How a Modern Day Village is Helping Me Raise My Child

  

They say “It takes a village to raise a child.” I’ve read many articles that explain how important it is to recognise that humans, by nature, are supposed to raise their children as a communal effort with their extended family. But in our modern day society, villages are pretty hard to come by. 

I often close my eyes and try to imagine what an old time village of help might have looked like. Big houses full of people, laughter, good conversation. Children running around playing together. A big pot of soup on the stove, bread in the oven. It brings a smile to my face, at the thought. I imagine during spring and summer, children would be out in the garden, helping their elders grow the food that will be one day cooked up for them to eat and in Autumn they all go out to collect fruit for pies. I imagine mums, who can always take 5 mins or longer, to breathe and take care of themselves, while another member of the family watches the kids. And the joint effort that would go into the general care of the house. I like this place. Something in my blood misses this place.

But now, in a world that focuses on each person being as productive for industry as possible, we find that the people in our “village” are gone. Simply too busy to take part. 

Grandparents, aunties and uncles, our closest friends, all have jobs to commit to. Unless one person in a single family earns enough to take care of the family finances, alone, all parties must find themselves a job in order to contribute and sustain their way of living. This leaves new parents in a bit of a pickle when it comes to sourcing help and support from their village. New parents find themselves alone in the home, to take care of not only the children but the other jobs that need taking care of in the home. Again, something that in days gone by, would have been a shared responsibility. 

We power through, often struggling to raise our children in the way we see fit, whilst trying to understand why this whole parenting thing is so bloody difficult! 

It usually leaves us feeling like we are incapable or like we are failing at parenting. 

Some become anxious, depressed and find themselves needing medical care, either in the form of medication or counselling. Many others don’t even get this far. As a result of poor mental health education and awareness, many continue to struggle through, without ever taking care of their mental well-being, leading to many more problems in their lives. It’s a huge problem!

I don’t have the answers to this. I’m aware that if our government spent a little more time focusing on the importance and value of care in the home, whatever form that might take, then we might not be finding ourselves in such a pandemic with maternal or family-related mental health issues – You can follow Mothers at Home Matter Too to see how one organisation is trying to change government policy on this issue and also The Politics of Mothering to join discussions that surround these issues. – For now, all I can do is hope that many will see the merit that a politician like Jeremy Corbyn would bring to our government, and carry on. But what I do recognise, is that I seem to have created my very own, modern-day village. And many other parents seem to be doing the same.

It’s not as traditional as the villages we humans were once used to. The grandparents are still there, on certain days. The friends still exist. But in this village, there is a special group of other parents, who are all going through the same dilemmas. They are all helping eachother out with advice and personal success stories. They are there when a mum needs breastfeeding advice, when they are struggling to get sleep but don’t want to leave their tiny baby alone in a room to cry, or when they want to deal with their raging toddler without losing the plot. They are there for moral support, when someone has argued once again with their husband or the house is a complete mess and they feel they have no one else in the world to turn to. They are there to support eachother through things like Postnatal Depression. There’s even a library in this village, full of cookbooks, breastfeeding books, weaning books, attachment parenting books, self-help books, a book full of ideas on what clothes they can wear to breastfeed in. It’s quite amazing! 

It’s called the internet. 

As if by magic, this new world has opened, in protest and mourning, at the loss of our physical villages. People are digging through pages and forums, to find a new community that can help them with the hardest job on earth. And these relationships have become some of the most important in our lives. 

There’s a part of me that feels sad at this realisation. There’s a part of me that wishes my village could be filled with the people I love most, in the physical world. But there is also a part of me that is hugely grateful for those who play such an important role in my online life because without those special people, without the library of information, I dread to think of how I would be getting by with my day-to-day life. 

However, this in itself is not a sustainable model. Why? Because behind our screens, these people are alone too and far away. 

One solution I found to this, was to set up a local parent support group. I recognised the need for realtime people, face-to-face support and friendships. And you know what? It’s going pretty well. 

There’s around 200 members in this group and around 30 volunteers. As volunteers, we aim to come together and help any parent we recognise to be struggling on their own. We make batch meals and deliver them if a parent is too tired or too busy to cook. We arrange playdates in eachothers houses, so that no parent ever has to feel isolated. We go for walks in the park together, meet up in coffee shops and at playgroups. We wash pots and hold the baby so mum can take a shower. And we’re also there for that all important online support. 

I’m really proud of what the group has achieved and feel it’s a great attempt to claw back a little of what has been lost with our sense of community. I urge any parent who feels the same to do similar. Find your village! Find that help and give it back. There’s a huge community of parents out there, just like you, feeling alone, stressed, believing they aren’t capable of this job. But they are. YOU are! We just a need a little help. We just need to find our village. 😉

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Patriarchy for Mothers

 

So, I’ve just finished watching that video with Jada Pinkett-Smith and her reply to her daughter’s question, “How hard is it being a wife and a mother?” 

Her response was astounding and admirable. Her voice feels like one of survival, as she reveals the biggest lessons she has learnt as a wife and as a mother and wow, is it emotional?

As a mother myself, who is currently learning just how important it is to remember yourself in this game, I could really relate. And I think I’m not the only one. 

However, one of the most important aspects of this lesson for me, is how this problem that we face as mothers, is one born out of habit within our culture, rather than simply the messages that float around, within in.

It’s interesting she blames “messaging”. I think it can seem that way because we feel so judged for our actions as mothers.

In fact, I believe, it comes from our patriarchal culture.

We come from a country where men were, first and foremost, in control of women. Women were slaves to their own society. They had no rights and were oppressed and taken advantage of and any work they did was largely devalued. 

Much of that still remains today. While women have been given certain “freedoms”, ie. in the workplace, voting, the right to divorce her husband, the right not to be abused by her husband etc… many attitudes still remain as a by-product of those horrible Victorian ways. 

I still don’t believe that the work we do as mothers is valued enough. If a woman chooses to stay home with her children, then she’s seen as having an “easy life”. If she is on benefits, as well, then she really needs to sort her act out and get a job and stop being “lazy”! If a woman decides to work, she is criticised for not being a “full-time mum”. Where are the men in all of this? What part do they play? Who is criticising them for not being a stay-at-home dad or for going out to work? How guilty do they feel about their choices as parents? 

Women have so many burdens, both physical and emotional, to carry as mothers and I don’t believe those burdens are being either valued or shared equally, in partnership. 

So, it’s easy to look at it as a problem with the “messages” we’re sending out but I think that is only a result of a culture that has always heavily criticised and judged a woman’s work and life, and all-around general self. Women can’t seem to win. And women are even turning on each other. 

I would like to see attitudes changed in this culture. I would like to see more women taking what they want and making themselves happy. Standing up for themselves and realising they matter too. They are important. ❤️

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A Mother’s Rest

 

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How Formula Avoids the Urgency of Creating Better Breastfeeding Support

I have recently stopped drinking coffee (OK, I may have the odd cup) after discovering too much caffeine gives me heart flutters. This comes after years of drinking the stuff. Years of working in coffee shops, where I would drink a good cup (or eight) of strong espresso coffee, in a single day, along with a Diet Coke addiction that lasted a good couple of years. The time has finally come to kick the caffeine and proceed with life, as healthily as possible, from now on. 

I have to say that since I’ve stopped drinking coffee, my health has improved, somewhat. I’m generally less tired and, equally, less wired!  I’ve come to realise that I never actually needed the stuff in the first place. If I’m tired, I know that I need to find the time to relax or get my head down, or start eating healthier foods in an attempt to put more nutrients into my body, rather than just make a coffee to help me push on through. As a result, I put less pressure on myself with day-to-day tasks and this got me thinking, if coffee didn’t exist, maybe more people would have this realisation and start looking after themselves a bit better. If they knew they would be tired in the morning, then perhaps they would go to bed a little earlier, instead. If they were tired from the endless list of jobs they have to do, daily, then maybe they could make some changes to that list, or share the jobs with a family member or friend, to reduce the pressure that it lays upon on them. Don’t get me wrong, im sure there would still be times where a good hit of caffeine could help us out, every now and then, but if coffee wasn’t so mainstream, then maybe we would generally lead much healthier and happier lives. It’s a small drop of resolution in an ocean of problems but it’s at least, something! 

Essentially, the existence of coffee, or more, the way coffee is used, stands in the way of us working to solve the root problems of our tiredness, leading us to become ignorant to the importance of this aspect of our health and well-being.

The same can be said for many things but a big similarity, for me, is how this same process is taking place with the baby milk formula industry and the effect it is having on available breastfeeding support. 

Let’s think, for a second, about the days before formula and how the human race has managed to survive without it. Yes, some women did have problems breastfeeding and those women needed to find an answer to their issue. So, let us first consider the kinds of problems women face with breastfeeding. If we take away the immense pressure mother’s face to supplement their babies with a bottle of formula, take away the cultural fears they face of breastfeeding in public, take away the plethora of misinformation about breastfeeding, which is popular in Western Society, today. Take away the ingrained image of bottle feeding, which is so widespread, today and contributes to many women believing their breasts must not be very good at their biological job, if so many others turn to it. And what are we left with? Mainly, issues that can easily be resolved with the correct breastfeeding support and advice. Then, a very small percentage of women who have problems with the tissue in their breasts, in which case, human donor milk should be made available, and a hand full of babies who develop an intolerance to lactose. 

What we are left with, are common problems such as plugged ducts, mastitis and nipple pain. All of which can be prevented with the correct support and information but women are missing out on this because it simply isn’t as available as it should be.

So, why is it then, we are not working to provide this support that can help women succeed with their breastfeeding goals and overcome the issues they face? 

Coffee is the second most sought commodity on earth, after crude oil. The exporting industry, alone, is worth $20 billion and the industry, itself, over $100 billion worldwide. Coffee makes people very rich! It provides many people, specifically those at the bottom of the industry ladder, with a basic wage. A means to live. Then it provides a small percentage of people, at the top of the ladder with the majority of the profit. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Capitalism. 

In a consumer driven society and thanks to globalisation, the coffee industry has managed to grow very successfully. But how? Over 500 billion cups of coffee are drunk worldwide, every year but we didn’t always drink so much coffee. So why is it the case today? Quite simply, the answer is marketing and the ways in which marketing is driven. Millions of dollars are spent every year, to convince us we want or need coffee in our lives from Starbucks to Nescafé. 

In order to build a brand and sell a product, companies must devise a good marketing strategy, which creates awareness of the brand to the target market. In order to do this, they need to understand their market and the psychology of consumer behaviour. This is done through market research. Once a company understands the consumer values held by their target audience, they can create a brand and advertising campaign that appeals to them enough to buy their product. A large coffee brand, one that holds a big piece of $100 billion pie, possesses the financial luxury to achieve this better than almost any other brand on earth. The richer the company, the better they will understand the psychology of their consumers and create more profit.

So what does all this have to do with baby formula? 

The baby milk formula industry, is today estimated to be worth around $55 billion. So, much like coffee, it’s a pretty big commodity – which if you remember, is worth around $100 billion and the second most sought commodity on earth. Not only do they have the financial luxury and ability, to get to know their market better than most brands on earth but they, like coffee, own a product that is extremely cheap to produce, giving them the potential to make a lot of profit! So, I think it is fair to say that it is in their best interest to make this product as appealing to the market as possible. And, just like coffee, there wasn’t always a need for it!

Nestlé, were one of the first baby food brands to hit the market. Recognising that they faced some competition, they fought hard to win their leading position, with adverts that worked to destroy the reputation of their competitors and lied to naive parents about how closely it resembled a mothers own milk.  This was only the beginning of Nestlé’s aggressive marketing history. 

A 1915 advertisement for baby milk food

 

At the time, baby food was based on raw cows milk. However, by the 1930’s, evaporated milk formula had been developed and it became popular belief that evaporated milk formula, provided the same health benefits as human milk – a huge lie!. With the added affordability as a benefit, it wasn’t long before evaporated milk formula began growing in popularity. 

Formula companies now had their work cut out for them, with most women breastfeeding, the leading brands needed to create a need for their product, where none existed, if they wanted to make any money. The only way to do this was to take on breastfeeding and human milk, itself. So, over the years, Nestlé worked hard to undermine and destroy breastfeeding, whilst promoting their product with misleading information, cheating parents the world over, into believing it was as good as human milk – See this article for more information on Nestlé’s highly unethical practices, over the years – New mothers were receiving promotional material for formula, free samples, pamphlets full of misguided information and sales assistants were hired to pose as nurses, in their uniforms, to drop by mothers’ homes to sell them baby formula and convince them that breastfeeding would lead to the mothers undernourishing their babies.

It didn’t stop there. Nestlé began to spread their aggressive marketing practices and lies in underdeveloped countries. Countries where without clean water and sanitary conditions to make up the bottles of formula, babies died. Aware of this, Nestlé decided to turn a blind eye and continue in their greed for profit.

Their marketing became so aggressive that it prompted a group of activists, known as Infant Formula Action Coalition, to come together and campaign for tighter laws for the marketing of baby milk substitutes. After years of campaigning and overcoming much resistance from Nestlé, they finally won and in 1981, The International Code of Marketing Breast-Milk Substitutes was created.

However, by now, many women and many health professionals, worldwide were still under the belief that formula was just as good and, in most cases, better than breastmilk. The rumours were already out there and the damage could not be undone. Like the common cold, anyone who was exposed to the lies spread by Nestlé would continue to spread them. There work was done. 

Since then, breastfeeding rates around the world have plummeted and many breastfeeding specialists and advocates have worked tirelessly to change societies perception of breastfeeding and infant formula and bring us back to normality but as the marketing of infant formula is still prevalent, today, it is a very difficult task indeed.

What is more important to note, is that as a result of the normality of bottle and formula feeding, we have now forgotten the art of breastfeeding. What once would have came so natural to us, as humans in our communities, has vanished. 

Good breastfeeding support is needed now more than ever! But the lies and myths about breastfeeding are still deeply ingrained into our health services and the minds of the people around us, especially our health professionals. I hear it so often from mothers who wanted to breastfeed, echoing the words from those paid sales assistants in nurses uniforms, many moons ago, “I couldn’t do it. My milk wasn’t filling him”, “I wanted to breastfeed but my milk wasn’t giving her everything she needed.” If it isn’t this it’s that they wanted to breastfeed but there was too much pain or some other issue that could have been easily prevented/fixed had they been given the correct information and support.

So many women have turned to formula under the belief that their breasts were somehow not good enough. So many women are left feeling like total failures and feel they must defend their decision to formula feed, like the world and his aunt must think they are such a bad mother. Well, I’m here to set the record straight. No woman is formula feeding because they are a failure. No woman is formula feeding because they are a bad mother. You are formula feeding because one day, not so many years ago, someone paid a lot of money to make sure you do. 

And now, it’s time we put a stop to it. Did you want to breastfeed but believe that you couldn’t? Question it! Did you want to breastfeed but bought bottles and formula “just in case” and then ended up using them? Question it! Did you want to breastfeed but thought bottle feeding would be easier because your partner could help out? Question it! Did you want to breastfeed but it hurt too much? Question it! Question everything!  Find out why and then make damn sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else! 

For as long as formula exists and for as long as the idea exists that it is good enough for our babies, breastfeeding support will continue to be less than good enough. 

Not so many years ago, most* women breastfed just fine. No problems. And together, we can make that happen again. 

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***EDITED TO NOTE***

In response to questions regarding the truth of my claim that mothers are today told that their milk is not good enough, I have to add an example of this. 

I am a breastfeeding peer supporter and it’s actually a very common issue. Problems usually start when babies hit their first growth spurts. Typical growth spurt behaviour is fussing at the breast, latching on and off all the time and this can make it seem like the baby is hungry. It’s not uncommon for the people around her and her midwife/HV to tell the mum that it’s likely her supply isn’t good enough and to top up with formula (out-dated advice). It’s well-known that babies should be breastfed on-demand in order to sustain a women’s supply. So offering a bottle of formula as a top-up actually works to reduce her supply. Baby appears happy and more settled when offered a bottle of formula, because it fills him up more and it’s harder for him to digest, so he goes to sleep longer before needing another feed. This is called The Top Up Trap. Obviously, as a result of the supply and demand process being messed with, the mum starts to produce less milk and then feels pushed to offer even more formula, until eventually, baby is either combi-fed or fully formula fed. Fine if that was the mums choice! But far too often, it wasn’t. And it was totally unnecessary. The advice undermined the mothers ability to nourish her child with her breasts, she lost confidence and turned to formula, unnecessarily. Then there are the problems which surround a breastfed baby gaining weight. Too many HV’s express concern when they don’t gain as much as a formula fed baby. However, this is completely normal for the breastfed baby and it’s a result of lack of training. There are many more issues I could talk about but this is a good example of what I mean. Important to remember that around 75% of women were breastfeeding when formula had been invented. Today, only 1% of women are still exclusively breastfeeding by 6 months.

How Not to ‘Mess’ Up Christmas.

  
  
Messy and sensory play, is so great for our little people, isn’t it? Letting them get their hands sticky and their feet muddy, nourishes their minds and their souls. It helps develop their physical skills, enhances communication skills and allows them to be creative until their little hearts’ content! We know that. But what we seem to be forgetting, as parents, is how good a bit of messy play can be for us, too.

This year, like many before it, has brought with it a few learning curves. This is my second Christmas as a mother and I’m already learning bigger lessons than I did last year. 

Last year was great! I mean, Baby’s First Christmas? Only 6 weeks old? It was, of course, very special! But I won’t lie, it was also very hard. 6 weeks in, after lots of initial feeding problems and an oversupply, disguised as “colic”, life certainly wasn’t without stress. Last year, my concerns were for the physical pressures I was faced with. This year, I’m more focused on the social and psychological pressures, especially for us mums. 

Christmas is an amazing time of year and I’ve always loved it. I’ve especially looked forward to Christmas with my own children. But everywhere I look, all I see are stressed parents! Parents who are trying so hard to get things right and still feeling like complete failures. Don’t get me wrong, some people are absolutely nailing it. Their houses are perfectly prepped! Their doors, draped in holly, they’ve had their Christmas shopping done since June and had their gifts wrapped since July! But if most of us are honest, most of us aren’t nailing it. Or at least, that’s what we think! 

The problem is, the parents who truly believe that Christmas is a huge failure, are the ones that stand out to me as good parents. They always have their children at the heart of everything they do. They work hard, to bring in extra money for holidays or to set a good example. They’re always talking about their children, posting photo’s of them on Facebook and trying to cram as many festive activities in, as they can. They are great parents! So, what is missing?

I’ve come to the conclusion, it’s a matter of perception. These parents are trying to achieve perfection and perfection can not be achieved by anyone. 

It was once explained to me (in therapy) that being a perfectionist doesn’t mean you are perfect at everything you do but that you try to be perfect at everything you do, which would literally be impossible. We are not super heroes. And what is perfection? Well, I guess it depends on what you’re talking about but, mainly, perfection is a matter of perception. It isn’t achievable and is very self-destructive to attempt it. 

Putting pressure on ourselves to be perfect at absolutely everything, does nothing but lead us to, well, feel pressure! 

Do you really think your kids care that the gingerbread house fucked up? That the painted Rudolph foot didn’t look anything like Rudolph or that the minced pies didn’t taste quite as fruity as they should have?

Next time you sit down to a bit of messy play with your little ones, watch how free they are! Watch how absolutely nothing else matters but getting messy and watch how much fun then are having. Do you think they care that they are getting messy? That their hair isn’t perfect or their clothes are dirty? No. Because they are free.

How about, this Christmas, we take a leaf out of our children’s books and let ourselves get a little messy. Or a lot. And let ourselves know that it’s ok. We’re still great parents! Possibly even better ones.. 😉

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Articles

  

Stop Waiting for Your Milk to “Come In”. It’s Already Here!

Patriarchy for Mothers

My Letter to MP Andy McDonald Regarding APPG for Infant Feeding and Inequalities

Self-Soothing for the Gentle

A Mother’s Rest

A Poorly Toddler is Never Too Old for Some Skin-to-Skin

How Formula Avoids the Urgency of Creating Better Breastfeeding Support

Messy Moments

How Not to Mess Up Christmas

What That Article Should Have Said

I Just Got Kicked Out of a Breastfeeding Support Group for Supporting Breastfeeding!

Follow on Human Milk. Why Everyone Needs to Calm Down When Children By reastfeed.

Attachment Parenting is not ‘Just Another Parenting Fad’

Why I Will Always Give My Girl A Choice 

Bed Sharing is NOT Co Sleeping!!

I Have Postnatal Depression and I’m Not Ashamed of It.

Breastfeeding – Friends and Foes

Thirsty for Thirsk!

A Message to the Family and Friends of the Breastfeeding Mum…

There She Goes…

Hello world!

Attachment Parenting is Not ‘Just Another Parenting Fad’

 
If you want to be an attachment parent, you have to breastfeed, babywear or carry your baby constantly, sleep with your baby, never have a life and shit baby pink unicorns, right?

Wrong! 

In fact, it has absolutely nothing to do with how you feed your child and has a lot to do with how you respond to your child’s needs. 

Do you play with your child? Hug them when they cry? Feed them when they’re hungry? Always keep them nearby during their first 6 months of life? Guess what? You’re an attachment parent! 

I first learnt about attachment theory when I was studying my Early Years diploma, many moons ago, and it’s the kind of thing that once you understand, just makes a lot of sense.  Since then, I guess I never really gave it much thought, other than, that’s probably how I will parent.

I was reacquainted with attachment theory, once again, when I became pregnant and a friend mentioned this ‘new trend’ called co-sleeping. Co-sleeping? What’s THAT all about? 

It was explained to me that co-sleeping means you either sleep with your baby or baby sleeps by your bed, meaning when baby cries, they are never far from comfort and food, two very essential things for this early stage of life. Well, yeah that makes sense. So, I did my research. This is when I met my old friend Attachment Theory, again. Only she’d changed a bit. Got older, got some new jeans, changed her hair, got married and changed her name to Attachment Parenting. Oh and it turned out, we had a lot more in common than I ever realised. 

We both recognised that when babies cry, they are communicating a need. Be that hunger, pain relief or simply comfort. We both felt that it was always a safer option to keep baby close-by, during those early months, so that you can better regulate silly things like breathing, temperature, heart rate, hunger and so on. We also both agreed, it was kind of ridiculous to think a baby, whose brain does not yet have the tools to create manipulating behaviour, could cry just to ‘get their own way’. Have you seen the size of a baby’s head? Their brains are so small, they only have room to work completely off their basic human needs. There’s no room for negotiation. If they cry, they are literally just communicating one of their basic needs. Simple! It is literally, physically impossible for a baby to attempt any form manipulation or negotiation. 

I think attachment parenting has recently been getting a bit of bad press, through what I believe to be a little misunderstanding and I think it’s about time we cleared this up. Attachment parenting isn’t a fad, it is just parenting, without all the, ‘Don’t pick the baby up too much, you’ll spoil him’, crap. I think most people assume, because a lot of parents who identify as an attachment parent tend to breastfeed, co sleep or babywear, that you have to do one or more of these activities in order to join the club. In fact, the problem is simply that not enough people, and most specifically, those who don’t breastfeed, co sleep or baby wear, are identifying themselves as attachment parents. 

The other problem we have is that many people view attachment parenting as if it is something really demanding and difficult, when it’s the exact opposite. In fact, it’s kind of lazy parenting! By answering your baby’s cries with a hug or a feed, guess what? They cry less! Not constantly trying to put your baby down for a sleep, when they’re not tired, actually makes your life a lot easier. Understanding that babies don’t respond well to sleep training, prevents you from going through the heart-ache that comes with leaving them to cry and more importantly, the disappointment that comes with them waking and crying every time you try to put them down.

Studies show that when a baby cries, both the mother’s and baby’s cortisol levels in the brain, are raised. This means mother and baby are stressed! This goes against what nature expects you to do. It is your body’s way of telling you something is not right. 

So what do we do? We follow our instincts to pick baby up and hold or feed him. And as if by magic, those cortisol levels are immediately reduced and are replaced with the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin, also know as the love hormone, acts as a natural anti-depressant. So, in essence, attachment parenting can reduce a mother’s risk of Post Natal Depressiom (PND).

Being a parent that responds sensitively to your baby’s needs, I think, deserves some recognition. If you do this, well done! You have learnt that following your instincts and listening to your child works better than following the surrounding rules and opinions of others.

It’s easy to lose track but I have found that the less I listen to the advice of others and the more I simply watch and listen to my baby, the smoother things go. 

So, in summary, trust your instincts. They know best. Attachment parenting is NOT just another parenting fad. It IS just parenting. Exactly how it was meant to be, which is why when parents practice it, they find they are less stressed and that their babies cry less. This in turn makes it easier to understand exactly why your baby is crying, upset, grumpy, and also recognise everything that makes them happy. 

It’s like I always say, Happy Baby, Happy Mammy! 😉

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