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Book Review – Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth – Part Two

March 12th, 2015 by avatar

By Cynthia Good Mojab, MS, LMHCA, IBCLC, RLC, CATSM

Dr. Walker Karraa has written an insightful book examining depression as a transformative event in the lives of women who have experienced it after the birth of a child. Cynthia Good Mojab, MS, LMHCA, IBCLC, RLC, CATSM, reviews Dr. Karraa’s book and interviews her in a three-part series on “Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth.”  Today, Cynthia examines two theories that relate to Dr. Karraa’s research and book and shares her commentary on the book’s findings.  Next week, Cynthia will share her interview with Walker Karraa, regarding her research and book. Find Part One of this series here. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.

walker book header

One of the many things I appreciate about Dr. Walker Karraa’s (2014) book, Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth, is its multidisciplinary mindset. Not only does she contribute to broadening our understanding of postpartum depression beyond a worldview focused on pathology, Karraa seeks to understand the bigger theoretical picture in which postpartum depression as transformation can be placed. This isn’t just analysis for the sake of analysis. When we understand how and why something happens, we become more able to seek out and identify factors that help it happen and that get in the way of it happening. Having a good framework for understanding transformation through postpartum depression will help guide future research and application of that research with a goal of improving identification of, support for, and treatment of new parents with postpartum depression. In this commentary, I share my thoughts about two theoretical frameworks that can aid in our understanding of growth after postpartum depression: posttraumatic growth and positive disintegration.

Posttraumatic Growth or Positive Disintegration?

In chapter 7, “Trauma and Transformation,” Karraa (2014) reviews several theoretical frameworks that might explain how postpartum depression can be experienced as traumatic and precipitate transformation. She ultimately settles, quite insightfully, on posttraumatic growth (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004; Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004). She also acknowledges the historical understanding that people often grow through experiencing life’s challenges. How many of us have heard some version of Nietzche’s maxim, “What does not destroy me, makes me stronger”?

When I read Karraa’s book, the explanatory theory that came to mind was Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration (Mendaglio, 2008a), which predates the coining of the term “posttraumatic growth” (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004a, 2004b; Nelson 1989). Positive disintegration is a theory of personality development that has been extensively researched and applied in the fields of giftedness and gifted education though it encompasses the development of all people. I have found Dabrowski’s theory both personally and professionally helpful in understanding how people are and are not changed by difficult life experiences, including the experience of postpartum depression. The theories of posttraumatic growth and positive disintegration have notable parallels and connections (Tillier, 2014; Mendaglio & Tillier, in press). Furthermore, the growth that can be experienced after a traumatic event fits well within the broader scope of the theory of positive disintegration.

Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration posits that personality has the potential to be dynamic—a possible journey toward authenticity and altruism—and that negative emotions are essential, though insufficient, for its development (Mendaglio, 2008a). (The quality of the social environment, for example, can support or hinder development.) Therefore, depression and anxiety, which we experience as negative symptoms we wish to eliminate, can also be understood positively as precursors of growth. A full description of the theory—and related research, analysis, and applications—is well beyond the scope of this commentary (see Mendaglio, 2008a). And, it understandably takes time to become accustomed to the terminology used to describe the theory. But, in brief, Dabrowski theorized that personality is shaped over the lifetime through two developmental processes, disintegration and reintegration, that involve five levels of development (Mendaglio, 2008b, pp. 34-39). We begin life with a less developed mental organization that seeks to meet basic biological instincts, needs, and drives and conforms to unquestioned social norms. (This is called level 1, “primary integration.”) As we struggle with internal conflicts caused by developmental milestones and life crises, we experience intense emotions, like anxiety and despair, as well as uncertainty and confusion about our identity. When we find that what we know and believe does not help us cope with and make sense of a crisis, our mental organization becomes less fixed and our distress increases. (This is called level 2, “unilevel disintegration.”) At that point, we have three basic options in our developmental path: 1) we can stay in a state of unilevel disintegration (which holds risks like suicidality, psychosis, and traumatic stress reactions), 2) we can return to (reintegrate at) our prior level of mental organization, or 3) we can move toward the transcendence of our original level of mental organization (we can grow).

Another way of describing the disintegration seen with depression and the possibility of personality development is the experience of existential depression. In existential depression, we struggle with our lack of control in our lives as well as with the very meaning of life and ourselves within it:

“While not universal, the experience of existential depression can challenge an individual’s very survival and represents both a great challenge and at the same time an opportunity—an opportunity to seize control over one’s life and turn the experience into a positive life lesson—an experience leading to personality growth.” (Webb, 2008, pp. 1-2).

This is exactly what Karraa (2013, 2014) describes in her research: postpartum depression threatening a woman’s physical and psychological survival (thus qualifying as a traumatic life experience) and resulting in transformation to an entirely new way of thinking, feeling, acting, and being in the world (e.g., more authentic and altruistic). Karraa is describing posttraumatic growth as well as the even bigger picture of personality development through positive disintegration.

walker head shot 2In Dabrowski’s theory, moving toward greater personality development after experiencing unilevel disintegration involves three more levels (Mendaglio, 2008b, pp. 37-39). In the first of these, we spontaneously start to examine, challenge, and reject beliefs and understandings that no longer work for us. We begin to see the clash between the actual (how things are) and the ideal (how things should be). We develop more autonomy and authenticity toward ourselves and others. And, we experience great distress while engaging in this work. (This level is called “spontaneous multilevel disintegration.”) In the next level of moving toward greater personality development, we cultivate a stronger sense of social justice, empathy, and responsibility for others. We become active agents in our learning, growing, and healing. And, our daily behavior is more consistently guided by higher values that are increasingly aligned with our transforming ideals. (This is called “organized multilevel disintegration.”) The last level is the full development of our personality. Our behavior is in alignment with the hierarchy of values that we consciously constructed during our developmental struggles—rather than with unexamined values that are common in our society or with our basic needs and drives. Because of this alignment, we are able to live in harmony with ourselves. (This is called “secondary integration.”) This very brief description of Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration leaves out a great deal of nuance and detail. But, I hope that it conveys that positive disintegration offers a useful framework for explaining transformation after postpartum depression.

Clinical Experience with Positive Disintegration through Postpartum Depression

In my experience as a perinatal mental health care provider, parents coping with perinatal depression, anxiety, and trauma are often helped by Dabrowski’s positive reframing of their symptoms as potential harbingers of growth; they become less afraid of what they are going through as well as more hopeful about the future. The analogy I use is that sometimes we have to take something that isn’t working apart so that we can re-assemble it in a better way. Like a child knocking over a tower of blocks, we can build anew. And, this is what I often see in postpartum depression, particularly in the context of moderate to severe postpartum depression: something isn’t working at a very fundamental level. Our conscious and unconscious expectations may have been shattered by our experiences in pregnancy, birth, parenting, and/or life. We may grieve the loss of roles that were intertwined with our very identities. Our relationship to ourselves and to others may be jolted profoundly out of balance by the arrival of a completely dependent baby whose unrelenting needs chronically supersede our own in a widespread context of insufficient social support. Our very paradigm of who we are and how the world works may be challenged to the core right when sleep deprivation diminishes our capacity to even try to make sense of it all. Our lifeways may not support our experience of severe stress, creating an inflammatory response (Kendall-Tackett, 2007) and a diminished capacity to physiologically sustain our mental well being. And, the dominant culture in the US impossibly expects us to return quickly to our before-baby lives and selves as though nothing out of the ordinary has happened and without feeling anything negative because “having a baby is a happy event.”

If this doesn’t qualify as a developmental milestone—as well as a life crisis—with the potential to trigger what Dabrowski calls “unilevel disintegration,” I don’t know what does! No wonder so many new parents experience postpartum depression. When our depression is on the more severe end of the spectrum, we disintegrate. We fall apart. We are shocked by the onset, magnitude, and nature of the symptoms of our devastation (Karraa’s “I Was Shattered;” Dabrowski’s “disintegration”). We experience this disintegration as a threat to our survival—meeting the definition of a traumatic event. If we stay in a prolonged state of disintegration, we may become suicidal, experience psychosis, or live with the debilitating symptoms of traumatic stress. Or, our recovery can return us to our prior level of functioning (Karraa’s “Getting Better;” Dabrowski’s reintegrating at the level of “primary integration”). Or we may instead take control of our development and healing, intentionally choose higher values to guide our behavior, increase our empathy and authenticity, and experience transformation and reintegration at a higher level of personality development (Karraa’s “I Was a Different Person” and “Metamorphosis;” Dabrowski’s “organized multilevel disintegration” and “secondary integration”).

Perinatal researchers and clinicians whose worldview is solely a medical model of postpartum depression may not recognize its developmental potential (Karraa’s “posttraumatic growth;” Dabrowski’s “positive disintegration”), viewing the goal of treatment only as the elimination of “negative” symptoms rather than as the facilitation of transformation. But individual experience, clinical experience, and now Karraa’s research show that both recovery and transformation are possible.

Whose Voices Were Heard?

The goal of Karraa’s research was to deeply explore the nature of transformation through postpartum depression—something that had not yet been studied. Her qualitative approach matches this goal perfectly. In a small qualitative study, it’s not surprising that she did not collect much demographic data related to the social group membership of the 20 women who participated in her study. She does report ascertaining their occupations (e.g., mental health care provision, marketing, finance, higher education, computer science, volunteer), which suggest that many participants had at least a middle class socioeconomic status (SES). Speaking English and having access to internet, email, and phone communication were inclusion criteria for the study. So, overall, the reported demographic data hint that many participants had access to resources, opportunities, and power that are disproportionately available to members of dominant social groups (e.g., white, at least middle class SES, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied).

I am left wondering: whose voices were included and whose were excluded in this initial research? If they were not included in this small study, what would we learn from the voices of depressed new mothers who cannot afford to attend college or to volunteer; who live in the chronic stress of poverty (Isaacs, 2004); and/or who do not have equitable access to culturally competent mental health care, support, and information? If they were not included in this small study, what would we learn if we had heard the voices of depressed new parents of a variety of gender identities/expressions and sexual orientations (Abelsohn, Epstein, & Ross, 2013) who live with intergenerational trauma (Graff, 2014) and the trauma of inescapable, ongoing racism (Bryant-Davis & Ocampo, 2005), cisgenderism (Mizock & Lewis, 2008), classism (Collins et al., 2010), ableism (Browridge, 2006), and/or other systems of oppression?

Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration recognizes the role of a variety of factors on personality development, including the effect of the social milieu (Mendaglio, 2008a). Do those who live as members of social groups targeted by systems of oppression have equitable access to experiencing postpartum depression as both suffering and recovery, much less as growth? Are there circumstances in which the human spirit is so persistently crushed that transformation after postpartum depression cannot occur even when the potential for growth exists? Or would the resiliency that can manifest even amidst chronic stress and trauma (Mullings & Wali, 2001) allow growth to still be possible? Further research and analysis is needed to uncover 1) how growth is and is not experienced by depressed new parents who hold membership in a wide variety of social groups, 2) what social factors support or undermine transformation after postpartum depression, 3) what kind of information, support, and treatment best supports growth after postpartum depression in a variety of social contexts, and 4) how perinatal organizations, care providers, and lay supporters can contribute to the dismantling of institutional oppression that creates inequitable access to resources and services that support recovery and growth from postpartum depression. And, then we need to take action to provide effective support and treatment that is equitably accessible to all new parents.

Conclusion

That people have the capacity for growing through life’s challenges has long been recognized. Karraa’s (2014) book, Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth, offers a moving account of such transformation in the context of postpartum depression. The fact that the women in her study experienced physical and psychological symptoms that threatened their survival led Karraa to insightfully frame their transformation as an example of posttraumatic growth. Transformation through postpartum depression can also be understood through the lens of the theory of positive disintegration—a theory which subsumes and is broader than the experience of growth after trauma. Positive disintegration explains the possible outcomes of 1) transformation through a traumatic experience of postpartum depression, 2) recovery without transformation, and 3) remaining in a prolonged state of disintegration (e.g., suicidality, psychosis, traumatic stress reactions). Both theories offer hope to new parents experiencing the devastation of moderate to severe postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is more than pathology; it can lead to deeply meaningful transformation. Regardless of which theoretical framework is used to explain growth after postpartum depression, Dr. Karra’s findings are a compelling invitation for further exploration and application. I hope that her work will inspire more multidisciplinary research and analysis of the development that can come from postpartum depression so that more new parents will have access to the information, support, and treatment that they need to recover—and possibly even to be transformed.

References

Abelsohn, K., Epstein, R., & Ross, L. (2013). Celebrating the “other” parent: Mental health and wellness of expecting lesbian, bisexual, and queer non-birth parents. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health, 17(4), 387-405.

Browridge, D. (2006). Partner violence against women with disabilities: Prevalence, risk, and explanations. Violence Against Women, 12(9), 805-822.

Bryant-Davis, T. & Ocampo, C. (2005). The trauma of racism: Implications for counseling, research, and education. Counseling Psychologist, 33(4), 574-578.

Collins, K., Connors, K., Davis, S., Donohue, A., Gardner, S., Goldblatt, E., Hayward, A., Kiser, L., Strieder, F., & Thompson, E. (2010). Understanding the Impact of Trauma and Urban Poverty on Family Systems: Risks, Resilience, and Interventions. Baltimore, MD: Family Informed Trauma Treatment Center.

Graff, G. (2014). The intergenerational trauma of slavery and its aftermath. Journal of Psychohistory, 41(3), 181-97.

Isaacs M. (2004). Community Care Networks for Depression in Low-Income Communities and Communities of Color: A Review of the Literature. Washington, DC: Howard University School of Social Work and the National Alliance of Multiethnic Behavioral Health Associations.

Karraa, W. (2013). Changing Depression: A Grounded Theory of the Transformational Dimension of Postpartum Depression. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest/UMI. (3607747.)

Karraa, W. (2014). Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth. Amarillo, TX: Praeclarus Press.

Kendall-Tackett, K. (2007). A new paradigm for depression in new mothers: The central role of inflammation and how breastfeeding and anti-inflammatory treatments protect maternal mental health. International Breastfeeding Journal, 2(6), 1-14.

Mendaglio, S. (Ed.) (2008a). Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Mendaglio, S. (2008b). Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration: A personality theory for the 21st century. In S. Mendaglio (Ed.), Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Mendaglio, S. & Tillier, W. (2006). Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration and giftedness: Overexcitability research findings. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 30(1), 68-87.

Mendaglio, S. & Tillier, W. (in press). Discussing Dabrowski: Has the time come to emulate Jung? A response to Piechowski’s most recent rethinking of the theory of positive disintegration: I. The case against primary integration. Roeper Review.

Mizock, L. & Lewis, T. (2008). Trauma in transgender populations: Risk, resilience, and clinical care. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 8(3), 335-354.

Mullings, L. & Wali, A. (2001). Stress and Resilience: The Social Context of Reproduction in Central Harlem. New York: Kluwer.

Nelson, K. (2004). Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration. Advanced Development Journal. 1989; 1:1-14.

Tedeschi, R. & Calhoun, L. (2004a). Posttraumatic growth: A new perspective on psychotraumatology. Psychiatric Times, 21(4), 1-4.

Tedeschi, R. & Calhoun, L. (2004b). Posttraumatic growth: Conceptual foundations and empirical evidence. Psychological Inquiry, 15(1), 1-18.

Tillier, W. (2014). Dąbrowski 201: An Introduction to Kazimierz Dąbrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration [PDF document]. Retrieved from http://www.positivedisintegration.com/Dabrowski201.pdf

Webb, J. (2008). Dabrowski’s theory and existential depression in gifted children and adults. The Eighth International Congress of the Institute for Positive Disintegration in Human Development. Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

About Cynthia Good Mojab

cynthia good mojab headshot 2015Cynthia Good Mojab, MS Clinical Psychology, is a Clinical Counselor, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, author, award-winning researcher, and internationally recognized speaker. She is the Director of LifeCircle Counseling and Consulting, LLC where she specializes in providing perinatal mental health care. Cynthia is Certified in Acute Traumatic Stress Management and is a member of the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress and the National Center for Crisis Management. Her areas of focus include perinatal loss, grief, depression, anxiety, and trauma; lactational psychology; cultural competence; and social justice. She has authored, contributed to, and provided editorial review of numerous publications. Cynthia can be reached through her website.

 

 

Birth Trauma, Childbirth Education, Depression, Guest Posts, Maternal Mental Health, New Research, Parenting an Infant, Perinatal Mood Disorders, Postpartum Depression, Trauma work, Uncategorized , , , , , , , , ,

Sleeping Like a Mammal: Nighttime Realities for Childbirth Educators to Share With Parents

August 21st, 2014 by avatar

By, Linda J. Smith, MPH, IBCLC, LCCE, FACCE

In recent days, there has been much press and discussion about a new book written by pediatricians that professes to help parents “train” their new baby to sleep through the night. The scathing criticism of the book by both parents and professionals alike are consistent with what we know about the needs of a newborn baby and their sleep and feeding patterns. Today on Science & Sensibility, Linda Smith, MPH, IBCLC, LCCE, FACCE shares accurate, evidence based information that childbirth educators and other professionals can use to talk to new families about newborns and their sleep and feeding patterns. Linda is one of the authors of La Leche League International‘s newest book; Sweet Sleep: Nighttime and Naptime Strategies for the Breastfeeding Family.

This book written by Smith along with co-authors Diane Wiessinger,  Teresa Pitman and Diana West provides families with information to help the entire family get more sleep and do so safely, while meeting the nutritional and developmental needs of newborns. Preparing families for life with a newborn is one of the challenges we face as educators. The information Linda provides here along with the resources included in this post can help you to be sure that your information is backed by research and appropriate for your new families. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility

How do I address sleep with my childbirth class participants?

261653 ML Algebra1 2007New parents are instantly thrust into the reality of life with a baby. As Dr. Helen Ball writes, “Sleep (or the lack of it) looms large for parents-in-waiting—and it is pointless to pretend that your sleep will not be disrupted by your new bundle of joy. His body clock, which until recently was controlled by your own, is now free-running, and a day-night pattern does not start to emerge until he is around three months old. His stomach is tiny, and he will need frequent feeds all around the clock—he cannot wait eight hours through the night to be fed just because you need to sleep. If you don’t feed him, he will cry. If he’s cold, he will cry. If he hurts, he will cry. If he misses being in close contact with you, he will cry. He doesn’t know that you will come back once you leave his sight. If he feels abandoned, he will cry frantically—it’s his only method to attract attention and bring himself to safety. If he cries frantically, it will take a long time for him to calm down and you will have to help him.”

“The experience of sleep, and of being left alone for sleep, is very different for babies than it is for adults. The more quickly you can understand your baby’s needs—for comfort, food, reassurance, contact, love—the less disruptive nighttime baby care will become, and the less anxious you will feel. Some of the decisions you make early on about nighttime baby care will affect how you manage sleep disruption and cope with your new baby.” Dr. Helen Ball

What is normal sleep?

  • Pregnant women do not sleep in long unbroken stretches, i.e., “all night.” Neither do postpartum mothers – not for many months, regardless of how they feed their babies.1 Breastfeeding mothers get more sleep than formula-feeding mothers; breastfeeding mothers who bedshare get the most sleep of all new mothers.2,3
  • Before birth, babies sleep rather randomly, not necessarily closely synchronized to their mothers’ body clock. After birth, babies sleep in short (1 to 1½ hour) cycles and need to be fed approximately hourly because of their very small stomachs.4 They do not even begin to develop day-night sleep patterns for several months, regardless of how they are fed.5
  • Frequent feeding day and night is normal, essential for the baby, yet is often called ‘inconvenient’ for parents. Let’s face it – all babies are “inconvenient.” Most of us didn’t get pregnant just to make our lives less complicated. Babies need to be touched – a LOT, day and night, and skin-to-skin.6 Touch is nearly as important to babies’ overall development as food.7 Breastfeeding is an easy way to assure plenty of touch; so is safe bedsharing.8 Most breastfeeding mothers nurse their babies to sleep and sleep with their babies at least part of the night.9

LLLI | Safe Sleep 7 Infographic

Safety issues

  • SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and suffocation are two distinct and rare risks to infants in the early months. SIDS is a diagnosis of exclusion: there’s no obvious reason for a baby’s death. Risk factors for SIDS are well- documented, so avoiding these can help parents reduce the already-small risk: (1) smoking;10 baby sleeping prone;11 formula feeding;12 and baby sleeping unattended.13 (details below)
  • Suffocation is a more easily-preventable risk to babies than SIDS. The main risks for suffocation (entrapment) are putting the baby to sleep on a sofa with or without an adult,14 and/or a drunk/drugged adult sleeping with a baby on any surface.15 “Never bedshare” warnings don’t tell tired parents/mothers where they CAN safely feed their babies at night. A new infographic by La Leche League, “Safe Sleep Seven: Smart Steps to Safer Bedsharing,” lists seven steps that vastly reduce the major SIDS and smothering risks.
  • Prenatal smoking is very bad for babies and increases risk of SIDS at least five-fold. Smoking is a significant hazard to babies if the mother smokes during pregnancy, and smoking in the household (and everywhere) continues to be a risk to the baby after the baby is born. Smokers exhale carbon monoxide for many hours after each cigarette,16 and secondhand smoke is harmful to babies.17 Smoking is a well-known risk to adults, too.
  • Every health authority in the world recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months starting in the first hours after giving birth, then continued breastfeeding while adding family foods till the child is at least two years old.18 Formula-fed babies are less arousable from sleep than breastfed babies;19 have more than double the risk of (SIDS);12 and have many other health problems.20 If families need help with breastfeeding, contact WomensHealth.gov or La Leche League International or the federal government Women, Infants and Children program (WIC).
  • Unattended babies (sleeping out of sight and sound of a competent adult) are at higher risk of SIDS and entrapment/smothering accidents. People are better monitors than electronic devices. Babies should always sleep face-up, in a safe container, and within sight and sound of a competent adult for all sleeps, naps and nights – unless they are safely tied on someone’s body or safely in someone’s arms or sleeping next to their sober, nonsmoking, breastfeeding mother on a safe surface. Baby should be lightly clothed (not overheated. One study reported swaddling as an independent risk factor for SIDS. 21).
  • Recommend that parents baby-proof the family bed, even if they think they won’t ever bedshare. Sleep happens, and exhaustion overrules common sense. No thick covers, no toys, no pets, firm clean flat mattress. Most breastfeeding mothers sleep with their babies at least part of the night, and breastfeeding mothers have the lowest rates of SIDS and other sleep-related accidents.12 Accidental bedsharing is riskier than planned bedsharing.22 A side-car attached to the bed can be a good option – baby is close enough for touching and feeding, yet separate enough to avoid rollovers and exhaled breath of smokers. A safe crib for the baby in the bedroom is safer than baby sleeping unattended in another room.
  • Adults should never lie down with a baby on a sofa or in a recliner, even “just for a minute” – the threat of suffocation, entrapment or dropping the baby is high especially when (not if) the adults falls asleep.23 If a sofa or recliner is the only option for sleep, the adult can lean back and tie the baby securely onto their chest with a scarf, shawl or soft carrier so their arms aren’t holding the baby when the adult dozes off.
  • Wearing a baby many hours a day in a soft-tie-on carrier or sling is a great way for everyone to nap, and helps baby’s motor development besides. Baby’s face should be fully visible and her head should be close enough to kiss. This babywearing guide has information on how to safely wear an infant.

The 4 big questions

1. When will the baby sleep through (longer) the night?

Probably not for many months. Welcome to parenthood! (Sorry, biology rules!)

Babies are growing faster in the early months than they ever will, and need food and comfort very often for normal physical, emotional, and psychological development. A famous scientist described the first 9 months of a baby’s “outside” life as the period of “external gestation.24” The best way to get enough sleep is for parents to plan to safely bedshare with their breastfed baby, and take naps with the baby. (see the Safe Sleep Seven and “Sweet Sleep25 for more information.)

Beware of “sleep training” programs, books and advice, which have a long sad history.26 New strong evidence of baby’s biological and emotional needs suggests that babies remain highly stressed even when the parents think sleep training “worked,” with serious long-term negative consequences for the baby. Babies cry because they need to be touched held, fed, rocked, and nurtured, and simply cannot meet their own needs for any of those comforts.

2. When will the mom sleep like she did before she got pregnant?

The research definition of “sleeping through the night” range is inconsistent and arbitrary.27 Parents can make up any definition they want when quizzed about the baby “sleeping through.” A useful (and vague) response: “Of course the baby is a good sleeper.”

3. Will parents ever have sex again?

Beds aren’t the only places where sex can happen.

4. Will parents ever get the baby out of their bed?

Babies who bedshare get their emotional needs met sooner and more fully than those who sleep separately.28 All babies are inconvenient for a while.

Where can parents get more information?

What do you talk about with families in order to prepare them for parenting a newborn? How do you find the balance between providing accurate information and not “frightening” them with the realities of newborn sleep patterns. Have you read this new book? Would you recommend this book to families who are desiring more information about how to provide a safe sleep environment for their breastfeeding newborn? – SM

References

1. Montgomery-Downs HE, Stremler R, Insan SP. Postpartum Sleep in New Mothers and Fathers. Open Sleep Journal. 2013;6(Suppl 1: M11):87-97.
2. Doan T, Gay CL, Kennedy HP, Newman J, Lee KA. Nighttime Breastfeeding Behavior Is Associated with More Nocturnal Sleep among First-Time Mothers at One Month Postpartum. J Clin Sleep Med. 2014;10(3):313-319.
3. Doan T, Gardiner A, Gay CL, Lee KA. Breast-feeding Increases Sleep Duration of New Parents. J Perinat Neonatal Nurs. Jul-Sep 2007;21(3):200-206.
4. Bergman NJ. Neonatal stomach volume and physiology suggest feeding at 1-h intervals. Acta Paediatr. May 10 2013.
5. Rivkees SA. Emergence and influences of circadian rhythmicity in infants. Clin Perinatol. Jun 2004;31(2):217-228, v-vi.
6. Feldman R, Rosenthal Z, Eidelman AI. Maternal-Preterm Skin-to-Skin Contact Enhances Child Physiologic Organization and Cognitive Control Across the First 10 Years of Life. Biol Psychiatry. Jan 1 2014;75(1):56-64.
7. Feldman R, Singer M, Zagoory O. Touch attenuates infants’ physiological reactivity to stress. Dev Sci. Mar 2010;13(2):271-278.
8. Hofer MA. Psychobiological Roots of Early Attachment. Current Directions in Psychological Science. April 1, 2006 2006;15(2):84-88.
9. Ward TC. Reasons for Mother-Infant Bed-Sharing: A Systematic Narrative Synthesis of the Literature and Implications for Future Research. Matern Child Health J. Jul 2 2014.
10. Zhang K, Wang X. Maternal smoking and increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome: a meta-analysis. Leg Med (Tokyo). May 2013;15(3):115-121.
11. Dwyer T, Ponsonby AL. Sudden infant death syndrome and prone sleeping position. Ann Epidemiol. Apr 2009;19(4):245-249.
12. Hauck FR, Thompson JMD, Tanabe KO, Moon RY, Vennemann MM. Breastfeeding and Reduced Risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: A Meta-analysis. Pediatrics. June 13, 2011 2011.
13. Moon RY, Fu L. Sudden infant death syndrome: an update. Pediatr Rev. Jul 2012;33(7):314-320.
14. Blair PS, Sidebotham P, Evason-Coombe C, Edmonds M, Heckstall-Smith EM, Fleming P. Hazardous cosleeping environments and risk factors amenable to change: case-control study of SIDS in south west England. Bmj. 2009;339:b3666.
15. Ball HL, Moya E, Fairley L, Westman J, Oddie S, Wright J. Bed- and sofa-sharing practices in a UK biethnic population. Pediatrics. Mar 2012;129(3):e673-681.
16. van der Vaart H, Postma DS, Timens W, et al. Acute effects of cigarette smoking on inflammation in healthy intermittent smokers. Respir Res. 2005;6:22.
17. Tong EK, England L, Glantz SA. Changing Conclusions on Secondhand Smoke in a Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Review Funded by the Tobacco Industry. Pediatrics. March 1, 2005 2005;115(3):e356-366.
18. American Academy of Pediatrics. Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk. Pediatrics. March 1, 2012 2012;129(3):e827-e841.
19. Mosko S, Richard C, McKenna J. Infant arousals during mother-infant bed sharing: implications for infant sleep and sudden infant death syndrome research. Pediatrics. Nov 1997;100(5):841-849.
20. US Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General,; 2011.
21. Richardson HL, Walker AM, R SCH. Influence of Swaddling Experience on Spontaneous Arousal Patterns and Autonomic Control in Sleeping Infants. J Pediatr. Mar 12 2010.
22. Volpe LE, Ball HL, McKenna JJ. Nighttime parenting strategies and Sleep-related risks to infants. Social Science & Medicine. 2012(0).
23. Kendall-Tackett K, Cong Z, Hale T. Mother–Infant Sleep Locations and Nighttime Feeding Behavior: U.S. Data from the Survey of Mothers’ Sleep and Fatigue. Clinical Lactation. 2010;1(Fall 2010):27-31.
24. Montagu A. Touching: the Human Significance of the Skin. Third ed. New York: Harper & Row; 1986.
25. La Leche League International, Wiessinger D, West D, Smith LJ, Pittman T. Sweet Sleep: Nighttime and Naptime Strategies for the Breastfeeding Family. New York: Random House – Ballantine Books; 2014.
26. Middlemiss W, Granger DA, Goldberg WA, Nathans L. Asynchrony of mother–infant hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis activity following extinction of infant crying responses induced during the transition to sleep. Early human development. 2012;88(4):227-232.
27. Adams SM, Jones DR, Esmail A, Mitchell EA. What affects the age of first sleeping through the night? J Paediatr Child Health. Mar 2004;40(3):96-101.
28. McKenna JJ, Mosko SS. Sleep and arousal, synchrony and independence, among mothers and infants sleeping apart and together (same bed): an experiment in evolutionary medicine. Acta Paediatr Suppl. Jun 1994;397:94-102.

About Linda J. Smith, MPH, IBCLC, LCCE, FACCE

© Linda J. Smith

© Linda J. Smith

Linda J. Smith, MPH, IBCLC, LCCE, FACCE, is a lactation consultant, childbirth educator, author, and internationally-known consultant on breastfeeding and birthing issues. Linda is ILCA‘s liaison to the World Health Organization’s Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative and consultant to INFACT Canada/IBFAN North America. As a La Leche League Leader and Lamaze-certified Childbirth Educator, she provided education and clinical support to diverse families over 40 years in 9 cities in the USA and Canada. Linda has worked in a 3-hospital system in Texas, a public health agency in Virginia, and served as Breastfeeding coordinator for the Ohio Department of Health. Linda was a founder of IBLCE, founder and past board member of ILCA, and is a delegate to the United States Breastfeeding Committee from the American Breastfeeding Institute. Linda holds a Masters Degree in Public Health and is currently an Adjunct Instructor at the Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. She owns the Bright Future Lactation Resource Centre, on the Internet at www.BFLRC.com.

Babies, Breastfeeding, Childbirth Education, Guest Posts, Infant Attachment, Newborns, Parenting an Infant , , , , ,

Series: Welcoming All Families – The Need for LGBTQ- Specific Childbirth Classes

June 24th, 2014 by avatar

By Kristin Kali, LM, CPM

© Kendra Quinn

© Kendra Quinn

Today on Science & Sensibility, as part of the occasional series, Welcoming All Families, midwife and educator Kristin Kali, LM, CPM shares information on holding a childbirth class that is designed specifically for LGBTQ families.  Kristin discusses the benefits of holding an LGBTQ class, provides some resources and offers additional information on content designed to meet the specific needs of LGBTQ families.  – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility

Take off your childbirth educator hat for a moment, and consider your own personal experience. If you are a member of a culturally marginalized group, (and if you do not identify as a member of a marginalized group – imagine) you know the difference between being in a space where you are welcomed and respected, versus being in a space with others who share a similar cultural experience, who speak a common language, and who have aspects of everyday life in common. In a space that is welcoming yet mixed, you may only discuss things you hold in common with those around you, unless you are willing to teach others around you in order for them to understand you and your experience. But if you are in a position of vulnerability, such as being pregnant, or in a class to prepare you for giving birth, you are not likely to discuss things that the people around you simply do not understand or do not have a context for.

Imagine being a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer person who is going through pregnancy, with many of the same physiological concerns as any pregnant person, and with many of the same needs and desires, including the desire for a healthy baby, a positive birth experience, and a childbirth class to help assist in attaining that goal. Yet, although you have much in common, if you are in a class of primarily heterosexual couples, or even a class with many different types of families, some of the primary aspects of your experience of bringing this baby into the world and becoming a parent will not be shared.

© Firestone-Kahn 2013

© Firestone-Kahn 2013

Now put your childbirth educator hat back on again. As a childbirth educator, you might be thinking, “Well, there are many unique circumstances that people have when they come to a childbirth class – people may be coming from having dealt with infertility, military wives whose husbands are away at war, women who are giving birth as single moms. We are together to learn about giving birth, so that’s mostly what we talk about when the group comes together.” I invite childbirth educators to imagine any one of those unique scenarios, and envision if the class was full of people who had that scenario in common. How powerful would that be? What might be discussed in the safety of others who truly understand this experience? How might that affect the empowerment, strength and resolve of someone who is preparing for the prospect of giving birth and becoming a parent?

I can tell you, after 9 years of teaching specialized childbirth classes for LGBTQ families, that it is very powerful. When people live in a culture where their relationship may not be honored with the right to marry, when a child is born and a parent is not legally recognized as a parent and they have to prove themselves worthy to a social worker just to gain legal parentage (or perhaps legal parentage is not allowed in their state at all), when they didn’t simply have sex with their partner, rather they used all of their savings and maxed their credit cards just to get the funds for sperm so that they could conceive, it is such a relief to be in a group that has the same common denominator. More than that, it allows for camaraderie, and issues that are unique to families like theirs to be discussed.

In my childbirth classes, the families introduce themselves to each other with the “usual” information, such as name, due date and place of birth. However, before we get started with introductions, I briefly talk about the transformation of self that happens when a person becomes a parent, and as a person’s gender is so central to who they are, of course gender is central to that experience. I invite the introductions to include stating the pronoun that they prefer people to use in reference to them, and also what they plan for their baby to call them – maybe Mom or Dad, but perhaps a different word that more closely matches their gender such as Baba or Dadmom or anything else.

The second thing we do is share conception stories – I’ll bet this is not something discussed in heterosexual or mixed groups! But for the LGBTQ families in my class, the pregnancy experience started way before that little one was growing inside, and sharing these stories candidly establishes normalcy when the situation is not viewed as “the usual way” by society. Furthermore, families may be still be carrying emotional aspects of their conception process in a way that can impact the birth itself, or the partnership during the transition to new parenthood. Sharing conception stories brings me, as the instructor, up to date. It lets me know what happened for each family in the process of getting to this class, and anything important that I need to watch out for or hold space for with each parent-to-be.

Throughout the class, after setting the stage for open discussion and creating such a sense of safety, participants are likely to ask the important questions that they may not otherwise have asked. People feel free to be exactly who they are, not a guarded sense of “how much can I share about myself and not have the other parents look at me weird or be a spectacle”. We cover all the aspects of labor and birth that would be covered in any childbirth class. In fact, my class is based on a popular curriculum. I just bring together LGBTQ families and specifically discuss topics that are unique to this group within the context of the curriculum.

What makes an LGBTQ childbirth ed class so special? I will let the parents speak for themselves by sharing some of the feedback and comments I have received after class:

“There is something wonderfully supportive about being surrounded by other queer families. It created a truly safe and inclusive space where our LGBT experience was at the center, and not just touched on as an aside or an exception to the norm.”

“I am so grateful for this class. Going in as a queer family, not having to translate from everyone else’s ‘normal,’ not needing to explain our family was great.”

“As a gender variant pregnant woman, this class provided support and community that is often lacking in society at large.”

“I needed to voice fears and have time to ask questions in a non-judgmental space.”

“It’s not just about using neutral pronouns and terms (like “birth parent” instead of “mom”). It’s  great to be in a room full of queer folks who understand my experience, so I feel like my queer specific questions are adding to the group’s experience rather than distracting or pulling the class off on a tangent.”

As an educator, it is important to be able to inform people about what to expect, and to be able to hold people as they explore their thoughts and feelings in relation to the class material. While LGBTQ families may have a lot in common, each family is unique. There is a broad range of family structures, conception histories, gender issues, co-parenting strategies, and interpersonal dynamics to explore, all in relation to giving birth and caring for a newborn.

For those who are interested in teaching childbirth classes for LGBTQ families, there are a number of considerations. Are there enough families in your community to support an exclusive class? Even if you are an LGBTQ person, do you have experience working with a variety of LGBTQ people in the process of becoming parents? Are you able to name common birth and postpartum dynamics that come up in lesbian partnerships, for transgender parents, and extended co-parent families?

You can educate yourself by reading books about LGBTQ family- building:

The New Essential Guide to Lesbian Conception, Pregnancy and Birth
And Baby Makes More
Confessions of the Other Mother

Attend an LGBTQ cultural sensitivity training that is specific to birth and family-building:

MAIA Midwifery LGBTQ Cultural Sensitivity Trainings

Check out websites and blogs about LGBTQ parenting:

http://www.mombian.com/
http://www.lesbiandad.net/
http://itsconceivablenow.com/
http://www.milkjunkies.net/

I do not recommend that non-LGBTQ allies teach this specialized class. Instead, enthusiastically refer LGBTQ families to a specialized class if there is one in your area, explaining the value that so many families have found in attending a childbirth class with other queer families. (Read about ways to make your mixed class supportive for LGBTQ families here and a lesbian couple’s CBE class experience  here.)  The sense of safety that is created when a marginalized group gathers exclusively allows something to happen that would not happen in a mixed group. Being in “safe space” provides a sense of common understanding that goes way beyond welcome and acceptance. It allows for dialogue regarding a common lived experience and a shared cultural identity. There is a sense of knowing – not needing to explain the things that to an outsider could be explained, but would not truly be understood without direct, lived experience. Kind of like becoming a parent.

If you are interested in teaching childbirth classes for LGBTQ families in your community, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Are there educators in your community who teach LGBTQ childbirth classes?  Maybe you are one of those educators?  Do you see the need for such classes in your community?  Share your experiences and observations with our readers on specialized classes such as this. – SM

About Kristin Kali

© Kristin Kali

© Kristin Kali

Kristin Kali, LM CPM is the owner of MAIA Midwifery and Fertility Services, a fertility-focused midwifery practice that provides holistic, individualized care. MAIA serves all families, with specific expertise in serving LGBTQ families, single parents by choice, transgender parents and those conceiving over 40. Fertility consultations, classes and support groups are available in Seattle, Oakland, and online.

Kristin is a Certified Professional Midwife through the North American Registry of Midwives. She is a Licensed Midwife in California and Washington. Kristin is a graduate of Seattle Midwifery School and a member of the Midwives Association of North America, National Association of Certified Professional Midwives, American Society for Reproductive Medicine, Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, California Association of Midwives, and Midwives Association of Washington State.

Childbirth Education, Guest Posts, Parenting an Infant, Series: Welcoming All Families , , , ,

11 Ideas to Share with Families that Encourage Father-Baby Bonding

June 12th, 2014 by avatar
flickr.com/photos/44068064@N04/8587557448

flickr.com/photos/44068064@N04/8587557448

With Father’s Day right around the corner, now is a great time to check in with your curriculum and confirm that you share lots of information on how fathers can connect with their new babies.  In the early days and weeks after birth, mothers spend a lot of time with their newborns, getting breastfeeding well established and recovering from childbirth with their babies by their side.  And this is as it should be.  Fathers often can feel left out or excluded, simply because of frequent nursings and the comfort that babies get from being close to their mothers.

It is good to share with fathers that there are many ways to connect and bond with their newborns and young infants.  I like to cover many of these topics throughout my childbirth education classes, so that the fathers leave feeling excited and positive about connecting with their children in these very special ways.

1. Early interaction

Connecting fathers and their newborns early in the first hours can help cement the bond between a father and his child.  Dr. John Klaus and Phyllis Klaus, in their book, “Your Amazing Newborn” state that when a father is given the opportunity to play with his newborn in the first hours after birth, and make eye to eye contact, he spends considerably more time with his child in the first three months than fathers who did not have this intimate connection in the first hours.  When the mother gets up to take her first shower is a wonderful time for fathers to share this early bonding time with their newborns.

2. Skin to skin

The benefits of skin to skin with a newborn are well known; temperature regulation, stress reduction, stabilization of blood sugar, release of oxytocin (the love hormone), comfort and security.  Fathers can and should have skin to skin time with their newborns as soon as it makes sense to do so.  Getting a new father settled in a comfortable chair, with his shirt off, a naked baby on his chest and both of them covered by a cozy blanket is a wonderful opportunity for both of them to benefit from the oxytocin release that will occur.  And is there really anything better than the smell and touch of a just born baby?

3. Singing to baby

Penny Simkin has written here before on the benefits to singing to your baby in utero, and then using that familiar song once baby has been born to calm and sooth the newborn.  Fathers can choose a special song or two and sing it to the baby  frequently during pregnancy, and then that can become his special song to sing to the baby on the outside. A wonderful opportunity for connection and bonding between the two.

4. Bathing with baby

New babies love nothing more than taking a bath safely cradled in the arms of a parent.  While most newborns don’t require frequent bathing, having the father take a bath in body temperature water with the baby on their chest is a wonderful way to relax and bond.  The baby feels secure and comforted and the father can enjoy a relaxing bath while focusing on enjoying time with their newborn.  Remember, safety first!  Always have another adult available to hand the baby off to when entering and exiting the tub.  Babies are slippery when wet.

5. Paternity leave

While the United States is hardly known for its generous leave for parents after the birth of a baby, both mothers and fathers are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off in the first year after the birth (or adoption) of a child according to the Family and Medical Leave Act and still have job protection.  Fathers can plan to utilize this benefit and even consider using some of this leave when (and if) the mother returns to work, taking the opportunity to be the primary parent for a period of time. Planning ahead for this leave both from a financial and workload standpoint would be helpful.

6. Reading to baby

Fathers can make time everyday to read to their baby.  Certainly, when very young, the baby is not understanding the words, but nevertheless, newborns and young infants are fascinated with the sound of human voices and are very comforted by being held close and listening to the voice of their father, safe and familiar.  In the beginning, it is not even important what is being read, just that time is set aside to do so.  Read your favorite novel, magazine or newspaper if you like!  As the baby gets a bit older, you can start reading more age appropriate books with pictures that are attractive to infants.

flickr.com/photos/beccaplusmolly/2652566750

7. Babywearing

Babywearing offers a great opportunity for fathers and babies (even newborns) to connect and bond.  Most babies love to be worn, and when a father does so safely it is a chance to further strengthen the bond between a father and his child.  Additionally, wearing a baby makes it easy to be out in public or doing tasks and chores around the home, or even working, depending on what type of job the father may have.  There are many types of carriers on the market and families should always make sure they are using a carrier safely and responsibly, and that it fits both father and baby well.  In my classroom, I have several different types of baby carriers hung on a wall, for families to try and I provide a weighted doll so that folks can get an idea of what it really feels like.

8. Exercising

Fathers can find ways to get their much needed exercise in while also spending time with their baby.  When their baby is very young, talking the baby for a walk, in a baby carrier or a stroller, is a great way to get out and burn some calories while being with their child.  As the baby gets older, putting them in a child seat on a bike, using a jogging stroller, or a bike trailer, is another alternative allowing dad to pick up the pace.  Consideration should always be taken to follow the instructions and age/weight guidelines that come with the equipment to prevent injury to the child.

9. Establish returning home rituals

Returning home from work after a long day offers fathers a chance to connect with and bond with their baby.  Encourage fathers to have a clear transition from work to home and taking a deep breath before getting ready to be fully present with their baby when they walk in the door.  Have a special ritual of greeting, welcoming the child into your arms and taking a few minutes to reconnect after a day (or night) of separation can make for a lovely opportunity for bonding and easing back into being home with those you love.

10. Father-child traditions

Fathers may want to continue traditions and special activities that they did with their fathers when they were children or consider starting some new ones of their own.  Going to the donut shop for Sunday morning goodies, Friday night family movie night, attending certain community activities and sporting events all offer quality time for children to further connect with their fathers.  Encourage the fathers in your class to recall the special traditions they had with their fathers or male role model, and continue the activities with their own children, or create their own new ones.

11. Parenting – not babysitting

One of my pet peeves is when I hear parents (both mothers and fathers do this) talk about how the father is “babysitting” or “watching” their children.  In my mind, a father no more babysits their child than the mother does.  They parent their child and sometimes that means being alone with the child and sometimes that is jointly with the other parent.  I model this speech by using the term parenting vs the other alternatives that imply that spending time with their children is not something that fathers regularly do.

It can be easy to forget, especially in the sometimes chaotic first weeks and months of welcoming a baby, that fathers have a lot to offer to their new child and it benefits both the parents and the baby to establish this connection and enhance bonding early and often.  Do you take the opportunity to share ideas with the families in your classes on the importance of father baby time?  In honor of Father’s Day this upcoming Sunday, recommit to encouraging these and other appropriate activities to the families in your class.  Please share other suggestions that you have for helping fathers to bond with their new babies.

Please note: I recognize that not every family is made up of a mother and a father, and that families all look different.  Today we honor the father in celebration of Father’s Day.  But a hearty thanks goes out to all the parents who work hard everyday to love and protect their children.

References

Klaus, M. H., & Klaus, P. H. (1998). Your amazing newborn. Da Capo Press.

 

Childbirth Education, Infant Attachment, Newborns, Parenting an Infant , , , , , ,

“Break Time for Nursing Mothers” – It’s the Law!

May 8th, 2014 by avatar

By Kathleen Marinelli, M.D.

In honor of Mother’s Day, which is coming up this weekend, I thought it would be important to talk about a challenge that many mothers face after having a baby.  Returning to work and continuing to breastfeed their baby.  Many countries offer a generous leave for new mothers, but here in the USA, it is not uncommon for a new mother to find herself back at work 6 weeks after giving birth.  So many challenges face these women, and the added pressure of work environment that is unsupportive of the breastfeeding relationship and the mother’s need to have a private, appropriate place to pump and store her  milk while separated from her baby is not only critical, it’s the law.  Today on Science & Sensibility, Kathleen Marinelli, M.D, the Chairwoman of the United States Breastfeeding Committee updates us on the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law and shares resources for clients and students who are returning to work and breastfeeding.  While this day seems far away to families sitting in  a childbirth class, making space for this discussion and sharing resources can help women to continue to breastfeeding smoothly after returning to work. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.

With more than half of women with infants employed, simple workplace accommodations are critical for breastfeeding success. By helping moms understand their rights as a breastfeeding employee and plan for their return to work, childbirth educators, doulas, health care providers and lactation care providers can support a successful transition so that working moms are supported to reach their personal breastfeeding goals.

The federal “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law requires employers to provide break time and a private place for hourly paid employees to pump breast milk during the work day. The United States Breastfeeding Committee’s Online Guide: What You Need to Know About the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” Law compiles key information to ensure every family and provider has access to accurate and understandable information on this law.

Key Facts about the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” Law:

Who is covered: The law applies to nonexempt (hourly) employees covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Space: Employers are required to provide a place that is not a bathroom. It must be completely private so that no one can see inside. Employers are not required to create a permanent dedicated space for breastfeeding employees. As long as the space is available each time the employee needs it, the employer is meeting the space requirements.

Time: The law requires employers to provide “reasonable” break time, recognizing that how often and how much time it takes to pump is different for every mother. Employees should consider all the steps necessary to pump, including the time it will take to gather pumping supplies, get to the space, pump, clean up, and return to their workspace. Employers must provide time and space each time the employee needs it throughout her work day.

Enforcement: The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) is responsible for enforcing the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law. If an employer refuses to comply, employees can file a complaint by calling the toll-free WHD number 1-800-487-9243.

Small Businesses: All employers, regardless of their size or number of employees, must comply with the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law. Following a complaint from a breastfeeding employee, businesses with fewer than 50 employees may be able to apply for an undue hardship exemption. To receive an exemption for that employee, the employer must prove that providing these accommodations would cause “significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to the size, financial resources, nature, or structure of the employer’s business.” Until they are granted an exemption by the Department of Labor, they must comply with the law.

State laws: Employees who are not covered by the “Break Time” law may be covered by a state law. Contact your state breastfeeding coalition for help understanding the breastfeeding laws where you serve.

The “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law was an important victory for families, but breastfeeding success shouldn’t depend on a mom’s job type. The Supporting Working Moms Act would expand the existing federal law to cover approximately 12 million additional salaried employees, including elementary and secondary school teachers. We can all help make this happen! Use USBC’s easy action tool to ask your legislators to cosponsor the Supporting Working Moms Act with just a few clicks. Twelve million employees are counting on us! As Surgeon General Regina Benjamin advised us, “Everyone can help make breastfeeding easier.”

We know that workplace lactation support is a “win-win”, benefiting families, employers, and the economy, yet one of the major causes for the drop-off in breastfeeding rates is the lack of effective, reasonable workplace accommodations when mothers return to work. Employers that provide lactation support experience an impressive return on investment, including lower healthcare costs, absenteeism, and turnover rates, with improved morale, job satisfaction, and productivity. The retention rate for employees of companies with lactation support programs is 94%, while the national average is only 59%!

Breastfeeding and working is not only possible, it’s good for business. Find additional information and resources in USBC’s Online Guide: What You Need to Know About the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” Law and help spread the word about this valuable new resource with your clients by sharing this link: www.usbreastfeeding.org/workplace-law.

Moms, babies and employers everywhere will be glad you did!!

Important links and information:

Online Guide: What You Need to Know About the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” Law
Action Alert: Supporting Working Moms Act
Directory of State, Territorial, and Tribal Breastfeeding Coalitions
United States Department of Labor Employee Rights Card
Wage and Hour Division Break Time for Nursing Mothers Webpage
The Business Case for Breastfeeding

Do you talk to patients, students and clients about tips for successful re-entry into the workforce while still breastfeeding a baby?  What are your favorite resources to offer women so they know their rights and understand the responsibilities of their employer to assist them in continuing to express breastmilk for their baby. If you are not mentioning this to your families, maybe you will consider how important this information is after reading today’s blogpost and consider passing on these resources.  – SM

About Kathleen Marinelli, M.D.

Marinellii-head shotDr. Kathleen Marinelli is the Chair of the United States Breastfeeding Committee, an independent nonprofit coalition of almost 50 nationally influential professional, educational, and governmental organizations, that share a common mission to improve the Nation’s health by working collaboratively to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding, where she represents the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. She is also a Neonatologist and Breastfeeding Medicine Physician at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, in the Connecticut Human Milk Research Center, and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.

 

Babies, Breastfeeding, Childbirth Education, Guest Posts, Infant Attachment, Parenting an Infant , , , ,

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