to make the child quiet. And that is because you can't force a child to breastfeed. (Of course, if it turns into "you breastfeed here and now, or I'll let you cry alone in your room", that is abusive and that shows a mother trying to control her child.) And that is why you have some babies who cry and cry and refuse the breast, because they want to "release".

    If the child finds comfort in breastfeeding, why not offer it. I don't buy that it can be detrimental to authenticity to offer the breast when a child is crying. Children so young that they can't express themselves or get overwhelmed in their emotions, don't feel shut because the mother is offering to breastfeed. They feel cared for. They feel that life is good. They feel that when something is wrong, their mother tends to them lovingly, even if clumsily.

    Children are smarter than we think. They know how to get what they need.

  4. I really like your balanced interpretation of Solter's work. When I first heard of her position, I was nervous because it seemed too close to encouraging crying-it-out and discouraging breastfeeding (or I feared that's what people would make of it, which as you point out, can be the case). However, the flip side is it has given me chances to examine what makes me so uncomfortable about my children expressing emotion and realizing that I don't always need to respond with the breast. For instance, now I often hug or offer verbal comfort first, talk through the situation, and let my toddler ask for the breast if that's what he needs instead, rather than assume he wants to nurse, as if having him nurse is the fastest way to shut him up and turn off the crying. The younger the child, of course, the less talking-through can happen or be useful, but reading her work did offer me some reassurance and lead me to this self-reflection of when I was using the breast perhaps inappropriately.

    Which was a long comment just to say: I agree with you! My little ones have always nursed a LOT, including comfort nursing, so I think any reading of the book should be taken with common sense and compassion in mind, even as some of her lessons might be beneficial.

    1. I have to be quite honest... the first week or so after I read her advice about breastfeeding, I had cold sweat breaking out every time I thought about it. *I* even began to doubt my nursing my baby... But I just went and read a smuch as possible about what she wrote and this is what I extracted.
      I don't think she meant to be restrictive or anything. I think she just wanted to point out something she noticed: our culture does not allow authentic expression of grief; sadness or anger and we do sometimes use the breast to quickly supress such emotions. SO we should be considerate...

      It's sad that it makes people go to these extremes though. The whole group was about how to get your baby not to take the reast etc...


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