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I’m always looking for interesting new parenting books and I certainly found one this time. How could I resist doing a book review of a parenting book written by a TV actress as good as Mayim Bialik. Not only has she sheparded a great TV career, she has a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA to boot. You can imagine, I was expecting a book that was going to be exploding with wisdom and insight. Dr. Bialik is an advocate of the parenting style known as “attachment parenting”, and I was anxious to learn more about this manner of raising children. I approached her writing with an open mind but after a careful reading, I must say that I think many parents will find Mayim Bialik’s style of parenting odd at best. I will try and explain what I mean by this in the next few minutes so sit back and enjoy another installment of portable practical pediatrics.
The big question I was asking myself as I read Dr. Bialik’s description of attachment parenting was why the emphasis on parent sacrifice? Certainly, Dr Bialik has all good intentions for her children and all children for that matter, but she has raised the parenting bar so high that I feel certain few parents will be successful at attachment parenting. They will be lucky just to keep their marriages, their health, and sanity intact. Good Attachment parents in Mayim Bialik’s world, reject most modern obstetrical care, don’t get a full night sleep for years, have no privacy from their children, do not take take time for themselves, do not let other adults ever care for their infants, never put their children down if they don’t want to be down day or night, and resist most modern pediatric medical care for their children. Why put such extreme stress on new parents that already have an enormous task to accomplish? Certainly, developing a secure bond with your infant in their critical first few months of life is vital. I totally agree with Dr. Bialik on this point. Certainly, breastfeeding is the best food for babies and we should promote infants being exclusively breastfed as much as possible but for me, not to the detriment of a mother’s health.
When it comes to parents sleeping with their infant in an adult bed with exhausted parents, I totally disagree. Dr. Bialik is wrong when she says that infant suffocation is rare event when very young babies sleep in a bed with a sleeping adult. (1) In 2004 for instance, 503 babies died this way in the US. The CDC estimates that in 2012, the number of confirmed smotherings of infants had risen to 800/yr in the US.(2) We know that the number one risk factor of SUID in the first year of life is an infant sleeping in the same bed with a sleeping adult. Sleeping in a crib or other safe sleep surface in a parent’s room for the first six months of a child’s life rather than in bed with his often exhausted parents is not a big deal in my experience. And finally, I must say that I think Dr. Bialik is being naive at best when she strives to minimize medical interventions with her children, carrying that all the way to not vaccinating them. She really doesn’t give any rationale for her position, just a major dose of distrust for traditional medical care.
From what I can tell, the core philosophy of Attachment Parenting is to have parents strive to meet all of their children’s perceived needs, all the time. While I agree this is vital in the first few months of life, I think the danger is that these same parents will continue to parent their older children this way and create children who are less independent, less self sufficient, and less flexible in the long run. Childhood is about learning, exploring, and gradually becoming independent of one’s parents. Imagine a household with 5-10 children being parented in the Attachment parenting style. In this setting, no one child’s spectrum of needs could possibly be met all the time and in my book, that is OK. Children growing up in large families seem to do just fine, as long as they are consistently loved and feel safe. I think most experienced parents will tell you that learning to set age appropriate limits and expectations is far more important than meeting all of a child’s needs.
Whether a child co-sleeps with his parents or not, is breastfed well into childhood or not, has a difficult birth or an easy one, wears diapers or not, ( all issues discussed in Dr. Bialik’s book) I think this is all irrelevant to the kind of adult they are likely to grow up to be. Having a family, that is loving and nurturing with parents that are happy and who function well in society, and who have high expectations for their children–this is the recipe for parenting success. Personally, I don’t see these factors as the core of attachment parenting. Dr. Bialik’s book is well written and certainly entertaining in a voyeuristic way but I think has little practical value for most parents. I give it 1/5 Doc Smo stars.
- Infant Deaths Blamed on Suffocation in Bed Up Sharply in U.S., Analysis Finds
2. Sudden Unexpected Infant Death and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome