This is a view overlooking the large, multifaceted play area (aka Discovery Hollow) of the Tamarack Nature Center located in White Bear Township, Minnesota. Tamarack Nature Center is run by one of our local counties and is a 20 minute drive north from the downtown area. It consists of three main areas: the Waterway area, the Log Play area and a huge vegetable and herb garden. (There is also a large “Garden Kitchen” which I assume they use during the camps and summer programs.)
Here is a sign marking the water way areas. There are two sources of water that feed into the sand beds. One is up higher and the other down lower.
The best part of Tamarack Nature Center is the Waterways. They have a huge sand bar that is fed with water by human operated systems. When the water goes off, one touch and you can turn it back on. It goes for about a minute and so you get to keep turning it back on as the children desire. (My four year old learned how to turn it on so that made things easy.) The water was also REALLY cold which was nice for such a hot day. As you can see, the children were enjoying the water and sand play both viscerally and intellectually, depending on their age and desired play activity.
Here are a few shots of a Dad and his son making a dam in the water area.
In addition to the water and sand area there was a more shaded area with logs and branches that the children could move around to create forts or whatever their imagination desired. I saw a father instructing his young child on the physics of paddling a canoe while sitting on a log with a stick-for-a-paddle in hand!
In general, the park was also just plain beautiful. It sits on a very large piece of undeveloped land. Here’s a shot looking out over the field just adjacent to the play area.
This was another little area. I assume they use it for presentations or for preschool activities and the like.
Not far from the play area the rocks and flowers were a source of attraction as well.
I love the windwill and this view of the park.
Inside the Nature Center itself there was also a large room with live animals (turtles, salamanders, bees). It had a beautiful high ceiling and lots of windows looking out over the meadows and the bird feeders. There was a kids’ corner with books and nature puzzles.
I believe there are also paths to walk and more nature sights to see. I look forward to our next foray into the Tamarack Nature Center! Perhaps in the winter?
Tamarack Nature Center
Tamarack Nature Center provides two classic (no skating) trails, one 4K more difficult loop, and a 3K easier loop. There is also a 1K practice loop. Ski through beautiful prairie, woodland and marsh with abundant wildlife. A visitor center with restroom facilities and ski rental is available during open hours, Monday – Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday 12:30 p.m. – 4 p.m. Access is from the Nature Center parking lot off Otter Lake Road. (Ski lessons available at Tamarack Nature Center)
I’ve recently come to realize that parenting a toddler is a full time job, and not just in the tedious, labor intensive way that building a house or plowing snow is.
It’s about something much more critical to the long-term well being of our children. It’s about the oh-so-important job of creating a person.
CREATING A PERSON?
Yes, creating a person—a person that we as parents can be proud of. A person that is steal, lie or cheat in order to get their basic needs met. It’s about creating a person who can move through the world with ease and with dignity. It’s about creating a person who knows right from wrong and acts according and about creating a person who gives and receives love and charity easily and with grace.
And it takes every second of every single minute that you’re with this little being-in-the-making.
There is no time for a break, no time to relax. If you stop to breathe for a moment you will miss a teachable moment.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I like to relax and I don’t think I go toooverboard on the whole parenting business. It’s just that these little free-spirited toddlers that know no impulse control and are running around like little savages don’t give you the opportunity to take a moment to rest and to breathe.
When they smack the dog in the head you are forced to take the opportunity to teach the value of kindness and gentleness towards others. When they march into the Director’s office of the daycare and say “I have sticker?” you have to teach them the value of good manners. “Say ‘por favor’! Say ‘gracias’! Say ‘adios’!” (My daughter actually goes to an amazing daycare where the staff are all native Spanish speakers and they speak Spanish all day to the children.)
Here’s a short list of some of the values I’ve identified as ones that I subconsciously and consciously have been trying to teach my toddler:
1. Expressing and Exuding Kindness of Spirit
I want my child to be a warm and good person. I want her to show her friends that she loves them and appreciates them. I want her to be kind and friendly to people she knows and to strangers she meets in the street. I encourage her to approach people and when she spontaneously smiles and engages in conversation with strangers, I facilitate the conversation whether the person on the receiving end is interested or not. I don’t want to squelch the natural social behaviors that I see coming from her on a daily basis.
Every toddler needs to learn how to share and aren’t we given the daily opportunity to encourage that? I feel very fortunate that my child loves to share with her peers even when she is not asked to. Mostly this comes in the form of food. I have to ask myself if she is imitating me (given that 99% of what she does is mimicking my behavior), and if I think about it, she may certainly be doing so. I love to cook and I always offer some of what I have made to everyone around me.
Similar to sharing. I want her to be generous to others and to share her belongings or her food or her toys. Generosity is a value that was instilled in me and I want to instill that in her as well. I want her to give and give freely. I want her to enjoy the warm feelings one gets from sharing and giving to others.
4. Expressing Love
I want my child to be warm, to give hugs, to show her friends and family that she likes and loves them.
5. Connecting with Others in a Meaningful Way
I want my daughter to develop meaningful relationships. I want her to greet others when she sees them after they’ve been gone and to say hello and good-bye and good-night to show that she cares about the presence they play in her life. It would be easy enough for her to not greet her peers and to just start playing but I make a point of having her go up to her friends and to say hello, to have her hold hands with them, to have her appreciate their friendship.
6. Engaging in Good Manners and Appropriate Social Behavior
Of course she needs to engage in the standard social niceties: Please, thank you, you’re welcome, hello, good-bye. No hitting, shoving, biting, etc.
This is a hard one to teach a toddler as they like to push the limits and to act as if nothing short of immediate gratification is acceptable. I deliberately use the word “patience” with her while she is waiting for something. I sit by her side and hold her close to me. “We need to be patient,” I tell her. “It’s hard, I know. Sometimes we need to wait. That is being patient.” I am trying to teach her the concept of patience rather than just the behavior of needing to wait. I think it will have more value in the long run this way.
Turn-taking is about recognizing and understanding that there are other people in the world besides herself. As a concept and a behavior it goes beyond playing games or using the playground equipment. It is the understanding that we have our own needs but that we need to watch for and meet the needs of others, even if they do not ask us to.
9. Understanding and Acceptance of Diversity
This is harder to teach to toddlers but when she asks me questions about people who look different from her I explain the difference in a way that is factual, accepting and open, without secrets. I help her to understand what makes people different from each other.
10. To Love, Respect and Appreciate Nature
How could I forget this? In some ways it is the most important value in a technology-laden , eyes-glued-to-the-screen age. Because of an ever-increasing dependence on electronics, it is imperative that we teach our youngsters that the world is bigger than they are, that getting dirty is okay, and that food comes from the earth. Giving them the opportunity to feel leaves crunch under their feet, rain falling on their faces and dirt in their hands, are all ways we engage in the enormous job of teaching them to love and appreciate the earth and the world we live in.
How do you teach these values to little people?
Well, I’ve examined how my time is spent engaging in this ongoing task of facilitating the development of one (hopefully) amazing human being and this is what I’ve come up with…
One of the ways is to model the behavior or action for her. Saying please to her; saying thank you to her; showing her how her momma does it. I read somewhere that this is actually more effective than continually reminding them of how to behave.
Another way is reinforcing her positive behaviors. Anytime a “positive” behavior is produced you praise the heck out of them. If she spontaneously shares or offers a cookie to a friend, “That was wonderful! What a nice job you did sharing! You are sooo sweet!” Watch the happy look that comes over their face. They feel good having pleased you and are likely to repeat the behavior simply because of the praise they received.
A third way is correcting negative behaviors. “We don’t hit when we’re angry. We say, ‘That makes me mad.” In addition to pointing out what they did wrong, and even more importantly, is to tell them what TO DO rather than what not to do. This can be very helpful when you’re in the moment. If your child is reaching out to hit, you can catch the hand and say… “No, no…we don’t hit to get what we want. We ask for what we need. Can you ask your friend for the ball?” Telling them what to do gives them a behavior they can act on rather than just feeling reprimanded or punished.
Well, those are my thoughts on teaching toddlers values. Interestingly, these are probably the values that will continue on as my child ages and develops. So, in essence, as parents we are creating the core values that our children will carry forth with them for the rest of their lives. It’s an amazing time in their development as they are soaking up everything like little sponges and imitating every little thing we do. This is the prime time for developing all of those pro-social behaviors that we want to see in our children. In essence, we’re in the throes of helping to create the people we want our children to be in ten and twenty years. It’s a big job – bigger than I ever imagined – but one that I signed up to do and one that I do not take lightly!
It was time to cook dinner and I needed an activity for my three year old and an adult friend I had over. Fingerpaints, I thought! It was something I’d been wanting to do but hadn’t had the time to explore fully. I pulled out the easel paper, a thin waterproof drop cloth that I keep on hand for messy occasions (I think I picked it up at the dollar store or a local drugstore. It was cheap but seemed like it might come in handy some day), and the paints.
In addition to the paints, I decided to add in some multi-media materials to make it interesting.
I brought out the following:
A set of paint brushes
A bag of cotton balls
Marshmallows (an Inspiration Laboraties idea, I believe)
Leaves and evergreen branches from outside
Off we went! I’m not sure if I even got to dinner given that the painting project was so much fun, but I’m guessing I did. My daughter LOVED this activity and was engaged and happy for a good 30 minutes, as I recall. We stopped when the paper was pretty much lacking in space.
I used the lid to the paint box as a palette.
She had a fun time stamping with the marshmallows and then sticking them in the paint. The marshmallows, the cotton balls and the pom-poms all served as both something to paint with as well as part of the finished product.
It was an awesome project and the full painting is hanging on the dining room wall for all to see. Since that day, “Momma, I wanna paint!” has been heard pretty frequently as well.
With research you have to remember that it’s not every single person that will have the outcome that they predict. What the researchers are saying is that for those babies that drank out of a bottle longer, more of the babies were likely to be obese later on. This not a direct cause and effect, meaning that it does not mean your baby will be obese if she is still using the bottle at 36 months. I have a child who is a perfect example of that. Three years, two months old, loves the bottle, skinny as a rail. But there is something to the research and the underlying reasons are what need to be examined. Are the babies who drink from a bottle as an older child also getting sugary cereals and breakfast bars instead of fruits and vegetables? This are things to examine and look at.
Even though she’s now 23 months old, my daughter Maya still really likes hitting the bottle. It’s a ritual—the first bottle of the morning, and a request when I get home from work. She sits on my lap, we cuddle, and she relaxes, her body growing less tense. In the evenings, I don’t give her much because it will ruin her dinner. We both know it’s the pose that matters, and that little time for reconnection.
So of course I was immediately concerned when my pediatrician abruptly told me to stop using bottles “cold turkey” because they are linked to obesity. She was right that a new study from last year connected bottle usage to obesity, and it sure made for some frightening headlines when published, like this one: “To Avoid Adult Obesity Stop Bottle-Feeding at 18 Months,” from Medical News Today. The article began by intoning darkly:
If you want to reduce your baby’s chances of becoming an obese adult you should not continue bottle-feeding him/her beyond 12 to 18 months.
Who wants a fat kid, really? Or this one, from U.S. News, “Prolonged Bottle Feeding Boosts Kids’ Obesity Risk,” which began:
Nearly one-quarter of 2-year-old bottle feeders were obese at age 5, researchers say.
Well, I suppose that seems clear enough. But what did the research really say? Here’s more detail: The prevalence of obesity at 5.5 years was 17.6, and 22.3 of children were using a bottle at 24 months. The prevalence of obesity at 5.5 years was 22.9% (95% CI, 19.4% to 26.4) in children who at 24 months were using a bottle and was 16.1 (95% CI, 14.9% to 17.3%) in children who were not.
Prolonged bottle use was associated with an increased risk of obesity at 5.5 after controlling for potential confounding variables (sociodemographic characteristics, maternal obesity, maternal smoking, breastfeeding, age of introduction of solid foods, screen-viewing time, and the child’s weight status at birth and at 9 months of age).
I was struck by several things here. First, although nearly 23 percent of bottle-feeders were obese at the age of 5 1/2, 16 percent of the rest of the population (i.e., not bottle users) also were, which is only a 7-point difference.
Second, the sample size is on the small side — i.e., 22 percent of the sample used a bottle, 23 percent of whom ended up overweight. That’s a total of 341 kids. If we subtract the 16 percent that represents the background obesity rate, there are only 55 kids whose habits are driving the conclusions (because they make up that 7-percent spread). The authors say that is a statistically significant number, though, so I also took a gander at their assumptions.
They used a data set with limited inputs, certainly. First, the study did not account for what was actually in the bottles. Yet it seems to me that this could matter a lot. Apple juice, for example, is high in calories and does not fill you up, yet creates a taste for sugary drinks, making it easy to consume to excess. While whole milk may be higher in calories, it offers a host of essential fats, vitamins and calcium, and is denser and harder to over-consume. Water, obviously, has no calories. Formula, which is loaded with sugars that stimulate appetite, unsurprisingly is also linked in previous studies to obesity.
As children are frequently given juices (or even worse, Kool-Aid), given the small number of families driving the conclusions, this seems like an important caveat, and one notably missing from the official conclusion or coverage. Instead, the authors publicly suggest the opposite, where one of them claims that the study accounted for “feeding practices during infancy.” But this is misleading. After all, what a child is actually consuming has just got to be more important than whether it’s being delivered by bottle or cup.
Second, the study did not measure the kind of bottle being used, whether glass or plastic. Before you think I’ve gone off the deep-end on this one, consider that studies have shown that Bisphenol-A (BPA) likely plays a significant role in obesity, both by making our bodies produce insulin as though we are consuming twice the calories we actually are, and by helping to flip a genetic switch that predisposes us to be fat.
The study’s data-set spans 2001 to 2006, when most parents were unaware of the BPA issue and most bottles still had BPA in them, and in which plastic bottles were typical, as they are today. But the analysis simply ignores the possibility of harmful chemical influences.
Third, the authors’ don’t recognize any benefit at all from using a bottle:
Rachel Gooze notes that weaning children from the bottle by the time they are 1 year of age is unlikely to cause harm and may prevent obesity.
I beg to differ. Research shows that strong bonding is essential to healthy brain development, particularly in children ages 0 to 3 years. While extended use of a bottle is not an essential part of creating these bonds, the act of feeding a child is intrinsically a nurturing moment, and so it may not be irrelevant either. The researchers should have at least considered the possible emotional downsides.
For our family, my daughter never breastfed, and so our bonding over a bottle has replaced a rather fundamental missing piece. I’m not eager to let this go based on one study showing she could, maybe, have a slightly greater chance of being obese four years from now, especially given the care I take with her overall diet. For example, she almost never has juice, or really concentrated sugar of any kind.
If using a bottle appeared to be causing cavities or hampering her speech development, that would be another issue, and is a legitimate concern raised by dentists (those sugary beverages again!) and speech pathologists. My daughter now uses (I would guess) about 600 words and more every day. She’s also never been very interested in a pacifier or thumb-sucking, either of which can also be a speech development blocker.
Moreover, she eats a wide variety of fruits, proteins and vegetables, uses both sippy cups and regular cups, and is learning to use a straw, as speech experts advise. The bottle is just a break, and I assume will drop away sometime when she’s no longer needs that daily form of checking in. If not, we’ll ease it out of use and replace it with some other bonding ritual we invent.
In the end, I’m not convinced at all by this study, and disappointed that both my pediatrician and the press apparently take its conclusions as gospel. Advice from doctors rarely seems to take account of the havoc that would be wreaked on families’ lives by following their rigid approach. The costs of this in terms of both family peace and pediatric credibility are high. And the concerns around obesity have now reached such a fever pitch that it seems we’re able to be bossed around on “slim” evidence indeed.
In the end, it seems to me, we all would benefit from trusting our instincts about what’s right for our child–for others besides my daughter, taking the bottle out of circulation may be no big deal. For the rest of us, we probably just need a moment or two to relax in a day, and so do our kids.
How does your family come down on this issue? Am I just making up excuses because I don’t want to face the music (or really, screaming)?
Did I miss something important about the study or its implications? Or do you agree with me that this is just another in a too-long line of simplistic anti-obesity messages that fail to grapple with the real issues?
Laura MacCleery is a non-profit lawyer, mom and squeaky wheel in search of a spoke. Read more of Laura’s writing on her blog, Laura’s ‘Rules’.
Susan Stiffelman is a licensed marriage and family therapist, educational consultant and parenting coach. Through her private practice, public presentations, workshops, teleclasses and website, she has become a source of advice and support for parents around the world. Her book, Cool, Calm and Connected: How to Avoid Negotiations, Arguments and Meltdowns With Your Kids is now available in bookstores. Susan can be reached atwww.passionateparenting.net.
Do time-outs work as punishment for children? Family therapist and author Susan Stiffelman explains why they don’t work, why they can actually cause clinginess in your child — and what techniques are much more effective.
There’s no doubt about it: Time-outs work. Sort of. They work because unless a child has become hardened and aloof, the experience of being separated from a parent’s comforting presence is unpleasant at best and intolerable at worst. But they come at a price, and eventually they stop working –because they violate one of the three primary drives of a child’s brain: the need for close and secure attachment.
Children need a secure attachment
Children are wired to be closely connected to their caretakers. Attachment is vital to their survival and well-being. Unlike the young of other mammals, little humans are utterly dependent on their guardians to provide food, warmth, shelter and nurturing; we simply cannot survive without being connected to those who care for us.
When a misbehaving child is sent to their room to “think about” their offense, the only thing they’re really thinking about is either how soon they can get back to Mommy or Daddy or how much they hate their parent for sending them away.
The former response is what we initially see in a younger child whose experience of anxiety at being separated from the parent shoots through the roof. The latter response — anger and contempt — happens when the child feels outraged at being ostracized.
The problems with time-outs are numerous. First, at the very time when the angry or misbehaving child is out of control and in need of the calming influence of a caring parent, they’re left to settle down entirely on their own. Most children are incapable of doing this. They need a grown up to help them come back to themselves when they’re swept up in the storm of their emotions. A child whose behavior has been so impulsive or destructive as to warrant being sent away shouldn’t be left to his own devices to become centered again.
Sending a child away when they’re distressed is essentially saying to them, “I can’t handle you when you show this side of yourself. Come back when you can be the manageable Susie or Johnny that I can handle.” Not only are we telling the child that we only find the good, compliant version of themselves acceptable, we’re also declaring our inability to cope with all of who they are.
As I’ve said in many other articles, a child deeply needs their parent to function as the confident Captain of the ship in their life. When a parent sends a child away because they can’t handle their misbehavior, they’re effectively telling them that they (the child) have the power to render them (the parent) incompetent and helpless.
Time-outs increase separation anxiety
One of the characteristics I see in children whose parents routinely use time-outs is clinginess. Unless (or until) these kids become hardened and indifferent, they handle separation badly. While it usually works to tell a child who refuses to leave the park, “Okay, then, I’m leaving without you!” (most kids will indeed come running), the anxiety created by chronically threatening a child with separation damages their core sense of security and connection.
When a parent functions as the Captain of the ship in their child’s life, there’s a natural dynamic at play that makes time-outs largely unnecessary. Sure, there are always times when our kids are cranky, hungry, jealous or running on empty, but if we do our best to anticipate problems before they manifest, we can usually avoid behavior getting out of hand.
For all practical purposes, time-outs are the equivalent of shunning a child. In most societies, shunning is considered the most dreadful form of punishment. When we instead manage a child’s misbehavior while preserving their sense of connection with us, we avoid the harmful effects of time-outs — which in the long run, create more problems than they solve.
Recently when the Time Magazine sported a front page spread of a young boy standing on stool breastfeeding, the media and public went wild with debate, furry, outrage and reaction over a behavior that some people call “Extended Breastfeeding.”
Since the article’s publication, I’ve been tossing this term around in my head and I realize that I’m not a fan of the term.
Why am I not a fan?
Well, first of all, the term Extended Breastfeeding inherently applies that the breastfeeding is being extended past some arbitrary line that is being drawn in sand that defines the child-breast relationship.
The term extended breastfeeding implies that the mother is breastfeeding her child longer than…longer than….well, longer than something.
Let’s debunk some of these myths.
There is not a point at which a parent “should” stop nursing.
What do we mean by should? Who defines what should is? Who gets to make the ultimate decision on should?
If we listened to the young mothers commenting on mothering forums, as I have, the line would be 15 months. Nursing beyond that age, as one contributor said “is just sick.” I think that sums up the general opinion some women regarding nursing a toddler. This perception needs to change regardless of what another mother chooses for herself and her child.
Nursing into toddlerhood has no negative health effects on the child.
The AmericanAcademyof Pediatrics (AAP) doesn’t have a problem with a mother nursing a child past infancy. Because of the clear health benefits the AAP recommends “exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months…with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.”1 Additionally, they state that “mothers should be encouraged to continue breastfeeding through the first yearand beyond as more and varied complementary foods are introduced.”1
Nursing into toddlerhood is not emotionally detrimental for the child nor is the mother nursing to meet her own emotional needs.
There is no evidence to suggest that breastfeeding past a year or even into later years is emotionally unhealthy for the child.2 The assertion that the mother is breastfeeding her child for her own benefit is ludicrous. First of all, no toddler would participate in breastfeeding if he or she did not want to. For all of you parents out there, I’m sure you remember your 2 to 3 year old child’s favorite word: NO!
Forcing a toddler to do something is not very easy, especially if it requires them to curl up on your lap and hold still.
A mother cannot force a child to breastfeed.
Of course a mother can wean a child, but why wean a child if he or she is not showing signs of readiness? Children will wean themselves naturally when they no longer need the emotional security of the mother’s breast. Weaning a two year old child before she was ready would be like taking away her security blanket or favorite stuffed animal.
There is a misconception about toddlers and breastfeeding: Toddlers don’t nurse the way that infants do.
It would be the rare toddler who would go to mom for a long, nutritional nursing session at the age of two or three. Most children seek the breast out for comfort or security. By the time a child is in their toddler years most children are only nursing for short periods of time and usually before or after sleep. Even if they were seeking the breast out during the day, the mother is most likely starting to set limits on that behavior as well. It’s a process and one that is not easily controlled or defined by external forces. It varies greatly depending on the child, the mother and on the mother-child relationship.
The general rule of thumb is that nursing can and should continue as long as it is a mutually beneficial relationship.
After a couple of years, there are plenty of mothers who will tell you that the joy of nursing is fading. At that point the nursing relationship is no longer mutually beneficial and a mother may choose to encourage her child to wean. On the flip side, a child may choose to no longer nurse because he is ready to be done even if the mother enjoys that bonding time. However, the child-centered parent will follow her child’s lead and bring an end to the nursing relationship.
Between a combination of baby or toddler-led weaning and a mother’s desire to wean her child, nursing will always come to an end at some point in time.
Given the health benefits of nursing to both mother and child, as a society we should be supportive of any nursing relationship between mother and child.
Currently, breastfeeding rates are much lower than the government would like them to be and both the AAP and the Surgeon General are trying to encourage more mothers to breastfeed and for longer periods of time. The Surgeon Generals Healthy People 2020 objectives for the year are “82% ever breastfed, 61% at 6 months, and 34% at 1 year.”3Although most mothers try to breastfeed upon giving birth, “within only three months after giving birth, more than two-thirds of breastfeeding mothers have already begun using formula. By six months postpartum, more than half of mothers have given up on breastfeeding, and mothers who breastfeed one-year olds or toddlers are a rarity in our society.”4
By continuing to use the term “extended breastfeeding,” we as a culture, and as a group of informed, conscientious parents, are perpetuating the notion that breastfeeding has some finite, culturally-defined end and that it is the rare mother, the anomaly, the outlier, the “strange mom,” who nurses past this “normal” point. If we wish to change this we might want to be more cognizant of our choice of words. Nursing into toddlerhood is a normal way to nurse and perhaps we should be calling it just that. Nursing. Nursing into toddlerhood. Nursing an older child. Non-infant nursing. Let’s be creative and start talking about it in a way that will normalize the behavior rather than continuing to set ourselves and our healthy parenting behaviors apart from the rest of society.
from Breastfeeding Abstracts, February 2001, Volume 20, Number 3, pp. 19-20.
Misinformation about breastfeeding affects everyone in our society, including lawyers, judges, psychologists, and social workers. While there is no harm in breastfeeding past infancy and allowing a child to wean naturally, many professionals in social service agencies and family law courts are quite shocked to learn just how long a child may breastfeed. Lacking accurate information, these officials may overreact and conclude that breastfeeding a child of two, three, or four is somehow improper. As more mothers nurse longer, healthcare and lactation professionals need to be aware of legal issues surrounding extended breastfeeding, so that they can educate their counterparts in the legal and social service systems.
Breastfeeding and the Courts
The issue of extended breastfeeding has been raised numerous times in United States courts, in both social service agency and family law cases. There are older reports of family law cases in which the court’s custody decision was affected by the belief that the child should have been weaned at an earlier age.1 However, a more recent custody case recognized that it was not inappropriate to breastfeed past infancy and discounted the father’s claims that it was detrimental to the child ’s development.2 It is not uncommon for fathers to raise questions about extended breastfeeding to gain leverage in custody decisions, even fathers who were supportive of long-term breastfeeding prior to the divorce. This tactic has been shown to work. After all, what do judges know about breastfeeding!
Social service agencies have looked at the issue of extended breastfeeding numerous times over the past ten years, but not one social service agency has upheld any finding that extended breastfeeding constitutes abuse or neglect, or is in any way harmful to the child. In only two situations has a child been removed from the home. Several years ago, a social service agency in Colorado removed a five-year-old child because the mother was still breastfeeding, but the court ordered the child to be immediately returned to his family. Last year, in Illinois, a child was removed from the mother ’s custody to foster care for over six months because a judge issued an initial finding that the child was at risk of serious emotional harm because of not being weaned. This case received a great deal of publicity. Though the case is still in the process of being resolved, the child has been returned to his mother, and the judge has vacated the finding of neglect.
In 1992, in a highly publicized case in New York State, a mother claimed that she had lost custody of her child for a year because she was breastfeeding at age three. This mother had reported experiences of sexual arousal during breastfeeding, and authorities removed the child from the home, for fear that this mother might sexually abuse this child. Later, the social service agency in New York that took this action issued a formal statement, saying that there was more to this case than could be disclosed to the press, due to confidentiality laws. The statement also added that extended breastfeeding or even arousal during breastfeeding were not reasons for removing a child from a mother’s custody. Over the next few years, other social service agencies have also investigated cases related to extended breastfeeding, but have not removed children from their homes. These cases have been closed once officials received accurate information about extended breastfeeding and natural weaning. Breastfeeding, at any age, is not abuse or neglect.
Information about Weaning
Mothers who allow their child to wean naturally are being responsive to the child’s need. Contrary to the suspicions of those in our society who view breastfeeding as somehow being a sexual act, mothers who nurse older children are not satisfying pathological needs of their own.
Mothers who have breastfed past infancy rarely expected to nurse for so long, but they continue because it is so important to their child. At one time children all over the world were breastfed until they weaned naturally. It is only in our modern society that extended breastfeeding has fallen so far out of fashion that it is viewed as an abnormal act.
Breastfeeding experts do not advocate a specific age for weaning, as this is a personal decision for each mother and child. Authorities do suggest that it is best to let children wean naturally. For instance, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all babies be breastfed for at least one year, or as long as mutually desirable.3 In support of this recommendation, the AAP’s statement cites a study that discusses the age of weaning among American women who practice extended breastfeeding. Weaning ages in the study extend through age 6.4
Many people are surprised to learn that experts consider 4 or 5 years to be the average age of weaning worldwide.5 Research by Dr. Katherine Dettwyler, anthropologist at Texas A&M University, argues that the natural weaning age for human beings falls between 2.5 and 6 years of age.6 An informal survey conducted by Dr. Dettwyler indicated that many more women in the United States are nursing children past infancy, and she has reports of children as old as ten years old still breastfeeding. So many women are breastfeeding past infancy that two books on the subject have chapters on nursing past age four (MOTHERING YOUR NURSING TODDLER, by Norma Jane Bumgarner, and The Nursing Mother’s Guide to Weaning, by Kathleen Huggins).7, 8 Many people, however, are not familiar with the idea of extended breastfeeding, since older nursing children do not nurse frequently or urgently, and most mothers nursing an older child do not do so openly in public. They may not even admit to their doctors that they are still breastfeeding. It is ironic that our society does not seem to object to children sucking their fingers, pacifiers, or bottles past infancy, but many are outraged when a child who can walk and talk is still breastfeeding. Because our culture tends to view the breast as sexual, it can be hard for people to realize that breastfeeding is the natural way to nurture children.
More and more experts and professionals are encouraging extended breastfeeding, as there is substantial evidence that health benefits continue and increase the longer the child breastfeeds. The current recommendations of the World Health Organization and UNICEF are for all mothers to breastfeed until age 2 or beyond. Studies have shown that the antibodies and immunities in a mother’s milk are more concentrated the longer she nurses, to make up for the fact that the child does not nurse as often. Recent studies also indicate that extended periods of breastfeeding offer mothers protection against breast cancer.9, 10
Children who nurse past infancy have their own developmental timetables. Many nurse for only a few minutes at bedtime, upon waking, or at nap time. Some may go days or even weeks without asking to nurse. Some wean only to resume nursing when stressful events occur in their lives, such as the birth of a sibling. When little ones get sick, most mothers find that the amount of nursing increases. Breastfeeding is primarily for comfort as children pass their first birthday, and there is nothing wrong with that. Some people may assume that if a child is nursing past infancy, it must be influenced by the mother ’s desires or wishes. To the contrary, the child is the one who determines if breastfeeding is going to continue. It is well known in the field of lactation that it is very difficult to make a child breastfeed.
The Professional’s Responsibility
Health professionals, social service workers, and judges and lawyers in the field of family law need to become informed about extended breastfeeding. The good intentions of a poorly informed professional can result in a false report of abuse, or even a child being placed in foster care needlessly. Personal feelings or beliefs about breastfeeding should not be allowed to affect professional judgment. Unfortunately, women have been reported to social service agencies for extended breastfeeding by the very professionals from whom they sought help. Several years ago in Florida, a mental health professional reported a client to social services for allowing a five-year-old child to try breastfeeding again after he had weaned. The father was attempting to use this incident as a weapon against the mother in a family law situation. The therapist unwittingly went along with the father’s concern, and reported that the mother-child relationship was dysfunctional. When caseworkers at the social service agency learned more about extended breastfeeding and weaning, the case was closed.
If a mother is reported to a social service agency for extended breastfeeding, or if the issue arises in a divorce or family law case, health professionals can assist by providing accurate information about the issue to everyone involved. Most of the time this sharing of information resolves the situation. If it does not, direct testimony from an expert may be needed to resolve the case in the mother’s favor.
Elizabeth N. Baldwin is an attorney, certified family mediator, and La Leche League Leader in Miami, Florida. Her practice concentrates primarily on family law cases where extended breastfeeding and mother-child separation are at issue. Ms. Baldwin is a member of La Leche League’s Professional Advisory Board, Legal Advisory Council.
1. Shunk v. Walker, 589 A. 2d 1303 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1991); Friendshuh v. Headlough, 504 N. W. 2d 104 (S. D. 1993); In the Matter of the Marriage of Holcomb, 888 P. 2d 1046 (Or. Ct. App. 1995).
Everyone has heard that a child can drown in a few inches of water. Having worked during my college days for the Consumer Product Safety Commission as a data entry person, nothing surprises me. Children can die or be severely harmed by all kinds of household objects, not just toys.
If you’ve heard it once, you’ll hear it again. NEVER leave your child unattended in or around water. I just get sick to my stomach when I hear about young children dying in hot tubs or washing machines…You cannot be too careful.
Between 2005 and 2009, two children under the age of five died as a result of laundry room accidents, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Washing machine-related injuries are more common than deaths, says Scott Wolfson, director of public affairs for the CPSCburns from hot water in the machine, or injuries to their limbs if they come into contact with a rapidly spinning basin. “Kids are curious. We have to be very vigilant about our children, and really live in the moment and be present when we’re supervising them,” says Kate Carr, president of Safe Kids Worldwide, which aims to prevent unintentional childhood injuries.
Five other things to be cautious of:
Standing water. Drowning concerns extend beyond swimming pools. Any type of standing water-even if it’s just an inch deep-can harm a child. “The bathroom is the riskiest room in the house,” says Garry Gardner, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ council on injury, violence, and poison prevention. “Children lean over and look into the toilet or bathtub, they trip, and they fall in.” Keep young children out of the bathroom unless they’re being closely watched, and teach others in the home to keep the bathroom door closed at all times. Ice chests with melted ice, water buckets or pails, and whirlpools also pose risks. Empty all buckets, pails, and bathtubs completely after use; never leave them filled or unattended. And adjust the water heater thermostat so that the hottest temperature at the faucet is 120 degrees Fahrenheit, to help avoid burns.
Televisions. Between 2000 and 2010, nearly 170 children ages 8 and younger were fatally crushed by falling TVs, the CPSC reports One child, for example, bumped a 100-pound TV that was placed on an aquarium stand. When it fell, it crushed his skull. The best preventative step? Using adequately-sized, sturdy stands and shelves to support TVs. They should not be placed on stands that have drawers, since kids could use them as steps to climb to the top, and parents shouldn’t put remote controls, toys, or anything else atop TV sets. “We’re seeing a mini-epidemic,” Gardner says. “If a TV is heavy and sitting on a small stand, and a kid climbs up on it, he’s going to pull it right over.”
Button batteries. These high-powered lithium batteries, no bigger than a nickle, are used to power small electronic devices, including remote controls, watches, musical greeting cards, and ornaments. When accidently swallowed, they can get stuck in the esophagus and generate an electrical current that causes severe chemical burns and tissue damage. “The window of opportunity for getting it out before it causes irreparable damage is two hours,” Gardner says. If you’re even remotely concerned that your child has ingested one of the batteries, head to the emergency room immediately.
Treadmills. In 2009, Mike Tyson’s 4-year-old daughter was strangled to death by a dangling treadmill cord. And it wasn’t an isolated accident. More than 25,000 children under age 14 are injured each year by exercise equipment, including stationary bikes, treadmills, and stair climbers. Treadmill injuries are typically caused by the moving parts (like the running deck and belt), hard edges, and programmed speeds. Some precautionary steps: When a treadmill isn’t in use, unplug it and lock it up, or even surround it with a safety gate. Remove the safety clip that’s tied around the handrail. Keep kids away from the machine whenever it’s in use.
Coffee. Be wary of where you set down that morning cup of joe. A child could accidently tip it over. Burns, especially scalds from hot water and other liquids, are some of the most common childhood accidents. “Kids are not small adults. Because they’re growing, their skin is more fragile,” Carr says. “And their body surface is much smaller, so a little bit of coffee goes a long way.”
“Did you know? Drowning is the second most common cause of injury-related fatalities among children between the ages of 1 and 4. The best prevention of drowning is never to let children be alone near water of any depth.
Swimming: safety first A child can drown in a minute. In fact, most young children who drowned in swimming pools were in the care of one or both parents at the time and had been out of sight for less than five minutes. While teaching your toddler water safety and, ultimately, to swim will eventually protect him, careful and constant supervision is essential to prevent drowning now.
Teaching your toddler water safety can be fun for both of you. Enroll in a YMCA swimming class for parents and toddlers to learn water safety and have fun. No matter how much your toddler loves the water, however, he must always be within an arm’s reach until he is over 5 years of age and a strong swimmer-even if you are just in a backyard wading pool. If your child is fearful of the water, don’t force him to swim, as doing so may increase his fear.
Water play There are endless ways to enjoy the water with your toddler. Sit in a kiddy pool with her in just an inch or two of water and pass a ball back and forth between you. Fill or empty cups as you would in the sink or tub. In the shallow end of an adult pool, hold her in your arms and bounce together in the water while singing Ring Around the Rosie. If your child has a fear of water but is comfortable in your arms, you can offer her the choice of falling up (out of the water) or down (submerged no higher than her chest).”
I know you’re thinking that this is all old news. But if it helps save one toddlers life, it’s worth it.
A baby sucks on your breast. Is that a sexual experience? No. Might there be a sexual response that occurs from time to time in the mother while her child is nursing? Yes. So let’s look at this issue a little more closely. First of all, the idea that breastfeeding might cause mild sexual arousal is not something to be swept under the rug. It’s a natural biological response. We do not need to be afraid to talk about it. As a matter of fact, I think a graduate student at the University of Minnesota might be writing her dissertation on this very topic as we speak.
The author of another blog felt anxious that breastfeeding might produce sexual feelings. I’m sure that any sexual feelings a mother might have will differ from child to child, from mother to mother, from breast to breast, and from year to year, depending on the age of the child.
I can tell you from my experience that the first days of breastfeeding can be very difficult and it’s a job, not something that’s fun. (Remember, I’m speaking from my experience and my experience alone.) This is especially true if you’ve just undergone major surgery to have the baby removed from your body and especially true if for some reason the latch is painful. And forget about modesty. By the time I had that baby I didn’t care who saw my breasts. I can’t even recall how many nurses, friends and lactation consultants put their hands on my breasts while the baby was sucking away. They were helping the baby to latch and then examining her latch. I was just trying not to scream.
As she got older and her mouth got bigger, the pain subsided. This probably took about six months. Before that any time my milk would let down I would have searing pain that ran around the front of my body and into my back. Pumping is no fun either. You literally feel like a cow hooked up to a machine. My sister walked in on me one morning while I was pumping and just stared. She said, “It’s like looking at a train wreck. It’s so horrible, but somehow you can’t manage to look away.” It wasn’t pretty and it didn’t feel pretty.
Any sexual arousal experienced during breastfeeding is a biological response. I’m assuming people experience it otherwise why would a graduate student be studying the topic. As for the idea that a nursing toddler might somehow experience some inappropriate sexual experience while nursing, that is ludicrous. The toddler associates nursing with two things: food and comfort. Most nursing toddlers won’t even remember nursing as a young child and if they do it will be something along the lines of “Mama Milk” or “Num-Num” and that will be that. Even as a non-breastfed baby ages she will be wanting to lay on mama’s chest and feel the warmth of her breath, the softness of her breasts and the relaxing sound of the heartbeart. These are close to the experience of being an infant or being inutero. My three year old still goes to sleep most easily while I am carrying her in a sling. Luckily she is quite petite. She feels safe and warm and close to the source of milk. She can sense it and can feel my warmth. She’s not nursing and there is nothing sexual about the experience.
The sexualization of breastfeeding for me is not the act of nursing that occurs between mother and child. The sexualization of breastfeeding is what comes from the media and the public, as it did in this last Time Magazine issue and as it does when a woman is breastfeeding in public and there are men around. Because breasts are so sexualized in our culture, as compared to other cultures, breastfeeding in public is put in the same category of nudity. In some culture more remote cultures women walk around without shirts on. No one is gawking, no one is repulsed. No one is being asked to leave the village to nurse. It is a cultural norm. In the current U.S. society, we need to make the shift from breasts as objects of lust to breasts as objects of nutrition and bonding. And men, this isn’t a job solely for women, it’s a job for you as well.