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Parenting: Current Trends and Hot Topics

Hilary Flower
St. Petersburg FL USA
Report on a session from the 2003 LLLI Conference
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 20 No. 5, September-October 2003, pp. 176

Peggy O'Mara, publisher of Mothering magazine, opened her talk by describing her formative experiences as a La Leche League Leader. In LLL she learned what she dubs the "trust model" of parenting, in which the mother is encouraged to trust her own instincts, her own body to nurture her baby, and her baby to let her know how best to mother. She learned from LLL that mothers have a great deal to offer society, and that providing such empathic care for a generation of children could change the world. Feeling herself at the edge of a movement, she founded her magazine. She took from La Leche League the mother-centered model of getting work done. Whereas she had met once a month with her Group when she was a Leader, she met with her staff once a week to produce her magazine, and children flowed in and around the work spaces.

"We have something so powerful to contribute as women and as mothers," she said. "We are seeing a new mother movement."

O'Mara talked about how on a societal level, even as institutional controls are tightening, there is a growing distrust of institutions. She sees a fundamental shift taking place from reliance on an "outer authority" to reliance on an "inner authority." Mothers are increasingly impelled to trust their own inner authority and their children's inner authority. This shift requires a lot of us, since clear-cut answers provided by institutions can seem so comforting. But in reality, we see again and again that "general" recommendations are not always in the best interest of individuals. To care for an individual child, a mother must seek out more detailed information and make an informed choice.

O'Mara's examples drove home her points. Recommendations to supplement all breastfed infants with vitamin D undermine the public trust in the sufficiency of exclusive breastfeeding while failing to target the message to the groups that most need it, those who receive little sunlight or have dark skin. Similarly, the actual research around HIV and breastfeeding makes it clear that the lowest incidence of mother-to-child transmission of HIV is when the mother is exclusively breastfeeding, and the highest incidence occurs in the context of mixed feeding. Thus sweeping prohibitions against breastfeeding when the mother is HIV positive may jeopardize the health of millions of children worldwide.

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