Scared Milk-less

By Lisa van den Hoven © 2012
Written for World Milksharing Week's Blog Carnival, hosted by Milk Junkies.
Lisa and her little one, who shares her milk. 

Let’s talk about that controversial thing called milksharing. The facts, as I understand them, are that Emma Kwasnica, with the help of many other like-minded people, launched a global network, through Facebook, called Human Milk 4 Human Babies. The aim of the network is to connect moms who need milk for their babies, with other moms, who have milk that they can share. This was about meeting a need.

The World Health Organization’s position on infant feeding is that if, for some reason, a mother is not able to feed her own baby, milk from another human mother is a better alternative than formula. Milk banks do exist that could theoretically meet this need, but there are some problems. First, there are very few of them, so the milk that they do have to give gets prioritized to very sick or premature babies - the infants that desperately need the milk. Second, milk bank milk is almost always pasteurized, which turns human milk from the living miraculous stuff that it is, into dead milk, losing much of its value. Finally, it costs money to access the milk of many milk banks. So even if your baby is among the few that make the cut, and you are happy to accept pasteurized milk, you may still have to come up with the cash to cover it.

The medical community is aware of how difficult it is to access human milk when you need it -- this is why they do not often advise mothers to try this option. Instead, supplementing with formula is quickly suggested. I do not intend to go into why this is such a poor choice here. Suffice it to say there are mothers out there for whom supplementing with formula is not an option that they are comfortable with. So, do they have to? Is there no other choice?

Let’s be realistic: human milk is not a scarcity! Many mothers have ample supply for their babies, and then some. Some women struggle with oversupply! It is also a vastly renewable resource - empty breasts will fill themselves again and again. It should not be so hard to connect people who need milk to people who have milk to give. And it turns out, it isn't. But fear is alive and well.

When a group of parents decided they were done waiting for the medical community to fix this problem, and opened up a way for donors and recipients to easily match up, there was massive push back. It must not be safe, right? People could have disease! You never know what they might be smoking in their spare time... That's just gross, anyway.

Really, all of the arguments against this wonderful, simple milksharing solution to a common problem sound the same to me as razor blades in apples at Halloween. I doubt that there are all kinds of sadistic, lactating weirdos out there, masquerading as concerned moms, handing out drug-laced human milk donations just for jollies.

Here are a few facts:

Human Milk 4 Human Babies donors do not charge for their milk. There is nothing to be gained by donation, save the truly awesome global village feeling that you are helping to feed another's child.

Milksharing is done person to person. That means you meet that person you are getting milk from. You ask questions. You go to their house and meet their family. And you decide whether or not your baby eats that milk. You decide.

This is not a new idea. Wet nursing has been done throughout human history.

And, now a confession: My name is Lisa, and I have donated my milk to a stranger.

Based on the oh-so-educated comments that I read elsewhere on the internet, a common reaction to this is, “Omigosh! Weirdo!” or maybe just, “Yuck. I could never do that.”

But before you decide how you feel about informal milksharing, read just a teensy bit more.

I say I gave my milk to a stranger, in that this was someone that I initially met over the Internet. But when she sat in my living room, with her husband and new son, and we chatted while my similar-aged daughter cooed in her swing nearby, stranger was not the word I would have used to describe her. It actually didn’t feel strange at all. We were just two moms. She had a problem, and I was in a position to help her out, in a meaningful way. I am so glad she was not too scared to accept my help. Donating milk was hugely rewarding for me, even renewing much of my faith in the spirit of community.

If only more moms were not scared milk-less. We don't always need to turn to the authorities to fix our problems. Sometimes, with a little courage, we can find our own solutions.

Lisa is Mom to two, wife to one, and lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. She loves being busy in her local, gentle parenting community, and blogs occasionally at Swirls and Swings. This article is part of World Milksharing Week's Blog Carnival hosted by Trevor MacDonald at Milk Junkies. Visit the World Milksharing Week website or find WMW on Facebook to learn more.

Related Reading:

Breastmilk Donation Page [This page was created prior to milksharing communities existing as they do in 2012. For many years peaceful parenting served, in part, to connect mothers with donors locally via email, phone and community networking. Today, thanks to the new mother-to-mother milksharing set-ups, we hear from far fewer who don't already have their needs met or connections established.] 

Joshua's Story: Why I Choose Another Mother's Milk

Joshua's Story: Why I Still Choose Another Mother's Milk

Human Milk for Human Babies After Japan Tsunami

Reasons Not to Send Formula or Human Milk to Haiti and Other Disaster Locations

TIME Reports on New Global Milksharing

Delaney Rose: 6 Months of Milksharing

A Modern Day Wet Nurse

From Despair to Donation: A Mother Loses Her Baby and Shares His Milk

If you would like to share your milksharing story or research on the subject, write to


Circumcision from an Orgonomic Perspective

By Richard Schwartzman, D.O. and Rebecca Schwartzman, B.A.
Published in the Journal of Orgonomy, Vol. 31 No. 1
Learn more at The American College of OrgonomyThe Institute for Orgonomic Science and Schwartzman's blog.

Wilhelm Reich, Jewish Austrian-American psychiatrist and psychoanalyst; Father of Orgonomics

All of nature's processes are governed by a single energy; orgone energy. This energy permeates the cosmos and courses through all living things. The emotional and physical health of human beings depends upon whether this energy flows freely in the body or whether it is blocked. When the energy is unimpeded, individuals feel alive, are able to relate well with others, and function well in their work. When it is blocked, they feel dissatisfied and every aspect of functioning suffers. From birth, and quite possibly before, humans respond to traumatic events by physically contracting, especially in their musculature. When muscular tension becomes chronic, it is known as "armoring," and its presence prevents the natural flow of orgone energy through the body. Armoring forms as a consequence of early, painful experiences of infancy and childhood. Feelings and memories are held in the armor and, as such, the unconscious resides not in the "mind" but rather in the whole human being. Thus, mind and body are united with orgone energy functioning as the common principle.

From Reich's discovery of armoring we know that even the earliest emotional experiences are biophysically held in the body as chronic muscular contractions. Adults cannot remember back to their earliest days of life, but initial feelings and experiences remain locked within them, laying the foundation for neurosis with all its untoward consequences. Medical orgone therapy seeks to reestablish the free flow of orgone energy by relieving armoring, and in so doing it brings about the expression of long-buried feelings and emotions.

Prevailing opinion holds that the human condition is almost entirely the result of either heredity or social factors. However, life's first experiences shape character most, and lay the foundation for either healthy functioning or chronic discontent. Birth and the first few days of life are the most important and decisive period of development, and the earliest traumas produce the most severe damage. This is because the newborn has not developed any means to defend against shock and injury. The trauma of circumcision produces a severe biophysical contraction, concentrated at the site of the injury. With no mechanism yet developed to defend against the excruciating pain, the infant can only scream and then withdraw into himself.

Adults, during the course of medical orgone therapy, regularly recall past traumas as armoring is released. As impossible as this may seem, sometimes a patient will relive his circumcision. It is a horrendous experience for the patient and very disturbing for the physician. If individuals could see a circumcision being relived, with all its pain and terror, there would be no question that even the earliest infantile experiences remain alive in the adult and are not at all "forgotten."

The location of armoring, the site where the flow of energy is predominantly blocked, determines the type and degree of neurosis that will develop. Thus, armoring that occurs as a result of circumcision has its own particular lasting aftereffects. The severe trauma of circumcision increases pelvic armoring and serves to block the flow of feeling into the genital; therefore the full energetic discharge that should normally accompany orgasm becomes inhibited. Dr. Elsworth Baker tells us that castration anxiety is produced originally "through the threat of castration, either with words and implications, or by circumcision."(1) In the adult, castration anxiety manifests itself as a fear of natural sexual relations, and such individuals are always orgastically impotent-they lack the capacity for complete surrender to the involuntary contractions that occur with orgasm and complete discharge of sexual excitation. Because of pelvic armoring and castration anxiety, which increases the holding in this area, one would expect circumcised men to be more likely to engage in pregenital forms of sex. Indeed, a recent study of the effects of circumcision found a relationship between circumcision and sexual activity (2). Specifically, circumcised men were shown to engage in a more elaborate set of sexual practices, particularly masturbation and oral and anal sex. The authors of the study hypothesized that this behavior may be due to reduced sensitivity of the penis. (1) While reduced sensitivity exists, from what we know of the effects of armoring, and specifically castration anxiety, it can be speculated that those who have been genitally traumatized prefer less threatening outlets for their sexual drive.

The American Academy of Pediatrics determined in 1971 that there was no valid medical reason for routine circumcision (4). However, physicians ignored this report and continued to advocate the procedure for health reasons. (2) What are the real roots of this barbaric practice? What is at work in man's structure that permits this brutalization of helpless infants? Reich has provided us with answers by elucidating what he called the "emotional plague."

Most people are rigidly armored and as such are incapable of achieving a state of natural, healthy functioning. However, at their core, they long for freedom and release from this straitjacket of armoring (5). People fear and hate what they long for most but cannot have. Reich tells us that there is "[a] terror that strikes the armored human being when he faces any kind of living expression [and this] is responsible for the systematic armoring of newborn generations."(6) Reich called this reaction "plague behavior" and it has become organized in many of our social institutions.

One can recognize the emotional plague individual by the following characteristics:
  • He is always genitally frustrated and his impulses, in particular, are sadistic.
  • He imposes his way of thinking and living on others.
  • His behavior is exceedingly well rationalized.
  • The real motive for the behavior is never the stated motive.
  • He seriously and honestly believes in the stated goal.
  • Touching upon his hidden motives always produces anxiety and anger and he strongly defends his thinking and actions.

Circumcision is a classic example of a practice rooted in the emotional plague. It fulfills every requirement of plague behavior. The very act of cutting the newborn's penis speaks to the genital frustration and sadistic impulses at work. Ideas about circumcision are imposed on others by our culture, and those who defy the practice are reproached. (You who are not circumcised are "dirty," you who are not circumcised look "ugly," you who are not circumcised shall not enter into a covenant with God.) The reasons for circumcision (health, hygiene, and religious devotion) are very well-rationalized. The real motive for advocating circumcision, the desire to kill life in newborns, is never stated. Those who advocate the practice seriously and honestly believe in their stated objectives, but if their hidden motives are touched upon anxiety and anger always appear.

Thus, it is the emotional plague in man that rationalizes genital mutilation with pseudo-hygienic pretexts; drives him to strap down helpless newborns and cut away a third of the skin of the penis, with its concentration of sensitive nerves; and allows him to say and believe that the screaming infant feels no pain or just a little discomfort. Circumcision, more than any other invention of armoring man, demonstrates our deep seated hatred of sexuality and our need to destroy what we fear most.

The emotional plague will continue to influence human behavior and therefore circumcisions will continue to be performed. Circumcision will remain a practice of cultures so long as there are love-starved individuals. Parents will continue to demand that their sons be circumcised and rationalize their conduct. Physicians will continue to scare parents with threats that their boy will develop cancer of the penis and suffer from urinary tract infections. (3) All this will be done with good intention. Reich tells us that the emotional plague "... [has] to give way when confronted, clearly and uncompromisingly, with rational thinking and with the natural feeling for life." For this reason, education and appeals to spare defenseless infants from a brutal assault will slowly bring about change.

Some parents may recognize that circumcision is damaging, and that the remote possibility of health consequences of an intact foreskin does not warrant its amputation. Yet despite this understanding, these parents may still be reluctant to leave their child intact. They fear that later in life their boy will suffer social disapproval because he was not circumcised. Parents are also concerned for themselves; what will friends and family think and say when they discover the new baby is not circumcised? These are legitimate concerns, but they need to be put into perspective.

Reich tells us:
If the rigid armoring of the human animal is the basic common principle of all his emotional misery; if it is this armoring which puts him, alone among biological species, beyond the pale of natural functioning, then it follows logically that prevention of rigid armoring is the main and central goat of preventive mental hygiene. (7) 
In light of this, it should be the goal of parents, above all other considerations, to prevent armoring in their children wherever possible. Children should not be adapted to a neurotic world by fostering the development of a rigid character. A child who grows up relatively free from armor will understand that it is society that has the problem, not he. Because of this he will be able to confront society's neurotic reactions. We must learn from children instead of "forcing upon them our own cockeyed ideas and malicious practices, which have been shown in every new generation to be damaging and ridiculous."(8) 
There is a simple solution for parents who have doubts about whether to circumcise: Let the child decide for himself. If he feels at some point that social or religious pressures warrant the operation, he can elect to undergo the procedure fully informed and with a developed ego. No lasting armoring will result. "LET THE CHILDREN THEMSELVES DECIDE THEIR OWN FUTURE. Our task is to protect their natural powers to do so."(9)


1. Moses Maimonides, the foremost intellectual figure of medieval Judaim, wrote that one purpose of the commandment to circumcise was to diminish sexual passion. Rabbi Elie Munk, in his commentary on Maimonides, states: "Thus scarcely having entered the world, the Jew is put onto the road of self control. It is the first of a long series of steps, religious and moral, all permeated with a moral purity which envelops him in an atmosphere of chastity and human dignity and prevents him from falling to the level of an animal."(3)

2. It is interesting to note here that female genital mutilation (FGM), which is practiced in Africa, the Persian Gulf, and the southern Arabian Peninsula, is also defended with rationalizations of better health, improved aesthetics, and appeals to religion and tradition. When we hear of FGM practiced in another culture we are appalled. But when circumcision which has so much in common with FGM is performed in our hospitals, with the rationalizations we give to it, the practice is accepted with hardly a second thought.

3. Some studies show that urinary tract infections are slightly more frequent in the intact newborn, but they often resolve spontaneously, without adverse long-term effects, or can be readily treated with antibiotics. A possible explanation as to why the intact child has a slightly increased incidence of urinary tract infection may be found in the over-attention paid to 'cleanliness.' Retraction of the foreskin to clean the penis (which should not be done in boys) causes or contributes to urinary tract infection. Regardless of what might account for the slight potential risk of infection, the danger does not warrant amputation of the foreskin as a preventative measure.


1. Baker, E. Man In The Trap. New York: Macmillan, 1967, p. 73.

2. Laumann, E., Masi, C., Zuckerman, E. et al. "Circumcision in the United States. Prevalence, Prophylactic Effects, and Sexual Practices," JAMA, 277(13):1052-7, April 2, 1997.

3. Munk, E. Call to the Torah. New York: Feldheim Publishers, 1969.

4. American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Fetus and Newborn, "Standards and Recommendations for Hospital Care of Newborn Infants," 5th ed. Evanston, IL: kAP, 71, 1971.

5. Reich, W. Children of the Future. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1983, P. 18.

6. Reich, W. p. 18.

7. Reich, W. p. 16.

8. Reich, W. p. 20.

9. Reich, W. p. 20.



Louis Tomlinson and Liam Payne of One Direction: "I am NOT circumcised."

In this B105 (AUS) interview, Louis Tomlinson and Liam Payne, members of the hugely popular band out of London, One Direction, state matter of factly that they do indeed still have all that they were born with. Their influence on the next generation of young adults is great, and they stand in a position to both influence future mothers-to-be on the circumcision decision, and normalize the intact male in U.S. pop culture as well.

Still think being intact will hurt your son's social status?


Delaney Rose: 6 Months of Milksharing

By Lindsay Flatter © 2012

Delaney and Mom ~ 7 months old

When my daughter Delaney was just 3 1/2 weeks old she went into cardiac crisis. Since birth we knew she had one defect, ventricular septal defect (VSD) which was discovered inutero. But we would later learn she actually had 3 defects, and the coarctation was the one that was putting her in crisis. While being prepped for hospital transfer she coded and needed 22 mins of CPR. The next 10 days were a whirlwind and a nightmare while we hoped and prayed for our baby girl while she hung on by a thread in the NICU.

Unfortunately, we got devastating news. Because she was lacking oxygen during the CPR, she wound up with global brain damage. Prognosis was not good: she would likely not live past 18 months, but physicians predicted she would not live more than a couple weeks. She would never walk, talk, eat, smile or likely even swallow again. Shattered, we took her home on hospice.

Up until her cardiac arrest, I was exclusively breastfeeding. Now I was exclusively pumping. It was stressful and hard to keep up. Every time I pulled that pump out, it was a reminder that my daughter would never breastfeed from me again. Yes, I was giving her a gift, but I was grieving so may losses, including our breastfeeding relationship. My supply started to wane and I was thinking of giving up, but the guilt was immense.

Delaney at 5 months, nourished by milk from milksharing moms

Then through our blog and word of mouth, some friends stepped up to donate human milk, including an old high school friend of my husband's named Julie, who was the biggest donor, filling most of our freezer full. Thanks to these gifts of milk, I was able to wean off of pumping guilt free while still being able to give my daughter the liquid gold she needed, and focus more on caring and loving her during her unknown amount of time with us. We were able to keep her on human milk for about 6 months, much longer than I would've been able to do on my own, and much longer than we thought she was going to live.

Her heart condition continued to worsen over time, and at 9 1/2 months old, her organs started to fail. She passed away on January 15, 2012. We miss her immensely, but we know she is no longer in pain, at peace, and that we did everything we could for her while she was with us, including providing her the very best nutrition thanks to kindhearted mommies and milksharing.

Delaney will remain forever in our hearts. ❤

Delaney one day before her cardiac crisis. 

For more on Delaney's story, visit

The last week of September is World Milksharing Week

To share your story here or be connected with milksharing resources, write to


The Dangers of Crying It Out

By Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D. © 2011

Letting babies "cry it out" is an idea that has been around since at least the 1880s when the field of medicine was in a hullaballoo about germs and transmitting infection and so took to the notion that babies should rarely be touched (see Blum, 2002, for a great review of this time period and attitudes towards childrearing).

In the 20th century, behaviorist John Watson (1928), interested in making psychology a hard science, took up the crusade against affection as president of the American Psychological Association. He applied the mechanistic paradigm of behaviorism to child rearing, warning about the dangers of too much mother love. The 20th century was the time when "men of science" were assumed to know better than mothers, grandmothers and families about how to raise a child. Too much kindness to a baby would result in a whiney, dependent, failed human being. Funny how "the experts" got away with this with no evidence to back it up! Instead there is evidence all around (then and now) showing the opposite to be true!

A government pamphlet from the time recommended that "mothering meant holding the baby quietly, in tranquility-inducing positions" and that "the mother should stop immediately if her arms feel tired" because "the baby is never to inconvenience the adult." Babies older than six months "should be taught to sit silently in the crib; otherwise, he might need to be constantly watched and entertained by the mother, a serious waste of time." (See Blum, 2002.)

Don't these attitudes sound familiar? A parent reported to me recently that he was encouraged to let his baby cry herself to sleep so he "could get his life back."

With neuroscience, we can confirm what our ancestors took for granted---that letting babies get distressed is a practice that can damage children and their relational capacities in many ways for the long term. We know now that leaving babies to cry is a good way to make a less intelligent, less healthy but more anxious, uncooperative and alienated person who can pass the same or worse traits on to the next generation.

The discredited behaviorist view sees the baby as an interloper into the life of the parents, an intrusion who must be controlled by various means so the adults can live their lives without too much bother. Perhaps we can excuse this attitude and ignorance because at the time, extended families were being broken up and new parents had to figure out how to deal with babies on their own, an unnatural condition for humanity--we have heretofore raised children in extended families. The parents always shared care with multiple adult relatives.

According to a behaviorist view completely ignorant of human development, the child 'has to be taught to be independent.' We can confirm now that forcing "independence" on a baby leads to greater dependence. Instead, giving babies what they need leads to greater independence later. In anthropological reports of small-band hunter-gatherers, parents took care of every need of babies and young children. Toddlers felt confident enough (and so did their parents) to walk into the bush on their own (see Hunter-Gatherer Childhoods, edited by Hewlett & Lamb, 2005).

Ignorant behaviorists then and now encourage parents to condition the baby to expect needs NOT to be met on demand, whether feeding or comforting. It's assumed that the adults should 'be in charge' of the relationship. Certainly this might foster a child that doesn't ask for as much help and attention (withdrawing into depression and going into stasis or even wasting away) but it is more likely to foster a whiney, unhappy, aggressive and/or demanding child, one who has learned that one must scream to get needs met. A deep sense of insecurity is likely to stay with them the rest of life.

The fact is that caregivers who habitually respond to the needs of the baby before the baby gets distressed, preventing crying, are more likely to have children who are independent than the opposite (e.g., Stein & Newcomb, 1994). Soothing care is best from the outset. Once patterns get established, it's much harder to change them.

Rats are often used to study how mammalian brains work and many effects are similar in human brains. In studies of rats with high or low nurturing mothers, there is a critical period for turning on genes that control anxiety for the rest of life. If in the first 10 days of life you have low nurturing rat mother (the equivalent of the first 6 months of life in a human), the gene never gets turned on and the rat is anxious towards new situations for the rest of its life, unless drugs are administered to alleviate the anxiety. These researchers say that there are hundreds of genes affected by nurturance. Similar mechanisms are found in human brains--caregiver behavior matters for turning genes on and off. (Work of Michael Meaney and colleagues; e. g., Meaney, 2001).

We should understand the mother and child as a mutually responsive dyad. They are a symbiotic unit that make each other healthier and happier in mutual responsiveness. This expands to other caregivers too.

One strangely popular notion still around today is to let babies 'cry it out' when they are left alone, isolated in cribs or other devices. This comes from a misunderstanding of child and brain development.
  • Babies grow from being held.
  • Their bodies get dysregulated when they are physically separated from caregivers. (See here for more.)
  • Babies indicate a need through gesture and eventually, if necessary, through crying. Just as adults reach for liquid when thirsty, children search for what they need in the moment. Just as adults become calm once the need is met, so do babies.
  • There are many longterm effects of undercare or need-neglect in babies (e.g., Bremmer et al, 1998; Blunt Bugental et al., 2003; Dawson et al., 2000; Heim et al 2003).
  • Secure attachment is related to responsive parenting, such as when babies wake up and cry at night.

What does 'crying it out' actually do to the baby and to the dyad?

Neurons die. When the baby is greatly distressed, the hormone cortisol is released. In excess, it's a neuron killer (Panksepp, 1998). A full-term baby (40-42 weeks), with only 25% of its brain developed, is undergoing rapid brain growth. The brain grows on average three times as large by the end of the first year (and head size growth in the first year is a sign of intelligence, e.g., Gale et al., 2006). Who knows what neurons are not being connected or being wiped out during times of extreme stress? What deficits might show up years later from such regular distressful experience? (See my addendum below.)

Disordered stress reactivity can be established as a pattern for life not only in the brain with the stress response system (Bremmer et al, 1998), but also in the body through the vagus nerve, a nerve that affects functioning in multiple systems (e.g., digestion). For example, prolonged distress in early life, resulting in a poorly functioning vagus nerve, is related disorders as irritable bowel syndrome (Stam et al, 1997). See more about how early stress is toxic for lifelong health from the recent Harvard report, The Foundations of Lifelong Health are Built in Early Childhood).

Self-regulation is undermined. The baby is absolutely dependent on caregivers for learning how to self-regulate. Responsive care---meeting the baby's needs before he gets distressed---tunes the body and brain up for calmness. When a baby gets scared and a parent holds and comforts him, the baby builds expectations for soothing, which get integrated into the ability to self comfort. Babies don't self-comfort in isolation. If they are left to cry alone, they learn to shut down in face of extensive distress--stop growing, stop feeling, stop trusting (Henry & Wang, 1998).

Trust is undermined. As Erik Erikson pointed out, the first year of life is a sensitive period for establishing a sense of trust in the world, the world of caregiver and the world of self. When a baby's needs are met without distress, the child learns that the world is a trustworthy place, that relationships are supportive, and that the self is a positive entity that can get its needs met. When a baby's needs are dismissed or ignored, the child develops a sense of mistrust of relationships and the world. And self-confidence is undermined. The child may spend a lifetime trying to fill the inner emptiness.

Caregiver sensitivity may be harmed. A caregiver who learns to ignore baby crying, will likely learn to ignore the more subtle signaling of the child's needs. Second-guessing intuitions to stop child distress, the adult who ignores baby needs practices and increasingly learns to "harden the heart." The reciprocity between caregiver and babu is broken by the adult, but cannot be repaired by the young child. The baby is helpless.

Caregiver responsiveness to the needs of the baby is related to most if not all positive child outcomes. In our work caregiver responsiveness is related to intelligence, empathy, lack of aggression or depression, self-regulation, social competence. Because responsiveness is so powerful, we have to control for it in our studies of other parenting practices and child outcomes. The importance of caregiver responsivness is common knowledge in developmental psychology Lack of responsiveness, which "crying it out" represents. can result in the opposite of the afrementioned positive outcomes.

The 'cry it out' approach seems to have arisen as a solution to the dissolution of extended family life in the 20th century. The vast wisdom of grandmothers was lost in the distance between households with children and those with the experience and expertise about how to raise them well. The wisdom of keeping babies happy was lost between generations.

But isn't it normal for babies to cry?

No. A crying baby in our ancestral environment would have signaled predators to tasty morsels. So our evolved parenting practices alleviated baby distress and precluded crying except in emergencies. Babies are built to expect the equivalent of an "external womb" after birth (see Allan Schore, specific references below). What is the external womb? ---being held constantly, breastfed on demand, needs met quickly (I have numerous posts on these things). These practices are known to facilitate good brain and body development (discussed with references in other posts, some links below). When babies display discomfort, it signals that a need is not getting met, a need of their rapidly growing systems.

What does extensive baby crying signal? It shows the lack of experience, knowledge and/or support of the baby's caregivers. To remedy a lack of information in us all, below is a good set of articles about all the things that a baby's cry can signal. We can all educate ourselves about what babies need and the practices that alleviate baby crying. We can help one another to keep it from happening as much as possible.

ADDENDUM: I was raised in a middle-class family with a depressed mother, harsh father and overall emotionally unsupportive environment--not unlike others raised in the USA. I have only recently realized from extensive reading about the effects of early parenting on body and brain development that I show the signs of undercare--poor memory (cortisol released during distress harms hippocampus development), irritable bowel and other poor vagal tone issues, and high social anxiety. The USA has epidemics of poor physical and mental health (e.g., UNICEF, 2007; USDHSS, 1999; WHO/WONCA, 2008). The connection between the lack of ancestral parenting practices and poor health outcomes has been documented for touch, responsiveness, breastfeeding, and more (Narvaez et al., in press). If we want a strong country and people, we've got to pay attention to what children need for optimal development.

Related Reading: 

Cry It Out / Sleep Training Resource and Alternatives Page

Baby Sleep Good Book Collection

Where are All the Happy Babies?

Peacefully Parented Babies Grow to be Smarter, Kinder Kids

Babies Aren't Soldiers

The Fussy Baby Book

Born for Love: Why Empathy is Essential - and Endangered

Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby's Brain

Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent

The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost

The Science of Parenting

How to soothe babies:

Soothing babies crying "for no reason":

Soothing babies who have "colic":

Science of Parenting, an inexpensive, photo-filled, easy-to-read book for parents by Margot Sunderland, has much more detail and references on these matters. I keep copies on hand to give to new parents.

Here is a terrific post on co-sleeping (the abandoned practice that is behind notions of leaving babies to cry it out) by my esteemed colleague, Peter Gray. Much more about co-sleeping research is here at the website of my colleague, James McKenna.

More on babies' and children's needs herehere, and here.

Giving babies what they need is really a basic right of babies. See here for more rights I think babies should expect. And here for a new book by Eileen Johnson on the emotional rights of babies.

Sample References

Blum, D. (2002). Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection. New York: Berkeley Publishing (Penguin).

Blunt Bugental, D. et al. (2003). The hormonal costs of subtle forms of infant maltreatment. Hormones and Behaviour, January, 237-244.

Bremmer, J.D. et al. (1998). The effects of stress on memory and the hippocampus throughout the life cycle: Implications for childhood development and aging. Developmental Psychology, 10, 871-885.

Dawson, G., et al. (2000). The role of early experience in shaping behavioral and brain development and its implications for social policy. Development and Psychopathology, 12(4), 695-712.

Catharine R. Gale, PhD, Finbar J. O'Callaghan, PhD, Maria Bredow, MBChB, Christopher N. Martyn, DPhil and the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children Study Team (October 4, 2006). "The Influence of Head Growth in Fetal Life, Infancy, and Childhood on Intelligence at the Ages of 4 and 8 Years". PEDIATRICS Vol. 118 No. 4 October 2006, pp. 1486-1492.

Heim, C. et al. (1997). Persistent changes in corticotrophin-releasing factor systems due to early life stress: Relationship to the pathophysiology of major depression ad post-traumatic stress disorder. Psychopharmacology Bulletin, 185-192.

Henry, J.P., & Wang, S. (1998). Effects of early stress on adult affiliative behavior, Psychoneuroendocrinology 23( 8), 863-875.

Hewlett, B., & Lamb, M. (2005). Hunter-gatherer childhoods. New York: Aldine.

Meaney, M.J. (2001). Maternal care, gene expression, and the transmission of individual differences in stress reactivity across generations. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 24, 1161-1192.

Narvaez, D., Panksepp, J., Schore, A., & Gleason, T. (Eds.) (in press). Evolution, Early Experience and Human Development: From Research to Practice and Policy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Panksepp, J. (1998). Affective neuroscience. New York: Oxford University Press.

Schore, A.N. (1997). Early organization of the nonlinear right brain and development of a predisposition to psychiatric disorders. Development and Psychopathology, 9, 595-631.

Schore, A.N. (2000). Attachment and the regulation of the right brain. Attachment & Human Development, 2, 23-47.

Schore, A.N. (2001). The effects of early relational trauma on right brain development, affect regulation, and infant mental health. Infant Mental Health Journal, 22, 201-269.

Stam, R., et al. (1997). Trauma and the gut: Interactions between stressful experience and intestinal function. Gut.

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Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame and Director of the Collaborative for Ethical Education. Her current research examines the effects of parenting on child and adult outcomes. Narvaez has developed several integrative theories: Adaptive Ethical Expertise, Integrative Ethical Education, Triune Ethics Theory. She spoke at the Whitehouse's conference on Character and Community, and is author/editor of three award winning books: Postconventional Moral Thinking; Moral Development, Self and Identity; and the Handbook of Moral and Character Education. Her (ed.) upcoming text, Human Nature, Early Experience, and the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness is set for 2012 publication. Visit Dr. Narvaez' website for additional books, papers, classes, websites and contact information.

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Circumcision: A Son's Forgiveness

By Laura May

In June of 2000 I became a mother for the first time. At the small age of 18. However I knew then like I know now, that this was going to be the most important job I will ever do. I have dedicated the last 12 years since then to my children. When my daughter turned one I remember a lot of people asking me, “Are you going to get her ears pierced?” I thought about it for a moment, then came to the conclusion, what if she doesn't want them pierced? She cannot tell me yes or no. This isn't my body, it is hers. So I stood my ground and just said no, that will be up to her when she is older.

In November of 2004 I became a proud mother once again - this time to a baby boy. He was perfect and beautiful. It was a rough start for him with breathing issues and he spent some time in the NICU. I hated to be away from him and leave the hospital before he did, but I remained as close to him as possible. I remember the fateful day before he was released when hospital staff asked me, “Do you want to have him circumcised?” I said yes, of course. I figured this is what you do - this is what all good mothers do for their babies. Even a part of me thought, this is what I have to do.

Why didn't I stop and think? Why didn’t I protect him? Why didn’t I simply say no? I was smart enough to know that my daughter's ears were her own... why didn’t this apply for my son? If just one person had told me the truth, things would have been a lot different. I remember when they brought my baby boy back to me, something was different. I could never put my finger on it, but he was different. Even the bond between him and I was different.

I felt as if I failed him, and to this day I still feel that way. To make matters worse, it was a botched circumcision. However, I know that I cannot go back. I cannot fix it. I cannot make it up to him. But what I can do is educate myself. So I began to read and read and read.

In July of 2008 I once again gave birth to a baby boy. He was healthy and perfect. The day before I left the hospital a woman saw me in the hallway with him and said to me, “How did he do after his little surgery?” I looked at her completely confused. I said, “I’m sorry?” She said, “ You know... his circumcision.” Then it dawned on me. And I began to grin and replied, "Oh, he won't be getting that done.” She looked at me with complete surprise. I smiled and walked away. While I was there the nurse asked three or four more times if he was going to be circumcised. Each time I happily replied, “No thank you.” We took our whole boy home the next day.

There did come a day when my youngest noticed the difference between the two of them and pointed it out. He was two and his brother was six. My oldest looked at me and said, “Yeah mommy, why do we look different?” I knew the time had come when I would have to tell my oldest just how sorry I was. I said to him, "When mommy had you, I had you circumcised.” Naturally he asked, “What is that?” So I told him, honestly. He then said to me, “Didn't that hurt me?” I got on my knees with tears in my eyes and said to him, “Yes, and I am so sorry I let anyone hurt you.” He then put his arms around me and said, “It’s ok mommy, I’m glad you didn't let anyone do that to my brother. I don’t want him to hurt.” Of course I fell to pieces at that moment. I said to my oldest, “I wish that I had known better when I had you, or I would have never let it happen to you either.” He looked me in the eyes and said, “ I know Mommy, thank you for not letting anyone do it to him. I’m glad!”

In the 12 years that I have been a mother I know that they have taught me more then I could ever teach them. About love, about life, about forgiveness. I still struggle with the guilt that I have from my first boy. I still try to cope with it. Every time I hear of a friend or family member having a baby boy, I tell them about my experience. I am unsure if it has ever touched someone or made them think, but I will keep sharing. Maybe one day this story will save one more perfect baby boy.


Circumcision and intact care information at Are You Fully Informed?

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The Cut

© Connie Yeager

My son was cut today
I did not question why
I did not understand
What was happening to my guy. 

My son was cut today
They took you from my arms
I trusted the doctor
That did you bodily harm. 

My son was cut today
I did not get to see
The tears or hear him crying
Out for his mommy. 

I am sorry, my son,
That I let you go
I hope some day you forgive me
For not being whole. 

Please, before you make
A decision based on lies
Get informed of the facts
If only had I... 

~Connie Yeager


Read from more parents whose sons were circumcised.

Circumcision and intact care information at Are You Fully Informed?

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