Archive for the ‘Parenting an Infant’ Category

The Top Ten Safety Messages to Share with New Parents – September is Baby Safety Month!

September 28th, 2015 by avatar

By Jenny Burris Harvey, BA, CPST

JPMA-BabySafetyMonthLogo-OLSeptember is Baby Safety Month, and before the month entirely slips away, I wanted to acknowledge this and share some resources with childbirth educators that they can use in their classes.  I asked colleague Jenny Burris Harvey, BA, CPST, a skilled safety educator in Seattle, WA to share the top ten safety messages that birth professionals and others can make sure parents hear or receive information on during their prenatal classes.  While I acknowledge that there already is so much we want to cover during our classes, I urge educators to consider how they can pass this important information on to families.  If there is absolutely no time to mention these topics in class, consider putting out an information sheet with important resources and links that you provide to the families you work with.  It could save a life. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility

Childbirth educators often find themselves in the awkward position of having a wealth of information to share with expectant families but not enough time to share it all. As you pick and choose what to spend your time on, consider that your class may be the only class that these families take in preparation for parenthood. While the bulk of what you teach will be about pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, you may have the opportunity to incorporate some key messages about keeping those new babies safe, as well.

© Jenny Burris Harvey

Beds are not a safe place to leave baby, especially with pets. © Jenny Burris Harvey

There’s never a safe time to leave a baby in an unsafe place. Most parents and caregivers assume that they’ll have at least a few months before they have to worry about having a safe place to contain their baby. They don’t expect that a new baby could roll off a couch, sit up and fall from a bouncy seat, or pull loose car seat straps around their neck. They don’t think about the cat jumping up on the bed being enough weight to knock the baby off or how deadly it can be to leave baby alone in the car for even a moment.

This simple message can be used in many contexts and easily incorporated into newborn care classes. It applies to holding baby, putting baby to sleep, wearing baby in a carrier, bathing baby, putting baby in a car seat, or even the logistics of getting dressed, going shopping, or any other aspect of daily life.

Here are a few other messages that, in my years of teaching, I have found to be the most valuable for new and expectant parents to hear from someone they trust.

1. Learn how to use the child’s car seat correctly.

Three out of four car seats are used incorrectly, meaning they would likely not be able to protect the child in a sudden stop or crash. A properly used car seat reduces an infant’s risk of injury or death by 71 percent. It’s not that car seat use is rocket science, it’s that it’s a big, often complicated puzzle. Parents should start by reading their car seat manual and their vehicle manual. Dr. Alisa Baer (The Car Seat Lady) has great tips on how to properly put a newborn in a car seat and safely keeping baby warm in cold weather. Urge parents to practice getting the harness straps nice and snug and the chest clip up to armpit level. Finally, emphasize the value of having their car seat checked by a certified child passenger safety technician (CPST). Make note of local resources in your area or have them go to Seatcheck.org to find a fitting station near them. Consider an educational handout, such as This is the Way the Baby Rides, but be sure to keep it current.

© Jenny Burris Harvey

Proper harness use on a newborn © Jenny Burris Harvey

Note: Please do not send families to any fire station, police station, or hospital without confirming that they do have a CPST who provides seat checks. If you want to learn more about child passenger safety, contact your local Safe Kids Coalition to find out about the CPS awareness classes or technician trainings nearest you.

2.  Keep the child rear facing as long as possible, at least two to three years.

The safest way to ride in a vehicle is rear facing. Rear facing children are 75 percent less likely to suffer head, neck, or spinal cord injuries in a crash. Experts agree that keeping a child rear facing until they outgrow the height or weight maximum for the rear-facing mode of their convertible car seat is the safest for the child. A study from the American Academy of Pediatrics found that children are five times safer staying rear facing until age two than turning around at age one. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends staying rear facing until at least age three. What everyone agrees on is to find a car seat that allows a child to stay rear facing as long as possible.

3. Learn about sleep safety.

To protect against sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUIDs), such as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and accidental suffocation, it is recommended that baby:

  • Be put down on his back for sleep, every time he sleeps.
  • Sleep in his own crib or safety-approved sleep area in the same room as the parents.
  • Is breastfed.
  • Does not get overheated by clothing, sleepers, hats, or heaters.
  • Uses a dry pacifier as he falls asleep.
  • Has nothing else in the sleep area with him, including blankets, pillows, toys, or sleep positioners.

Safe sleep can be difficult to remain objective about for some childbirth educators. Always offer evidence-based best practice guidelines first, then offer some help on practical trouble shooting if things don’t end up working that way. Co-sleeping or bed-sharing is a controversial issue that can get heated pretty quickly. It’s important to acknowledge the risks involved, as well as the likelihood that parents might find themselves resorting to it at some point just to get some sleep. Offer resources on how they can learn more about how to share a bed with their baby as safely as possible. James McKenna and La Leche League offer well-researched and easy-to-read information on the topic.

Note: There are a number of great safe sleep guides for parents and caregivers, such as those from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Be sure you have the most current information on safe sleep, too. Sign up for updates from the Safe to Sleep campaign, the Infant Sleep Information Source, and watch for webinars and other professional training updates on safe sleep.

4.  Baby gadgets and gizmos cannot do a parent’s job for them.

There are many baby products that claim to keep a baby safe for parents, from heating bottles to the perfect temperature to protecting them from SIDS. While these products may be tempting, it’s important to know that most of them are not regulated and often offer a very false sense of security. Some products may make parents’ jobs a little quicker or easier, but they cannot keep a child safe for them. Baby monitor cords have strangled babies in their crib, many “safe sleep” products have been recalled due to injury or death, and aftermarket car seat accessories can jeopardize baby’s airway or their safety in a crash. Emphasize the importance of thinking through possible risks before using an unregulated product for a baby. Remind parents that nothing should replace supervision and following best practice guidelines for keeping their baby safe.

5. Falls are the leading cause of unintentional injury in the first two years of life, and most of these falls occur when the child is dropped by a caregiver.

Dropping the baby is a big fear for a lot of new parents. While we want to offer reassurance, we also need to acknowledge the validity of this fear and offer some tips for reducing the likelihood of it happening. Carrying only baby, having a good hold on the head and a hip, removing trip or fall hazards around the home, and keeping a little light on throughout the house at night are some of my favorite tips for helping parents not drop their little ones.

Babywearing is a great tool for caring for a baby who wants to be held while still giving parents some freedom to do other things. There are many different kinds of carriers, and they all have different rules and instructions. Families should make sure their carrier is safe for use with newborns and that they are able to use it correctly. Baby carrier manufacturers often provide tips and videos on proper use and Babywearing International has information online and local chapters where people can get hands-on help.

Learn more about reducing fall hazards around the home. Mounting walk-through baby gates at the top and bottom of stairs, using safety straps on baby products, using window guards, bolting furniture to walls, moving the crib mattress down before baby can sit up, and never leaving baby alone on a raised surface will all reduce the likelihood of a serious fall.

6.  It’s really, really stressful when a baby cries. Have a plan.

The average baby cries between one and five hours per day. Most crying is a late cue to let parents know that baby had a need that wasn’t met in time. If the need is met, she’ll stop crying. However, some crying will not stop, no matter how parents try to soothe their baby. This inconsolable crying often seems very severe, as if the baby is in pain. Caregivers often feel as though something is very wrong, either with their baby who won’t stop crying or with themselves because they can’t make it stop.

The Period of P.U.R.P.L.E. Crying offers information about inconsolable crying, including reassurance that, unless there are other symptoms or indicators, there is nothing wrong with the parents or their baby. Of particular note to new parents may be the findings that:

  • Inconsolable crying peaks around two months old.
  • Most babies have a regular fussy time, typically in the evenings.
  • Baby’s nervous system isn’t fully developed, which means she can’t fully control when she stops crying.

It is critical to address how difficult this is to cope with, even for loving caregivers, because it is the leading cause of abusive head trauma (Shaken Baby Syndrome). Shaken Baby Syndrome happens when the baby’s head is shaken front-to-back with enough force, even just for a moment, to cause permanent damage to the baby’s brain. Parents and other caregivers should have a plan for what to do when baby won’t stop crying. Getting support from their family and their community can help during this hard time. Having the phone number for the Fussy Baby Network or crisis hotline within easy reach at all times is also a good idea.

7.  Don’t try to fix a problem before it’s there.

Parents have access to so many baby products, baby care blogs and books, and parenting advice, it can be really easy to buy into the idea that they need to prevent common problems parents face before they start. “Oh, you have to get one of these baby seats because it’s the only way my baby would sleep for the first three months!” can sound pretty convincing to a parent who is anxious about not getting enough sleep. Seeing a rear-view mirror that allows a parent to see baby while he’s in his car seat could make a parent think that it would be dangerous to not be able to see him.

Many parents choose to do things that are potentially unsafe for their baby, based on purely good intentions, without having tried it the safest way first. Start with what is known to be the safest for the baby. If, after a good effort, that doesn’t work, then think about what the next safest option to try is. Be sure to consider the risks before trying alternatives.

bsm-hiddenhazards-infographic8.  Give the home a safety makeover.

Start with the basics. A home should be a safe place for the child to explore and learn about navigating the world around them. It should also be a place where parents don’t have to constantly worry about the baby’s safety.

Burns & Fires:

  • Scalds are the leading cause of burns in infants. Turn the water heater down to 120 F, use the back burners, and don’t eat, drink, or prepare hot things while holding a baby.
  • Have working smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers on every level of the home and outside each sleep area. Have a fire escape plan that includes a safe way to get out from the upstairs with baby.


  • Program Poison Control 1-800-222-1222 into cell phones and call right away if there is a possibility that a child has been poisoned.
  • Include cosmetics and personal care items during child proofing, as they’re the leading cause of poisonings in young children.


  • It takes as little as 2 inches of liquid for a child to drown.
  • Most infants drown in the bathtub. Always have one hand on the baby in the tub.


  • Have first aid kits, with infant supplies, in the home, car, and diaper bag.
  • Have a plan and supplies for emergencies or disasters, including supplies for baby.

Anything with potential to cause life-threatening injuries must be child-proofed. Guns, knives, poisons, pools, staircases, and other immediate threats must be locked and inaccessible. Things that could potentially harm a child are more of a grey area where caregivers must weigh the risk versus the inconvenience of child-proofing and decide what their comfortable level of risk is.

9.  Learn CPR and Choking Rescue.

It is very unlikely that a baby will need Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). However, if he does, it’s critical that parents know what to do. Choking is a common emergency in infants and young children, so it’s also important that parents are confident in performing choking rescue. Guidelines change every few years, encourage families to keep their skills current. The American Heart Association and American Red Cross offer CPR and choking rescue classes in hospitals and communities all across the U.S.

10.  Slow down.

We live in a culture of multitasking. Being stressed, distracted, or in a hurry greatly increases the risk of injury for the children we care for. From baby choking because a baby is being fed too fast, to dropping baby while trying to carry too many things at once, to forgetting baby in the back seat of the car while parents are busy talking on the phone, it’s dangerous to do too much at once. Slow down. Encourage parents to shift their priorities and give themselves some slack for a while. Get support when needed. A healthy, engaged parent is one of the best safety nets for a child.

While the topics may be very different than what you usually cover, the big concepts are very similar. Encourage families to educate themselves and get support so they can make informed decisions about their child’s safety from the very start.

What safety information do you like to share with the parents you work with?  What are your favorite resources for helping parents to learn how to keep babies safe?  Share your thoughts, ideas and resources in the comments section below. – SM


Decina, L.E., Lococo, K.H., & Block, A.W. (2005) Misuse of child restraints: results of a workshop to review field data results. Traffic Safety Facts: Research Note. Retrieved from http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/research/tsf_misusechildretraints/images/809851.pdf

Durbin, D. & COMMITTEE ON INJURY, VIOLENCE, AND POISON PREVENTION (2011). Technical report – child passenger safety. Pediatrics peds.2011-0215. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-0215

Henary, B., Sherwood, C.P., Crandall, J.R., Kent, R.W., Vaca, F.E., Arbogast, K.B., & Bull, M.J. (2007). Car safety seats for children: rear facing for best protection. Injury Prevention, 13:6 398-402. doi:10.1136/ip.2006.015115

NEISS All Injury Program operated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). 10 leading causes of nonfatal injury, United States, 2003-2013, all races, both sexes, disposition: all cases. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC. Retrieved from WISQARS http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/nonfatal.html

About Jenny Burris Harvey

jenny burris harvey head shot 2015Jenny Burris Harvey, BA, CPST, is an educator, writer, and mom with a background in injury prevention health promotion, human development, and family support who specializes in infant injury prevention and child passenger safety. She has been supporting and educating families and professionals around child health and safety for many years, but found her passion in empowering new and expectant parents to keep their babies safe. With over ten years in the child passenger safety field, Jenny has worked and volunteered on a local, national, and federal level to educate families and professionals on proper car seat use. She also worked with Safe Ride News to create a continuing medical education module for pediatric healthcare providers. Jenny currently oversees and teaches Babysafe classes for Great Starts Birth and Family Education program at Parent Trust for Washington Children and is the co-author of the 5th edition of Baby & Me, a low-reading level book on pregnancy and newborn care.

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

Book Review: The Science of Mom: A Research-Based Guide to Your Baby’s First Year

September 3rd, 2015 by avatar

By Anne M. Estes, PhD

Today on Science & Sensibility, Anne M. Estes, PhD reviews a new book – The Science of Mom: A Research-Based Guide to Your Baby’s First Year.  Lamaze International and Science & Sensibility are all about providing families and professionals with evidence based information that can help inform decision making.  Seems like this book might fit in nicely with the philosophy that Lamaze has held for decades.  Regular contributor Anne M. Estes, PhD shares her review on this new book and lets us know if it might be something to add to our resource list for new parents.  See the end of the review to learn how you can enter to be chosen for a free copy of this book courtesy of the author,  Alice Callahan. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility. 

Science of Mom Cover HiDefMitchell Kapor once said, “Getting information off the Internet is like drinking from a fire hydrant.” New parents and child care professionals are certainly easily drenched by all the information that can be acquired on the internet from a variety of sources. As newly minted scientist-mom seven years ago, I was frustrated at the number of opinion and experienced-based baby books that lacked scientific support. The Science of Mom: A Research-Based Guide to Your Baby’s First Year, now fills that gap. Alice Callahan, a PhD in nutritional biology and mom of two, systematically examines common questions and concerns about infant care from a scientific perspective. In each chapter, she discusses the historical practice of the question, recommendations of different organizations, the current research, and the risks and benefits of a practice. Dr. Callahan does an excellent job presenting the strengths and limitations of particular studies and the logic behind different recommendations. Although The Science of Mom is science-focused, it is well-written and easy to read. The style of the book is personal and conversational. Personal experiences are intermingled with the science to illustrate her points well. A list of both the references used for each chapter and recommended books and websites are also given to help parents identify credible resources instead of getting lost in the fog of Internet “experts”.

Potential readers

For childbirth professionals and parents or parents-to-be interested in evidence-based practices for birth and an infant’s first year, The Science of Mom is a new and invaluable resource. Questions covered include: When is the right time to cut the umbilical cord? Which newborn treatments are necessary? How do newborns experience and explore their world? What are the differences between breastmilk and formula feeding? Where and how can babies sleep safely? What is the evidence for vaccinations? When and what kinds of solid food are best for babies?

Importance of evidence based decisions

Perhaps it’s also my bias as a scientist, but I greatly enjoyed reading such an insightful description of the process of science, the importance of scientific consensus, differences in quality across studies, and how scientific data can assist families in making informed decisions. Though readers of an evidence based blog like Science and Sensibility may already understand these points, the introduction could be helpful when introducing the rationale behind evidence based practices during child birth classes. It also serves as a guide for anyone who wants to research their own questions in the scientific literature.

I was particularly surprised to read about two instances where changes to medical practices in the early to mid 1900s had occurred without any evidence based support. One example was timing of cutting the umbilical cord. The author speculates that perhaps due to efficiency or convenience, the umbilical cord began to be cut before all the blood was pumped into the newborn. This practice is now being reconsidered due to the increased iron stores in the first 6 months of life of infants when cord clamping is delayed. Such an example certainly reinforces the importance of having evidence of benefit before new procedures are introduced or changes are made in traditional birth procedures.

Filling a gap in the bookshelf

In science and medicine there are no borders and no “right” answers. The Science of Mom is the same. Throughout the book, the author explores how a variety of countries and cultures deal with issues from giving Vitamin K to newborns (oral vs injected) to sleep practices (bed/room sharing vs separate sleeping arrangements). Different personal health conditions and prevalence of disease differ across the globe, making the need for some newborn treatments, such as eye prophylaxis, less clear. Dr. Callahan provides the data and information for people to make informed choices for their own family’s practices and situations. I found the honest, open, and nonjudgmental tone throughout the book refreshing.

Callahan author photo

Author Alice Callahan and her newborn © Alice Callahan

What a scientist-mom adds to the conversation

Each profession trains people to strengthen different skill sets. Training in the life sciences, especially at the PhD level, encourages a person to gather resources, sort through different quality data, synthesize data, and reach a conclusion based on that data for a given situation. Add to that training first-hand experience with raising two kids – knowledge of what it’s like to be in the parenting trenches, experience the “mommy wars”, and feel the exhaustion and yet love and concern of being a parent – and you’ve got a winning combination. The author is not a medical professional and most likely has only attended the births of her own two kids. However, in Science of Mom, Alice Callahan, PhD combines the critical eye of a scientist with the heart of a mother to create a helpful resource for all people interested in evidence based infant care and parenting.

What is missing?

What The Science of Mom does not do in general is to give you prescriptives for answering many of the parenting questions she poses. Data are still being collected and debated for many birth and parenting questions. There simply may not be one “right” way. In these cases, the scientific data are presented, the pros and cons of the different perspectives are addressed, then Dr. Callahan recommends following your baby’s lead and doing what feels best for your own family. After all, parenting is an art as well as a science.

In situations where scientists have reached a consensus, such as with the benefits of vaccines or back sleeping for infants, the author provides insight into how and why that consensus was reached by the scientific community. In such cases, Dr. Callahan provides additional information such as the role of each ingredient in the vitamin K shot in order to provide additional comfort to worried parents.

The Science of Mom is an excellent new addition to the bookshelves of any birth professional or parent who is interested in evidence-based parenting practices. Although the copy of The Science of Mom that I reviewed was complementary, I have given copies to several scientist-mom friends with newborns who also enjoy the nonjudgmental and objective tone of the book. For those wanting to read more of Dr. Callahan’s excellent commentary on the science of parenting, you can find her writing at the blog, The Science of Mom.

Enter to win your own copy of The Science of Mom

Have you had a chance to read this book?  What did you think of it?  Does this sound like a book that you would like to read?  Would you consider adding it to your resource list?  Share your thoughts about the book, how necessary or needed a book such as this might be, or other favorite resources for families to get evidence based information in understandable and easy to digest formats in the comments section below and include your email address.  All comments will be entered in a drawing for your own copy of the book.  The winner will be announced next month when Anne Estes interviews Dr. Callahan about her book. – SM

About Anne Estes

AnneMEstes_headshot 2015Anne M. Estes, PhD is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Genome Sciences in Baltimore, MD. She is interested in how microbes and their host organisms work together throughout host development. Anne blogs about the importance of microbes, especially during pregnancy, birth, first foods, and early childhood at Mostly Microbes.

Babies, Book Reviews, Breastfeeding, Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, New Research, Newborns, Parenting an Infant , , , , , , , ,

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.


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.


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


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:


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 , , , ,

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