Monthly Archives: August 2016

The Mommy Apocalypse: Daycare, Oxytocin, and Why We’re Becoming A Society of Non-Nurturers

“As childcare costs overwhelm young families, more women are staying home, and families are losing financial ground,” according to the blurb for a 2014 segment of NPR’s To The Point, guest hosted by Barbara Bogaev.  Then came the embedded solutions family policy experts like to apply:  “Should employers step up with paid leave, flexible work hours, on-site preschool?”

As a mom who hand-raised four kids, the premise for the program, titled, “The Rising Cost of Childcare,” stuck in my craw for months.

So I came up with few question of my own: If we now know that maternal nurturing behavior is passed down to the next generation, why are Americans still so in love with letting other people raise their kids? Some babies aren’t even dry behind the ears before they’re handed off to a stranger.

And could our propensity for surrogate parenting be responsible for our evolution as a nation of non-nurturers? Which is definitely where we’re heading.

Think about our schools’  “zero tolerance” policies – one strike and you’re out. The way our country’s mentally ill are now sentenced to prison instead of hospitals. And how the right to bear arms has become the rallying cry of many conservative Christians, of far more importance than either healthcare and education. (Blessed are the gun-owners?) And the heartless way in which police shoot first, ask questions later.

To support their views – and to my great consternation – Bogaev’s panelists also linked rising childcare costs to a “stalled” women’s movement and decreasing family budgets.

A stalled women’s movement – as though intelligent women who opt to put their children first are a bunch of empty-headed Lucy Ricardos who can’t figure out how to open a pickle jar.

The message was much like any other marketing spiel that “pushes” commodities in consumer’s faces, like toothpaste and laundry soap. In this case, the commodity is daycare. The rationale for buying it is that it’s a necessity.

Too bad they didn’t present any data on what happens when the maternal-infant bond is broken early on, day in and day out.

Regardless of the family’s financial status, a baby’s need for intense nurturing is real. For those willing to look at the child’s side of the equation, there’s plenty of research on why Mom will always be baby’s best bet.

Meanwhile, as we wait for pediatricians to catch up with the latest neuroscience, the bad advice continues unabated. A mom in my infant massage class was recently advised by a friend to let her 5-month-old baby cry-it-out. The friend admonished the mom for picking the baby up right away, saying she would never learn to sleep on her own. (I suspect the friend was jealous!)

I started thinking, who are these anti-nurturers, and why do they persist in telling mothers to neglect their young?  Are we entering the Mommy Apocalypse, marked by a breed of genetically modified women whose “touch receptors” have been inactivated?

No, I’m not writing a sci-fi novel. But the idea isn’t far-fetched.

We could be seeing a population of mothers whose maternal behavior has been altered by a history of insecure maternal attachment, which then becomes a generational pattern. In such moms, oxytocin production may be blocked due to stress-induced epigenetic changes in the DNA – which has been seen in rat studies. And since oxytocin is necessary for dopamine production, these moms won’t light up with joy upon seeing their babies’ faces. In other words, the brain’s reward system is… qu’est ce que c’est? Broken.

Even more sadly, this type of mother may not be able to understand why other moms would even want to cuddle their babies.  Even watching the lovey-dovey stuff makes them nervous.

Low oxytocin has been correlated with low trust as well as decreased empathy.

I spoke with a mom a few years ago who honestly believed there’s no absolutely no difference between at-home maternal care and daycare. “Anyone can change a diaper. The baby doesn’t care who’s doing it,” she said.

The unfeeling woman could be a poster child for pediatrician Lane Strathearn’s article, Maternal Neglect: Oxytocin, Dopamine and the Neurobiology of Attachment, published in the Journal of Neuroendicrinology (Oct. 17, 2011)

Strathearn writes, [W]omen who report childhood emotional neglect show significantly reduced levels of CSC oxytocin, as is also seen for other types of maltreatment (though not for physical neglect).

The article cites rat studies that demonstrate how non-nurturing behavior, as well as nurturing behavior, create generational cycles.

However, Strathearn says in closing, “Further research is needed to explore whether modern obstetric and childrearing practices—such as scheduled cesarean sections, early non-maternal childcare, and lack of physical touch—may be contributing to this cycle of neglect. Additional studies are needed to explore the role of oxytocin in promoting secure mother-infant attachment.” (Lifted from

Could it be, as Bogaev’s pro-daycare brigade points out, that families in which the mother quits working are “losing financial ground?”

I suggest we look at loss of income in another way. For example, as an opportunity for a mother to play a significant role in shaping her child’s development.

Parents who are educated, talented and clever should be able to figure out how to “make do” with less for the first three years of a child’s life.  It’s an opportunity to get creative. Slow down to the speed of sound. Become students of mindfulness. (OK, and maybe move to a third-world country.) Moms have more time to plan and prepare nutritious meals. They can provide the kind of unhurried time young children require. I can’t imagine sitting a two-year-old on the potty and telling him, “Hurry up and poop! Mommy has to go to work.”

While there will always be a need for daycare, it should not be a source of embarrassment when a family can no longer afford it.

The best fate that ever befell me was not finding a teaching job right out of college. To support my student-husband, I took a job in a federally-funded childcare center. I knew before the year was out that I would never send my kids to daycare.

“Opt-out” is the term for women with an advanced degree, breadwinner husband, and income of $75,000 or more. I’ve never been in that tax bracket. (

Our four children were born over a span of 12 years. With the first two, I was a full-time SAHM. While we were not poor, the month always lasted longer than the money. Later, I took a part-time job working from home. What got us though those intensive parenting years was my husband’s commitment to having a stay-at-home mother for our children. He worked full and part-time jobs and never complained. Our budget had so many holes, it looked like Swiss cheese. But leaving my babies was never an option. I felt an incredible urgency about my role. A sense that it wasn’t going to last and I needed to focus on the children. I trusted the feeling and allowed it to consume me. To me, staying home to nurture my children was like putting gold in the bank.

Again, I do not disagree that some families cannot make do with less – or they would be destitute.

But discrimination against SAHMs definitely exists. The mothering profession is often viewed in the media (and by friends and relatives) as an inferior career choice. (Although that’s not saying much for people who care for kids.) I think some successful working women see their little ones as accessories, like a scarf or necklace. They decorate themselves with a hug every morning before the nanny takes over.

So here’s’s  # 1 Tip: No matter what you do for a living, no matter how prestigious your job or impressive your earnings, your child’s first three years are more important. If you find yourself torn between baby and career, choose baby. 

While some mothers may be dropping out of the workplace due to the high cost of childcare, the linked Pew Foundation survey does not specifically state that as fact. It does say that the majority of non-working women aren’t working because they don’t want to be. “For women, the share (of those not in the labor force) saying they didn’t want a job hovered around 38% throughout the 2000s but began creeping up in 2010, reaching 40.2% last month.” (

It also points to “marginally attached workers” – people not counted as unemployed because they searched for work in the past year. Concerning this group, the report says, “The rest of the marginally attached cite a range of reasons for not having looked for work recently, including family responsibilities, being in school, ill health, and problems with child care or transportation.”

Could it be that some women don’t want a job because they’ve found their children actually fare better with mommy at home? Despite the fact that most mothers in the U.S. work at least part time, 60% of Americans say children are better off when a parent stays home to focus on the family, while 35% say they are just as well off when both parents work outside the home.” (

The data is broken down to show, “Hispanics, white evangelical Protestants and those who never attended college” as more likely to say children are better off with a parent at home, and college educated women to say their kids are all right if parents work outside the home.

If this is true, maybe we should be asking why college educated women think daycare is just dandy. Is it because they they’ve invested so much in their schooling that they can’t jump ship for a few years? Or maybe they identify more strongly with their careers. Perhaps it just seems more progressive. Or could it be because their brains process affective cues differently – and they have trouble reading emotions – a trait related to decreased levels of oxytocin. (

Maternal oxytocin levels – the system responsible for maternal-infant bonding across all mammalian species – dramatically increase during pregnancy and the postpartum [period] and the more mother is involved in childcare, the greater the increase of oxytocin. (“What Happens to a Woman’s Brain When She Becomes a Mother,” by Adrienne LaFrance, The Atlantic, Jan. 2015)

But with low oxytocin levels, a mother may not bond well with baby. There’s insufficient interaction. Mom can’t read baby’s social cues. And as a result, the baby doesn’t make as much oxytocin, without which he cannot regulate his stress, or become an emotionally healthy human being.

Oxytocin is magical. Called the “cuddle hormone,” it makes mothers want to be close to their babies, providing love, nurturing, eye contact, smiles, and all important touch. The biological underpinnings of attachment are undeniable.

“Without the assistance and monitoring of a caregiver, babies become overwhelmed by their emotional states, including those of fear, excitement, and sadness. In order to maintain emotional equilibrium, babies require a consistent and committed relationship with one caring person. As you can expect, the research indicates that the person best suited for this relationship is the mother.” (“The Science of Attachment: The Biological Roots of Love,” by Lauren Lindsey Porter, Mothering Magazine, 2003)

In his book Touching, The Human Significance of the Skin, anthropologist Ashley Montagu writes about the mother-baby relationship as “naturally designed to become even more intensive and inter-operative after birth” than while the baby was gestating or growing in the womb. (Montagu, 1988)

The environment expected by the newborn, Montagu often quipped, is a “womb with a view.”

So you see, all those mommies with babies strapped to their chests aren’t just trying to make a statement. They’re really onto something.

While society now pays lip-service to the idea of bonding and attachment, we’re kind of fuzzy on what it is and how it happens. “From an emotional perspective, attachment is the creation of a mutual bond in which the mother shapes infant development through her interactions and relationship with her child.” (“The Science of Attachment) The mother and baby become a unit, called the “mother-baby dyad.”

The reason a healthy maternal-infant bond is not optional, repeat – not optional –is because it forms the basis for all future interactions and relationships.

The percentage of stay-at-home mothers is on the rise: from an all-time low of 23% in 1999, the share of moms not working outside the home rose to 29% in 2012. (

And that’s good news, no matter what daycare advocates say. As a culture, we need to bend the conversation in favor of raising kids at home. Daycare need not be an absolute, even for low-income families.

Somehow we have equated living above the poverty line with the preferred place to raise children. The two are not mutually exclusive,” writes single mother Bobbi Parish in her Jan. 4, 2014 article, “I Lived in Poverty to Save My Son From Daycare,” (

“Children need more than money and the things that money can buy,” writes Parish. “They do have a right to having their basic needs met: housing, clothing, food, education and medical care. But they also require love, guidance and protection. When mothers and fathers cannot provide those, no amount of money can fill the aching loss a child feels.”

As a society, we know something has to change if we are to raise emotionally healthy children who become emotionally healthy adults. The science supporting the significance of the maternal-child relationship is overwhelming. Like global warming, we ignore it at our peril. FFG

Ten Things Your Baby Wants You to Tell the Sitter

Only when I took a job in a federally funded childcare center did I realize kids went to daycare for multiple reasons. Not only so parents could eek out an existence, but to further their education, for example.

Still, I was loathe to think anyone would leave an adorable, tear-stained child of six months in the care of a substitute with absolutely nothing invested in the child – except a paltry paycheck at the end of two weeks. The idea of a woman leaving a child to fulfill herself in a career that raked in six-figures was beyond my comprehension.

It was decades before I got real.

Not that I approve of reality. It’s just that I’m not that ostrich-woman any more. I’ve pulled my head out of the sand.

Still, I weep whenever I read about the latest case of a baby dying in the care of a babysitter or childcare provider. Recently there was another tragic case. The baby was reportedly making “baby sounds” in her crib when her father, who was supposed to be watching her while the mother worked, repeatedly smashed her head in with his fist.

How did this happen? Everyone wants to know. A young and immature parent, someone who doesn’t understand why he’s angry, why he’s even there at all, and resents taking care of his baby while the mom is at work. Punch! Punch! Punch! The baby’s dead. And the dad is going to prison.

Lots of ruined lives here, people. There’s no turning back the clock.

If you’re leaving an infant in the care of a grandparent, a father, boyfriend, neighbor, older sibling – someone other than you, the biological mother – please educate yourself and your caregiver, on your infant’s developmental needs.

Get a book from the library. Order one off Amazon.

Because in raising a baby, you need to be curious. You need to ask: What should I know that I don’t know right now?

And then make yourself find out.

Ask yourself, “What would my baby want me to tell the babysitter?”

Be sure to include your own preferences, because dammit, it’s your baby.

(I am not addressing daycare facilities here. But if you do have to leave the baby in a daycare center, make sure the center is fully licensed, and comes highly recommended.)

  • First and foremost – in your opinion, and the opinion of others, is the person keeping your child mentally stable? Are they smart? Get references. Talk to neighbors and friends. It’s not worth the risk of leaving your baby with someone who has a history of aggressive or erratic behavior, unstable emotions, drug or alcohol addiction. Or who has the intelligence of a turnip. So don’t compromise.


  • Comfort is important! Babies need to be comfortable in order to be happy. They can’t communicate what’s wrong. So – how does a sitter know if your baby’s onesie is scratchy at the neck, or if the elastic is too tight? She needs to be curious, asking, “What could be the problem here?” And find out!


Tell the caregiver to feel your baby’s hands and feet often throughout the day. Are they cold? Time to put on another layer, or add socks.  Is the baby fussy because he’s sweltering under three layers of clothing? Is there something irritating his skin?  Remember, a baby cannot speak for himself. It’s up to the adult to pay attention to his comfort-level. Remind your caregiver that your baby is 100% dependent – on her!


  • Make sure the caregiver knows it’s alright to change your baby’s diaper frequently. Not just because she’s soaked through to the skin. Or because the box advertises that one diaper lasts seven hours! But because babies needs hands-on nurturing.


  • Babies brains need stimulation. (Watch this video on The Neurology of Secure Attachment, featuring UCLA psychologist Allan Schore. You’ll learn what happens when babies are given the interaction they need – and what happens when they don’t get it.) This means your caregiver must be the kind of person who talks to babies! Sings to babies. Picks them up and holds them. And – this one is very important – the sitter should have no problem making eye-contact. This is what babies need. The caregiver must be attentive to your baby’s cues and respond accordingly. When the baby looks at them and coos, they should look back and interact. Will your caregiver pick her up and take her for a walk around the house? Is the environment stimulating? Are there paintings and photos on the wall? Pretty plants to look at (but not touch!)? Show the caregiver how to point things out to the baby. How about looking at clouds? Gently take the baby’s hand and point it in that direction. Tell them to talk about what they see. “Look at the doggy!” Or the rain, or the mailman. Etc.

This is called verbal stimulation. The benefits last a lifetime.


  • Babies need to be picked up when they start to cry. Not five or ten or twenty minutes later. This is because babies do not yet have their own internal stress-response system. The parent or caregiver acts as an external stress-response system. The ability to cope with stress takes time to develop. So becoming upset with a crying baby only makes it worse.

Letting them cry doesn’t strengthen the lungs. Or teach them patience. Letting them cry elevates cortisol levels, which, if chronic, can damage developing brain architecture. Crying-it-out teaches babies that no one will meet their expressed needs. Can you guess what the result is?


  • Babies who are bottle-fed need to be held during feedings. No propping a bottle! And they need eye-contact, gentle stroking, and a soothing voice. This closeness makes them feel calm and secure. It helps both the baby and caregiver produce relaxation hormones, and promotes bonding. Which in turn helps the baby thrive, by assimilating the nutrients in her formula and feeling emotionally secure.


  • Your baby definitely would want you to tell the caregiver that babies cry for reasons other than hunger and physical discomfort. Babies may cry because they’ve been overstimulated. Maybe the TV is too loud. Or they’ve just come home from a shopping trip. Or maybe they’ve been passed around to too many people. If hunger or a dirty diaper isn’t the issue, allow the baby to cry while HOLDING. Tell the baby it’s alright to cry. I like the phrasing, “It’s OK! Tell me your story.” The caregiver’s empathetic tone tells the baby it is safe to express his emotions. This is how children and adults develop a functional voice – not one that is deflected and denied with offers of food or even threats (stop that crying!) – but acceptance.


  • To prevent abusive head trauma (formerly called shaken baby syndrome) have everyone who spends time alone with your baby watch UC Health’s amazing video, The Crying Baby Plan. This video is shown to every mother who has a baby at Memorial Health System in Colorado Springs, CO. Tell them you insist.


  • A baby needs to be removed from the car seat upon arriving at home, at the store, post office, or other destination. Bring their head to a “kissable” height – whether in arms or in a wearable baby-carrier. Don’t leave them in the same reclining position stop after stop. Why? It’s about the baby’s ability to breathe. Car seats are for safety in the car. Not for walking all over creation. Not even for the convenience of the caregiver. And never leave a sleeping baby in a car seat. Not even in the driveway. Not even for a minute. Take the baby out of the car seat and bring her into the house. Always.


Here’s why: Babies’ necks are still weak. They can fall forward when unsupported. As a result, this could block the airway, obstructing breathing. (I know, I know. Once the baby goes to sleep, the caregiver doesn’t want her to wake up. But it can be dangerous.)


  • Does your caregiver follow your feeding instructions to the letter? Some caregivers like to surprise parents: “Today I gave Lilly her first French fry! She was reaching for mine, like she really wanted it.” Being a childcare provider is a job. It comes with rules and guidelines. Give your sitter a list of what your baby can and cannot have. They should note how much formula or frozen breastmilk the baby consumes, any food eaten, along with changes in the baby’s routine or appetite.


  • And here’s a bonus – # 11. Does your childcare provider spend a lot of time Facebooking or talking on the phone? Distracted with video games? If so, your baby would probably want you to tell them to stop it. If the sitter is the baby’s grandmother, auntie, or other family member, and not charging you much – or nothing all, you need to have a talk.


Make time to sit down with your sitter and together, watch the linked video featuring psychologist Allan Schore. Talk to your sitter about how babies’ brains develop. If your caregiver is usually distracted, that means your baby isn’t getting enough attention. Don’t compromise your baby’s brain growth to make someone else feel comfortable. Speak up.


In closing, I think it’s easy for young parents to feel intimidated by caregivers. Maybe embarrassed. It’s easy to let the sitter call the shots without questioning their knowledge and ways of doing things. But it’s OK to do that.

Parents can ask, “Is that plant poisonous? I’m afraid Annie can reach it.”

Or, “Can you please turn down the volume on your music? I don’t think you’ll be able to hear the Annie when she wakes up.”

Speak your preferences: “Will you please wash and sanitize the plastic toys before tomorrow? I think little Bonzo over there has a runny nose.”

Standing up for yourself is part of becoming your child’s best advocate. It’s part of following your parent’s intuition.

Because every parent is ultimately responsible for his or her own child. Take that responsibility a step further, and inoculate your child’s care provider with information. Talk about your wishes, your requirements.

Even dog-kennels have web-cams that allow owners to check in on their pets. Find out how you can do the same thing.

Remember, it’s your baby. You’re in charge. FFG


Hot Car Deaths a Tragic Result of Too-Busy Lives

“Parents should get into the habit of always opening their back doors when they leave the vehicle,” says founder Janette Fennel in a recent AP story by Jamie Stengle.

Why is this so important? Because so far in 2016, 23 children have died after being left in hot cars. Twenty-three. The same number of hot-car deaths for all of 2015.

But why don’t parents just remember their kids?

Maybe because the parent dropping the baby off at daycare doesn’t usually have that job. Maybe because a grandparent running late to work was in the driver’s seat and forgot to check the back. Or the mom ran in to the grocery store “just for a few things” and was gone longer than she expected.

I feel very strongly about the hot-car issue. Years ago, one of our kids hopped in the “way-back” of our car and hid, totally unbeknownst to his father, who was about to make a trip to town. About 20 minutes later, my husband made a quick stop at the drug store. He opened the back door to put his purchases inside, and found a grinning little boy of four. “Surprise!”

My husband didn’t think it was at all funny. That was before cell-phones, and I assumed he had taken our son with him at the last minute. And he thought I had him.

So don’t forget to check for stowaways.

Even pets.

Some dogs can be pretty sneaky. Like my grandchildren’s black chihuahua, Noche.  I nearly left him in a hot car one hot summer afternoon.  The naughty pooch had hopped in without being noticed. But luckily, thanks to cell-phones, my son was able to let me know the dog was missing. I found him – hunkered down, hiding in the dark “way back,” behind tinted windows that had made it impossible to spot him from the outside. And we were just about to disappear inside a museum for two hours.

Noche would have fried.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a locked car sitting in the summer sun quickly turns into an oven. Temperatures can climb from 78 degrees to 100 degrees in just three minutes. To 125 degrees in 6-8 minutes.

Here are some tips to safeguard your most precious cargo, courtesy of

Top Tips

Reduce the number of deaths from heatstroke by remembering to ACT.

A: Avoid heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving your child alone in a car, not even for a minute. And make sure to keep your car locked when you’re not in it so kids don’t get in on their own.

C: Create reminders by putting something in the back of your car next to your child such as a briefcase, a purse or a cell phone that is needed at your final destination. This is especially important if you’re not following your normal routine.

T: Take action. If you see a child alone in a car, call 911. Emergency personnel want you to call. They are trained to respond to these situations. One call could save a life.

This is important if your child is in daycare: make sure they will call you if your child does not show up. Many times a child has been left in a hot car because a parent who doesn’t usually do the drop-off went straight to work instead of taking the baby to daycare.

And here’s one of mine: Never leave a sleeping child in the car  – even in your own driveway.

In 2010, Washington Post journalist Gene Weingarten the  won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for his story “Fatal Distraction,” about parents who tragically left their small children to die in hot cars.

The story’s riveting. And possibly the most uncomfortable piece of journalism you will ever come across.

Read it anyway.

The truth is, Weingarten had a heart for those grief-stricken parents. They trusted him with their gut-wrenching remorse and raw emotions. Maybe that’s because he once left his own daughter asleep in the car.

I know how hard it is to be mindful. I forget things all the time and have to run back inside for a notebook. My keys. Stuff for work.

But when my kids were babies, I was wildly mindful. Uber-mindful. First off, my babies and I were joined at the hip, as the expression goes. I was chemically bonded with them through mothering hormones – the product of pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding – and constant holding.

Breastfeeding just magnifies a baby’s need for his mother. It also yields an emotional connection that is nearly unbreakable; I could no more leave my babies than walk naked through the streets.

We were a couple. Not just a mom. Not just a baby. But a dyad. And we were inseparable. And we took life slow. No rush. Because in my book, babies are to be enjoyed.

I was attending a writers’ conference in Grapevine, Texas, a few years ago, when Gene Weingarten shared his personal story with the audience.  On a day he had his little girl with him, he ran into the newspaper office – just for a minute – and left her sleeping in the car. He forgot all her about her. Lost track of time, he said.

But then, by the grace of God, he suddenly remembered.

You might say it was a close call. But not everybody gets one. Better to do something radically different.

I know, of course, that not every mama can stay home and breastfeed, cooing the morning away over over cups of herbal tea. But maybe it is possible to spend a few more minutes just gazing into a child’s eyes and realizing they are a gift from God, and truly irreplaceable.  FFG