Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Am I One of THOSE Parents?

A couple of months ago I saw this hilarious skit on Saturday Night Live that both entertained me and, admittedly - as someone who partakes in many parenting approaches that would be considered "natural" or "alternative" - also ruffled my feathers a bit. Take a look and see what you think:

As I watched this video, I had to wonder: Is this really how natural childbirth is perceived in our culture? 

Obviously, the skit is a parody, meaning it is intended to be exaggerated and ironic. But, as with any good humor, is there some underlying truth here?

Sherri Reed at The Stir is spot on in her assessment of this skit when she says,
"Of course, it's no joke that we, as a society, are notoriously bad at informing and teaching women about natural parenting ideals and alternatives without them seeming totally hippie dippie and weird. We seem to pick the kookiest teachers and the wackiest videos that could freak out even the most open-minded parents-to-be."

I'll be the first to admit that some of the practices associated with natural and alternative parenting are pretty bizarre-sounding (Elimination Communication, anyone?). And the advocates of these methods don't do much to make them accessible to the more mainstream parents out there. Many embrace the exact "crunchy" and "hippie" labeling that marginalizes them, making it even more difficult to appeal to those who might otherwise embrace natural parenting, either as an overall parenting philosophy, or just in part. That being said, if you look at the research (and you know I do), a good number of these practices have been studied quite thoroughly and many of them could actually be considered "evidence-based."

Coming Out Sling-ing...
 Photo from
Like many natural parenting practices, babywearing has gotten a bad wrap (pun intended). It's been called unsafe, and seen by some as a sure way to spoil a child. Firmly outside of the mainstream (aside from the Baby Bjorn-type carriers, of course), babywearing is largely associated with attachment parenting and with one of the most well-known proponents of attachment parenting and baby wearing alike - Dr. William Sears. Dr. Sears often rubs me the wrong way for not citing his sources and for not taking working mothers into account with many of his recommendations, but he is on the right track when it comes to baby wearing. The fact is that babywearing is a very old tradition that, when practiced safely and correctly, has been shown to be highly beneficial for both caregivers and babies. The physical contact facilitated through babywearing increases the production of the hormone oxytocin, strengthening the bond between mom (or other caregiver) and baby. Mothers who wear their babies have been shown to be more responsive to their children and, in the case of premature or sick infants, increased handling of the babies (like that experienced by those who are worn in a carrier or held a lot) resulted in improved health outcomes.

A Gentle Approach to Discipline
Although it could be considered more alternative than natural, the "positive discipline" approach, also referred to as "gentle discipline," is one example of a parenting technique that is both evidence-based and outside of the mainstream. A recent Time Magazine article revealed the results of a study on spanking and punitive discipline conducted by Dr. George Holden of SMU. From the audio data and other information he gathered from families who took part in his study, Dr. Holden concluded that:
"Children who are spanked are more likely to be aggressive toward other children and adults...Over the long term they tend to be more difficult and noncompliant, have various behavior problems, can develop anxiety disorders or depression, and later develop antisocial behavior. They are more at risk to be involved in intimate partner violence, and they are at risk to become child abusers."
In contrast, the recent Carnival of Gentle Discipline, hosted by the Parenting Gently blog, explored how alternatives to punitive discipline can actually be more effective, both in the short- and long-term. While the information in these blogs is often more anecdotal than evidence-based, the implications are intriguing.

In the natural parenting and childbirth vein, Childbirth Hypnosis is one approach that raises quite a few eyebrows among mainstream parents and non-parents alike. I'm speaking here from personal experience, as someone who actually used hypnosis to have a natural and un-medicated childbirth. The perplexed faces of the expectant parents in the video above are an all-too familiar sight for me - similar to those I encountered from friends, family members and co-workers who were astonished to learn that I planned to use hypnosis rather than pain medications when giving birth.

I'll take a more detailed look at hypnosis for childbirth and share my experience with it in a future post. For now, I'll simply say that the use of hypnosis in childbirth is, arguably, one of the most misunderstood natural parenting approaches. It is also one of the most highly studied pain management approaches, although its specific applications in childbirth have not been investigated as thoroughly. "Hypnotic analgesia," or hypnosis as used for pain management, has been shown to result in shorter duration of labor, less use of medication during childbirth, and an overall reduction of pain.

Embracing the Counterculture
Saturday Night Live's Leylani and her friends are undoubtedly onto something - there are indeed natural parenting proponents that are deserving of their reputation as kooky, off-the-grid hippies who live outside the modern mainstream. However, the parenting approaches of most "natural" parents are not always the pseudo-scientific, touchy-feely nonsense they are made out to be. Suffice it to say I think hypnosis for childbirth - along with the many other practices that are dismissed as just another part of the outside-of-the-mainstream natural parenting hubbub - deserve another look, particularly when the research indicates that their use can be beneficial for caregivers and children alike.


  1. Good Post! It irritates me that these styles of parenting has to be labeled anything! Why isn't it viewed as acceptable to practice any of these styles, if that is what works for you and your family? Why, as mothers, are we forced to "subscribe" to a certain parenting theory, when we are all just practicing trial and error to see what works best for us? For example, I noticed that my daughter was showing readiness signs to be potty trained at a young age, so naturally I started researching how to potty train a young toddler and immediately I am brought to EC webpages, and told I am practicing Elimination Communication, when in fact I thought I was just potty training my child. I definitely pick and choose different styles and techniques of parenting, some viewed as alternative or natural, but I do not consider myself to be hippie dippie. And why should I be labeled anything but a mother?

  2. Great point about labels, Jen. I didn't explore that much, but it is definitely an issue in parenting today. We seem to want to create these parenting "subcultures" that fit people neatly into convenient little categories, when in actuality most parents probably pull from a variety of resources and philosophies.

  3. In the end...I think you just have to do what is right by you. There is no solid "right" answer in parenting. In a few years the ideals will shift again, and who knows in what direction. It is usually the oppsite of education though, so parents and teachers have something to talk about.

  4. That skit was funny though. I am not sure I would want to help someone else give brith as I gave brith ;).

  5. Absolutely agree with you, Nancy - on both accounts!