From the release of books such as Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and Bringing Up Bébé, to Target store breastfeeding beefs, it appears that the so-called mommy-wars are on. But, in the United Kingdom, the government is actually offering up parenting classes to support families who may feel underequipped for this lifelong task. Indeed, one study found that 85 per cent of new parents wanted more help.
In the communities of Middlesbrough, Camden and High Peak, parents of children under the age of five are being offered vouchers for parenting classes, while the National Health Service has also set up an online parenting information service.
The “Can Parent” project, launched last year, is currently in a trial phase. By July, relationship support services for new and expecting parents will be available on a trial basis in seven other communities: York, Leeds, North Essex, Hackney, the City of London, Islington and Westminster.
Critics seem concerned not only about the ethics of the state teaching parenting, but about the propriety of the project as an item of public expenditure in the current economic climate, according to information from The Telegraph.
“Parents want help. It is in our interest as a society to help people bring up their children . . . We're taught all sorts of things at school. I think it makes perfect sense to help people with parenting,” said Prime Minister David Cameron as reported in the BBC rejecting allegations of a “nanny state.”
It is hoped that the project will reduce social stigma associated with asking for information (parenting classes may be associated with court-ordered directives following misconduct or other issues). The programme aims to provide parents with what they need to know about such topics as infant care, breastfeeding, diaper-changing, and postpartum depression.
Debates on parenting reached new heights with TIME magazine’s cover photo of mom, Jamie Lynne Grumet, breastfeeding her three-year old son for a feature on “attachment parenting.” The heated story has drawn mixed reactions, as has its provocative cover.
The attachment parenting school encourages mothers to be highly responsive to their babies’ cries, breastfeed for an extended time period and to bond through virtually constant physical contact (such as “co-sleeping” and “baby-wearing” in lieu of strollers), the Halifax Chronicle Herald reports. The attachment parenting guru is Dr. Bill Sears, author of The Baby Book.
Critics say the approach is “antifeminist” and “unrealistic,” TIME reports.
Last year, when a mother was asked not to breastfeeding in the women’s clothing section of a US Target store, despite laws and policies allowing her to do so, fellow moms took to Twitter and even staged breastfeeding sit-ins at Target stores across the country.
So, what do the international health experts have to say where breastfeeding is concerned?
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding from birth until six months, introducing complementary foods thereafter up to the age of two or beyond.
Breast milk is “safe and contains antibodies that help protect infants from common childhood illnesses . . . Infant formula does not contain the antibodies found in breast milk,” says the organization. For mothers, breastfeeding “reduces risks of breast and ovarian cancer later in life, helps women return to their pre-pregnancy weight faster, and lowers rates of obesity.”
While breastfeeding brings added benefits for both mother and child, a 2010 article by the Globe & Mail reported that mothers may not be finding the information they need from health authorities nor enough support when they encounter problems breastfeeding.
The “baby-friendly hospital initiative” produced by the WHO and United Nations Children’s Fund suggests that hospitals maintain a clear breastfeeding policy, assist mothers to begin breastfeeding, and refrain from promoting free infant formula products (unless medically required), among other things.
A 2006 study by the US Centers for Disease Control showed that only 13.6 per cent of American babies were exclusively breastfed during the first six months of their lives. In Canada, according to a 2009 study by Statistics Canada, only 24 per cent of mothers exclusively breastfed for the same time period.