Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Consequence of Ignorance of Infant Attachment Needs

Flat heads! I know it sounds ridiculous, but actually I don't think it is. I have seen a lot of flat heads recently and I think I do have the proper explanation for it. It isn't just about babies now only lying on their backs because of the fear of cot death. It is also about babies being left for hours just lying there, not being picked up and cuddled - those kinds of babies who are left to cry it out and then just give up before the age of one. So I strongly suspect that Dr Platt, despite being a consultant paediatrician at Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary, is actually just plain ignorant when he says:

"It is extremely common for babies to have flat patches on their heads and it always has been. It is part of the normal condition because babies are born with very large brains. This is another example of the tendency to create medical problems out of normality. It is not a problem."

It has nothing to do with babies having very large brains, because some babies with ostensibly perfectly large brains don't have this problem, and they are the babies who are picked up and carried a lot and allowed to sleep in a loved person's arms, rather than just flat on their backs like beached whales. These kids have proper craniums.

Cave children didn't just lie there waiting for wolves to eat them up. They got carried about if they were to survive. This is the norm, Dr Platt, as is a perfectly rounded cranium...and properly aligned teeth from the action of extended breastfeeding which lowers the roof of the mouth and brings the lower mandible forward. (just in case you didn't know that one either.)

(Hey, guess what, am feeling snarky today!)


Rachel Reed said...

I must say, I don't know any mothers who have said their children have this. I always put my son on his back to sleep (a family friend had a baby die of cot death so I was over cautious). But as soon as he was able to, he turned and slept on his front. I fretted at first, but then realised that if he could turn himself it was ok.

I must say Carlotta, what you say about picking babies up etc and carrying them more struck hard with me. Basically because (and this may seem stupid) but I didn't realise I could do that at first. I would change his nappy, feed him (bottle - but thats another story for another day) etc, and I didn't realise I could just hold him and have him close until he was about 3 months old. Weird, but it's proof that mothers don't always bond with their babies and that we don't suddenly know what to do from the moment we give birth!

Carlotta said...

I agree with this completely and very much understand any regrets you may have. And I have to tell yo, you did much better than I did Rachel. I tried to do it the Victorian way for the whole first 15 months of my poor Ds's life. You know, terrible things that you can still read in books letting them cry it out and four hourly feeds. ( still shuddering.)

He never did settle with all this crying routine, despite books saying that all children would.

I would love to sue their butts off now, every single one of the cry it out brigade, because I attribute a lot of his low tolerance of stressful situations to my behaviour which I had been led to believe was the right thing to do.

I brought my second child up completely differently. I carried her practically all the time, she slept with us, and walked at 7 months which I attribute to all that physical interaction and activity which she got from the opportunity afforded by being near to a responsive body who could support her explorations all the time.

She is the most confident child one could hope for.

How is it that from the same set of genes, my two children could be so vastly different if it weren't for the fact of a very different infancy? I personally cannot find a good answer to this other than the one I have formulated as above.

dottyspots said...

One of mine has a bit of a flat head at the back (you can hardly tell because of all his hair) - but I can guarantee you he didn't spend hours just lying there ;)

I put it down to a really fast delivery (he near ricocheted off the facing wall - lol) and that did something funny to his head (the fast delivery not supposedly hitting the wall :D )

Anonymous said...

Having a new baby, I am around clinics a lot, and I have noticed several babies with flat patches at the back of their heads. In fact - here in central Scotland there is a group of mums campaigning to get some kind of special helmets on the NHS to sort out the problem! I agree Carlotta, that babies are not carried enough. Many mothers now put their babies in these car seats/travel systems, which clip on to wheels, so the baby doesn't even need to be lifted out - no wonder their little heads are flat. Having said that my nephew's head was a bit flat because he had a rapid birth.


Adele said...

"How is it that from the same set of genes, my two children could be so vastly different if it weren't for the fact of a very different infancy? I personally cannot find a good answer to this other than the one I have formulated as above."

Because they are different people, perhaps?

Sorry, but what you say there makes raising children sound like a cake recipe! [winces]

I do tend to agree that many children in this society are not getting enough physical contact and closeness (though how much we need varies from person to person, remember; some people are more tactile than others!) But the above quote sounds a little simplistic.

The idea that if you do a, b, and c, your children will end up confident, happy, human beings; whereas if you do x, y, and z, they won't, is actually a very dehumanising way of looking at children.

Yes, how we are raised matters, but so does *everything* that we experience in our lives (not just our early home lives and experiences of parent-child interaction).

As to genes, your kids aren't identical twins, are they? Their genes could be very different, even with the same parents; it depends on the combinations that each child has inherited.

People are delightfully, astoundingly, beautifully, complicated, and always unique! :)

Thus, it doesn't feel quite right to me to reduce us to a formula.

Julie said...

Not sure about this- Ds spent the first week of his life attached to a ventilator, sedated and paralysed by drugs, as his body recovered from the surgery at one hour of age ;o(
He then spent the next month on the baby surgery ward and I was there from dawn till dusk holding him. We couldn't walk far as he was attached to many bits of machinery. He slept all night in the cot though, as he wasn't being fed orally (couldn't after the surgery to gut) Once we got home, he was quite a 'good' baby (by the defintions then, not what i think now) and slept well in his cot for lomg periods of time.
He has the same shape big head as me-no flat bits.
DD1 and 2 were carried by me everywhere. Dd1 also walked at 8 months. Dd2 at 10 months. Fell asleep on me or dh, everything was the way you and I would now prefer it -mostly because Dd1 wasn't going to have it any other way from day 1, so i had to a swift rethink on previous parenting styles-and not for the last time!!
Both daugters have the same flat head as their father!! ;o)
Whilst I agree that some preterm babies have flatter heads, they usually have recovered by the age of about 2 and they tend to be flat on the sides rather than the backs of their heads.
And yes, with past job experience, have a hell of a lot of experience of care of babies behind me.
So I too reckon overall, shape of heads is down to genes they inherited from different parents tbh.

Carlotta said...

Hi Adele,

Of course I cannot possibly say for certain as to the contributory factors that lead to their vast emotional difference - genes and environment in the womb, and the types of thinking to which they subscribe could also be contributory factors...I am almost certain that the middle of these also played a role in Ds's situation as I was desperately anxious during my pregnancy with him, doing things like loosing quite a lot of weight instead of putting it on and worrying about life in the 21st century and all that, whereas I just rolled about happily with an enormous bump and with my second child.

(I don't think it has much to do with their thinking as both subscribe to the notion of humanist rational critical approach to life, seizing the day, seeking to solve problems in the belief that they may be solved etc, which are nominally optimistic doctrines).

But I don't think the cake analogy stands as a criticism because caring for a child intuitively and closely is not the same as following a set of simple instructions....although I do agree that setting them out there as I did, actually could have made it seem that way.

As to the long term consequences of the first year of a child's life...well it is an interesting one. A lot of research has gone into this one in the name of Attachment Theory and studies have shown that problems with attachment in the first year of life leave their mark forever in the form of causing that child/adult to have chronically high levels of stress hormones and to respond to stress very rapidly and have difficulty keeping calm.

Cognitive ways of dealing with this problem obviously exist...but something which would involve quite significant cerebral effort for my son will not even register on Dd's radar as being a problem... Am hoping he gets good at working these problems out quickly. The advantage that I see for him is that it makes him very, very aware of what is going on, and very sensitive to nuance which could be a great advantage in some areas of life.

Hm...but I will keep an open mind on it, believe me Adele as a genetic explanation carries significantly less guilt for me, and I am an anxious type when Dh is not!

Carlotta said...

Hi Dotty,

Lol re birth image!! and yep am quite sure that birth can leave a longish term impact on head shape...

Ikwym re the flat head from birth thing, though think this is usually slightly different from the kind of flat head I am thinking of. A child near us has a head like a thickish pancake; it really is quite remarkable - not the sort of thing I associate with a birth shape incident but rather as if the occipital and parietal bones and underlying lobes have been completely squished flat against the front half of her head.

She is the worst case I have ever seen and the thing about her is that I have almost never seen her leave her bouncy chair or car seat or nappy mat. The only time she is picked up is to be transfered from one of these to the other.
It does seem so sad...and just a matter of ignorance on the part of mothers today.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you it's not normal. It affects the alignment of the ears as well.

My kid used to have a perfect skull. I am still not convinced his cancer is real at times. :(

Adele said...

Hi Carlotta,

"A lot of research has gone into this one in the name of Attachment Theory and studies have shown that problems with attachment in the first year of life leave their mark forever in the form of causing that child/adult to have chronically high levels of stress hormones and to respond to stress very rapidly and have difficulty keeping calm."

I've read a lot about attachment theory as I have always been interested in adoption.

I actually think it makes a lot of sense.

Both my parents suffered separation from their own parents as babies and both experienced life-long depression and a lot of emotional problems. Because of how they were, I was left to cry a lot as a baby as they couldn't deal with the stress of a young child. At one point they sought help from a doctor who (would you believe??) advised them to go and sit at the top of the garden where they wouldn't be able to hear me! They took this advice. And we had a 200 foot garden!!

Anyway I have suffered with depression and self-esteem issues all my life and a big part of me sees this as "they left me to cry and thirty years later I still haven't stopped." :(


Another part thinks that's just me being dramatic about it! :P

I tend to think that bonding problems in early life can, and often do, have an effect that lasts forever. But that it's important to remember that this is *not* inevitable. And that how parents interact with their infants is not the sole determining factor of the child's personality or the outcome of their future. :)

Allie said...

My ds has a very weird head shape, which I put down to rotational forceps delivery. We tried carnial osteopathy when he was a baby but it is still a bit wonky.

I think different babies need different things - though, of course, they all need lots of love.

Raquel said...

dd2 had cranial osteopathy.. I think it really helped..

but if you never want to pick up your baby you can always buy this
...bit like selling thin air...coming to a store near you soon!

Carlotta said...

Coo...that contraption must be back breaking - certainly not a flying anything!

That's one of the things I found out about attachment style parenting. It is actually a lot easier than doing it the other way. eg: who would really choose to jump out the bed nine times a night to resettle baby, make a bottle whatever, when you can just roll over half asleep, nurse for five mins and are all out for the count again....things like that.

The policy of don't sleep with babe seems to me like pandering to the LCD. Just because some people drink, take drugs and actually don't breast feed (explained below) probably does mean they are more likely to suffocate babe but this doesn't mean that other parents who don't shouldn't be encouraged to do it.

(Breast feeding hormones apparently change the pitch to which the mother's ear becomes sensitive. She becomes hyper tuned in to the sounds that an infant makes, so Dh can still sleep for England and not hear a thing whereas mum will be awake at the slightest peep.)

dottyspots said...

"and just a matter of ignorance on the part of mothers today."

Bit of a blanket statement there ;) Throughout recent history (atleast) hasn't there been a trend for a certain level of 'neglect' of children - that children should be 'seen and not heard' and a tradition (in this country) of rather regimented child-rearing? Of course, this is perhaps a 'class thing' - oh cripes, veering away from letting myself slide into a comment of essay proportions...

On an aside, I just don't get the choosing to not breastfeed thing - early days aside. I bottlefed one of mine and it was such a hassle! Surely bf is so much easier in the long run?

Carlotta said...

hi dottyspots...

I do really wonder, though, whether many people today are actually less intuitively informed about raising children than previous generations were...

reasons like we don't have big enough families for many of the older children to know what is involved in caring for younger ones.

Bottle feeding divorces people from that intense attachment which societies prior to bottle feeding would have regarded as completely normal.

Children are so much less likely to get eaten by lions today that we can keep them less close to us and still expect them to survive.

We segregate children into peer groups so that again they don't know how to care for younger children....

So do agree that this is pure speculation, but I compare the spontaneous child caring skills of my grandmother and her friends and they seemed so vastly different to my mothers or mine, and it looked to be for the reasons above (apart from the lion that is...though for similar other factors such as problems with illneses causing closer attention to child care)....

And yes, completely agree about breastfeeding being much easier than bottle in almost all regards.

Anonymous said...

Is that flying falcon thing parody?

Raquel said...

I don't think it's a's all over the USA sites...
It's a bit like the little ground level trolley that was on put your car seat onto a basket on wheels with a long pole and pulled your baby along.
Some of those babies never leave the car seat! Next they will be bathing the poor things in the car seat!