The Science of Love

by Holly Keich

Standing in line at the local craft shop, Valentine’s items strewn about the aisle, I choose to make an impulse purchase of a heart chalkboard. Two, one for each of my children.  Not for decoration, but in hopes of instilling kindness and love into their days by hanging them on their door and writing a daily message of gratitude for having them in my life.

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As I move towards bringing more love into my family’s life and the world around me, what better time to delve deeper to answer the question, “What inspires love?” than February, the month of LOVE.  Perhaps you’ve already heard of the “love hormone,” oxytocin.  It is said to be responsible for social bonding. When we hug or kiss a loved one our oxytocin levels increase. (1) Positive comments and positive conversations also spur the production of oxytocin. (2) But as with anything we give a quick glance on the surface, as I delve deeper there is much more to learn about this hormone.

Oxytocin was first recognized for it’s role in the birth process and breastfeeding and it’s particular importance in women. (3) The hormone, when released during labor, promotes contractions and also helps the uterus shrink back to shape after birth. It also increases the production of prostaglandins, which move labor along and increases the contractions even more. (4) The life-altering event of childbirth is a stressful experience, but with the release of oxytocin, not only is the labor moved along, but many women are able to experience the event with love and joy rather than a fight or flight response. (5) Additionally, this hormone has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may help modulate pain perception. (6)  Certainly a bonus when giving birth.

The true excitement about this hormone began in the 1990’s though when researchers discovered that breastfeeding women are calmer in the face of exercise and psychosocial stress than bottle-feeding mothers. (7) The reason for this is because when an infant suckles at the mother’s breast it stimulates a release of oxytocin which creates the “let down reflex” moving the milk to the breast for baby to consume. At the same time, oxytocin is released into the mother’s brain to stimulate further oxytocin production to enhance bonding with baby. Once the baby stops feeding, the production of the hormone stops until the next feeding. (8) A lack of sufficient oxytocin can prevent the milk letdown reflex and may be one of the reasons that make breastfeeding difficult for some women.

Further studies show that It’s even been found that the higher the levels of oxytocin in the first trimester, the more bonding behaviors we see after birth, such as singing or bathing baby. (9)  Interactions such as these (and many others) builds bonds between babies and the parent or caregiver as well and studies show that their oxytocin levels also increase. (10) This comes from the evolutionary process that has shown that pro-social behaviors are beneficial to survival.  According to Loretta Graziano Breuning of the Inner Mammal Institute, mammals have learned through the years that “leaving the herd can mean instant death in the jaws of a predator, so the brain rewards you with oxytocin when you have safety in numbers. The nice safe feeling is triggered by trust and touch: they go together in the state of nature because a critter close enough to touch you is close enough to hurt you. The brain makes careful decisions about when to trust instead of releasing oxytocin all the time.” (11)

While oxytocin is typically known for it’s purpose in birth and breastfeeding, there are many other triggers of this hormone such as warm temperature and touch, smells, sounds and other social cues. (12) Even more fascinating is that the release of oxytocin is not limited to just the pituitary gland, a pea-shaped structure at the base of the brain; it can be released from the uterus, ovaries, testes, blood vessels, and the heart. (13)  But what I find most fascinating is the oxytocin is released as part of the stress response.

Typically when we think of a stress response, we think of the hormone cortisol coursing through our bodies promoting a “fight or flight” response.  Cortisol is the body’s emergency response system.  It’s triggered when we face criticism, rejection or fear, when we feel marginalized or minimized and when we feel pain and the anticipation of pain. When present in birth it can slow down labor so you can take care of the actual or perceived threat.  In all these situations, it shuts down the thinking center of our brains and activates protective behaviors.

The release of oxytocin instead creates a “tend and befriend” response.  When oxytocin comes on board during times of high social stress or pain, it may “lead people to seek out more and better social contacts,” says social psychologist Shelley E. Taylor, PhD, who directs the University of California, Los Angeles, Social Neuroscience Lab. (14)  This hormonal response actually encourages people to seek out contact with others in times of stress.

As with all things, balance is key; too little adversity and too much adversity disrupts oxytocin balance, while experiencing just enough stress helps to maintain oxytocin balance. Often we think that our hormones rule us, but there are strategies that we can use to help re-wire the brain and maintain balance. Kelly McGonigal, PhD tells us in her book The Upside of Stress that “viewing a stressful situation as an opportunity to improve your skills, knowledge, or strengths makes it more likely that you will have a challenge response instead of a fight-or-flight response.  This, in turn, increases the chance that you will learn from the experience.” (15) In fact, it was her TED Talk the spurred my interest in the topic. If you haven’t already seen it, it’s worth 15 minutes of your time to watch it here.

Now we know we have the opportunity to grow just by our perception of stressful events.  What are some other ways that we can encourage hormonal balance and love in our life?

  1. Volunteering – especially if you are experiencing the same stress or subjected to the emotional trauma or disaster event.
  2. Journaling – even just 10 minutes where you reflect on your core values and motivation can change how you face stressful events.
  3. Assigning Meaning – giving your life events greater meaning through aspirational goals, reflection on core values that keep you connected to the greater purpose of life – realizing we’re all ONE.
  4. Self Care – Exercising, spiritual practice, reading, listening to music, spending time with family or friends, get a massage, walking, yoga, creative hobbies
  5. Strengthen Mindfulness – Being in the present moment protects you from anxiety and depression. Daily meditation for just 5 minutes a day can make an impact for a lifetime.
  6. Avoid Continuous Negative News – Watching or reading the news about stressful events is one of the largest triggers of stress. We also often watch the news alone which can exacerbate our stress response and deplete willpower.
  7. Avoid Dopamine Releasing Activities – Gambling, shopping, smoking, drinking, eating, playing video games, surfing the internet or binging on TV or movies for more than 2 hours.

Practicing these activities you can build new neural circuits through repetition.  For the most effect, perform the new behaviors or thought patterns for 45 days consistently. (16)  The more you practice these activities the more balanced and stress-free you will feel, the more in balance your oxytocin will be, and the more love you will feel in your life and be able to share those around you.

  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/oxytocin
  2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/conversational-intelligence/201612/chemistry-lessons
  3. http://www.livescience.com/42198-what-is-oxytocin.html
  4. http://www.hormone.org/hormones-and-health/what-do-hormones-do/oxytocin
  5. http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb08/oxytocin.aspx
  6. http://dralexrinehart.com/stress-benefits/how-to-increase-oxytocin/
  7. http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb08/oxytocin.aspx
  8. http://www.hormone.org/hormones-and-health/what-do-hormones-do/oxytocin
  9. http://www.livescience.com/42198-what-is-oxytocin.html
  10. http://www.livescience.com/42198-what-is-oxytocin.html
  11. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-neurochemical-self/201610/you-have-power-over-your-brain-chemistry
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15834840
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18655874
  14. http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb08/oxytocin.aspx
  15. http://dralexrinehart.com/stress-benefits/how-to-increase-oxytocin/
  16. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-neurochemical-self/201610/you-have-power-over-your-brain-chemistry

Holly Keich is a Licensed Social Worker and Owner of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in Camp Hill, PA.  For more info about her work, visit www.ombabycenter.com.

Yoga for Gestational Diabetes

by Holly Keich

What is Gestational Diabetes?

Normally, insulin, secreted continuously by the pancreas, acts like a key to open the door to cells in our muscles, liver and fat tissue so glucose can enter. When pregnant though, generally between the second and third trimester, the mother’s insulin requirement increases by 2 to 3 times above normal levels. (1) Also during pregnancy, the placenta produces hormones that help the baby grow and develop. These hormones however make cells less responsive to insulin. Consequently, during pregnancy, the mother’s body needs to produce higher amounts of insulin to keep her blood glucose levels within the normal range. Typically this would not be a problem and the pancreas would secrete more insulin to lower the blood glucose levels. It’s when the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to control blood glucose levels that glucose intolerance develops. When this happens during pregnancy it is called Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM). After the baby is born, the mother’s blood glucose levels usually return to normal.

It is estimated that Gestational Diabetes affects 18% of pregnancies (2) based on new diagnostic criteria developed in 2015 by the International Association of Diabetes in Pregnancy Study Group and the American Diabetes Association, with it’s prevalence increasing worldwide. GDM usually has no obvious symptoms, therefore diagnosis is typically made through an oral glucose challenge screening between 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy.(3) If a woman tests positive during this screening test, a second test, called the Glucose Tolerance Test (or the 3-hour challenge), may be performed. This test will diagnose whether diabetes exists or not by indicating whether or not the body is using glucose effectively. (4) This screening recommendation has been upheld by the US Preventative Service Task Force as of January 2014.  Some sources question testing procedures, from the ingredients in Glucola, the sugary drink you consume when tested, to controversy about screening and the effectiveness of treatment.

Elevated blood sugar in pregnancy creates oxidative stress and can lead to high blood pressure, preeclampsia, premature labor and possibility of delivery by cesarean section due to macrosomia (large baby). (5,6) Women who develop GDM also have at least a 50% chance of becoming diabetic later in life and a 60% chance of developing type 2 diabetes within 4 years. (5,7) Also babies born to diabetic moms have an increased risk of being born with low blood sugar and having prolonged jaundice. (8) They also have a much higher lifetime likelihood of developing chronic health problems associated with obesity and diabetes. (9)

 

Risk Factors

Certain women are more prone to experiencing gestational diabetes. Risk factors include (10):

  • Ethnicity – higher incidence in African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics and Orientals and non-white Hispanic women
  • Greater Maternal Age (35 years plus)
  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
  • Family History of Diabetes Mellitus
  • Experienced GDM in a Previous Pregnancy – 30%-60% greater risk
  • Pregnancy Induced Hypertension
  • Hypertension – twice the risk as women without hypertension*
  • Poor Nutrition and Diet*
  • Overweight and Obesity*
  • Sedentary Behavior – two fold increase risk*

Those noted with an asterisk (*) are lifestyle related risk factors that are modifiable. When risks are combined there is a greater chance of developing GDM.

 

Prevention and Treatment

The management of GDM aims to mediate the effects of hyperglycemia by controlling blood glucose levels to improve pregnancy outcomes. Likely your doctor will begin by asking you to modify your diet and begin an exercise regime. Exercise has a powerful potential to assist with blood glucose control. In fact, exercise has been shown effective in preventing, reducing or even delaying the need for insulin management. If adequate glucose levels are not achieved with diet and exercise alone, a woman will generally be directed to anti-diabetic medications to reduce blood glucose levels for mother and baby.

Records as early as the 17th and 18th Centuries have shown encouragement of exercise during pregnancy as it was thought to ensure good health and prevent miscarriage (11). Modern research shows that this is not far from the truth. Despite a trend in the last century which encouraged women not to exercise during pregnancy, current trends show that it is increasingly recognized as safe in low-risk pregnancies and is encouraged as part of routine prenatal care. Physical activity during pregnancy may prevent both GDM and possibly later-onset Type 2 Diabetes. (12) Studies even show that regular physical activity prior to becoming pregnant has shown a reduced risk of developing GDM. (13) In fact, women with a higher risk for GDM may even be able to prevent it by managing those four modifiable lifestyle risk factors noted above with an asterisk. Diet and regular physical activity are frequently sufficient to manage hyperglycemia.

Exercise during pregnancy is helpful for a whole host of associated conditions or symptoms accompanying pregnancy beyond gestational diabetes, such as edema, gestational hypertension, mood instability, musculoskeletal discomfort, aches, and weight gain. (14) Engaging in 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity most days of the week has been adopted as the most recent recommendation for all pregnant women, unless otherwise directed by your doctor. (15)

 

Yoga, Pregnancy & Gestational Diabetes

The general recommendation if beginning a new yoga practice during pregnancy is to wait until the 2nd trimester to begin. This may be especially appropriate for women who were previously sedentary, waiting until after the initial discomforts of morning sickness, nausea and fatigue have settled down. Since exercise in early pregnancy can reduce the risk of GDM, the sooner you feel up to exercising comfortably, the better. If you have a regular practice, continuing through the first trimester is fine as long as you are listening to your body. You’re growing a whole new human being which can deplete your energy and vitality, so rest when you’re tired. Yoga has always been about being in the moment and you may find that pregnancy pulls you deeper into the here and now as you move along with the daily changes happening in your body.

Numerous studies have already proven the remarkable effects yoga has on reducing stress. This is important when talking about gestational diabetes, because there is a direct correlation between stress and elevated blood sugar levels. (16) Yoga moderates the impact of diabetes through the lowering of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. (17) When these stress hormones are elevated, blood glucose levels are raised. When we are able to lower their impact, we are able to modify the potential for GDM.  Yoga’s known ability to lower both the oxidative stress level and the perceived stress levels help to control this condition. (18)

While no one yoga pose will help to prevent or alleviate gestational diabetes, practicing this flow of beneficial poses* on a regular basis as a recommended portion of a regular exercise routine may help to lower stress and regulate blood sugar levels.

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodana)
Sun Salutations (modified) – feet hip distance apart
Mountain (Tadasana) – arms stretched upward
Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
Lunge
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Cow
Child’s Pose
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Lunge
Standing Forward Bend (Uttasana)
Round to Mountain (Tadasana)
Cat/Cow
Triangle Pose (Trikonasana)
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Extended Side Angle
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Warrior 1
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Warrior 2
Standing Twist

Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottansana)
Bharadvaja’s Twist
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Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
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Reclining Twist
Mindfulness Meditation or Yoga Nidra
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*Adapted from Yoga as Medicine: the Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing
By Timothy McCall, MD

Contraindications: If any of the following warning signs occur, it is advised that exercise should be terminated: vaginal bleeding, dizziness, headache, chest pain, muscle weakness, preterm labour, decreased foetal movement, amniotic fluid leakage, calf pain or swelling and dyspnoea without exertion. (19) Additional contraindications are listed here.  Hot yoga should also be avoided during pregnancy.

 

Be sure to check out Om Baby’s Prenatal Yoga schedule and join us for a class to help reap the many benefits of yoga during pregnancy.  Modifications and adjustments available for all stages of pregnancy.


 

References:

(1) http://www.healthandyoga.com/html/news/yoga_diabetes.aspx

(2) http://www.diabetesincontrol.com/exercise-benefits-for-gestational-diabetes/

(3) http://www.diabetesincontrol.com/exercise-benefits-for-gestational-diabetes/

(4) http://americanpregnancy.org/prenatal-testing/glucose-tolerence-test/

(5) http://avivaromm.com/dont-drink-glucola-gestational-diabetes/

(6) http://www.eufic.org/article/en/artid/The_rising_concern_of_gestational_diabetes/

(7) http://www.fitpregnancy.com/exercise/prenatal-workouts/prenatal-exercise-diabetes-pregnancy

(8) http://www.healthandyoga.com/html/news/yoga_diabetes.aspx

(9) http://avivaromm.com/dont-drink-glucola-gestational-diabetes/

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4515443/

(11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4515443/

(12) http://www.diabetesincontrol.com/exercise-benefits-for-gestational-diabetes/

(13) http://www.diabetesincontrol.com/exercise-benefits-for-gestational-diabetes/

(14) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3424788/

(15) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3424788/

(16) McCall, MD, Timothy. Yoga as Medicine: the Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing, p. 283.

(17) McCall, MD, Timothy. Yoga as Medicine: the Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing, p. 283.

(18) http://prenatalyogacenter.com/blog/high-risk-pregnancy-and-yoga/

(19)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4515443/

 

all images copyright Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center


Holly Keich is the owner of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in Camp Hill, PA. She began her yoga journey at Be Fit Yoga Studio with Bobbi Misiti in 2002.  She began teaching Ashtanga at Be Fit in fall of 2004. In 2007, when Holly became pregnant with her first child she began teaching prenatal yoga classes that impart not only the wisdom of poses for the childbearing year, but also knowledge of the spiritual and emotional process of becoming a parent. Holly has attended pre and postnatal yoga teacher trainings with Stephanie Keach  and Mindful Mamas. She has also attended Baby Om Yoga training in NYC and is a Certified ChildLight Yoga Instructor, including Baby & Toddler Yoga as well as a Certified Infant Massage Instructor. More recently she has become a Certified Sacred Pregnancy Instructor.  She continues to develop her support of mother, child & family connections through the opening of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in 2008.

 

 

Remaining Kind Amidst Chaos

by Holly Keich

There are times when life spins furiously around you, leaving you breathless, confused and disoriented. This is one of those times. Converging around me are a variety of storms, some self-created dramas and some mere perceptions of a false reality perpetuated by a vengeance for directing my thoughts towards what calamities the future may hold. Some storms are grounded in feelings of loss for friends and family no longer with us this holiday season. Mostly though they are all created by a world beyond my control.

And so, here I find myself either being swept away in the chaos, or alternately, instinctively knowing there is another option – the option to remain centered, calm and peaceful in the eye of the hurricane that swirls around me. It’s a familiar option. Having practiced yoga for nearly a decade now, I understand the power of calming the mind, remaining still until the thoughts settle. Some days it’s harder than others.
little-gardeners-tree-cropped
In this instance, I feel a stronger power guiding me to settle. As I sit typing, I realize that the sun is still shining, the sky remains blue and there are many gifts surrounding me. Each evening I am able to lay with my children, reading them a story, talking about their day and making heartfelt connections that will turn into fond memories. I have a warm, albeit cluttered home, that provides me shelter from the brisk cold winds of winter. And my refrigerator is overflowing with food, even if some of it is rotting in the “crisper”.

These realizations bring the awareness that life is neither good nor bad, it just is. My thoughts are what offer the judgment of contentment or chaos, just as my actions can offer kindness or contention.   When I listen closely in the stillness of the eye of the hurricane, I hear not only the howl of the winds around me, but also the cries for more kindness and the pleas for contentment. The world and I are not separate in this moment, but are one entity crying from within for peace.

This veil of separation allows us to distance ourselves, protect and defend what is ours and rally against the “other.” But at the heart of it all we are all one, we have more similarities than differences, we are all seeking appreciation, kindness and love. In our moments of disorientation, we believe love must come from outside of ourselves to fill our empty hearts. It is in these moments that we forget we are one with the “other”, that we combined are love in its’ truest form.

It is not an outside force that allows us to love ourselves more. There is no more than we need to do than to look inside to find peace. Because it’s not a break through or a break down that’s needed. It is about loving yourself here and now in the darkness and chaos of the storm of life that matters most.

So how do we find kindness for ourselves in the midst of the storm? Gently, my friend. Know that you are valuable and deserve kindness. When we feel valuable, we feel strong enough to ask for what we need, even from ourselves. The more we ask for what we need, the more likely we are to get it.

Take the time to sit down to think of a list of basic, simple acts that bring joy to your heart. Did you know that Random Acts of Kindness apply to yourself too? When we are able to apply self-love and self-care regularly, our cup will eventually overflow and those joyful feelings will ripple out to others calming the storms that impact our lives. Below I’ve shared some ideas to get us started. I’d love to hear your ideas too and how implementing them has changed your perceptions of the world.

  1. Take a hot bath with some Epsom salts and essential oils. Why not throw in some candles and relaxing music too?
  2. Go for a walk to your favorite park or even just a walk around the block. You could even join Hike it Baby and meet a few new friends at their next outing.
  3. Special Treats. What’s something that makes you smile? Keep a drawer full of treats like chocolates, candles, cards, tea or coffee that you can explore when you need a little self-love. Or savor a small indulgence by making an impulse purchase of flowers or other treat for yourself.
  4. Schedule a massage, reiki or check out Dissolve Float Spa for a new relaxing sensation.
  5. Write yourself a love note to be opened later. This could be tucked into your special treats drawer too. You can make it short & sweet with a quote or mantra or a long love letter that goes into great detail about all your wonderful qualities.
  6. Paint a Picture even if you can’t paint. Don’t worry about the final project. Enjoy the experience. Expressive Art Inspirations has some ideas to get you started.
  7. Dress to Impress only You.
  8. Say Goodbye to your inner critic and Say I Love You!
  9. Sleep In.
  10. Laugh, no really…Laugh like you haven’t in years.

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Holly Keich is the owner of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in Camp Hill.  She is a Licensed Social Worker, Yoga Instructor, Certified Infant Massage Instructor, Parent, Wife and adamant learner in the school of life.

‘Tis the Season to Be Grateful

nupponen-family-3

photo by Jessie Gallagher

by Jessica Nupponen

‘Tis the season to be grateful, fa la la la la la la la la!  It’s November! This is the month when we set aside a whole day to focus on giving thanks. And boy, do we need it! In the increasingly negative political-climate that we call “these days,” how do we ever manage to stay grateful?  It’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about, but first – why bother?

If you’re reading this column, chances are good that you’re a parent.  As parents, we want our children to appreciate what they have and Stop. Nagging. Us. For. That. Newest. Toy/Device/Fad.  We all dream of a beautiful time when our children bypass the rampant holiday consumerism and truly appreciate the holidays as a time to be with the ones we love. And that’s why we bother trying to add gratitude to our lives. We want it for our children and they won’t learn it unless they see us demonstrating it.

So how can we feel more gratitude?

One of the things I learned from living with a chronic illness is that gratitude is an absolute necessity in order to soldier on and enjoy life. So I pursued it fiercely and… gave up quickly. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. I wanted the gratitude so, so much, but it just wasn’t coming to me naturally.

I muddled through until my then-toddler helped me realize that having an “attitude of gratitude” was not enough. Just like his little brain needed tactile ways to learn, I needed to do something to signify the gratitude. Since then I have discovered so many possibilities! Here are a few that might help you too!

1.    List at least one thing that makes you grateful every day at a certain time. For us, we do this as part of bedtime, but it can be any time that works for you. I know people who do this as part of a dinner time routine.  (Make sure to make it mundane sometimes. I mentioned once that I was grateful for running water and it sparked a wonderful conversation about how people live in different ways.)gratitude-tree

2.    Use Thanksgiving as an excuse to write them down. When November rolls around,
we get leaf-shaped cut-outs and write what makes us grateful that day on our respective leaf.  We then tape them to the wall or hang them from a plant in the house.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it sure does make an amazing visual of all the things that make you grateful!

3.    Get the whole family involved.  Everyone in the household can do this! We even ask our 5-year-old what he thinks makes the baby grateful. You could include the family pet! That way we’re also sneakily teaching empathy! (It’s like putting spinach in their brownies – they’ll never know! Mwahahaha!)

4.    Have older kids? Get them to use their devices to take a photo of something that makes them grateful every day. They could post it on social media if they’d like and spread the gratitude! Or they could make a digital  photo album out of it later. It also sparks creativity and mindfulness (a.k.a. spinach brownies)!

5.    Share the love!!!  If you’re feeling grateful for something, post it on social media or tell a friend.  I have a Gratitude Photojournal that I’ve kept going on social media for years and you’d be surprised how many people have told me that it makes them look around and appreciate the little things too.  This is not about the “humble brag,” friends. This is genuine, heartfelt gratitude. You know what the best part of my day was today? An iced mocha. A really, really good iced mocha that gave me the oomph to get through a big morning. And tonight that will be my post. Tomorrow it might be something much bigger and more important like my beautiful boys, a roof over my head, a husband who lovingly tucks in the boys when I work late, yadda yadda. But today was tough and that iced mocha got me through it, so it is the winner today.

6.  Take it to the next step.  Once gratitude starts to sneak into your daily routine, you’ll probably have a stronger feeling of hope edge in too. If you want all of this to equal happiness, here is your equation:  Gratitude + Kindness = Happiness. This is a fairly well-known equation, so put it to work. Use your gratitude and new-found hope to make the world a little brighter. It doesn’t take much: a friendly smile, a door held on a rainy day, a genuine compliment to a stranger or a friend, a kind word to someone who seems down, a listening ear, a warm hug.  I could go on, but you’ll find your way.

7.     Bonus!!!  When you start actively searching for things that make you grateful, you might just see your partner, your kids, your house, your job, your life in a whole new light.

It may sound trivial, but it’s true. Gratitude + Kindness = Happiness.  So let’s make a habit of practicing gratitude and cultivating gratitude, so that it becomes second nature.  I can guarantee it will make a difference to your family, to you, to your circle of friends, and maybe – just maybe – it will ripple out much further than you’ll ever know.


Jessica Nupponen is an events coordinator, choir director, sometimes-music director, and all times mom. Her hobby is running Sidewalk Chalk PA, an opportunity to make the world a little brighter through chalk. Jessica lives in the Harrisburg area with her husband, and their two “ridiculously adorable” boys.

What is Attachment Parenting?

logo-that-hopefully-doesnt-change-colorAttachment Parenting is the term coined by Dr. William Sears and his wife Martha to describe a highly responsive, attentive style of caring for a child.  The essence of Attachment Parenting is about forming nurturing strong connections between parents and their children.

Attachment parenting promotes physical and emotional closeness between parent and child through the eight principles of parenting.  All of these principles are aimed at promoting a trusting, intuitive relationship between parents and baby through the physical and emotional closeness that makes it easier to know and appropriately respond to the baby’s needs.

Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting

  1. Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting

The way baby and parents get started with one another helps the early attachment unfold. Start by becoming emotionally and physically prepared for pregnancy and birth.  Research available options for healthcare providers and birthing environments, and become informed about newborn care.  A close attachment after birth and beyond allows the natural, biological attachment-promoting behaviors of the infant and the intuitive, biological caregiving qualities of the parent to come together.

  1. Feeding with Love and Respect

Breastfeeding is the optimal way to satisfy and infant’s nutritional and emotional needs.  “Bottle Nursing” adapts breastfeeding behaviors to bottle-feeding to help initiate a secure attachment. Follow the feeding cues for both infants and children, encouraging them to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full.  Offer healthy food choices and model healthy eating behavior.

  1. Respond with Sensitivity

Build the foundation of trust and empathy beginning in infancy. Tune in to what your child is communicating to you, then respond consistently and appropriately. Babies cannot be expected to self-soothe, they need calm and loving, empathetic parents to help them learn to regulate their emotions. Respond sensitively to a child who is hurting or expressing strong emotion, and share in their joy.

  1. Use Nurturing Touch

Touch meets a baby’s needs for physical contact, affection, security, stimulation and movement. Skin-to-skin contact is especially effective, such as during breastfeeding, bathing or massage.  Carrying or babywearing also meets this need while on the go. Hugs, snuggling, back rubs, massage, and physical play help meet this need in older children.

  1. Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally

Babies and children have needs at night just as they do during the day; from hunger, loneliness, and fear, to feeling too hot or too cold. They rely on parents to soothe them and help them regulate their intense emotions. Sleep training techniques can have detrimental physiological and psychological effects. Safe co-sleeping has benefits to both babies and parents.

  1. Provide Consistent and Loving Care

Babies and young children have an intense need for the physical presence of a consistent, loving, responsive caregiver: ideally a parent. If it becomes necessary, choose and alternative caregiver who has formed a bond with the child and who cares for him in a way that strengthens the attachment relationship. Keep schedules flexible, and minimize stress and fear during short separations.

  1. Practice Positive Discipline

Positive discipline helps a child develop a conscience guided by his own internal discipline and compassion for others. Discipline that is empathetic, loving, and respectful strengthens the connection between parent and child. Rather than reacting to behavior, discover the needs leading to the behavior. Communicate and craft solutions together while keeping everyone’s dignity intact.

  1. Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life

It is easier to be emotionally responsive when you feel in balance. Create a support network, set realistic goals, put people before things, and don’t be afraid to say “no”. Recognize individual needs within the family and meet them to the greatest extent possible without compromising your physical and emotional health. Be creative, have fun with parenting, and take time to care for yourself.

While some people might see these principles as a set of rules they must follow, they are just recommended tools that can and should be individualized for each family and parenting situation.  Parenting is too individual and too complex for there to only be one way. Attachment parenting is the style that many parents use instinctively anyway.  The important point is to get connected to your baby and once connected to stick with what is working and modify what is not.  Ultimately you will develop your own parenting style.


Compiled by Holly Keich, LSW & Owner of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center.

Sources:

http://www.attachmentparenting.org/principles/principles.php

http://www.askdrsears.com/html/10/T130300.asp

http://parenting.ivillage.com/baby/bparentstyle/0,,489j-p,00.html

Are You Worthy?

by Holly Keich

Keich Family 2011

image:  Grace Lightner Photography

When’s the last time you told yourself, I’ll be worthy when ___________________. Whatever it may be that you choose to fill in the blank, whether it’s I’ll be worthy when I lose 15 pounds, when I get the promotion, when I can keep the laundry done or the house clean, when my kids tell me they love me, when I meet the perfect partner, when I become the perfect parent. We dismiss ourselves by lining up a long laundry list of pre-requisites to worthiness. We forget that just by the value of our very existence, we are enough. We are good enough. We are worthy.

Instead, we often seek sources outside of ourselves to tell us that we are worthy. We seek to be better, more, perfect, not only in our own eyes, but through our reflection in others. Author, shame researcher and public speaker, Brené Brown feels that shame is how we see ourselves through other people’s eyes. “If I look perfect, live perfect, work perfect, I can avoid or minimize criticism, blame and ridicule.” We say to ourselves, if I’m worthy enough, I won’t feel shame.

But, lets take a closer look at what shame is and what it isn’t. Brené Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” Parenting is one of the areas in which we, women especially, feel shame.

Parenting values debates, often termed “The Mommy Wars”, are shaming in nature. When you become a parent, you don’t have to look very far to see these debates in action. I remember as a newly expectant mother being blind-sided by vigorous and harsh debates in what used to be a very friendly and supportive online group. Soon I came to discover there are a multitude of controversial and divisive topics surrounding parenting – labor, circumcision, vaccinations, co-sleeping, feeding, etc. And regardless of which side you are on, what you hear is shame. Mothers engaging in shaming behaviors that we try to protect our own children from as they grow – name-calling, put-downs and bullying.  

So it was no surprise to find out what Brené Brown found in her research. “There are 3 topics that consistently elicit painfully harsh judgments: addiction, parenting and affairs.” Alright, well, maybe a slight surprise, parenting ranks up there with addiction and affairs? Why is that?

In her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, Brene clarifies so beautifully why parenting breeds judgment. “Our need for certainty in an endeavor as uncertain as raising children makes explicit “how-to-parent strategies both seductive and dangerous. I say dangerous because certainty often breeds absolutes, intolerance, and judgment. That’s why parents are so critical of one another – we latch on to a method or approach and very quickly our way becomes the way. When we obsess over our parenting choices to the extent that most of us do, and then see someone else making different choices, we often perceive that difference as direct criticism of how we are parenting.”

The uncertainty and doubt that comes with parenting is often frightening, frustrating and terrifying, and sometimes all three of those at the same time. Even though we’re all just doing the best we can with what we have and know in this moment, that self-doubt that lurks beneath the choices we make can spring our self-righteous critic into action. And when that happens, we react from a place of fear and hurt, fear of not being good enough, not being the perfect parent. A difference in opinion becomes judgment in our ears (or maybe was even slung with that intention) and our inner critical voice says, I’m not worthy. From this place of hurt, we may even judge others as a way of making ourselves feel better.

Brené Brown makes another excellent point in her book I Thought It Was Just Me: (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”, “We are also more willing to use shame, fear and judgment with people who threaten our pursuit of perfection. We can feel threatened when people challenge or criticize us, or we can feel threatened simply because someone is making different choices then we would make.”

“When we give ourselves permission to be imperfect, when we find self-worth despite our imperfections, when we build connection networks that affirm and value us as imperfect beings, we are much more capable of change.”

Change begins in us. You can not shame or belittle people (including yourself) into change. Change begins with realizing that we all have different paths in our parenting journey. There is no one right path. There are a million ways to be an engaged parent. So the parent who chooses a different path than yours isn’t wrong. They’ve chosen that path based on their values and life experiences and just because their path diverges from yours doesn’t make it any less correct or worthy.

It’s not about who is right or wrong. According to Brené Brown, “the question of parenting values is about engagement. Are we paying attention? Thinking through our choices? Open to learning and being wrong? Curious and willing to ask questions?”

“Our job is to make choices that are aligned with our values and support other parents who are doing the same. Our job is also to tend to our own worthiness. When we feel good about the choices we’re making and when we’re engaging with the world from a place of worthiness rather than scarcity, we feel no need to judge and attack.” (Brené Brown, Daring Greatly)

In order to move away from judgment we must be mindful of our own thoughts, feelings and words. To show empathy for ourselves as well as others we must be aware. We must know and understand ourselves before we can know and understand someone else. The more grounded we become, the less we feel compelled to defend our decisions and protect ourselves. The more grounded we are the less likely we are to perpetuate the cycle of judgment to make ourselves feel better, to make ourselves feel worthy.

In the end what we really want to know and to feel is that it’s okay. That we’re okay. Although the path may be unlit, we can approach this journey with a spirit of adventure, and openness to learning along with our children and other parents. Knowing that we will stumble and struggle, because we all do. It’s inherent in the process. And it’s not only okay, it’s to be expected. It will happen. It might be you today, or your neighbor or your friend or the parent across town who’s the perfect appearing PTO mom. We’re all in this parenting journey together and we need support; we need to give support.

Ultimately it’s not about who is the perfect parent, it’s about raising healthy, loving, wholehearted children. When we shame other parents for their choices, we are inadvertently passing that shame to the next generation, to their children and our own as well. When we are providing support and understanding, even if it’s just that ‘I’ve been there’ look to the parent whose child is melting down in aisle 4 at the grocery store, we are supporting and understanding that child also. We’re teaching our child what compassion looks like so when they grow up they can teach their children.

We all become better parents, better people, when we have a base of support, of understanding and belonging. We can reach and achieve and yes, even make mistakes, within a family or community that supports and believes in our inherent worthiness.


Holly Keich is a Licensed Social Worker, Owner of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in Camp Hill, PA and has a recent obsession with and grand appreciation for the work of Brené Brown.

Choices in Everyday Parenting

by Jennifer Moore

One of my favorite television shows is The Office. Fictional boss, Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell), invokes the embarrassment of viewers due to his antics in his personal and professional lives. The writers know that this emotion makes for good comedy, but on a deeper level, they most likely also know that this starts some sort of self-reflection as to why what Michael does makes us feel so ashamed.

In the modern world of parenting, we seemingly have our own television show with social media platforms opening up parts of our lives that were kept hidden in the previous generations. When I pooped on the toilet for the first time, my mother didn’t post on twitter (#mybabygirlisgrowingup) to reach out to her second cousin’s neighbor’s current girlfriend at the touch of a button and let them all know.   She certainly didn’t have our intimate moments paraded around over a computer screen and judged by people clear on the other side of the world who were able to interject with their own opinions and experiences. On the flip side, her world of parenting was limited to just those in her immediate circles; her pediatrician, family and friends, books and possibly radio programs. A positive part of parenting in the year 2016 is that with a few taps on our smart phone we can research just about any topic, watching how others raise their own children. As many of us know too well, that is also a negative. I can type “When should my child stop breastfeeding?” and get a myriad of articles by scientific, personal, and yes even satirical sources that speak their own version of the truth (fact, opinion or a combination of the two).

Jen Moore & Wolfie - blooming wild

To celebrate World Breastfeeding Week in August 2015, I had this photo taken of Wolfgang and I by a professional photographer and friend.

I began breastfeeding my oldest son, Sebastian, at his birth in July of 2002. My goal was to
try to breastfeed to 6 months and then taper off and possibly wean onto formula or cow’s milk once he began eating solids. After all, once he started crawling and eating other food why should I continue? My experiences up until that point had led me to believe that a baby shouldn’t need to breastfeed after 6 months to a year. The early weeks turned into months, and before I knew it my son was 9 months old, beginning to walk, and still being nourished at my breast. One spring day at a local playground, Sebastian tripped and fell, eliciting tears. I scooped him up in my arms and began to nurse him since I had learned that this not only fed his belly, but also was a comfort to him when in distress. A woman who had her grandchild, a little boy of 4 who earlier was playing with my son, looked flabbergasted and said to me “You need to stop that soon or else he will never give it up”. Her kindness towards me as a first time mom switched off and she turned away, taking the child in her care with her. I was embarrassed. Her words and inflection led me to believe that not only was I doing something wrong, but I should certainly not be doing it out in public for everyone to see.

Jen & Wolfie with Allison
My friend Allison and I both nursing our sons. Here, baby Lennon is one day old and Wolfgang, 2 1/2. We are both proud to nurture and feed the bodies and souls of these precious little boys of different ages.

Over the year I gave birth to several more children and thankfully found a small yet accepting group of women when it came to the topic of full term breastfeeding through my local Le Leche League. I would comment to my husband after the monthly meetings, “It’s the only place I feel normal”. Here, I could lift up my shirt to nurse the child who moments before was arguing with a friend over toy trains, or I could cuddle a soon to be new big brother or sister against my pregnant belly. I could also latch on two children at once who both needed my nurturing in this way at the same time, with no fear of judgment. Later on, I was also lucky enough to have a handful of friends in whose presence I felt no shame parenting this way in their homes, since they did similar things in regards to breastfeeding. Over time, I grew a thicker skin when out in public when it came to the needs of my children, because my nursing relationship was more important to me than the random strangers and their stares and comments.

Several weeks ago, my 5 children and I (ranging from ages 3-14) were at a local public pool. Being the youngest in a large family, 3-year-old Wolfgang has the perks of several older siblings who open his world to fun “big kid” things. This also means that he has learned in his short time on earth to nap wherever we are if he is tired enough. Nursing him to sleep in the afternoon while on the go is something I do frequently, at museums, playgrounds and in this instance, at the pool. We had just settled down on our blanket, and as his eyes fluttered closed, I saw my friend Amy walk over with her 1 ½ year old daughter, Matilda, and she sat down right next to us. “Those women over there are freaking out and calling you disgusting”, she said, as Tilly latched on and she joined me in peaceful solidarity. We watched as this group of women, all in the company of small children, gawked at the four of us and then appeared to take pictures or videos with their cell phones! I don’t know what came of their recordings. Maybe texts were sent expressing their concern and disgust over children they had seen just minutes before talking and using toys to splash in the pool. Maybe our images were plastered on public or private corners of the world wide web. Whatever their reason for using the words they did and for taking out phones to record something that is very normal for me, their personal opinion was that Amy and I were making quite the show of nurturing our children.

Parenting is so individual. It’s something we as mothers make our own each and every day. We base it on what we value and feel is important for the short and long term goals of ourselves and our families. Like every other aspect of our lives, we are affected everyday by our interactions with others who have made similar or different choices. These meetings may cause us to feel confidence, doubt, or even judgment. Back to The Office, Michael Scott once proudly created a Christmas card by taking one of his then-girlfriend’s old vacation pictures and photoshopping himself in place of her ex-husband. Bad idea, Michael! The audience felt ashamed and embarrassed for him because this awkward choice created a very uncomfortable moment. I wonder if this is how those women at the pool felt.

Jen & Wolfie camping.jpg

This photograph to me is more the “day in the life of a nursing mom”. My kids play in the background, we are having breakfast after camping and I’m eating an apple.

Whatever their reasons or their thoughts about us, I can say that it doesn’t matter to me. Breastfeeding my children is an integral part of how I’ve parented for 14 years, and as their mother I can choose where and when, just as anybody else can choose to nurse (or not) in public, private, covered, or in a bathing suit at the pool. There should be nothing embarrassing about it, and those watching should be happy to see a mother and child bonding, much like I smile when I see a parent kiss a crying preschooler to “make it all better”, or feed a snack to a hungry toddler who runs over from the slide asking for something to eat. We are all doing a great job, and for those of us who are choosing to breastfeed past a year or two (my older children were all closer to or over 4 years when they stopped), we need to do it with confidence and surround ourselves with friends who either trust our judgement even if they walked down a different path, or, join us in our journey. To quote a line from the The Office, “I can’t control what you do, I can only control what I do”.

What I do is what works for my children and for me. What I do is making the choice of breastfeeding at 4 hours old and at 4 years old, in the comfort of my own house or sitting on a bench at the playground, and giving another parent a “thumbs up” when I see them doing the same.


Jenn Moore lives on the West Shore with her husband, 5 kids and temperamental cat. She enjoys books, wine, live music, lifting weights, and going to the toilet alone.