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You can sling your baby and co-sleep safely. Yes, you can.

Posted Mar 18 2010 4:37pm

Gena Kirby and daughter

Oh man, it’s hard to feel confident choosing products for my children while being barraged with fear-marketing and dramatic it-will-harm-them headlines.

Do we really need a hands-free soap dispenser because the push-top on typical dispensers can collect germs? Lysol seems to think so. And what’s up with organizations parenting my parenting? It was a real pain to find a bathtub seat and walker for my youngest child – two items that were must-haves with my boys, now ages 17 and 6.

And oh goodness, admitting I use those items, happily, subjects me to all kinds of judgmental looks and comments. But guess what? So what. I’m a responsible enough parent to know not to leave my baby unattended in the tub, seat or no seat. And I’m not tempted to put the baby in her walker where she can tumble down stairs. Even if I had a two-story home, I still wouldn’t because that’s just common sense.

It breaks my heart that babies were harmed or killed while using those products. However, if used appropriately and with the right supervision, are they still so inheritably dangerous?

That’s not to say parents shouldn’t be cautious and on alert. There are some incredibly valid, and detrimental, health issues if your child decides to snack on lead-paint chips. Really, those are never safe to nosh.

I’m the first to admit my fear of SIDS and appreciated, and utilized, the recent suggestions of circulating air with a fan, using a pacifier, and placing baby on back to slumber. And if the highchair is known to topple, sorry Graco , that should be taken seriously too. But does that mean because one highchair was designed badly , we declare all highchairs evil and ban parents from ever purchasing one again? Do we boycott the company even if they’re behaving swiftly and responsibly to solve the problem?

I think it’s time to savvy up to the paranoia and fear-mongering. It’s time to look more at the facts than the pumped-up sensation and knee-jerk emotional responses provoked.

As a parent, I want the fact-based information so I can make an informed choice. When the uproar over wearing a baby in a sling erupted, and aftershocks rumbled about attachment parenting and co-sleeping, I contacted Gena Kirby , who sits on the Attachment Parenting International Board of Directors , for an interview.

1. What should moms know about Attachment Parenting (AP) and what are the biggest misconceptions?

Attachment Parenting is summed up best for me by Dr. John Gottman. He says, “The key to successful parenting is not found in complex theories; elaborate family rules, or convoluted formulas for behavior. It is based on your deepest feelings of love and affection for your child and is demonstrated simply through empathy and understanding.

“Good parenting begins in your heart, and then continues on a moment-to-moment basis by engaging your children when feelings run high, when they are sad, angry, or scared. The heart of parenting is being there in a particular way when it really counts.”

Attachment parenting misconceptions? One of the biggest is that AP mommies are passive and let their kids do whatever without discipline. Sometimes they think we are a by-the-numbers group and we parent exactly the same way.

2. We hear all about the dangers of co-sleeping and, recently, wearing your child in a sling. Are there ways moms can do this safely and with confidence?

Oh yes, babies sleeping by themselves is a relatively new practice. To put it into perspective, it’s just in the last hundred years that we’ve started sleeping without our children. Bed sharing with an infant is healthy and safe in most cases. However, there are times when parents should use a basinet or crib instead.

I recommend reading Dr. James McKenna’s fantastic book Sleeping with Your Baby. Until then, here are some guidelines of when you should NOT bed share and some safe-sleeping environment tips.

Do not share your bed with an infant if:

  • You use alcohol or drugs. Using any substances that interfere with your judgment or level of consciousness at night will interfere with your ability to be aware of your baby. This includes over the counter medication.
  • You smoke. A higher risk of SIDS has been associated with parental cigarette smoking and bed sharing.
  • You have a poor sleeping surface. Sharing sleep with your baby should not be done on a couch, recliner, water bed or any location where the infant could become wedged between the surface and the parent.

If your baby sleeps with you:

  • Breastfeed your baby. Breastfeeding mothers spend more time in lighter stages of sleep, making them more aware of their baby. They also tend to sleep in a protective position (with knees bent upward) that prevents baby from moving down under the covers.
  • Place baby next to mom, rather than between mother and father.
  • Use approved side rails or bed extenders when placing baby in the family bed. Fill in any crevice between the bed and walls or furniture with a rolled up baby blanket or towel. Placing the mattress on the floor (like a futon) creates the safest possible sleep environment.
  • Only primary caregivers should sleep with an infant. Do not allow baby sitters or older siblings to sleep with the baby.

The following are research-based guidelines that Attachment Parenting International (API) recommends:

  • Place your baby to sleep on her back. This helps protect your baby from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
  • Choose a firm mattress, free of fluffy bedding, bumpers and stuffed animals. Never place your baby – or fall asleep with your baby – on a couch, recliner, beanbag chair, fold out couch, inflatable bed or water bed to sleep.
  • Keep baby cool. Adjust clothing and room temperature to keep baby from overheating. UNICEF recommends a temperature of between 60-64 degrees Fahrenheit for night-time sleep.
  • Use a fan in the room where baby sleeps to help circulate air and maintain a cooler environment.

Okay onto baby wearing

I’m glad you asked this question. There are so many benefits to wearing your baby in a sling, if you are cautious and use common sense, wearing your baby will be good for you and your baby.

Baby wearing benefits include:

  • Promotes and strengthens parent’s emotional bond with their baby.
  • Babies cry less when worn or held.
  • Holding helps regulate your baby’s temperature and heart rate.
  • Baby feels more secure.
  • The movement that naturally results from carrying your baby stimulates his neurological development.

Just be aware, baby wearing is like many other activities: The benefits are numerous but it is still necessary to follow safe practices.

3. How do you communicate with pediatricians who don’t support, or don’t understand, attachment parenting practices?
If you see a pediatrician that doesn’t support your beliefs as a parent, I would suggest you seek a new pediatrician. If he/she doesn’t understand, give them a copy of Attached at the Heart by Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker. The book explains Attachment Parenting and backs up all Eight Principals with sound science and evidence.

4. When did you become aware of attachment parenting and become involved in educating parents about it?

After the birth of our first daughter we began implementing the principals of Attachment Parenting, only we didn’t know it at the time.

We felt compelled to have her near us, so the bed sharing and baby wearing was natural. I wanted to nurse, and so I did. When the baby cried, I picked her up.  Spanking, or hitting, my daughter was something I knew I didn’t want to do.

It wasn’t until she was about a year old that we heard about Attachment Parenting. I can’t tell you how thrilling it was to know that there were other parents out there that were doing what we were and it had a name!

We only started to share what we learned after we opened our store Mommy Matters in Fresno, California. After so many women asked me, in a whisper, if I shared a bed with my baby and told me their parenting decisions weren’t supported by their families, I started writing about Attachment Parenting. Next thing I knew, I was talking about it the radio on my own program called Progressive Parenting. Then, I became a member on the Board of Directors for Attachment Parenting International.

5. Where can moms find more information and support groups?

Parents can find a fantastic support group in their area by going to Attachment Parenting International . Also, there’s Mommy Matters Online for online support and community.

If you are in the Fresno area, there’s also the Yahoo! Group Fresno AP Mommies .

Note: The information shared is given in good faith, based on Gena’s personal knowledge and experience. Make sure to discuss the information presented here with your health care provider.

Gena Kirby’s BIO:  Gena Kirby is a mother of three girls ages 11 months to 7 years. She is also a Doula,  La Leche League International Breastfeeding Peer Counselor and hosts the Mommy Matters Live! television show and Progressive Parenting radio show, as well as, sits on the Attachment Parenting International Board of Directors.  She can be reaches on Twitter, Facebook, MommyMattersOnline.com, or via email at mommymattersonline@sbcglobal.net

If you live in the Fresno area, stop by Mommy Matters Online Annex located at Ginkgo Tree Yoga .

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