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Science & Sensibility
Actress Mayim Bialik takes us Beyond the Sling and into the gentle world of attachment parenting
By Carolyn Davis Cockey, MLS
Actress Mayim Bialik takes the attachment parenting approach with her two boys
To meet actress, neuroscientist, wife and mother of two sons, Mayim Bialik, is to run head-long into a whole lot of opinions on natural birth, breastfeeding, baby-wearing, co-sleeping and gentle discipline, just to name a few.
She has strong, controversial opinions but delivered in the most sincere and caring way. After all, this is Blossom, the coming-of-age teen star of the TV sitcom of the same name, and who herself faced difficult situations with tenacity, humor and grace.
Since Blossom, Mayim has taken on the role of geeky Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory, earned an undergraduate degree and PhD in neuroscience, met and married her college sweetheart, Michael Stone, and birthed two incredible boys (one born at home!), Miles and Frederick. During this time, she fell for the heart and science of attachment parenting and has created a roadmap for the rest of us to follow in her newly released book, Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way.
Finding her way
It all started with her dissatisfaction with modern parenting advice. “Some of what I have read has helped me,” Mayim responds. “But most of what I read made me feel overwhelmed, incompetent and sometimes wrong for doing what I wanted to do. This is not that kind of parenting book,” she stresses.
Rather, Dr. Bialik has a liberating message for mothers and mothers-to-be: “You already know the majority of what you need to know to be an incredible parent,” she says. “It was only when I believed this and began to apply it consistently that my anxiety, worry and exhaustion began to lift. It was then that I truly began to enjoy being a parent and to see myself as a successful parent—not a perfect parent—but a sensitive, loving and confident parent.”
It came as a great thrill to this neuroscientist that she already had everything she needed to be a great mom right in her DNA. “It seemed normal to take everyone’s advice. But much of it didn’t fit with my intuition. People who followed current advice didn’t seem to be enjoying or having a relationship with their developing child. It looked more like work, and a lot of fighting,” she shared.
Born to “hippie parents” who raised her “more like their parents than even they would have liked to admit,” Mayim became dismayed listening to her mother describe parenting.
“They were told that babies eat every 4 hours, but we were hungry every 2. They were told not to sleep with a baby, but we cried when we were not held close. They were told to get back to life and ‘get over’ their doubts, their questions, their sense of unease.” But Mayim simply couldn’t ignore a primal truth: “A baby tells us exactly what he needs in his own language. Our job is to learn to speak that language. That’s what this book is all about.”
Attachment parenting is rooted in respect and love for life and the simple observation that “human beings have brains that are made for loving, cuddling and secure attachment,” she says.
“It started to resonate with me both as I did research about parenting and as I pursued my degree in neuroscience,” Mayim says.
By watching friends who raised their children with the principals of attachment parenting, Mayim and her husband saw firsthand how this parenting style was producing a different family dynamic. “The notion is to build a relationship with your child that will stretch into adulthood. My husband and I have seen our friends’ children who have been parented this way, and adults and teens who have been parented this way, and they’re creative, independent people who are attached to their families, and who are patient and loving and successful.”
Yet, there was something deeper still. “What I discovered as a neuroscientist was even more surprising and led me to a sort of internal revelation: These principals make sense evolutionarily. They foster brain development, promote healthy and secure attachment, and produce relationships that are scientifically proven to be sound in terms of infant health, psychological achievement, and the ability to truly thrive.”
PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE
Putting her beliefs into practice began with natural birth, or as Mayim puts it, “baby needs a smooth entrance.” A birth free of drugs, non-medically necessary interventions, such as elective inductions and elective cesareans, and one that promotes breastfeeding and bonding immediately after birth. Sadly, this is not what birth looks like in the US today, Mayim says. She advises seeking a class on natural birth and to choose for yourself the optimal way to bring your child into the world.
At birth, baby needs to nurse and bond at the breast. Again, for Bialik, science conveys why it’s natural to breastfeed: “Breastmilk is the most complete food there is and it’s nature’s best protection against infection, respiratory problems, and intestinal challenges,” Mayim says. For moms, breastfeeding “is associated with lower rates of several cancers, including breast and ovarian and it also lowers blood pressure and decreases your chances of osteoporosis,” as well as burning at least an extra 300 calories a day, a hidden bonus, she laughs.
Babies were made to be nursed, Mayim shares. “The closeness, the touching, the cuddling, the attention and the care needed to make it all happen—these things make nursing the most reliable method to bond with your baby, successfully setting him up for a lifetime of emotional and psychological health and security.”
Not that babies who aren’t nursed can’t be cuddled and held, it’s that the evidence is clear to this neuroscientist that breastfeeding is “a method of stimulating complicated hormones that connect us and keep us invested in each other.” It’s bonding the way we were made to bond, says Mayim.
“Breastmilk is always available, always at the right temperature, always the perfect flavor and if you need more, just plug the baby in and—like magic—there is more!” It’s economic too: “Breastmilk is free; just feed the mama, give her plenty of water and some well-deserved rest,” Mayim effuses.
Lastly, Mayim advocates that parents “wear” their babies in slings or wraps. “We smell familiar, we sound good and we feel right. They want to be held close to us, not simply next to us,” Mayim says. In fact, they want to be attached to us—which brings us full circle into this new but perhaps more primordial style of parenting which is as it suggests—attachment parenting.
May there be a million more moms like Mayim in the making!
Attachment Parenting in Action
Prepare for birth; become educated about natural birth options and their benefits for mother and baby.
A human mother’s milk is the optimal food for human babies, and bottle feeding should mimic as many aspects of breastfeeding as possible.
Respond sensitively to your children.
Bonding Through Touch
Use physical contact such as baby wearing, breastfeeding and massage to convey tenderness, love and affection.
Ensure consistent parenting by a primary caregiver or a trained and sensitive substitute.
Use positive discipline, forgoing corporal punishment.
Balance your needs with those of your child.
Meet Nighttime Needs
Parent your children at night too; babies especially need food, comfort and to be near you.
Carolyn Davis Cockey, MLS, is editor of Healthy Mom&Baby and director of publications for AWHONN.