Instagram Live with Dr. Levita D’Souza

Instagram Live with Dr. Levita D’souza I had a riveting conversation with Counselling Psychologist and Researcher, Dr Levita D’Souza, on Instagram Live, where we talked about attachment theory, attachment styles, how our own childhood experiences affect our parenting choices, ruptures and repairs in the bonding process with our babies and children, how parentj g is an opportunity for personal growth and much more! Unfortunately, there were some disturbances in the audio. So that Levita’s amazing insights don’t get lost, I am sharing a transcript for the conversation here. Do read through until the very end so that you don’t miss some transformative truth bombs! How our childhood experiences and attachment styles affect our parenting choices. Himani: Hi everyone. Thank you for joining in for this live with Levita D’Souza. I’m super excited because every conversation I have with Levita is just full of these truth bombs that she tends to drop. Levita is a Registered Counseling Psychologist and Lecturer within the Faculty of Education at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Her research interests are in the area of perinatal psychology, adverse childhood experiences and its impact on attachment patterns and subsequent parenting practices. Within this space, her current research projects are looking at psychological factors affecting first-time fathers as they transition to fatherhood and father-child bonding. She’s also undertaking research on cultural influences on parenting choices in relation to infant sleep. So that’s really where Levita and I have had many conversations –  where infant sleep is concerned. And, as an Indian living in a sort of industrialized, westernized – “westernized”, not “Western” –  country, I’m sure you’ve faced this dichotomy and perhaps that was one of the factors that drew you towards this research. So, could you tell us a little bit about your journey and what drew you to your current work? Levita: Yes, I think my journey first started with my quest and questioning around mental illness. Why people are mentally ill; if it runs in families, does it mean I’m doomed; does it mean that we cannot do things differently. And that led to my early work in my early study working with families where there has been mental illness. And what I found was that some outcomes were much better than others. So, for some patients, the outcomes were much better than others. And the same sort of thing was replicated when I was working with children who had experienced trauma. You know, crap happens to everyone. But some children were better able to deal with the trauma and overcome it or manage their symptoms compared to others. And what I could see clearly was those early sorts of parenting experiences. And it wasn’t till I became a mum myself and I started to question why – who am I as a mother? What kind of a mother do I want to be? What from my own parenting experiences do I want to bring into how I parent my child? What do I not want? – that I started to really dabble in this thing of attachment theory and how that can influence – those really early experiences can influence – later outcomes for children. And so then I’ve landed in this space where, very crudely, I say “how not to be a jerk of a parent”. That’s what the transition to parenthood is. What influences us, what will help us be better parents? What do we draw on? What do we not draw on? What do we want to leave behind? And attachment, I think plays a big role in that. Himani: So, you know, just for some of us and the uninitiated and the layperson, the lay parent rather, could you very simply explain attachment theory – what you spend years teaching your students – in about two minutes? (laughter) Levita: I’ll try. I will try. I was reflecting on this and going, “can I reliably do it?” But I’m going to try this. So, very simply… Himani: You can take ten minutes. I’m joking about the two minutes. Levita: Thank you! Much appreciated (laughter). So, very simply, it’s like a bond. It’s a bond that exists between the baby and the caregiver. For the purpose of this talk, I will interchange between “caregiver” and “mother” but I want to absolutely acknowledge that families come in all forms and so it can be the father, it can be the grandmother, or any caregiver who is consistent, who is reliable, who is dependable, who is sensitive, and who is able to attune to the baby in a timely sort of way. And so, what is attachment? It’s a bond between the baby and the caregiver. Why does it exist? It exists purely and solely for the purpose of survival. So, when the baby is born, the baby is born with a system, what we call a “bio-behavioural system”, which it uses to cue the parent that they need things, to meet their needs. So, let’s take an example, here’s a little baby. They experience hunger, and they experience hunger on a very physiological level, right, it’s a biological behaviour. That hunger puts the baby’s system in chaos. It experiences pain. The baby doesn’t immediately cry. What the baby might do earlier to cue the parent would be root, stick their tongue out, put their hand to their mouth, and these are, sort of, very early signs where the baby is cuing in the caregiver to say, “Mamma, look at me, I have a need, I’m expressing this, attune to me, meet my need, make me feel good.” When the baby does that, the mother goes, “oh, you’re hungry! You want me to pick you up, let me feed you.” When the mother meets that need, the baby’s system – that had started to be in chaos because of the hunger – returns to this really calm, nice, happy place. Mum feels good because baby has stopped crying; baby feels good because baby’s needs

Why does my baby wake up when I put her down?

Why does my baby wake up when I put her down? It’s a familiar scene. Your baby has drifted off to sleep after feeding or rocking and you’ve waited patiently for her to show all the signs of being in deep sleep. You try gingerly to put her down on the bed. Maybe you even succeed…for 3 seconds. And then the eyes pop open. Uh-oh! Start from scratch. This is actually extremely normal. Human babies are born at a very immature and early stage of gestation. Research theorizes that human pregnancies would actually need to be 18-21 months long for our babies to be born at the same stage of development (and independence) as many other mammal babies. So, human babies need a lot of womb-like care and physical contact at all times and especially to sleep well. The first 3 months of life are called the “fourth trimester” but babies can need to be held to sleep well for 9-10 months and beyond. It is an evolutionary survival instinct to sense separation from their caregiver and immediately wake and cry for that security again It is very normal for babies to need “contact naps” or napping when held or, later, a parent lying next to them. This may sound inconvenient but it is a biological need that we need to meet. Otherwise, we will have an overtired, sleep deprived baby and that will be quite difficult to handle as well! Many parents find it easier to attend to their own work and chores (or even bathroom needs!) when baby is awake and playing happily with someone else or strapped to us in a baby carrier. A sleeping baby has a huge need for security and actually needs us more! Holding a baby for naps does not inculcate a “bad habit” as it is simply an in-built need that babies have. They outgrow it as the months pass. Enjoy your cuddles with your baby! Make yourself comfortable with water and snacks nearby. Read books, binge watch TV shows (with headphones, as baby grows older), listen to podcasts and audiobooks, catch up with work or social media on your phone, or simply take a snooze yourself. This is also nature’s way of making parents rest🙂 Two great articles about this:…/why-does-my-baby-wake…/…/when-your-child-will…/ But then, why does my baby need holding only during the day and not at night? This is a common and mystifying phenomenon. Babies wake easily if put down for their daytime naps and yet sleep comfortably on a bed at night. Why does this happen? There are a few reasons. 1. Babies spend much more time in deep sleep at night than in the day. Babies and adults cycle through sleep stages like drowsiness, light sleep, REM sleep, deep sleep, deepest sleep and then back in the same order. The stages in REM, deep and deepest sleep are much longer at night than during the day. Babies need holding because, when they are in light sleep, they are likely to wake up if they sense isolation. 2. The body’s need for sleep is governed by two forces – circadian rhythms, which is the day-night pattern determined by the sun, and homeostatic rhythms, which is sleep pressure created by being awake for a certain amount of time. Day naps are created by homeostatic rhythms, not circadian rhythms (which in fact would keep us awake during the day). Night sleep is born of both circadian and homeostatic rhythms, so that is a huge sleep pressure. 3. In breastfed babies, breastmilk does impart melatonin at night (linked to the mother’s circadian rhythms), which is a sleep hormone. 4. Before night sleep, there is a proper bedtime routine and the sleep environment is often better at night – although this can be recreated for naps as well. An absolutely PITCH dark and quiet room for naps can make it much easier to put down for naps after 8-9 months. But then how will I get anything done? The temptation is high. Baby is asleep. There are a bunch of emails to reply to that you would really rather handle on a laptop than on your phone. There are calls to make. There is a pile of laundry to tackle. The house is a mess. Or maybe you could just have a cup of coffee or take a shower! Stop right there. Think for a minute. Will your baby wake up in a few minutes if you leave her side? Will you be able to put her back to sleep easily? Will she want to nurse for the rest of the nap and throw milk on your plans in any case? Or will she be fully awake and you’ll be back to square one, with an overtired, underslept baby? We are led to believe that we should “get stuff done” when baby is sleeping. That babies don’t need to be parented when they are in dreamland. That it’s efficient to put a baby down and then rush out to deal with our to-do list. That it’s lazy to lounge around with a sleeping baby. Nothing could be further from the truth. Consider the facts: 1. Babies are extremely vulnerable when they sleep. They have a biological survival instinct to be close to a caregiver while they sleep. 2. Babies wake at the end of sleep cycles or because they are hot/cold, sense separation from their caregiver or because they are hungry. This does not mean their sleep is complete. 3. You will need to bridge your baby’s sleep cycles. 4. You are sleep deprived and need sleep (or rest) yourself. 5. If you baby takes a short nap, you won’t get much done in any case. 6. If you baby is overtired, your baby will be cranky, clingy and unhappy. 7. If your baby takes a short nap, he will need to be put down again fairly soon. His subsequent naps and night sleep will be disturbed. He will not get the

5 Parenting Books I Love

5 Parenting Books I Love 1. Kiss Me! by the Spanish paediatrician Carlos Gonzalez This is a deeply researched, wittily written and eminently readable book that makes a case for parenting “with love”, as opposed to what the book calls “fascist parenting”. Dr Gonzalez argues against a culture of parenting where the parent is “in charge” and children are considered “intrinsically bad or manipulative beings” who need to be brought in control as early as possible. He believes that children are inherently good, responsible, sociable, selfless and generous. He advocates “ethical parenting” where parents don’t adopt an antagonistic position with their children and don’t tirelessly work at making the child “disciplined” or “independent”. Also, he believes that children’s bodies are programmed to know what they need and that it is best to follow their cues. He explains why children want to sleep with us at night, why going to nursery school can be such a traumatic event for them, why they cry if we leave the room, why they seem to never want to eat. He demolishes ideas like time-outs, behaviourism and the whole idea of “habits”, rewards and punishments, “training” babies to do various things – and he does it with infallible logic, immaculate research and brilliant humour. There are laugh out loud moments on every second page. Chock-full of anecdotes, studies and beautiful wit, Dr Gonzalez will mould the way you parent forever! 2. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by Diane Wiessinger and Diana West of the La Leche League This is the ultimate bible on breastfeeding. As a Leader of the La Leche League myself, I completely trust the information in this book, which includes • real-mom wisdom on breastfeeding comfortably—from avoiding sore nipples to simply enjoying the amazing bonding experience • new insights into old approaches toward latching and attaching, ages and stages, and answers to the most-asked questions • strategies for moms who choose to breastfeed for a short time or who plan to nurse for a year or more • reassuring information on nursing after a C-section or delivery complications • recent scientific data that highlight the many lifelong health benefits of breastfeeding • helpful tips for building your support network—at home or when back at work • nursing special-needs infants, premies, multiples, and how to thrive no matter what curveball life throws • guidance on breast health issues, weight gain, day care, colic, postpartum depression, food allergies, and medications Although assumed to come naturally to mother and child, breastfeeding is actually fraught with obstacles and challenges. There are, of course, medical issues sometimes, but more commonly, the problems are social and systemic. Massive marketing campaigns by infant formula manufacturers for the past century have created a medical system that is only waiting for the slightest lapse—real or perceived—in the breastfeeding relationship to introduce artificial milk to the baby. Waking multiple times every night and being strapped to a chair all day as a literal ‘mother dairy,’ social stigma around feeding in public places, inadequate pumping facilities in offices, and being plagued by constant self-doubt create both logistical problems and emotional stress for the mother. It takes a village to raise a child but, in modern urban life, not only are young parents often in nuclear setups, but easy access to scientific information and global trends has led to a generation gap between new parents and their elders. For example, our parents’ generation was raising babies at the peak of the infant formula revolution. They do not necessarily understand or relate to exclusive and long-term breastfeeding. Doctors too receive very little training on breastfeeding and, more often than not, scapegoat it for any difficulty a parent may be facing. It’s difficult for them to problem-solve the art and science of breastfeeding, which is meant to be instinctive but is often not anymore. In such a scenario, it’s very important for parents who want to breastfeed to have access to the right information. This book is a great starting point. 3. The Wonder Weeks by Frans X. Plooij, Hetty van de Rijt, and Xaviera Plas-Plooij A wonderful, practical guide for the first 20 months of a baby’s life. This book marks out 10 clear developmental leaps that babies take – naming each one a “wonder week” (versus something like a “fussy period”) because, although hard on both babies and parents, each of these periods is actually a magical leap forward in a baby’s development. From “the world of changing sensations” to “the world of sequences” to “the world of systems”, babies undergo a massive transformation and are almost reborn with a new consciousness every few weeks.Like a caterpillar struggling out of a cocoon and becoming a butterfly, babies who are undergoing such a transformation can sleep poorly, cry more, cling more, lose their appetites, experience separation or stranger anxiety, be less lively, regress in certain behaviours, throw tantrums etc, but then emerge as new beings with an amazing new set of skills. The authors suggest that parents can actually help babies work their way through a wonder week and these periods should in fact be seen as opportunities to help our babies grow. They give practical suggestions and tips on how to encourage a baby to develop the next set of skills. With my first baby, I followed the book and, with my second, the app. Although the dates didn’t always coincide exactly and some of the information repeats itself across the different wonder weeks, the central idea is useful and empowering. Wonder weeks often overlap with sleep regressions and babies do tend to sleep poorly when working on skills. Things miraculously improve once the skill is achieved and then a calm period ensues. Understanding this concept can make it easier to cope with some of those difficult weeks. 4. Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn I listened to the audiobook version of this and it was so wonderful! Alfie Kohn narrates it himself. His indignation, sarcasm and passion for the cause are so genuine.