Listening to Your Baby
By Dr. Jay Gordon
Reviewed by Melissa Burris
Greensboro NC USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 20 No. 4, July-August 2003, p. 151
Many popular parenting books seem so concerned with appealing to the widest possible audience that they can feel watered down, as if to eliminate all traces of opinions strong enough to discourage potential buyers. Such is not the case with Listening to Your Baby, the newest book by the well-known pediatrician, Jay Gordon.
A passionate supporter of both breastfeeding and attachment parenting (and the first physician or male to become a certified lactation consultant), Dr. Gordon delivers a firm and consistent message. "I believe in something called attachment parenting," he explains in the very first chapter. "Attachment parents create a baby-centered home where the baby is breastfed and sleeps in the 'family bed.'" Dr. Gordon goes on to describe in detail the benefits of this parenting style, and he offers clear, practical advice to expectant and new parents on how to implement every element of his philosophy. He is very thorough and covers a multitude of issues ranging from prenatal nutrition and newborn care to matters of socialization and toddler discipline.
The pillars of Dr. Gordon's philosophy are his views that human milk is indisputably the superior form of nutrition for all babies and that breastfeeding offers immediate and long-term health benefits for mothers and babies. Although there is nothing radical about these views, Dr. Gordon stands confidently apart from many breastfeeding advocates by his assertion that breastfeeding "is not [a] personal choice, as some people would have you believe. It is a medical issue."
Conceding that his opinions are strong, Dr. Gordon admits that he is not particularly concerned about making mothers feel guilty for choosing not to breastfeed. Rather, he is more concerned with the guilt these same mothers will feel in hindsight when they realize that they denied their children the important benefits that only human milk offers. While parents who have made a firm choice against breastfeeding may not appreciate this candor, Dr. Gordon's fact-based approach is informative rather than demeaning and serves to clarify issues that often befuddle new and experienced parents alike.
Dr. Gordon describes attachment parenting as both theoretically and practically linked to breastfeeding. He advises that babies should always be fed on demand and never by the clock, no matter how frequently the need to nurse is expressed. Practices such as baby wearing and co-sleeping, he explains, provide mothers with the best opportunities to learn and respond to their babies' cues. Perhaps in response to the tired choruses of the "baby trainers" who predict domestic turmoil as the outcome of such unstructured parenting, Dr. Gordon points out the many advantages and conveniences afforded to the attachment parenting family. Among these advantages, he names the lack of rigid scheduling, the absence of unnecessary equipment and gadgets used to contain and/or entertain infants, and the easy portability of the co-sleeping baby who, he asserts, should never be left to sleep in isolation during at least the first year of life.
Particularly notable is the chapter on vaccinations and illnesses, in which Dr. Gordon reviews the benefits and risks associated with childhood immunization. Neither blindly pro-vaccination nor radically against all forms of immunization, Dr. Gordon believes that some vaccinations can be highly effective in preventing the incidence and spread of many dangerous diseases. But he also feels that, due to the known occurrence of serious side effects and the potential for overwhelming a baby's immature immune system, routine shots should not be given to infants younger than six months. For babies over that age, he prefers a modified schedule whereby only the most proven and, in his opinion, truly essential vaccinations are spread out over a much longer period of time than the standard pediatric schedule currently recommends. Dr. Gordon admits to being in disagreement with most of his colleagues regarding vaccination and he urges parents to become thoroughly informed and initiate extensive discussions with their children's health care providers. He cautions parents against becoming overly reliant on any one particular point of view, and believes they should be pro-active in forming their own educated opinions.
Chapters on nutrition, child development, and discipline are all well written and in keeping with philosophies and ideas mothers might hear at an LLL Series Meeting. For parents who recognize that each baby is unique and may need to be parented differently from every other baby on the block, Listening To Your Baby is sure to become a favorite gift, as well as a beloved and dog-eared occupant of the family bookshelf.