On Being a Single Mother

You are a couple, raising a child together, and then one day things don’t work out. He leaves. There might be some money, there might be a promise he will visit your child now and then. And maybe he does, for a little while. It gradually fades.

At first, you tell them what they’re doing. You make them feel guilty for abandoning a child who loves them, for teaching this child that they’re not deserving of their love. You talk about shared responsibilities and how unfair it is that you have to handle it all on your own. He has excuses sometimes: too much work to do, too much stress, he’s going through a rough time, the distance makes it difficult. Sometimes he doesn’t have one, so he threatens you to make you stop calling, stop texting. And you do.

You call a friend to vent. She says you should have thought about your child before texting him. You pushed him away. Thoughts start rushing through your head. It’s your fault he doesn’t have a father. What kind of mother are you?

You fall in love again. You decide you’ll be careful. You won’t expose your child to someone who might leave for good. This guy is different. He is mature, he’s responsible, he’s nice. He wouldn’t hurt your child. Your child now has a stepfather. He is a father for longer than the father before him. This is going well. Men aren’t all like that. They can be good.

You are a couple, raising a child together, and then one day things don’t work out. He leaves. There might be some money, there might be a promise he will visit your child now and then. And maybe he does, for a little while. It gradually fades.

My teacher is not a native speaker: what now?

Can non-native EFL teachers be as good as a native English speaker?


I wasn’t born in the UK, or the US, or Australia, or South Africa. In fact, I wasn’t even born in a country where English is taught effectively in schools. I learned English growing up, as my interest in languages and media attracted me to one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. When I was 18, I realised I loved teaching and that there was a high demand for English teachers in… well, everywhere; so, I decided to become an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher. Over the last ten years, however, my experience has shown that being a non-native EFL teacher can be tricky at times. It has nothing to do with my knowledge of English, my experience or my ability to teach. Nevertheless, the myth a non-native speaker isn’t as credible as a native one has impacted my career in a myriad of forms.

After all, does the place where I was born determine the academic outcomes of my students?


Learning goals: become British

I learned American English first, which is probably Hollywood’s fault. As many other countries, Brazil is highly exposed to American media, such as films, TV shows and videogames. Throughout most of my English-speaking life, I had an American accent. As a teacher in Brazil, students tended to think I was American. When I lived in California, Americans commonly thought I was their compatriot when they first met me. It wasn’t until the conversation reached cultural roots or childhood that my credibility would plummet.

I’ve had a number of students request a different teacher, because they wanted a native one. I was turned down in job applications, because I couldn’t provide a British or American passport. I got so used to receiving this treatment, I would settle for a lower pay than my native-speaker colleagues, even though we were working at the same school, doing the exact same job. When I first arrived in the UK, I thought I was never going to get a job as an English teacher and was pleasantly surprised to find it wasn’t the case. In my first job interview for a teaching position, I had the following exchange:

  • I don’t have a British accent, is that ok? – I nervously asked.
  • Why would that be a problem? – the puzzled interviewer responded.

The question caught me by surprise, I did not know how to answer it. Why would it be a problem?

Students often say when they first arrive in the UK for their study abroad experience and are asked about their objectives: “I want to speak like a British person”. Some are disappointed to realize their teacher may not be British. Fair enough. You came all the way to the UK and paid a lot of money for your course to realize your teacher has the same nationality as you. It does sound disappointing. Stick around though, I have a few questions for you:

Are you studying English to communicate effectively, or to become British?

If you answered the latter, I’m sorry, but I cannot teach you that. I’m not British. In fact, as a vegan  football loather who can’t samba to save her life, I’m not a very good Brazilian either. Having a certain nationality doesn’t come with an onset of traits you can absorb or copy; and there isn’t a level of Britishness one can acquire. People are very different within nationalities and that includes the way they speak.

Should only native speakers teach their language?

If you hear an American, a Brit, an Irish and a South African having a conversation, you’ll notice there is a big difference in the pronunciation, the choice of words, the expressions and even the meaning of certain words. That’s because language is a highly mutable phenomenon, which adapts to the communication needs of its users. English today is different from 10-year-ago English, and that’s because the people who speak it are not the same as ten years ago. People change and so does language. New vocabulary emerges every day, along with expressions, ways of pronouncing certain words, etc. Language is not an exact science like mathematics, you can’t just learn a certain grammatical formula to communicate effectively. Learning a language means understanding the context in which you’re using it.

But, are differences between an American and British speaker, for example, that far apart from the differences between a British and a Turkish national speaking English at a fluent level? Won’t there be, in both cases, different accents, different word choices, etc?

I dare say, there are more differences between the English of my British and American friends, than there is a difference between my Brazilian sister’s (who also lived in both countries) English and both those nationalities’.

I have taught Portuguese before, and I regret to say I am not very good at it. One of my British colleagues at Stafford House knows Portuguese way better than me. She studied it for many years and knows grammar rules I didn’t even realise existed. My knowledge and experience with English are way better than my Portuguese. Should I really be teaching my native language?

Who are you going to use your English with?

If you live in a country where English is not the main language, or if you live in a city like London or New York, there is a great chance most of the people you speak English to are non-natives. World-wide, there are more non-native speakers of English than natives – estimates vary: from 330 to 360 million people speaking English as their first language and between 470 million and 1 billion people speaking English as a foreign language. Therefore, if you intend to use your English with native speakers only, you’ll be limiting your range of social and business opportunities.

Is speaking in a certain way more important than being understood?

When we speak a language, any language, we do it to express an idea. Whether this message is received and understood determines if effective communication actually happened. If where you live, work or socialize, the way you sound when you speak affects how people perceive you, you might want to spend more time polishing your accent rather than learning how to organize ideas and arguments, for example. That’s understandable. How harmful perpetuating this approach can be is a whole other topic. The fact is, a non-native speaker can still help you speak more like a native, even if they don’t have the exact accent you are pursuing. That’s because, for starters, you don’t speak with your teacher only, especially when you are in an English speaking country. Also, their ability to teach a language isn’t necessarily affected by the way they speak. Which leads us to the last question.

In a teacher, is their ability to teach less important than their place of birth?

It might have happened to you in secondary school, university or a course: the teacher is a leading expert in their subject, but you don’t have a clue what there are saying. Being a good engineer doesn’t necessarily mean you are good at teaching it. You might have this lecturer with a brilliant resume and still not learn much from them. The other way around is often true: an average engineer is really good at teaching it, and their students go on to become better engineers than their tutor.

This happens because learning isn’t about listening to an expert and absorbing as much information as they’re sharing with you. Effective teachers are there to broaden our minds, help us learn on our own and with each other, develop critical thinking and debate issues. Teachers are there to facilitate learning, not to tell you what to think, how to speak and what’s right or wrong.

When it comes to teaching a language, of course knowledge in the subject is important, but how much you learn will depend on your tutor’s ability to teach. It is known that in EFL teaching, a low TTT (teacher talking time) leads to better learning outcomes. That means that being less exposed to your teacher speaking English and instead speaking more with your classmates, listening to audios, watching videos, etc, is probably more beneficial than simply having a native speaker in the classroom (unless, of course, the native-speaker is a properly trained teacher who does exactly that).

I’m not saying there aren’t other effective approaches to teaching English, but this is one we know to be effective. I’m also not saying you can’t learn from talking to a native speaker. Of course, you can. The question here is: are native speakers better teachers than non-native ones? I suspect that, at this point,  you either agree with it or you don’t, so I’ll leave this question unanswered.


                Linguistic Imperialism

As described by Robert Phillipson in 1992, this notion that native English speakers are superior and that we must learn how to be more like them comes from a phenomenon he called Linguistic Imperialism. In his book, Phillipson analyses the processes through which English has become an international language, which is deeply connected to a history of oppression.

Being born in Britain or the US, for example, gives you more social status in a third world country than having a better academic history. This is a discussion, however, that requires a whole other article. For now, whether you speak English as your first, second, third or tenth language, we can merely accept the fact that it has become a lingua franca across the globe, so we might as well use it.

And since we are using it to communicate with people from different countries, cultures, backgrounds and ethnicities, why not try to be as adaptable and open as possible? Why not try to make sense of why people speak the same language in different ways and embrace our accents and differences, helping other people understand us and doing our best to understand them? More than 1 billion English speakers wouldn’t all speak the same way, and that’s okay.

Attachment and the classroom

When the words attachment and teaching are used in the same sentence, a whole array of reactions tend to occur. While some of these reactions are positive, many teachers become quite defensive. Some of their arguments are listed below:

  • Teachers already have so much to worry about and do, attachment is just one more responsibility unjustly given to teachers;
  • Teachers are not meant to do the parents’ job;
  • Teachers aren’t therapists;
  • Teachers need to maintain a professional distance from the students in order to protect themselves from accusations of abuse.

I don’t really get the last one. To me, denying a crying child a hug is abuse in the form of neglect. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

These arguments demonstrate how overworked and stressed teachers are. They are afraid that more responsibilities will be thrown at them – and they have a point, it does tend to happen on a daily basis – and they will be under even more pressure. The application of attachment theory in the classroom, however, is not meant to make teachers’ lives more difficult; it is meant to make things easier.

Yes, you read it right. Easier. As an EFL (English as a foreign language) teacher I find these arguments a bit strange, not for lack of empathy for the teacher, but because language teachers have been applying attachment friendly methods for decades without much fuss. We have learned, from research, that they are very effective when teaching a foreign language, rather than traditional teacher centred methods. Therefore, we implemented them, made them the norm and have had very positive results. I wonder if it would be more difficult to do the same with other subjects.

To explore this crazy idea, I’ll try to answer these three questions in the next lines:

  • What the hell is attachment, anyway???
  • Why is it relevant to teachers?
  • How can we make attachment aware teaching possible… and enjoyable… and easy?



According to John Bowlby – the guy who made attachment a thing – attachment is:

“Proximity-seeking to the attachment figure in the face of threat, due to the capacity to sense conditions that could be dangerous: being alone, unfamiliarity, rapid approach”.

Got it? No? Me neither. I needed a better explanation and I understood attachment for the first time during a training session with Suzanne Zeedyk.

Click here to watch one of her lectures.

Click here to access her blog.

Zeedyk has a less orthodox way of explaining attachment: she talks about sabre-toothed tigers and teddy bears. Imagine prehistoric human beings using their instincts to survive from predators. If a sabre-toothed tiger attacked the group, it would likely go for the weakest, easiest prey: the babies. The babies can`t protect themselves or run away, but their parents can do that for them. While adults have the instinct of running for their lives, babies have the instinct of getting the adult`s attention so they don`t get left behind. Babies cry and scream because they don`t want to be left alone, they want to be held and kept close. This attachment is key to their survival, so it`s the most fundamental part of their nature. When they don`t have that, all that`s left is fear – which can mean trauma, anxiety and a range of emotional issues.

To make it clear, Zeedyk describes an internal teddy bear. A child uses a teddy for comfort, and little by little they develop their own internal teddy bears they turn to for comfort in moments of distress; that`s them building resilience. But this can only happen properly if they had this comfort in their early childhood provided by their parents (or whatever caring figures they had) in the form of attachment.

If teddy bears are the antidote to sabre tooth tiger fear, how do we build our internal teddy bears? Is it only with the help of parents or primary care-givers? If we don’t develop during our early years, is it possible to fix it? The answer to these questions is in how our brains work, which also answers the question on why this is relevant for teachers.



I must stress at this point, that even though I am passionate about psychology, I’m not a neuroscientist and the explanations below are rather simple. I have asked experts to check them, though, and they said it isn’t wrong, so let’s do this!

This is your internal teddy bear, your frontal lobe:

Not as cuddly as one might have thought, but it works wonders. The frontal lobe is, among other things, responsible for our ability to:

  • learn, reflect and concentrate;
  • plan and problem solve;
  • manage stress;
  • control impulse;
  • regulate emotions.

As you probably gathered, our students’ frontal lobes are very important to us teachers. If they are not functioning properly, students fail to learn. They also fail to behave, which is not helpful and it makes our lives much harder.

According to Margot Sunderland, author of The Science of Parenting (2015), this part of the brain is not fully developed when we are born, we need to learn how to use it.

Our lower brain, however, is fully functional and very much online from birth.

This part is responsible for (again, among other things we don’t need to focus on now):

  • hormonal forces;
  • emotional systems;
  • fight or flight reaction.

This is why when a toddler is hungry they might throw themselves on the floor crying and screaming and have a distress tantrum. They don’t have a fully developed frontal lobe to warn them: food will probably come soon, your mum always makes lunch at twelve; why don’t you play for twenty more minutes and then go check if it’s ready. As adults, with a well-developed frontal lobe, when we feel hungry we tend to keep calm and go make ourselves a sandwich.

The development of the frontal lobe is deeply connected to the way the lower brain is activated. It has 7 hormonal systems at work:

  • CARE
  • PLAY
  • RAGE
  • FEAR
  • LUST

LUST is related to sexual behaviour, so we’ll ignore it for now. Let’s talk about the other six:


CARE                                       RAGE

SEEKING                                 FEAR

PLAY                                         PANIC/GRIEF

The ones on the left are pro-social hormonal systems and the ones on the right are alarm systems. Different situations may activate one or more of these systems, which function like muscles. The more they are activated, the stronger they become. Growing up with the alarm systems being frequently activated by a certain parenting style, or more severely by abuse and trauma, the child may become an adult with these systems very much present in their lives.

To use Sunderland’s example, it’s like a faulty car alarm that goes off for any reason. If you work for customer service, you might have noticed how this situation is very common. Because the alarm systems were constantly activated throughout most of this person’s life, they compromised the development of the frontal lobe. Louis Cozolino, author of The Social Neuroscience of Education (2013), explains that:

“Nonloving behavior signals to the child that the world is a dangerous place and warns him or her not to explore, take chances, or trust others. It also teaches him or her not to trust the information others are trying to convey”.

What these alarm hormonal systems are basically saying is: you are in danger, there is a sabre tooth tiger around, you need to either run or fight it. There is no time to learn, no time to regulate emotions, you need to act or you’ll die. Many adults and children often get aggressive or withdrawn in the presence of a problem; they tend to calm down when somebody comes to their aid. Babies, who can’t fight or run, cry. When an adult picks them up and calms them down, the CARE system is activated and they feel safe.

The pro-social hormonal systems are key for the development of the frontal lobe. The more they are activated, the more we make positive connections in the frontal lobe. When we feel safe, loved and are surrounded by people who make us laugh, our brains are at ease and ready to learn. If a child or adult doesn’t feel safe in the classroom, they will have a much harder time learning.

Here’s a model of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:

When it comes to learning, it is believed that the deficiency needs should be met in order for the growth needs, or learning, to come about optimally. However, I dare say that “feeling safe”, or shall we say, attachment needs, should be at the bottom of the pyramid, along with basic physiological needs, such as water and food. In fact, feeling safe is more important for learning than actually being safe. I’ll tell you why.

A very sad experiment conducted in the 1950’s by Harry Harlow – to be fair, it wouldn’t pass an ethics committee nowadays, but since we have the data, let’s use it – analysed the behaviour of new-born monkeys when offered two types of inanimate surrogate mothers: a cuddly cloth one and a wire one. Both surrogates provided milk for the monkeys’ nourishment.

All monkeys preferred the cuddly one, even when they didn’t offer any milk. In one of the variations of these experiments, the monkeys were divided into two groups and offered either the cloth or the wire mother. The monkeys with the cloth ones survived longer than the ones with the wire ones, even after the milk was removed from the cuddly ones.

The saddest part is that Harlow didn’t really need to conduct this mean experiment. We had empirical evidence from UK orphanages in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. In reaction to the appalling death rate among the children, and thinking it was the result of the spread of germs, doctors recommended contact among children and with the staff should be kept to a minimum. That made the death rate rise even more. It only decreased when physical contact and nurturing was encouraged.

Authors such as Louis Cozolino and Jeremy Rifkin, who wrote Empathic Civilization (2009), defend that nurturing, or attachment needs, are at least as important as water and food for human survival. Hence why we also need them met for learning to occur.


Applying attachment theory in the classroom

Now, to the practicalities. How can we activate those pro-social hormonal systems in our students’ brains to help them learn? Here are some things we do NOT need to do:

  • Be the students’ parent;
  • Be the students’ therapist;

Here are some things we could do:

  • Listen to students and let them have say on how to make the classroom environment as comfortable as possible so that they feel safe there;
  • Have empathy and treat them with compassion;
  • Prepare attachment friendly lessons.

By attachment friendly lessons I mean those who activate the CARE, SEEKING and PLAY systems of the brain and avoid the alarm systems. Cozolino has a few suggestions:



As pointed out by Cozolino, Research shows that “play enhances sensorimotor development, social-emotional skills, abstract thinking, problem solving, and academic achievement” (2013). Jokes, games and any fun activities will help students learn, no matter the subject. That includes adults!

I appreciate that the concept of fun may be different for children and adults. Getting to know your students and what they enjoy is very helpful. In my practice as an EFL teacher, I like to use quiz show style games for the boring grammar activities. They are the same activities, but the fact I turned them into a competition between two or three groups makes it a lot more interesting.

Some of my peers have shared a lot of interesting games for learning and recycling vocabulary, which go from simple pick a word and give hints so the rest of the group can guess what the word is, to a twister mat with words stuck to the spots. Kahoot.com and jeopardy games go a long way using technology and fun to review materials. Role-plays are also fun and help develop a number of skills.

Just by making students walk around the room and physically move during an activity you’ll be activating their PLAY and SEEKING systems. By making activities as social as possible, like group and pair work, you’ll be also activating the CARE system.



When students are curious and have an urge to learn more, discover and explore, they SEEKING system is being activated. In class, I sometimes have students find the answers to a question by looking for them on the walls or under their chairs, etc. A little blu-tak can help with that. I also like to take my students out of the classroom to have a lesson somewhere more stimulating, such as a museum or a park. A stimulating classroom, with things for students to look at and resources for them to use can also be very good for the SEEKING system.

Exploration is great not only for learning but also for health. “The effects of environmental stimulation on brain growth are so robust that they even counteract the effects of malnutrition” (Bhide & Bedi, 1982 apud Cozolino, 2013). When a student is curious about something, don’t dismiss them and, instead, give them the tools to find out more.



Story-telling can be used in two ways: the teacher using a story to teach something and the students sharing their own stories. Stories help organize neural integration, which means your brain cells form new connections, connecting different pieces of information to enhance knowledge. Our brains also have unlimited storage for stories and songs. Whatever is taught through them is more likely to remain in long term memory.

When students share their own stories or simply write them down, this helps them regulate their emotions, which is great for their frontal lobe development. Putting feelings into words also boosts immunological health (it’s actually shown to increase T-helper response!) and lowers heart rate. Sharing their own experiences helps students calm down and feel like they belong, activating the CARE system, especially if classmates are listening and reacting positively.


Student Autonomy

Teachers have their own biases and judgements. We can’t help it, our brains are programmed to have them. By taking a step back and giving students autonomy in their own learning, we expose them less to these biases.

One of Albert Bandura’s contributions to the study of education psychology is the self-efficacy theory, whereby he defends that one’s expectations for themselves can influence their own performance. Therefore, people may think in a self-sustaining (optimistic) or self-debilitating way, which could affect their performance positively or negatively, respectively. Because of the social nature of humans, society can widely influence our expectations of ourselves and other people.

Therefore, when a teacher has low expectations for students they see as weak or less talented, they tend to live up to those expectations. Teachers can inflict such an influence because of our position of authority. Students tend to look up to and trust their teachers (which is great, otherwise they wouldn’t learn from them), so our impressions, even when not explicitly expressed, will have a powerful impact on the pupils. Their classmates, even though they can still affect how students feel, won’t have such a powerful impact.

Peer teaching can be a great way to avoid that exposure. When we supply different students with pieces of information and have them teach each other, we are activating their CARE system by showing we trust them. It is also a very social activity, which is always positive.

In EFL we recommend a reduction of TTT (teacher talking time) as a way to make the lesson more student-centred and give them a chance to learn from each other. In this method, the teacher is there to give students the tools to learn by themselves cooperatively rather than transfer knowledge.


Teacher well-being

Last, but not least, teachers need to also be feeling safe in order to teach effectively. Cozolino explains that “when a teacher is harsh, critical, dismissive, demoralized, or overly stressed, their students attune to and come to embody these antilearning states of brain and mind” (2013). Both teachers and managers have a role in maintaining the staff’s well-being.

If we carry on using the attachment approach for management, the principles are the same. How do we activate the pro-social systems in teachers? I have a few ideas:

  • CARE – being listened to (but like, really!), belonging, having a say, participation on decision making, no micro-managing, mutual trust between staff and management, teacher autonomy…
  • SEEKING – professional development, training sessions, trying new methods and new activities, sharing materials, peer observations…
  • PLAY – staff socials, dynamic work environment, encouragement to create fun lessons, places to relax…

The ellipses are there to emphasise there are many other things which can be done, these are just a few suggestions.

Depending on where you work, some of these might sound obvious, but they are still rare in UK companies. For teachers – as well as other professionals – to remain motivated, they need to feel they are working together for a greater good rather than for financial reward (for themselves or the company). “The beneficial effects of this approach on productivity, efficiency and morale are well documented by experiments in factories, but whether through complacency or ignorance are largely ignored by British managers” (Sutherland, 2013).

It does not mean that teachers can be underpaid and still be happy and chirpy. We still need to get paid enough so we don’t have to worry about money. Once that is out of the way and we have our other deficiency needs met, including the attachment ones, then we are ready to live up to our potential and continue to develop in our career. Happy teacher, happy students.



  • Aubrey, K. and Riley, A. (2016). Understanding and Using Educational Theories. London: Sage.
  • Cozolino, L. (2013). The Social Neuroscience of Education. New York: Norton.
  • Cozolino, L. (2014). Attachment-Based Teaching. New York: Norton.
  • Illeris, K. (2009). Contemporary Theories of Learning. New York: Routhledge.
  • Mooney, C. G. (2010). Theories of Attachment. St. Paul: Redleaf Press.
  • Pierson, R. (2013). Every Kid Needs a Champion. Video recording, YouTube, viewed 01 Oct, 2017, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFnMTHhKdkw>
  • Positive Psychology Program (2016). Albert Bandura: Self-efficacy for Agentic Positive Psychology. [online] Available at: https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/bandura-self-efficacy [Accessed 01 Oct. 2017]
  • Rifkin, J. (2009). The Empathic Civilization. New York: Penguin.
  • Sunderland, M. (2016). The Science of Parenting. 2nd New York: DK.
  • Sutherland, S. (2013). Irrationality. 2nd London: Pinter and Martin.
  • Zeedyk, S. (2015). Sabre Tooth Tigers &Teddy Bears. Video recording, YouTube, viewed 21 Feb, 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsAV_qez7SE&t=5932s>

Breastfeeding vs Bottle-feeding

Me, breastfeeding my then 21 month-old son on a train in Hamburg, Germany.

I`ve been meaning to write about breastfeeding for a long time, but didn`t feel like I was quite ready yet. And even though I`m doing it now, I`m not feeling very confident. My breastfeeding journey has not yet ended and I might not be the most entitled to give you advice on the matter. But, you know what, being a parent, especially a mother (I`m not being gender biased, misogyny is very present in a mother`s life), means your confidence is constantly being undermined by judgement, peer pressure (let`s say) and the daily struggles of raising a child. So let me use this very vulnerable moment to share an insider`s view on the matter. I hope you don`t mind my honesty.


“Breastfeeding is easy”

I had never given much thought on breastfeeding before. I worked with children since I was 14 and took care of some very young babies. I saw their mothers breastfeed and it seemed to me like the most natural thing to do. In Brazil, when mothers couldn`t breastfeed themselves, I`d heard of breastmilk donations, I had never really heard much about bottle feeding. I only realized mothers chose to bottle-feed when I came to the UK (I was already pregnant then).

That idea puzzled me. How can that light-yellowish powder be better than our own breast milk? I read about it and I realized it wasn’t better, in fact it was much worse. There were a number of risks involved, here are some examples:

  • “For infants, not being breastfed is associated with an increased incidence of infectious morbidity, including otitis media, gastroenteritis, and pneumonia, as well as elevated risks of childhood obesity, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, leukemia, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Among premature infants, not receiving breast milk is associated with an increased risk of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).
  • For mothers, failure to breastfeed is associated with an increased incidence of premenopausal breast cancer, ovarian cancer, retained gestational weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and the metabolic syndrome.” (Stuebe, 2009)

Why would anyone want these risks? I was determined to breastfeed my baby for at least two years or until he decided to stop.

When my son was born I started the breastfeeding quest. I had no idea it was going to be so hard. To make myself clear: it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. More difficult than moving countries, than being pregnant, than getting divorced, than going through uni, than being a teenager… I could go on, but I think you get the point.

For starters, I had sore nipples. The term “sore nipples” is an understatement. They were cracked, bleeding, swollen, bruised, scabs would form and get ripped off the next feed. The pain was hard to bear. I didn’t know what was happening. No one had ever told me this was a thing. When people talked about sore nipples I imaged the pain you feel after you go to the gym for the first time in ages, or something like that. I never thought I would cry at every feed, that I would fear the next feed and that I would be repeating in my head, halfway through them: “please stop soon”.

I also wasn’t aware that babies can feed very often for a very long time and it’s absolutely normal. My son fed for about 1 hour and half every feed, and needed a feed every two hours or so (except during the night when he would wake up only once for a feed). So for the first week of my son’s life I was breastfeeding during a big part of my waking hours and in excruciating pain. I was close to breaking point.

Tired, confused and about to have a nervous breakdown – ok, I did have a few meltdowns, but I didn’t go insane – I thought there was something wrong with me. Was my milk not good or strong enough? Is that why my son was feeding so much so often? Was he starving? My (then) husband and his family supported my fears. “Try giving him a bottle”, they said, “Breastfeeding is not for everyone, you know”. So I did it, I gave him a bottle, and I cried every second of it.

I was devastated. I had failed my son. My body was defective and couldn’t offer my son what was best for him. That’s how I felt, and I cried most of that night, too.

Still, I wasn’t ready to give up. The break from the feeds had given my nipple some extra time to heal and I’d had enough rest to feel a bit more energetic in the morning. A friend of mine from primary school, Ana Marta Santos, had earlier congratulated me on my pregnancy and said that if I needed anything, especially while breastfeeding, that she would be glad to help. I didn’t understand at the time but I was now willing to take on that offer. Too many miles apart, I called her on Facebook and begged for help.

Ana Marta had gone through the same. She told me it took her 7 days for the new, stronger skin to substitute the cracked one and for the nipple to stop hurting. “The best thing”, she said, “is to let the nipple breath”. So I kept my breasts exposed as long as I could to let the wounds dry. When I had to walk around the house I’d only wear a light, thin shirt; no bra. Though milk would drip now and then, it was working wonders. The drier the scabs, the less it hurt. Ana Marta also taught me a mantra: “It shall pass. One day after the other”. I tried to remind myself of that every day, to take one day at the time as a little victory and remember that what I was going through would not last forever. Things would get better. Things would get easier.

My mother-in-law had kindly bought me lanoline cream, but it kept the wounds moist, so they took longer to heal. Ana Marta also warned me about these creams so I stopped using them.

Just as it happened to my friend, on the 7th day the pain was nearly all gone. It wasn’t gradual, on that day the pain just reduced by about 80%. It was magical. It’s hard to describe the relief I felt. By the 10th day the pain was fully gone. I felt revigorated. I was exclusively breastfeeding on demand and I was nailing it. Check-me-out!

This experience can be quite challenging and confusing. Another friend of mine, Gisela Bataller, who went through a similar situation with her second daughter, told me how she had mixed feelings about breastfeeding. She really wanted to breastfeed and it made her feel warm and loving, watching her daughter so content at the breast; but the pain made her hate feed times. I knew that feeling all too well, and I began to understand why many mothers give up breastfeeding.



Basically, when you breastfeed, your body is using loads of energy to produce this milk that is tailored for your baby. This process interferes with pretty much EVERYTHING in your body. At first, you lose all that weight you might have gained when you were pregnant. Great! Your body needs loads of energy to make the milk and it will take energy and nutrients from wherever it can to make the perfect milk. So if you don’t take care of yourself, don’t worry about your baby, his milk will be just as good, but you will keep losing weight and might get some health problems along the way. So, EAT! It’s common to crave sugars, but I recommend going for starchy foods as these complex sugars last longer and are more useful. Potatoes, pasta, bread, rice, grains, etc are all great choices, especially whole. If you feel hungry often, eat often, but avoid junk and industrialized food as they might not give you enough nutrition; and bring about some undesirable side effects.

Nevertheless, I was breastfeeding for long hours, with short breaks during which my son might fall asleep in my arms and it was hard to put him down to go get some food, even worse to make some. I didn’t have much help at home, my husband had to work all day and I would be at the house by myself. I was new in the country, so didn’t have any friends, and my family was miles away in Brazil. I relied mostly on sandwiches and microwave meals, which isn’t ideal but got me going. I still felt hungry a lot of the time and that made me impatient and tired. Ana Marta told me how she survived the first weeks after birth eating mostly white bread and cream-cheese.

The reason (probably… well, at least it’s one of them) why I didn’t lose my mind during this period, and continued to love my son more than anything else in the world even though he was causing me deep pain, is because I was stoned.

Most of us are aware of oxytocin. Known as the “love hormone”, this chemical is released in the mother’s brain when she breastfeeds. It works as an antidepressant and has a number of benefits in the body. But the chemistry of breastfeeding is ever more complex than that. Usually, if the regular amount of one chemical is altered, than the whole system adapts to the change. When we breastfeed, there is a lot going on in our bodies and brains.

After giving birth, a mother’s brain is flooded with endocannabinoids such as anandamide (Burgierman, 2011), which is analogous to Marijuana’s cannabinoid, THC. The chemical might play a role on pain management, and to help the mother feel calm and loving after such a traumatic event such as childbirth. Anandamide and 2-AG are also present in breastmilk and play an important role in child development (I’ll comment below). I suspect breastfeeding also increases the release of endocannabinoids in the mother’s body.

In the first weeks of breastfeeding, I felt quite different. Even though I was suffering a great deal, I felt mostly calm and warm. During one feed, I wrote down what I was feeling during 45 minutes, because I was fascinated:

  • I had a light headache, like a pressure inside my cranium. Just like when you overdue weed, I felt more aware of that pain. I also felt more aware of the my episiotomy’s stitches and the pain from it.
  • My senses began to change and started to give more attention to things I wouldn’t normally notice, like the warmth of my son, the softness of the sheets, the feeling of a slight breeze when someone opened the door.
  • Munchies!
  • My nipples then started hurting less, except for eventual short spikes of pain.
  • After half an hour, I still feel high and slightly dizzy.
  • Heating sensation in different parts of my body, especially tempers and back of my head.
  • No pain.
  • Body felt very heavy and I had no intention to move.
  • Emotional and high, I had a constant little smile on my face.
  • I felt very relaxed and sleepy.

It felt pretty much like smoking weed. After two weeks, these effects were no longer there during feeds. That’s because when you have too much of these endocannabinoids floating around, your body decreases the number of their receptors and you create resistance to their effects. You know how people who smoke cannabis everyday don’t get as high from it anymore and need to increase the dosage? Same idea.

The same does not happen with oxytocin, breastfeeding increases not only the release of this hormone but also its receptor. The more you breastfeed the more you feel the love.

“When a mother nurses, not only do her blood oxytocin levels increase, but her body makes more receptors, permanently increasing her feelings of love – and her ability to feel loved. Mom’s sensitivity to oxytocin’s power is one of the most fundamental ways she changes as a new mother” (Alpha Parent)

By insisting in the tough beginning of my breastfeeding journey, I let my body find a balance and adapt to the new chemistry needed for me to carry on. Once that was done, I felt much more confident and comfortable with my breastfeeding. And I loved it!


Getting help and support

Let’s get something straight: most health professionals are not prepared to deal with breastfeeding mothers. Though I received some great advice along the way, I also receive conflicting advice and warnings. At the hospital, nurses were very helpful showing how to breastfeed. Health visitors were at times helpful, at others scary. I co-slept with my son from the beginning. It makes things easier when you breastfeed because you don’t need to get up when the baby wakes up. I’d just turn around, lift my shirt and go back to sleep. I noticed I would wake up at the same time my son did, and that my sleep was a lot lighter than it used to be; so if anything went wrong I would be up and alert.

A health visitor frowned when I mentioned it, stating the dangers of bed sharing. I felt like I was doing something very wrong and dangerous, but my instincts were telling me the opposite. I tried to make my son sleep in his Moses basket, but he didn’t want to. I kept receiving the message that I had to try and force him to sleep on his own. I was too tired to keep insisting and I didn’t want my son to cry all night, so I gave up, but still felt like a criminal.

At a breastfeeding support group, another health visitor then said co-sleeping was actually a good idea. I felt much better after that. I later realised there are many benefits in co-sleeping and I wish I knew this earlier. It would have saved me a lot of hassle and anxiety.

Gisela, however, had a harder time than I did. Click here to read her story.


Shaming and judging

Once I was comfortably breastfeeding my son at the reception of Jobcentre Plus, waiting for my sister to sort out her national insurance number, when a female member of staff came to me and said: “Why don’t you breastfeed in the baby change, for your own privacy?”. She didn’t wait for me to answer, she unlocked the door next to me and kept doing hand gestures for me to get in there and repeating louder and slower: “It’s for your own privacy”. She’d heard me speak to my sister and she knew I was a foreigner; I’m not sure if she thought my English was bad or if I was stupid. Not given a chance to answer, I looked around for a friendly face to give me courage, but all I found were other members of staff, laughing at the situation, as if I was such a weirdo for doing such a thing in public. I felt so small. My eyes filled with tears as I walked in that tiny, smelly room and sat at the most uncomfortable wooden chair to resume the feed.

Later, when I mentioned what happened on a Facebook group, other mums kept saying I shouldn’t have gone in, I should have said something. It was the only time something like that happened to me and I froze. I didn’t know then what they were doing was illegal; I wasn’t confident I was following the country’s social behaviour correctly; I just never thought this would happen to me and I was unprepared.

When I first came to the UK I was told Muslims might have a problem with breastfeeding in public and that I should watch out for them. They never even looked at me. I’ve only been judged by white Europeans (that’s just my experience, you might have a different one and I acknowledge that). I heard things like: “Oh, but you are going to stop breastfeeding when he’s 18 months old right? It’s just ridiculous after that, they don’t need it”; “You shouldn’t breastfeed after he starts walking, it’s weird”; “Why don’t you give him a bottle when you are out?”; “This is a very private moment, are you sure you want to do it in a busy place like this?”.

To be fair, I also received several kind smiles and compliments from other women passing by while I breastfed. These little gestures remind you you’re not doing anything wrong at all.

My mum told me when me and my siblings had turned one she was embarrassed to breastfeed us. I can see why a lot of women feel this way, maybe even earlier, and give up breastfeeding. I have heard stories of breastfeeding mothers that heard awful comments in restaurants; that weren’t allowed to do it in a relative’s house; that are suing businesses for discriminating against them.

It doesn’t mean that bottle-feeding mums don’t get discriminated. Nasty looks and comments from breastfeeding mums may happen at any time. Shaming online is getting increasingly common, too. In some of this online groups, breastfeeding mums talk about bottle-feeding as if it was child abuse. I might not understand mothers who dismiss even trying to breastfeed with a comment like: “It’s not for me”; but I’d rather not judge. I don’t know what’s behind that decision and it’s too easy to point a finger when you’ve had a different reality.



Leakages, constant thirst and hunger, muscle aches from breastfeeding in the same position for a while are some of the regular inconveniences. When babies are teething they commonly bite, too. I won’t lie to you, it hurts. I get very tense sometimes, leaving a finger next to his mouth, ready to get him out of the breast if he starts biting. This phases come and go, it’s not a constant thing. Most of the time you don’t have to worry about them.

But by far, the worst “inconvenience” I had was mastitis. The first one (I had about six of them, I think… I lost count!) was the worst. A mastitis is when a milk duct gets blocked. It’s painful, but massaging it in the shower, breastfeeding more with that breast and expressing usually solves the problem. In my first one, however, it turned into an abscess – it got infected.

I wasn’t feeling too well, it felt like the beginning of a cold. Then my breast started hurting and I felt a lump, so I called my GP. She told me she would see me that day, so I got ready to go; put my son on his pushchair and stopped by a café to eat something on the way to the surgery. I then started to feel very sick and couldn’t eat my food. Pushing the pram became very hard because of the pain. The lump was getting bigger and I could feel it burn. By the time I got to the GP’s office, I was shaking, with a temperature of over 39,5C. I was prescribed antibiotics, which take two days to kick in, so I was very ill for those two days. I kept getting mastitis, but none as bad as the first.

Something that majorly still affects my life is the fact my son won’t go to bed without a feed. We tried to have someone else put him in bed but he will just cry endlessly and I don’t want him to sleep from exhaustion after crying for hours. That means we still co-sleep. His cot bed is next to my bed and he rolls there next to a feed or just falls asleep in my bed. It also means I can’t go out at night, because even after he falls asleep he might wake up, and if I’m not there to nurse him back to sleep he won’t go back to sleep.

When he started crawling he would wake up in the middle of the night and start crawling, even crawl in his sleep sometimes. He crawled out of bed twice, waking up after hitting the floor. I freaked out. The only solution I could think of was sleep training him so he would sleep safely in his cot. All these cry-it-out methods made me feel physically ill with anxiety. I just couldn’t let my baby cry.

Then I went to the UK Breastfeeding and Parenting Support group on Facebook and asked for advice. One of the suggestions was that I get rid of the bed and put my mattress on the floor, so even if he fell off the bed, my son wouldn’t get hurt. It sounded extreme to me, and to my friends and family. My Brazilian mindset was seeing this as being a weak mother who will spoil her child. But then I realised letting my son cry himself to sleep was way more extreme. Why were bed legs so important to me anyway?

I dismantled the bed and put the base on the floor with my mattress, next to his cot bed with an open side, and kept on breastfeeding my son to sleep. That is still how we sleep today, over a year later.


Worth it

Breastfeeding is extremely hard – I think I mentioned it before – but it’s worth it. Besides all the know health benefits of it, there are also the things that are hard to measure, such as the irreversible new brain connections that you and your baby will benefit from. All that chemistry that goes on in your brain also goes on in your baby’s brain and it helps him develop into an intelligent, loving child, who feels safe and connected. This may sound intangible but it’s extremely important. These early moments of a child’s life have a central role in determining what kind of adult they will become. By making sure they have all the oxytocin and oxytocin receptors they can have, helping them regulate their brain chemistry and neuronal connections, we are not only assuring them a healthier life, but one filled with love and warmth.

What we need to fight against is not bottle-feeding mothers, or whoever thinks differently, but disinformation and shaming. What we need to fight for is: professionals that are more prepared to support parents; clear, honest information for everyone and, above all else, empathy. That’s what I believe in, and that’s why I shared my story.

I’m still breastfeeding (only during the night, as per my son’s preference); my son is 22 months old. I still get mixed feelings about it. Sometimes I just want to stop. But then I lie down to feed him and watch him as he strokes my belly – I supposed that’s his way of saying “thank you for the milk” – and I’m taken by a happiness I just can’t explain. I’m sure when I do stop, I’ll miss it.

Hi, I`m an immigrant

Hey there, my name is Susan, and a lot of people hate me. They are very concerned with my impact on their country`s economy, and that I might be abusing the system. They believe I should be sent back to my country of origin and only come back if I have the skills they need. I`m an immigrant on benefits in the UK.

Let me clarify something, though: I do work. I just don’t make enough money to support my family, and I’m a single mother, so I get help from the government. I’m very grateful I am having the opportunity to live in a house that’s big enough for me and my family, that I don’t struggle to buy food, that my son can go to childcare while I work, that I get to spend time with him, too. I didn’t want to be in a situation where I need benefits and I’m working my way out of it so I won’t need help in the future. However, being in this situation was out of my control, so I’m glad I had this option. Others aren’t so happy about it.

According to a 2013 survey, more than half the British population believes that the cost of having immigrants outweighs the benefits. A lot of people are concerned about the “benefit tourists” and immigration is perceived as one of the most important issues the UK faces. This is one of the main reasons Brexit is happening, so this perception is causing major changes in the UK policy and may have a huge impact in its economy and politics.

Don’t get me wrong, I have never been mistreated and nobody has ever been rude to me or told me I should leave. In fact, when I catch people making negative comments on immigration and I remind them I’m an immigrant myself, I often hear: “But I don’t see you as an immigrant”, or “You’re not the problem”. The problematic immigrant is not usually the one close to you, it’s this distant image of an ill-intentioned, strange looking guy, speaking another language and taking advantage of anything he can. I don’t look like that guy. Personally, I don’t know anyone who looks like that guy. Most people don’t.

The Migration Observatory points out that “In something of a paradox, while vast majorities view migration as harmful to Britain, few claim that their own neighbourhood is having problems due to migrants”. Surveys show that a minority of the British population think the nearby migrants are the problem. In fact, the most contact people have with immigrants, the more positive is their view of them. It might seem a lot when we say that, in 2013, more than half of Britain believed there were too many immigrants in the country; but in 1970, about 90% of people had this view. The number of people who have this negative view of immigrants have been steadily decreasing since then, as the presence of foreigners increases.

There has been a spark in migrations to the UK since 2013, with a rapid increase of people arriving from a variety of countries. How did that affect the public impressions of foreigners? Positively! Though most people still believe immigrants have a negative impact on the economy and cultural life in Britain, this is slowly changing:

Similarly, in the US, the voters who most supported Trump, who based his campaign largely on the “immigration problem”, were the least likely to have contact with immigrants: the people living in small towns. Most of the big cities and areas with a multicultural environment, had less people vote for Trump, according to the exit polls (red is votes for Trump and blue is votes for Hillary):

It seems that, getting to know immigrants may actually change your view of them (really!). When you get to know them, you might realise they are not very different from you at all. Maybe the reasons why they came to the UK are actually something you’d do, if you were in their position. The UK is actually one of the countries where most nationals emigrate, with 8% of its citizens living in another country.


Why do people come to the UK?

Most people come here to work. The second favourite reason is to study and the third is to join someone, like a spouse. Moving countries is not easy and I had different reasons to do so. I think nobody moves to a different place for one reason only. I had to make huge sacrifices to be able to move here and it wasn’t a decision taken lightly.

I was married to an Englishman and we lived in Brazil for 5 years. He started missing home and his family a lot, so we decided to make plans for a move to the UK. That was 2014, I was in my last year in University and didn’t want to rush out of the country. My graduation research was going to be published into a book and I wanted to take care of all that before I left.

A couple of things changed our plans completely, they happened sort of at the same time. Brazil was entering a political and economic crisis, a lot of companies downsized, including the one my husband worked for and he was one of the many employees who were laid off. I then discovered I was pregnant. We lost our health insurance and were both working as freelance teachers, so there were a lot of uncertainties in our minds. We decided it would be best to move to the UK earlier than we had planned.

It wasn’t easy. We saved money, sold furniture and electronics, our car, gave lots of stuff away. Because the currency suffered a huge drop with the political crisis, our money wasn’t much when we arrived in the UK. We weren’t entitled to benefits (it’s not as easy as you think) so my husband had to find a job quickly. I wasn’t there for my book launch, I couldn’t attend any of the events I was invited to lecture at, I made huge sacrifices in my career.

Why did I do all that? For my son. It was important to me that he would have access to healthcare, to a good education, that he would be safe and that I’d be around to raise him instead of working ten hours a day like I was doing in Brazil. The UK is an attractive destination for migrants because it offers these basic human rights to everyone. In most parts of the world, basic human rights are a luxury.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Brazil and I miss it a lot. I often think about going back. I miss the social life, the weather and the friendly, happy people. But then I remember the stress and my son doesn’t deserve it. No one deserves it, but most don’t have a choice.

What do I mean about stress? Well, I noticed how stressed I was when I travelled to California in February, 2014. The day I arrived, a friend picked me up from the airport and parked outside a restaurant to pick up a takeaway and told me to wait in the car. As I waited, I didn’t relax. I kept looking at the review mirrors looking for a person or a motorcycle approaching the car. I was afraid of being robbed or kidnapped; it took me a few minutes to realise I was being silly, it wasn’t going to happen there. I was in California for a few weeks and the feeling of being able to relax a little for the first time in years is hard to describe.

I used to drive to work in Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil and there was a lot of traffic. While I was stuck in traffic, it was common to see a motorcyclist stop next to a car, take a gun out and ask the driver for money and valuables. There’s no escape, I was just sitting in my car wondering when it was going to be me. I would hide my bag under my seat and keep a fake wallet and phone near me, ready to give to the next criminal to approach me. It’s a risky move. If they realise you tricked them you might get shot. Luckily, though I’ve been physically attacked by muggers before, none of them had a gun. In fact, I was only held at gun point by police. What had I done wrong? Nothing. Where there’s a lot of violence and crime, the police tend to be more aggressive, too. It’s a snow ball.

Brazil has a high murder rate, worse than Iraq. A woman is raped in Brazil every 11 minutes. It has one of the worst wealth distribution. The government recently signed a decision to cut all investments in health and education for the next 20 years. I don’t want this for my son. If you are a parent, we probably have that in common.

Nowadays, I still sometimes hold my breath when I hear a motorcycle. When a stranger is walking towards me, I look at their hands, to see if they’re reaching for a gun or a knife. It’s only for a second, then I remember I’m not in Brazil and I relax. I can only begin to imagine what it’s like for a Syrian refugee when they have crossed the border and they hear an airplane. Imagine this: what does it feel like to feel panic, then realise it’s just a plane, not a Russian bomber? That’s an exercise we all need to do before we say no to refugees. Ask ourselves this kind of questions. What does it feel like when your one-year-old hears an airplane noise and says “bomb” before he’s even learned to say “dog”. What does it feel like for a ten-year-old refugee in Europe who doesn’t want to go to school because his school got bombed back in Syria and he saw his friends die?

I’m not saying all immigrants are good, all I’m saying is: get to know them. The odds are it’ll change your view on immigration.


But is immigration actually bad for the UK?

According to the Migrants and Citizens website, “there is no foundation for the claim that immigration is undermining the British welfare state. In fact, it looks like the opposite is true”. Almost 93% of benefits go to UK nationals:

The site further explains that:

“In fact, all the data points to the fact that the vast majority of EU migrants actually pay into the UK’s social security system without taking as much out. A 2009 UCL study, comparing net tax receipts with likely expenditure, suggested that Eastern European A8 migrants paid in 35% more than they were likely to receive in welfare services, while natives’ taxes were equivalent to only 80% of the money they received in benefits. These A8 migrants in the UK – are also 60% less likely than natives to receive state benefits or tax credits, and 58% less likely to live in social housing. Although different models of income and outgoings shifted the balance slightly in local citizens’ favour, the overall conclusion was clear: ‘A8 immigrants are unambiguously net fiscal contributors, while natives are unambiguously receiving more than they contribute’.These findings have since been confirmed by a follow-up study released late in 2014, which calculated that EU migrants who have arrived in Britain since 2000 have made a net fiscal contribution of £20bn (non-EU migrants’ net contribution over the same period was £5bn)”.

Basically, I’m the exception here. Most immigrants contribute more than they receive in the UK and I’m hoping to join them soon. Sending immigrants away may actually result in a cut on benefits and pensions for British citizens and less investment for the NHS, not the opposite.


My unrequested advice:

  • If you are British, get to know foreigners, learn more about their countries and the situation around the world.
  • If you are an immigrant, join groups that are working to inform and fighting for migrant’s rights in the UK. One Day Without Us and The 3 Million are examples.
  • When feeling discriminated, try talking sensibly about how you feel and avoid accusing others of wrongdoing (unless it’s clearly a case for the police), they might not have noticed they’ve done something. Do talk about it, though.
  • Empathy is underrated and should be exercised more often. Whether you are an immigrant or a UK national, try to imagine what it’s like to be in a different situation; try to understand the reason why people do the things they do.
  • Be sceptical of politicians who blame immigrants for the country’s problems, this is the oldest trick for manipulation. Make sure you fact check all of their claims.

Gisela’s Breastfeeding Journey

Gisela breastfeeding Lilly

For a moment that looked like an eternity, Gisela was mute. The voice on the other side of the line didn`t seem to notice her heart racing and her chest turning cold. She was told her midwife had voiced concerns about her daughter and that she was to bring her 10-week-old to the hospital as soon as possible. A million things went through her mind between then and the time she arrived at the hospital at 7pm. Among them, the idea that she had done something wrong, that she was just being stubborn; maybe she should have listened to her family and given little Lilly a bottle. She seemed so healthy, so happy, though. What could be wrong with her except her weight gain not following the standard curves in her red book? Gisela was determined to figure that out as she headed to the hospital.

Hoping for the support and understanding of the staff, Gisela soon felt like she was battling against them. One of the first things she was told as she arrived at the children’s ward was that there wasn’t a bed for her and that she should leave her daughter overnight for observations.

Leave her daughter.

They might as well have asked her to leave her arm for a biopsy.

Because there was no bed for her. Did they expect her to go home and sleep after such amputation? They knew very well Lilly was exclusively breastfed. How could she be separated from her mother for more than a few hours? – Gisela asked herself. It all made no sense. Did they suspect Gisela was neglecting or not offering her daughter proper care? All these ideas came rushing back through Gisela’s mind as she kindly responded:

– Absolutely not!

Followed by a lot of “nos”. Her emphatic response did not stop, however, the doctors who came to check on Lilly to, again, ask Gisela to leave her daughter at the hospital and go home. She wasn’t so kind this time:

– VETE A LA MIERDA! – she’s not sure if her words came out, as her heart must have been blocking her throat.

By the way, I’ll let you Google translate that.

Though the doctors did not speak Spanish, they understood she wouldn’t leave her daughter’s side.

– I either stay with her or I’m taking her home – she said, feeling her blood boil gradually from her chest to the top of her head and tip of her toes.

Though normally patient, Gisela found it hard to sit still and listen to the doctors. Her surly response worked: they decided to run some blood tests and soon discharged Lilly by midnight, as there was nothing wrong with her. Relieved, though slightly traumatized, Gisela took her baby home and resumed her breastfeeding journey. It hadn’t been easy from the start.


It all started with her first son, Chris. He’d been born in Spain, by emergency C-section. Though Gisela had always wanted to breastfeed, she soon realised it was harder than she could have imagined.

She had little support. Though nurses assisted her in the first week, as Gisela was in hospital fighting an infection in her scar, she was on her own when she went home. Her partner (British) had to go back to the UK for work and her mother had never breastfed. Chris was losing weight and Gisela’s nipples hurt intensively, to the point she was scared of the baby being brought to her.

She found herself in a really dark place. She loved her son as she had never loved anything before, but she didn’t enjoy nursing him. Chris seemed to always want the breast, it was like he was never satisfied. Tired and in pain, Gisela thought she didn’t want to be with her baby.

Her mother had had enough of it. She went out, bought some formula and gave Chris a bottle. He drank it eagerly, as if he was being fed for the first time. Gisela was told her milk was probably too weak, not enough for her baby. She asked her doctor for a pill to stop her milk supply, and that was the end of her terrible breastfeeding experience.

Her situation only deteriorated after that. Gisela felt like a failure and sunk deep into a postnatal depression. She needed therapy and medication. It took her years to recover.

Six years later – she lived in Blackpool at the time – when she found out she was pregnant again, she was determined to make breastfeeding work. Realizing she might have been able to do it the first time if she’d had appropriate support, Gisela started gathering as much information as she could and preparing in advance. She took prenatal courses, got in touch with as many breastfeeding mothers as she could, joined all the support groups online and took note of all the support meetings in her area. She bought breast pumps and bottles in case she needed them and got herself a Star Buddy.

When Lilly came – also through a C-section, but a lot less problematic than the first – Gisela managed to help her latch on to the breast and things started so smoothly she couldn’t be happier. Her Star Buddy came to the hospital to meet her and introduce her to their system. Gisela was given a contact number to call whenever she needed. The nurses were helpful and always checked to see if breastfeeding was going well. “At first it seemed easy”, says Gisela, “but it wasn’t”.

Just like Chris, Lilly was on the breast all day. Yet, when they went home and the midwife came to check on her, Lilly had lost quite a lot of weight. Gisela was told to keep breastfeeding as usual. Every two days someone would come and check on Lilly. Everything seemed normal, except she was still losing weight. She had been born with more than 4 kg, so she wasn’t tiny, but there was a concern her weight loss wasn’t normal.

To add to the stress, Gisela had sore nipples. “I started to panic, it was Chris all over again”. She bought herself some lanolin cream and carried on; she wasn’t ready to give up. Her Star Buddy visited several times and helped her with the breastfeeding position, giving her plenty of advice on how to handle the situation. A breastfeeding consultant online suggested Gisela took Lilly to the hospital to check for tongue or lip tie, but that wasn’t the case. While in the hospital, “we got assisted during a full feed and I was corrected in how to position her and feed her”, explains Gisela. The pain persisted. Her nipples looked very wounded and would often bleed.

Gisela then found La Leche League. A local member, who was also Spanish, contacted Gisela. “She came in a couple of times”, says Gisela, “again I was given advice and help. And company, which was something I needed the most”.

The pain lasted almost three weeks and then ceased. Gisela was proud of herself for persevering and felt like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. Without the pain, she felt she could overcome any challenges ahead. But Lilly’s weight kept going down until she had lost 11% of her initial weight.

During all this time, Gisela’s family were very concerned and kept telling her to give up and give Lilly some formula. Bombarded with guilt, Gisela found refuge online, talking to other mothers who had gone through the same. She would write all of her concerns down on Facebook support groups and get lots of support. By venting and breastfeeding like there’s no tomorrow, Gisela managed to keep the depression away. “Lilly was my rock”, she explains, “I was always with her”.

By six weeks Lilly finally started gaining weight, but not as fast as she was expected by protocols. After the nightmare hospital visit, Lilly’s weight gain started improving. It was still not ideal, but the midwife and Star Buddy were pleased. “A gain is a gain”, they said. “It was taking long, but we were finally succeeding”, smiles Gisela. Every weight gain was a reason to celebrate.

When Gisela took Lilly to Spain to meet her family, she found out her mum had booked her an appointment with the family’s paediatrician. “I trusted him, so I didn’t mind”. The GP expressed his concerns about Lilly being so light and the slow weight gain. He recommended that she didn’t stop breastfeeding but offer her baby a top up with formula after every feed. Gisela’s mum was pleased with the solution found, but Gisela felt devastated: “I felt like a failure, but I had managed so much against all odds”. She carries on:

“I didn’t want to give her the bottle at first. I was scared she wouldn’t take the breast after. But I thought he wouldn’t lie to me and that at the end of the day her health was at risk and I was not going to chance it”.

She started giving Lilly a supplement of 60ml of formula after a normal feed, but only three times a day, not after every feed as she was told. To her relief, Lilly never stopped wanting her breast and her weight gain stabilized; but Gisela noticed a decreased in her milk supply, so she went on the Facebook group for advice. “I was quite attacked about it, and got told that my doctor was not good for the advice and all”. Some mothers shared they were doing the same thing as her, but others shared assumptions that Spanish doctors weren’t that good. It pushed Gisela away from support groups online.


Gisela has been breastfeeding for the last ten months and is very pleased with her daughter. Lilly is happy and healthy, eating all her solids and still enjoying her mother’s breast. In fact, when Gisela comes home from work, Lilly won’t let her do anything before picking her up and giving her a feed. To Gisela, breastfeeding was the hardest thing she has ever done, but it was definitely worth the struggle – it still is, as her breastfeeding journey has not yet ended.

When children behave badly

diego2Last year, a video of a seven-year-old – I`ll call him Diego – in a coastal town of Rio de Janeiro state called Macae, in Brazil, destroying the teacher`s lounge of his school became viral. In the video, the child knocks down chairs, tables, throws stuff around, makes a huge mess. The teachers stood around him, not knowing what to do. One staff, thought to be the principal, is heard making comments like: “What do we do with a child like this? Call social services, correctional office, the police?”. It was shared nearly 30 thousand times on Facebook, receiving more than 23 thousand comments, much of which were disturbing.


First comment says "beat him up"; the other suggests he`s taken to a prison so the police would "freak him out".

First comment says “beat him up”; the other suggests he`s taken to a prison so the police would “freak him out”.

First comment: "lack of a beating"; second comment: "thank god my parents beat me up as a kid so today I`m not a worthless criminal or a thief, always respected everyone including my parents". Third comment laments that, in Brazil, psychologists and human rights restrain people from providing "proper education" (?) imposing limits to children.

First comment: “lack of a beating”; second comment: “thank god my parents beat me up as a kid so today I`m not a worthless criminal or a thief, always respected everyone including my parents”. Third comment laments that, in Brazil, psychologists and human rights restrain people from providing “proper education” (?) imposing limits to children.

In the video, one of the teachers (or maybe the principal), instructs the others not to touch the boy and wait for his mother to come and pick him up. “What can we do? We are not allowed to beat him or restrain him”. No, you are not allowed. But, also, you shouldn`t (I`ll talk about that in a second). The poor boy ended up in the news, and the experts interviewed regret the teachers feel they are not allowed to impose limits to children like him.

What upsets me the most – besides the gross exposure of this child – it`s that it shows how little prepared, not only people in general (including parents and carers), but educators, psychologists and other professionals are to deal with children with challenging behaviour. And this is not exclusive to Brazil. In the UK, in 2012, “more than 40 percent of parents admitted to physically punishing or hitting a child in the past year; (…) and around 77 percent yelled at their children” (Sunderland, 2016, p.178).

I don`t blame them, though. Most parents learned they were supposed to “discipline” their children in order for them to behave. I once thought the same way, but I`ve been learning a lot since I became a parent and by working with children – and I like to share things I learn, so here we go. Here`s why children misbehave and what to do about it.


Little brains, strong emotions

Humans are born with an underdeveloped frontal lobe, which is the part of the brain responsible for clear thoughts and intentions. This means we`re not born able to control ourselves, we have to learn it. And they usually learn through their connection with parents and cares – and also other adults around them, such as family members, educators, etc. So most misbehaving is a result of an immature brain.

frontal lobe

In contrast with the frontal lobe, from the moment we are born, our lower brain is fully functional. This area

“contains seven huge hormonal forces – the genetically ingrained emotional systems. There are three alarm systems – RAGE, FEAR and PANIC/GRIEF – and three calm and well-being, or pro-social systems – CARE, SEEKING, and PLAY – and, finally, LUST. These systems are like muscles. The more we activate one of them, the more it becomes part of the personality”. (Sunderland, 2016, p.19)

For a child, little things like hunger or tiredness can be a reason for a tantrum, or an outburst of misbehaviour. Adults are more able to understand why they are irritated and go get some food, rest, take a walk or whatever they know will help them feel better. Children need an adult to help them cope with their feelings. What seems like a small thing for an adult can be overwhelming for a child.

When tantrums and misbehaviour are not appropriately addressed in childhood, they might continue later on in adult life. If you work in customer service, you probably know what I`m talking about.


Reasons for misbehaviour according to Sunderland (2016):

  • Hunger and fatigue;
  • Food (sugar, sweeteners and a number of additives can affect children`s brains);
  • Undeveloped emotional brain (as previously explained);
  • Understimulation of the brain (while an adult might turn the radio on, children might stimulate their own brains by causing a situation);
  • Recognition hunger (children might be seeking adult attention and realises a tantrum gets a reaction);
  • Need for structure (a lack of structure, like a clear routine);
  • Needing help with a big feeling (tension due to a particular event in the child`s life)
  • Picking up on parent`s stress;
  • Wrong part of the child`s brain being activated.

This last one deserves especial attention, because it requires parents, cares and educators to change their approach. Sunderland explains that

“One of the main reasons why children behave badly is because the way a parent is relating to a child is activating the wrong part of the brain. You will have an awful time with your child if your parenting activates her lower brain RAGE, FEAR, or PANIC/GRIEF systems. You can have a delightful time if you activate her lower brain CARE (attachment), PLAY or SEEKING systems”.

Frequent yelling, physical punishment and threats will overstimulate the RAGE, FEAR, or PANIC/GRIEF systems, making the child more susceptible to bad behaviour and tantrums, and not the opposite as most people commenting on Diego`s video seem to believe.

“Next time you find yourself about to speak sharply to a child (usually for some bit of behavior you didn’t like) ask yourself if there is a gentler way you could convey your thoughts – because underneath all behavior is an emotional need, and it isn’t a need to be told off.” (Suzanne Zeedyk)

There are two types of tantrums, the distress ones and the Little Nero tantrums. They need to be taken seriously and require different responses.


Distress tantrums

“A distress tantrum means that one or more of the three alarm systems has been very strongly activated. These alarm systems are RAGE, FEAR and PANIC/GRIEF. As a result, your child`s arousal system will be way out of balance, with excessively high levels of stress chemicals searing through his body and brain”. (Sunderland, 2016, p.184)

These type of tantrums require the adult to get closer to the child, soothe her. Holding the child tenderly, offering calming words, will help her feel safe again. Then, once the child has calmed down, the best thing to do is to distract her – with a song, showing something interesting, etc.

Use your developed frontal lobe to control your emotions and deal appropriately with a challenging child.

Use your developed frontal lobe to control your emotions and deal appropriately with a challenging child.

Time-out techniques, putting a child in a room by herself or ignoring or disregarding this kind of tantrum can be harmful, possibly leading to longer, more frequent tantrums.


Little Nero tantrums

This is very different from the distress tantrums and requires the adult to react the opposite way, giving less attention to the child. This tantrum is about the desire to manipulate the adult – when a child wants sweets, for example, and tries to convince her parents to buy them by screaming and not cooperating. If the child gets what she wants, then she`s going to keep on doing it every time you say “no”.

There`s no point trying to argue, negotiate, reason or persuade the child, as that would grant her the attention she`s after. Also, don`t yell, as the child will learn this is acceptable.

Normally the child having a Little Nero tantrum will stop once ignored. Although, some children might move from a Little Nero tantrum to a distress tantrum. It`s important to distinguish them so they can be addressed correctly. If a child goes from nagging or giving you commands to a state of genuine pain, the child will then need help dealing with her feelings.

Suzanne Zeedyk reminds us, though, that “even Little Nero tantrums are still a child struggling with desire; so kindness without boundaries” is always the best approach.


When it comes to Diego, as he wasn`t demanding anything, he was quietly wrecking the room, I`d say he was having a distress tantrum. He was having to deal with really strong feeling and didn`t know how to, which resulted in the bad behaviour.

This is my personal approach to a situation like this, what I would do – though there are other ways of dealing with the situation: I`d take him (making sure I`m not hurting him in any way) somewhere, probably outside, where he can`t do much damage to property or himself. I`d use calming words such as “it`s ok; nobody is mad at you; you are ok; it will get better”, etc. I`ll wait for him to calm down and sit next to him if he lets me, maybe put my hand on his shoulder or back for reassurance. Then I`d talk to him and try to understand what triggered the tantrum. Simple questions like “how was your day” can lead to very elucidating answers on what could have winded up the child. Maybe there was a misunderstanding with other children, maybe he was bullied, maybe something is going on at home. He might not talk to me this time, or might prefer to talk about something else, or play a game. What matters it`s that the child calmed down and is now able to return to his routine.

It`s important to remember that dealing with children who often behave badly requires a lot of patience. It takes time for them to learn how to ask an adult for help and cope with their feelings. And that yelling, physical punishment, isolation and humiliation are not effective. Diego was filmed and exposed to thousands of people, many of them expressed the desire to physically punish him, and many others used unkind words to refer to him (calling him a future criminal, devil, rascal, etc). That`s collective verbal and emotional abuse of a child; one of the main causes for children and young adults to behave badly. I hope Diego is ok, but I wouldn`t be surprised if his behaviour hasn`t improved. I hope a sensible, caring adult is helping him deal with his feelings.

What my vegan baby eats

Healthy vegan baby

Healthy vegan baby

Raising a vegan child isn`t always easy. Not because of the food options, but because of people`s misunderstanding of what veganism is. I have been accused of depriving my child from his basic nutrition; loving animals more than my son; putting him at risk of malnutrition and anaemia; and a number of other less dramatic wrong-doing. Most of the time, when people find out about our diet, they fill me with questions and I can`t blame them; there is a lack of information and abundant misconception on the subject. So I try to take all the questions seriously and always answer them as well as I can, but there is so much to say it`s hard to squeeze it all in a few minutes of conversation before people get bored of the subject and start talking about how delicious steak is. So for those who are truly interested – and for my sake – I decided to write about the main questions I normally hear, one post at a time.

Probably the most frequent question I hear is: “What do you eat”?

First of all, I need to clarify something: we do eat. We don`t eat less than other people – if anything we eat more – and we don`t hate food, we`re not fussy (most of us, at least), and we are not just trying to lose weight (again, most of us). Also, veganism doesn`t have a standard menu we`re supposed to follow. It simply means we do not consume any animal products. That`s it. There are infinite ways of being vegan, including healthy and unhealthy ones. So it can be absolutely suitable for babies from weaning – or from birth in the case of formula-fed babies.

Now this is my son`s case:

My son was exclusively breastfed for over five months. Just before he turned six months, he seemed ready to start eating solids, so I gave him pureed butternut squash. He loved it. He also seemed very interested in feeding himself so I did a mix of baby-led weaning and pureed food – sometimes he would only eat if I fed him with a spoon, go figure. I kept breastfeeding on demand but would always try to give him food first so he would depend less and less on the breast.

For the baby-led part of his weaning I gave him pieces of fruit and veggies, such as cucumber, apple, banana, peaches, oranges, cooked potato and carrots, pasta (I recommend penne over spaghetti, way less messy) with tomato sauce and bits of veggies, things like that. Some of the fruit he wouldn`t eat whole, he would eat in a puree, like strawberries, so I blended some fruit together to feed him with a spoon. I also prepared porridge the American way, mixing oats and boiled water. I add pieces of fruit, mashed banana or purees to it for flavour – he loves it.

After a few months he was eating pretty much the same as me. This is how I plan our meals:

I have a whole-food, plant-based diet that`s also starch based. That means I don`t eat any animal products such as meat, dairy or eggs. It also means I cook from scratch, from real food, trying to avoid processed food (especially white flour, white bread, white anything) as much as I can. To be fair, I do buy some baby snacks for those occasions I don`t have time to prepare anything and need to be out with my son during most of the day. Most of our meals, though, are real food. To base your diet on starch means a big part of my meals is starchy food. So for every meal I either have a generous portion of grains (mostly rice and beans, because I`m Brazilian and this is culturally what we add to anything we eat), whole grain pasta or starchy root vegetables, like potatoes. The starchy bit is our main source of calories. Then I add veggies we like, trying to vary as much as possible so we get all the vitamins, minerals and amino-acids we need. My son eats about five times a day: breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack and dinner.

These are some examples of typical meals:

1 – For lunch or dinner: Rice (preferably brown), black beans, roasted potato + carrots + parsnips, steamed broccoli and cucumber salad. Fruit for dessert.

2 – For lunch or dinner: Lasagne (whole grain sheets) made with tomato sauce, mushroom, aubergine, onions, leeks, carrots and courgettes. Vegan cake (with whole flour and brown sugar) for dessert.

3 – For lunch or dinner: Rice (preferably brown), potato curry with bell peppers and onions, lettuce and tomato salad. Vegan flapjack for dessert.

4 – For breakfast: oatmeal with fruits.

5 – For snack: fruit, rice cakes, chopped veggies, etc…

I know what you`re thinking: “How about the protein”? Believe it or not, there`s plenty of protein in these meals I just mentioned. All plants have protein and my son and I are doing very well. He is 15 months old now and he is still gaining weight nicely, is very active and energetic, very smart and growing up fast, as any other healthy child. My last blood tests came out great and I don`t take any supplements, neither does my son (Though I keep an eye out for vitamin B12 and D, I`ll write more about it on another post).

If you are interested and want to know more about the subject, I recommend the following books, videos and websites:


The China Study




Forks Over Knives


Starch Solution

101 Reasons to Go Vegan


Vegan Society

Nutrition Facts

Attachment vs Overprotection

overprotectionAfter my latest post on attachment, some of my friends expressed their concern on what would be crossing the line from attachment parenting to overprotection. They said maybe I was too concerned about my son`s emotions and would eventually end up spoiling him. Instead of dismissing my friends` concerns with “I know what I`m doing” – because, in fact, most of the time I don`t – I felt the need to clarify a few things about what it means to use attachment theory to make decisions as a parent. Bear in mind I only learned most of what I know about attachment very recently and I`m still learning about it. However, I am very interested in social psychology and really enjoy reading about it, which is part of the reason why the whole attachment thing made so much sense to me in the first place. Also, I`m a parent, not a scientist, so please don`t think I`m trying to know more than everybody else, I`m just sharing my experiences and what I learned. So here are the main points:


What it means to overprotect


The prefix “over” invokes a negative connotation, so the term itself suggests you`re crossing the line when it comes to protection. To my understanding, if you are overprotecting you are preventing your child from being independent, exploring and finding their own little adventures; probably because you are too afraid they might get hurt, physically or emotionally. I don`t believe that`s healthy, because the child will end up depending too much on the parent (or whoever is responsible for the child, if you don`t mind me stressing) and won`t learn resilience, which is utterly important for the child`s development.

That`s not what attachment is about. It`s about trying to understand the child`s needs and being there for them when they need you, so they can build their own confidence, learn about the world and let us worry about their safety – and that means making sure they feel safe. That`s where emotions come in; when children feel safe they learn more, build confidence and independence.


Parenting formula


There`s no such thing. Doubt anyone who claims you can follow certain instructions and it will work out for you and your child, at least most of the time. These claims end up leading parents to force a certain behaviour on their children and when it doesn`t work out they feel as though their children are not normal or that they did something wrong. That`s also not the point of attachment.

Every child is different and every parent is different. What works for some may not work for other people and if that sounds obvious, it`s because it is. It doesn`t mean it`s easy to get. Understanding what your child needs can be really hard (To be honest, I never heard anybody say it`s easy) and parents are constantly under pressure from family, friends, neighbours and people everywhere full of conflicting advice that might make them even more confused. It`s especially hard to know who to listen to, and how to listen to your child when you are sleep deprived, stressed and frustrated. I try to avoid judging parents while sharing my opinion and my experiences, but I understand it`s easier to identify what`s wrong rather than what`s better, or what can work. Even when you police yourself some judgement slips, especially on social media where people get braver than they would in a face-to-face conversation.

So even when people say there`s no formula they are quick to point out what`s right or wrong, which means they are following a set of rules. Forget that. Attachment is not about following instructions, it`s about adapting to your child`s needs; which means it`s going to be different for every parent, and every individual child, even siblings.

To illustrate that: if your child cries every time you put him/her down, I`d suggest you put him/her in a sling and go ahead with your routine. It would have worked for my son and it would have made my life easier. The problem is that I have a bad back and couldn`t carry him around. I had to reduce my work load in the house, do stuff when he was asleep or have people take care of him while I cooked and did housework. It wasn`t easy but he eventually grew out of it and didn`t need me so often.

I also planned to breastfeed my son until he was at least 24 months old, but by the time he was one, breastfeeding was making me tired and my nipples hurt as my son sometimes bites them. He eats his food very well so I managed to wean him out of the breast during the day without a lot of fuss. During the night, however, as I mentioned on my previous post, he wasn`t ready for giving up the breast. I`m still breastfeeding during the night, but I`m not tired anymore as it`s way less than when he was feeding on demand.

These are little adaptations considering my son`s needs, but also mine. I am making sacrifices, I`m having to adapt, and that`s ok. And it wasn`t easy to get to these decisions, I struggled to understand these were things I could do, but I got there, not following a set of rules, but connecting with my child. He`s only one, though, I still have a long way to go.


Follow your instincts/intuition


Mothers have this reputation of having great intuition, being so connected with their instincts; it`s like they always know what to do, right? I hate this assumption. It makes me feel, when I don`t know what to do, that my motherly radar is broken; my psychic powers worn out. As Stuart Sutherland points out in his book “Irrationality” (it`s mostly on social psychology, but goes way beyond that; I highly recommend it): “Many people find it more hurtful to be accused of having poor intuition than of being slovenly, lazy or selfish”. He also shows us, through a number of social experiments, that more often than not, our intuition is wrong. So when you hear “Just follow your intuition and you`ll be fine”; that`s an irrational advice.

You are not a bad parent for not knowing what to do or for doing something that didn`t really work. Making mistakes and being confused is a big part of being a parent. I used to think I could be in tune with my instincts and my feelings and that would be all I needed as a parent. That was before I became a parent.

Scientific studies can help a lot. Don`t feel overwhelmed by them, there are a lot of people turning them into easy-to-understand articles and books, so we can make sense of them. Again, it doesn`t mean there is a formula. I`m not suggesting scientific parenting is a thing. You still have to make decisions based on your particular situation, but I believe in informed decisions. The more you know, the more confident you are as a parent. And that makes a big difference.

Using the same example as above, about babies who cry every time you put them down. My son was like that and it didn`t feel right to let him cry, but also, I needed to eat and do my own stuff, so my instincts were in conflict here. I didn`t know if I should let him cry a bit and if that would make him learn to be more independent or if I should always comfort him. Then I came across a bunch of studies – which are also mentioned in “Irrationality”, I later found out – showing that the more you leave a baby crying the more they cry. They will cry more often if they don`t feel safe, if you don`t pick them up when they call; they instinctively do it. So I figured there was no point fighting it. I picked my son up when he cried and that worked out for him and for me, as I didn`t have to hear him cry much. That`s also in attachment theory.

And if you think that`s overprotecting or spoiling a child, I must add that there`s no evidence whatsoever that ignoring a crying baby is good for them. You might still dispute me on that, but because scientific data is on my side, I`m confident on my decision, so I won`t feel bad about it. Informed decisions will make you happier, too.

Again, I must stress, it doesn`t mean we`ll always make the same decisions and that we`re acting right or wrong. Knowing the science behind attachment and child development just helps and, as a parent, I`ll use all the help I can get.


I ordered a couple of books I`ll link down below. I figured if my life became so much easier once I understood the very basics of attachment theory, then I ought to learn more.



Books I ordered:

Theories of Attachment

Science of Parenting


Books I recommend (they are not on attachment but helped me a lot):


Bad Science



me and BruceFourteen months ago I became a mother. Nothing in my life has been quite so scary – and I`ve been through some scary shit (that involves being exposed to idiots with firearms, but I`ll leave that to another post). Every day is a constant battle where I desperately try not to screw up. It became a bit of an obsession.

As soon as I became pregnant, most of my decisions were based on what I thought would be best for my son. I lived in Sao Paulo, Brazil at the time and a flawed public health system, an abandoned education sector and a great deal of crime and violence – illustrated by a guy being shot dead by police outside my home – convinced me it would be best if we moved to the UK. And so we did. But moving half way across the globe is not enough. How about my child`s health?

I was a vegetarian my entire life, but only because my parents were. Of course I read enough about nutrition to be able to deflect people`s comments about not eating enough protein and all the other typical misconceptions, but I hadn`t really studied about the health implications of diet. So I got myself another little obsession and bought myself all the books available on that subject. I read them and what I could find online, took a couple of online nutrition courses and voila: I became a vegan. Convinced it was the healthiest diet and following guidelines to make sure he was getting all the nutrition he deserves, I am now raising my son as a vegan.

Go ahead and crucify me. But make sure you read all the literature on it first, it might change your mind.

Now all I had to do was to love him unconditionally and he would be safe, healthy and emotionally stable. Right? Well, that`s where I began to really struggle. I found myself in situations where I didn`t know what to do or what advice to take and started to really question my ability of parenting. For starters, I realised my husband didn`t really want to be a father. We split up and he doesn`t see my son all that much. He often says he`s coming over to see him, but then gives up and gives me a last minute excuse. My son is only 14 months old, so I`m not sure he realises what`s going on just yet. Nevertheless, I made my peace with the fact his father has this incredible power to break his heart in a million pieces and that I have to be there to help him pick them up. I understand is out of my control, but my son might get very disappointed and carry this scar with him for the rest of his life. All I can do is damage control.

My role is not only to try to protect my son from external harm, but to help him cope with the harm I can`t prevent. All this responsibility made me anxious – it still does – and my anxiety has led me to make a number of mistakes.

Loving my son doesn`t mean I am providing the most caring, nurturing environment I could provide; and it doesn`t mean I am making the best choices for his emotional needs. This is something I am still learning every day, but listening to Suzanne Zeedyk (please visit www.suzannezeedyk.com to learn more about her) at a training day lecture provided by the company I work for made me put the pieces together. It`s all in the attachment theory.

Zeedyk explains it in very simple language with a story that involves sabre-toothed tigers and teddy bears. Imagine pre-historical human beings using their instincts to survive from predators. If a sabre-toothed tiger attacked the group, it would likely go for the weakest, easiest pray: the babies. The babies can`t protect themselves or run away, but their parents can do that for them. So while adults have the instinct of running for their lives, babies have the instinct of getting the adult`s attention so they don`t get left behind. Babies cry and scream because they don`t want to be left alone, they want to be held and kept close. This attachment is key to their survival, so it`s the most fundamental part of their nature. When they don`t have that, all it`s left is fear – which can mean trauma, anxiety and a range of emotional issues.

To make it clear, Zeedyk describes an internal teddy bear. A child uses a teddy for comfort, and little by little they develop their own internal teddy bears they turn to for comfort in moments of distress; that`s them building resilience. But this can only happen properly if they had this comfort in their early childhood provided by their parents (or whatever caring figures they had) in the form of attachment.

I was trying my hardest not to cry during the lecture, but at some point I couldn`t hold it anymore. It all made sense, but it was hard to digest. If I had this information before, my life as a parent would have been a lot easier. I remembered my attempts on weaning my son out of the breast and realised how silly I was. He wasn`t ready, and he showed that by desperately crying, asking for comfort. It felt completely against my instincts so I eventually gave up and gave him the breast. I decided not to force this on him and let him take his own pace; and that made my life easier even though it took some sacrifice on my part. He only sleeps while breastfeeding, and he wakes up twice for a feed during the night: about two hours after he went to bed and two hours before he gets up. That means I can`t go out at night, ask for somebody to babysit or sometimes even watch a movie. It also means that he sleeps on my bed.

He moves a lot during the night and at some point he started falling off the bed, even after I installed a bed guard. That freaked me out. I didn`t want him to hurt himself and the only solution I could think of was making him sleep on a cot by himself. A lot of friends and family tried to convince me to use cry-it-out methods to get him to sleep on his own. I often heard: “you have to do it”; and insinuations that I was being a pussy for not doing it already. I was convinced it was the only solution, but I felt physically ill thinking about it. I was so nervous and so anxious I nearly vomited.

The only other solution I came up with was to dismantle my whole bed and put the mattress on the ground so my son wouldn`t hurt himself if he fell out of bed. But it sounded like a radical idea. I was under the impression I had to discipline my son to conform and that making changes where I had to accommodate were signs of weakness, of spoiling my child. The nice parents of a Facebook group called “UK Breastfeeding and Parenting Support” were the ones who changed my mind. I posted asking for advice and once they told me putting a mattress on the ground wasn`t nearly as radical as letting a baby cry himself to sleep – for hours, at least three nights in a row, – I had to agree with them. So now we sleep on a Japanese style bed and my son still has the breast during the night as much as he needs. I stopped breastfeeding during the day as he wasn`t too bothered by it. So it`s not like I don`t have any control over it, I`m just adapting to my child`s needs and not pushing too hard towards something he`s not ready for.

The last few days, my son seems to have developed an awareness that water can be dangerous. Though he has always loved baths, he suddenly feared them, triggered by no particular event. I tried to get him to sit in his bathtub as he normally did and he cried, started shaking, his eyes were wide open – he was clearly in fear. The next day I tried giving him a shower and it was even worse. After today`s lecture, I decided a new approach. I sat in the bathtub and got him slowly in with me, keeping him close the whole time, as reassuring as I could. He was tense but didn`t cry, and was slowly feeling more comfortable, sitting down and playing with the bath time toys. I`m hoping I only have to do it a few more times before he feels safe in the water again, but he can take the time he needs.

Day by day I`m learning these little tricks to make my child feel safe, loved, connected. He needs to know I`m listening, I`m paying attention and I`m there for him. This is not about spoiling him, it`s about building resilience. As pointed out by Suzanne Zeedyk, the science says otherwise: children who have had good emotional attachments grow up to be more confident, loving adults. I want my son to be able to count on his own internal teddy bear when I`m not around.

I hope other parents (and everybody else, really) learn about attachment faster than I did. So please check out Zeedyk`s website and blog, they`re worth a visit: