The other day I gave in to something I never do: bought some things in the grocery store just because they looked good, without looking at the ingredients. One of these items was corn dogs, which I remember eating fondly at the poolside of my friend Kyle’s house when I was young.

These corn dogs were by no means an innocent food product. They contained many ingredients I would normally try to stay away from, including three types of processed sugar. However we ate them anyway for a rushed dinner one night and they were just as enjoyable as I remember. Also, they left me feeling satisfied with some protein to keep me going.

That said, I wouldn’t switch to a diet of corn dogs and other such foods because I know eating cleaner foods, while more effort, is the better choice. My family will feel better on it, and will have better health in the long run.

Then a thought occurred to me. Processed foods are like formal education.

Our bodies were not evolved to eat processed foods and the associated ingredients.

TV dinners, canned and prepared foods, fast food, etc. feed many people across the world. People eat processed foods because it’s what’s readily available, because they have positive associations with it, or because they don’t have the time or money for the alternative.

Some, can eat these foods regularly and not show any obvious side effects. While others will get a range of symptoms from acid reflux to obesity. Given the concerns with processed foods, I think it’s a fair guess to say that even the people who show no obvious symptoms, lose out health wise in the long run from eating these foods instead of a more natural diet.

In contrast, if we eat fresh, whole foods instead, we suddenly have an energy and health level that many of us didn’t even realize we were missing.

Now for school.

Many people put their kids through the formal education system because it’s what’s readily available, because they’ve never thought to question it, or because they have good memories of their own time in school. Some put their kids in school because they don’t have the time, money, or emotional energy to do otherwise.

Some kids do well in school, while others struggle. The ones who struggle show symptoms from ADHD, anxiety, and depression, to flunking out. If you do your reading on the concerns with school, it is a fair assumption that even the kids who do well are still given a limited and artificial view of the world in contrast to those who have been lucky enough to been given the real world as their sandbox from day one.

In contrast, if we expose our children each day to the world they are growing up to become a part of, then a beautiful cycle emerges. Natural exploration is fun, and is rewarded with the skills they desire. That reward feeds more exploration, feeding more growth, and more fun. Eventually you end up with adults who think of learning as the goal, rather than a gateway (a concept lost on many coming out of the school system).

So, do I think kids in general would be better off learning the way they were evolved to? Yes, of course I do.

But, some parents need TV dinners to make it through the day. Just as others need to bottle feed their babies because they weren’t able to breastfeed. And there are many in today’s society who can’t hack the whole homeschooling thing for one reason or another. That’s ok.

The point is, if there is a better system out there then is currently in place, then we should be fighting to provide that system for as many people as possible.

We’re not going to be able to stop fossil fuel emissions in one simple change of policy. Giving women the right to vote or black people freedom didn’t instantly create equally. Nor can we stop people from throwing things in landfills in one swoop. These are gradual things that require many shifts in old habits and assumptions.

As with all better found practices, I hope, just how organic food is catching on today, that someday this organic style of living will someday take hold. That someday, a children’s education will be by default, as unique and fascinating as they are.

When I was young, I never thought I would even consider homeschooling my children. I knew a family of homeschooled kids around my age, and they seemed like what I expected: a bit different, but super geniuses. I figured homeschooling was a trade, better more advanced academics, but less social experience. As for me, I’ve always considered social to be the more important of the two skills. In fact, it’s been proven that the biggest deciding factor of happiness in our lives is our relationships, not our careers or money. (Taken from the book Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina.) So why have I changed my mind about homeschooling?  It’s been a long road, but hopefully I’m able to summarise here the main points that have gotten me to where I stand: a mother who not only wants to homeschool, but wants to unschool my children.

Where it all Started

Back when I joined the local breastfeeding group when when I first became a mom, I started meeting more and more like-minded mothers. These women breastfed, wore their babies in slings, used cloth nappies, and focused on empathy, warmth and respect when communicating with their children. After a while, I learned that these women were attachment parents, and I was one of them. Curiously, I also learned that a high percentage of them also homeschooled or planned to homeschool. ‘Why?’ I asked a lady named Lynsey (link) one day about her choice. ‘It just fits in with our philosophies,’ she said. Her philosophies seemed to match up with mine, so was there something I was missing?

I did some research and found that parents homeschool their children for different reasons. Some to give their children more of a religious background, some to help children with special needs. Attachment parents, however, like the idea of continuing with attachment parenting. Typical schooling means handing children over to strangers who most likely do not follow the attachment parenting principles. Students must also go to school regardless of if they’re ready for it. If they are little and want their mother with them, or night owls and would learn better at night, or even if they’ve just been overstimulated and need a break, it doesn’t matter. Homeschooling means giving parents back the ability to adjust to their children’s needs, learning styles, and interests throughout the day.

Is that influence worth it though in light of trading in what would be deemed a “normal” childhood? To take a quote from Home School Legal Defense Association’s (HSLDA) website:  “According to Dr. Brian Ray, in a summary of his research entitled Homeschooling Grows Up, homeschool graduates are just as or more likely to go on to college as the general population, more satisfied in their work, happier with their lives overall, and more involved in civic affairs.” If this holds up, it sounds like quite a big “Yes”.

An Unschooling Approach

Once you have the children at home, the question remains, how do you best teach them? There are two main categories here. The first is a traditional school at home approach; the second is the learn through life method also known as unschooling.

Traditional schooling styles are a comfortable route to take. It’s not as far a leap from normal school, and you might feel more in control of what your child is learning. Children schooled in this way are also shown to be the best scorers on standardised tests (link). However, when it comes to long term learning, unschooling has the lead advantage.

With unschooling, children learn about different things as they come up in everyday life. The backdrop to a video game could turn into a thirst to learn more about that time period. (True story.) Going shopping turns into a need to learn math. The beauty of unschooling, is that it feeds a child’s natural inclination to ask questions and explore. Adult unschoolers tend to be independent free thinkers, with an ever growing thirst for knowledge.

Scary Notion, Anyone?

This is where a lot of people would probably freak out and think, ‘OMG, if I unschool my children they are going to be social shut-ins who sit on the sofa and watch TV all day. How will they ever learn enough? When will they see people?’ Don’t worry. I experienced my own flavour of this and it’s not what it seems.

Let’s explore the experiences of an unschooling graduate, Candra Kennedy. When it comes to watching TV, Candra says “[watching TV all day] is kinda boring. There are a lot of other things to be doing.” On average, she says her brother and her chose to watch about an hour a day.

How about Candra and her brother’s education? Well, showing what passion can do for a subject, Candra claims that her brother who was into math  “would do an entire semester’s worth of a math textbook in a day”. Candra also speaks about her adjustment to university:

“I thought it was going to be crazy! Even though my community college class had been ridiculously easy, I thought for sure that an honors program at a real college would be difficult. I’d written probably two essays in my life at that point! I worked like a beast until fall break and actually had most of my work for the entire semester done at that point because I was so nervous. That’s when I stepped back and realized that it wasn’t really hard. School was actually very easy for me.”

What about Candra’s social life? Apparently there was no issue there either:

“This is the silliest thing lobbed at unschoolers that I hear. […] Yes, I had friends growing up. Yes, I have friends now. In fact, my friends growing up were an amazing, diverse bunch. I had friends of all ages – [met in all different ways] Just. How. I. Make. Friends. Now. Just how you make friends now. Like a normal person. Through your interests, work, and sometimes just when you’re out and about.”

More from Candra Kennedy can be read here.

It may be a surprise to those new to the concept, but the more research I’ve done, the more I’ve come to the conclusion that Candra’s story is pretty typical for unschoolers. Children are born with a thirst for knowledge and a love of people. Just like taking steps and learning to talk, children learn all they need to know with simple guidance from carers. No lesson plan needed.

What Freedom Does to a Person

Homeschooling, and particularly unschooling, don’t just teach kids an arrangement of skills and self discipline. It liberates the way they think. School, as a byproduct of the need to educate many individuals at once, has taken on many traits that hinder free thinking.

Even in the basic enrollment structure, kids are taught age-ism by being sifted into classes containing only children of the same age. Homeschooled children by comparison, are often cited having friends of all ages, including adults, a concept that feels quite alien to many school kids.

But it’s more than that. Diane Flynn Keith, Author of Carschooling and mother of adult unschoolers, reflects on the freedoms bestowed upon homeschoolers:

“They aren’t subjected to judgment, grading, and the bestowment of rewards and punishments without the ability to object or appeal. They haven’t been conditioned to be passive and compliant or dependent on others to tell them what to do or how to spend their time. They are not powerless. They have the choice to remove themselves from bad situations or people and change the curriculum when it’s not relevant, interesting, useful, or meaningful.

[…]

My own sons (now adults in their twenties) are keenly aware of the fact that their experience set them apart from their schooled peers. They think differently. They don’t see the world through the same filters. They are perfectly capable of “fitting in” to any social setting when necessary, but conventional notions and limitations on behavior or thought are not within their liberated comfort zone.”

(Source. This is one of my favourite unschooling articles.)

Peter Gray did a survey of unschoolers and received a similar perspective on how these adults see the world. When asked about their university experiences “The most frequent complaints,” Gray noted, “were about the lack of motivation and intellectual curiosity among their college classmates, the constricted social life of college, and, in a few cases, constraints imposed by the curriculum or grading system.” One student noted, “I discovered that people wanted the teacher to tell them what to think. … It had never, ever occurred to me to ask someone else to tell me what to think when I read something.”

(Source.)

Successful Education?

So, to affirm, do unschoolers with all their freedoms, get a decent education? I found a great article talking about this from a mother named Kate, who also happens to have an education degree. Kate had three mains points that she addressed in her blog article.

First, was to have us keep in mind that all education, public, private, or independent, have different curriculums and areas they cover. I.e. there are always going to be things left out.

Second, it’s hard not to get a balanced education with unschooling when everything you do in real life is cross curriculum. Real life does not separate things by subject. Cooking, for instance, can cover reading, writing, math, and science all in the same breath.

And third, for those worried that parents aren’t cut out to be teachers especially in the higher levels, she reminds us that homeschooled children and teens learn by all different means (not just relying on their parents as the experts). They learn via self study, online courses, tutors, classes, group work, etc.

But what about university? As stated previously in the study by Dr. Brian Ray, many homeschoolers go onto further education, but do unschoolers in particular have a hard time of it? In Peter Gray’s survey mentioned above, he noted a few additional themes:

“Getting into college was generally not particularly difficult for these unschoolers”; “the academic adjustment to college was generally quite smooth for them”; and “most felt advantaged because of their high self-motivation and capacity for self-direction”. Most individuals from the survey who pursued higher education, got entrance via first getting credits in their local community college during their teen years.

I’ve also read of unschoolers getting into university by way of a self assembled portfolio. As suggested in Gray’s study, and affirmed by my own research, resources across the board seem to show that unschoolers have no trouble getting into university or succeeding when they get there. They attend a wide range of schools reaching up to the very prestigious.

Successful Social Life?

Now comes the big question in terms of life happiness. Do homeschoolers in general have a balanced and thriving social life compared with their schooled peers?

They are certainly busy. As quoted from the article “Homeschooling: The Dreaded ‘S’ Word, Socialisation” on the Daily Kos news site:

“Homeschool kids are busy and actively engaged with the society around them. They are attending play groups, support groups, learning co-ops, classes at the local community center, and sometimes even the occasional class at their local public school. They are joining Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, sports teams, theatre groups, Civil Air Patrol, book clubs, and more. They participate in Science Fairs, History Fairs, Spelling Bees, Poetry and Literature contests, and just about any other academic competition you can think of. They do all of this and still have time at home to think, to ponder, to wonder, to actually be bored. Homeschool kids play outside and build forts and they can spend hours constructing a unique futuristic air ship from their legos. They have time with other children and apart from other children, which is exactly what homeschool parents want for their kids.”

After conducting a review of 24 studies on the socialization of homeschoolers, Susan McDowell, a PhD in Educational Leadership, confirmed the social issue is a non-issue. “All the research shows children are doing well.” She says. In an attempt to find sources proving the opposite, she claimed that no one in the academic field had supported the idea that homeschoolers are less socialised by research. An interesting finding, given the common myth that homeschoolers are unsocialised.

In fact, homeschooled children are shown to be better socialised then their schooled peers. To again quote directly from Daily Kos, Dr. Larry Shyers, who holds a Ph.D. in counseling, found in his studies that “homeschooled children are not disadvantaged when it comes to socialization. He said that those taught at home were more likely to invite others to play with them, they were not as competitive but more cooperative, and they kept their noise levels lower. Homeschooled children also played with peers of both genders rather than with those of the same gender, he added.”

Also quoted in the article were the findings of a graduate student, Thomas Smedley, from Radford University in Virginia who wrote his master’s thesis about “The Socialization of Homeschool Children.” Smedley “used the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales to assess the personal and social skills of matched groups of homeschooled and publicly schooled students. His results showed that homeschooled children had greater social skills and maturity than students attending public school. The differences were rather dramatic, with the homeschooled students ranking in the 84th percentile, while the public school students scored only in the 27th percentile. Smedley noted that public school students are socialized ‘horizontally’ into conformity by their same-age peers, while homeschooled students are socialized ‘vertically’ toward responsibility and adulthood by their parents.”

In Conclusion

So, having addressed the fictional disadvantages of homeschooling/unschooling, what are the actual disadvantages?

Well, one of the bigger issues is having to deal with the concerns your community and family might have with homeschooling. I follow a couple of homeschooling Facebook groups here in the UK, and two of the big repeat issues discussed there are ‘X authority figure is suggesting I’m a bad parent for homeschooling my children; what are my rights?’ and ‘X family member thinks we’re insane. How do I deal with this?’

There are various government bodies and legislature that can help if you run into problems within your community. I’d suggest posting on one of the homeschooling Facebook groups, as they’re great at advising the best moves forward. In Scotland, the law states that if a child has never been to school, then there is no need to report them anywhere and homeschooling can be carried out freely. If the child has been to school and you want to remove them, you must ask for permission from the school board who cannot refuse without a substantial reason.

Another notable concern with homeschooling is financials. Homeschooling means that both parents can’t be employed full-time. On top of that, there are likely to be additional costs for the various activities, classes, and supplies that your children might want to partake in. There are a lot of free resources out there too though, so costs will depend on what you choose to make use of.

Homeschooling is by no means an easy route to take. Yes, you might not have those early morning school runs, but in contrast you might be spending a lot more time out and about then you would be otherwise. Keeping children’s minds busy means lots of doing, whether it be trips to the local homeschooling groups, or setting up art projects at home. Being responsible for your children’s education involves a lot of dedication. You won’t get the same quiet time a parent who sends their kids off to school will get, either.

Something else to be ready for, especially if you’re unschooling, is the fear that comes with forging your own path. It’s easy to feel like either you or your children are not doing enough. And, as an unschooling parent, it takes bravery to be your children’s nudge in the right direction, rather than their dictator.

But to me, the rewards of unschooling seem to outweigh the disadvantages ten fold. There are even some bonuses that I haven’t mentioned, such as is mentioned on the FAQ page of homeschool.com:

“For many homeschoolers, one of the greatest benefits of homeschooling is the strengthening of family bonds. Homeschooling families spend lots of time learning and playing together and this naturally creates close ties between brothers and sisters and between children and parents.”

So, how could I not choose to take this journey with my family? I want to be in the trenches with my kids: building forts, exploring museums, and doing science experiments. I want to watch them learn, and learn right along with them. I want to see them become happy self motivated adults who know how to follow their passions, and I never want them to think childhood is something to “get through” before real life begins. Childhood is so precious for deciding who we are, and I want to give my kids all the space in the world to grow.

It was a beautiful sunny day as I lay out on our lawn and watched my daughter play in the gravel. In the background lay our view over the valley, peeking through the neighbours’ houses.

There is a juxtaposition there, that often catches me: The peaceful chirping of birds amongst the light hum of the traffic below in the valley. It makes me yearn for a chance to be in that same spot back when this hill was forest covered, free of outside noise and untamed in its landscape.

How I wish I could stop the ever growing snowball of replacing the natural with the artificial. The human race is an unstoppable force, however, so instead in my day-to-day I focus on rewinding the damage only in my own life.

Some days though, when I feel the strain of always being the one to swim up stream, I wonder why I choose to stick it out in a civilization that seems to, at every turn, replace natural solutions with more problematic, man-made ones.

People are constantly trying to minimize the effort needed to live, but with that we have removed exercise from our day-to-day. We have damaged our posture with soft seats and hard soled shoes, and polluted our bodies with diets not fit for us or the animals and crops sacrificed to feed us.

And on a mental level, people no longer respect themselves as animals. There is an expectation to discard our natural instincts, to even distrust them, and to feel ashamed of our unaltered bodies and desires.

Then, to what end? Our lives are filled with endless possibilities, but at what price? The constant background buzz of traffic and airplanes that turns an otherwise peaceful silence into continual sub-conscious stress, also penetrates our minds. There seems to be an infinite list of to-do items always buzzing in the back of our brains, and our lives are led through endless goal posts towards a never-here present.

‘I could go live in the forest,’ I think. ‘Find a few like minded people, start a tribe, and go back to how things were before all the corruption.’ But then I remember what I find myself attached to in this world.

I think of all the friends and family I have across the globe, that I can talk to and connect with whenever I want, from the comfort of my own bed here in Scotland.

I think of the vast pool of knowledge that is inches away from me at any moment on the web, available for whenever I want to know something.

And then there are the safety and comforts of this world.

It is very likely that all of my children will reach adulthood, and that I will live a long life.

I can buy any food I want, whenever I want, instead of hunting for it.

My home is always warm and safe.

So, the buzz continues. Watching my daughter play in the gravel, I instead hope for a compromise. I hope that I can teach her to respect herself and this earth in ways her peers don’t. So that she and I, and anyone we may influence, may slowly increase the vote for the type of health and happiness that is long lived.

And while I do not expect to change the human race, what I do hope for is this: To make a future that always holds a safe harbour for both the natural world and those who wish to reconnect with it. To keep the knowledge and the support available to those who seek it, and to give our children’s children a forest to walk through.

Do four things at once? Check. Lift multiple heavy objects in one arm, while carrying a wriggling baby in the other? Check. Eat more than I’ve eaten ever before, while still losing weight? Check. I am Mom, I have superpowers.

Being a mom has been the best health regime of my life. I’ve lost weight, become strong, more productive, and learned how to be better to my body. All the while appreciating the present moment more often than I ever did before. I’ve made this transition not by conscious effort, but simply by doing what felt right to do in taking care of my daughter.

I understand that these sorts of changes do not naturally occur for all parents. Modern parenting methods often, in fact, seem to try to minimize parenting effects on the body, taking a more hands-off approach. I suppose it is mankind trying to make life easier, but from where I stand, it seems to do the opposite.

I remember a bottle-feeding friend of mine, as she pushed her daughter in her pram, talk about how she was trying to make time for the gym in order to lose her baby weight. While I nodded in understanding, all my brain could say was, who needs to go to the gym when breastfeeding helps you lose weight, and carrying and taking care of your children is one of the best workouts out there?

This is why I love natural and attachment parenting methods. While I give my daughter all she needs to grow up feeling loved, appreciated, and strong, I am also giving the same to myself.

My daughter, Jade, and I walk everywhere. She doesn’t like the car, and nor should she really. Being outside in the fresh air and exploring the world around her makes going places just as fun as getting there. I carry her a lot of the time in my woven wrap, though now that she’s more mobile at age one, I also let her walk a lot.

I also share pretty much everything I eat with her. I never bothered, or planned to bother with, “baby food”. Instead I just let her explore and try what she sees me eating. This has also been great for encouraging me to eat right. I’ve always been keen to give my body the right fuel, but seeing the food I’m giving her gives me a whole different perspective on what I really want (her) to be eating.

Jade sleeps only when she wants to sleep. This isn’t to say there aren’t times late at night when I don’t have an influence, but it’s all done via kind persuasion. I’ll nurse her, rock her, sing to her, or just run around with her until she’s tired. Eventually, we’re both well worn out and ready to snuggle up in bed together.

Yes, I burn a lot of energy. Being a full time house wife and mom is a lot to take care of, especially when you’re doing it the rough and tumble, let your kids get messy and throw flour around so they can learn, sort of way that I do it. I love it though. Spending tiring day after tiring day watching my daughter learn and seeing the world through new eyes beats my old life of TV and PC games any day.

Of course, I need a lot of fuel as a result. Both from running around, and from breastfeeding. I eat four or more meals a day, and crave and consume many more natural fats that I ever did before. But, as proof that it’s good to listen to your body, I have lost weight and feel great in this routine. I am 25 lbs (11.3 kg) lighter than my pre pregnancy weight, and that’s with more heavy muscle on my body than I’ve probably ever had on me in my adult life.

Note, I didn’t enter parenthood thinking ‘I want to become an attachment parent'; it just happened. Rather than just accepting common practices, which are not always common for the right reasons, I instead asked myself what felt instinctively right. What was natural? Eventually, from talking with other moms, I realized what I was doing was called attachment parenting.

So, if you’re not part of the club already, do give it a think for the future. Attachment parenting may be baby-led, but the baby isn’t the only one gaining from it!

I had a lot of trouble writing this article, not because I didn’t have a lot to say, but instead because the topic depresses me a bit. It is sad how we, as a human race, have created so many unnecessary hazards for ourselves. Not only that, but these hazards seem virtually unknown to most of the population, meaning that many people are constantly bombarding their bodies with long term health risks without knowing it.

I am writing this article not so that you can avoid all of these areas of concern, because that is unrealistic. I am instead writing so that you can know what’s out there, so that you can take your own measured amount of risk.

So, how best to choose safe household products? As usual, the general rule is, the more pure and close to nature the materials are, the better.

The only pure elements I can think to look out for is lead, such as in old paint, and aluminum, found in things like pots, pans, and deodorant. Note that both of these materials can be poisonous in the right circumstances.

Of course a material’s composition is not always easy to tell. Here are some areas to look out for:

Wood – Is it solid wood, or particle board?

There are lots of nasty chemicals in particle board, which is why you’re not supposed to burn it in your fireplace. Doing so releases those chemicals into the air, but even just having the stuff in your house means potential off-gassing. Opt for good old fashioned solid wood when you can. It looks nice, holds up stronger, and is much friendlier on the chemical scale.

Cloth – What it means to go pure.

Unfortunately, there are way too many toxic chemicals manufacturers like to throw into their cloth products. If it’s baby toys or mattresses, you’re dealing with flame retardants. If it’s non-iron shirts, it’s formaldehyde. A lot of clothes are made of fabrics that have been processed with bleach, and even organic fabrics are sometimes soaked in toxic dyes. New clothes should be washed before wearing, because manufacturers sometimes spray new clothes with chemicals to keep them looking smooth and neat in their packaging. Finally, the cloth type itself should be considered, because artificial fabrics like polyester (which is a type of plastic, by the way) may leave residue on the skin, especially if sweated in.

The most trustworthy fabrics? Organic natural fibers such as organic cotton, wool, and hemp, that have been dyed with safe dyes. A word of caution though: There are fabrics out there that are labeled as “organic” that have not been kept organic through the whole process, i.e. cotton that was grown organically, but then bleached, or bamboo, which requires a chemical treatment to get that soft fabric from the originally organic fibers. One of my best ways to tell what I am getting is sight and smell. Real organic fabric smells wonderful, and if it’s not dyed, fabrics such as cotton will be an off-white color rather than pure white.

Plastics – How to make the enemy your friend.

Ok, plastics are far from natural, but they have become an integral part of our lives. So my rule of thumb here is to stay away from plastics when it’s reasonable to, but otherwise choose plastics that have the best reputation. Kitchen utensils for example, I try to go with wood, metal, or glass, instead of plastic. I even have a glass water bottle instead of a plastic one. However, when choosing a shower curtain, I didn’t like the mechanics of the glass partitions, so instead I made sure the shower curtain I got was PVC free. PVC, by the way, if you haven’t heard of it, is the worst known plastic out there in terms of toxicity. It leaches and off gases, and unfortunately is used in a huge range of household items from water pipes to children’s toys.

The best way to identify what plastics are safe is to look at the recycling number printed on the bottom of many objects. This tells you a bit about what type of plastic it is. PVC is recycle number three. Six is another number you’ll want to stay away from, which includes things like Styrofoam and plastic cutlery. Two, four, and five, are the safest, while one (used for bottled water, etc.), and seven, which is a catch all for other types of plastics, are cautionary tales.

Note that plastic listed as being dishwasher or microwave safe does not mean that it is healthy to put it in the dishwasher or microwave. It simply means that it won’t melt in these conditions. To avoid leaching from plastics I would avoid doing both practices where ever possible.

For us, we don’t own a microwave since we found we do just fine without one, and in its absence, we don’t have to worry about the radiation microwaves emit. As for the rare item we eat that comes in “oven safe” plastic packaging, I’ll empty it into a glass oven proof dish before cooking. Then for the dishes, if it’s plastic, I’ll either do it by hand, or if I’m lazy, I’ll do a plastic only load in the dishwasher on low heat to minimize the chance of leaching.

Cleaning Products – Keeping clean the old fashioned way.

When I started looking around the house for potential hazards for my daughter, I was reminded of what I read during my pregnancy. I read that pregnant women should not use cleaning products that are not safe to inhale or touch because they could do harm to the baby. Personally, I feel that if a substance is that harmful to an unborn baby, it’s probably no good to a crawling around baby who puts everything in her mouth, either. So first off, I replaced all of these types of cleaners in my house with non-toxic solutions.

Besides some brand name non-toxic cleaners, there are also some great natural ones you might unknowingly already have in your home. Baking soda, for example, is very multipurpose. With a few other ingredients, you can find all sorts of natural cleaning recipes online. Two natural cleaners I often find myself using is lemon juice, for stains, and vinegar, as a natural disinfectant.

But what else to look out for? Fabric softener is a big one. A lot of resources will warn you against using it on baby clothing because baby’s skin will often react to the strong chemicals that make up this product. Personally, I’ve also stopped using it on my own clothes. But how does one still get clothes soft? Well, I’ve heard baking soda can help, though I have not tried it thoroughly enough to confirm it. Also clothes turn out infinitely softer coming out of the dryer than they do line-dried. For my daughter Jade’s nappies that I air-dry, I’ve found scrunching them up a few times in my hands once they’re dry also really helps.

The last big change I have made in this area, is that I no longer use shampoo or conditioner on my hair or Jade’s. Both of these common cleaning products, besides being a lot less necessary then we are led to believe, are also known for having various carcinogens in them. They can even contain PVC, as this is sometimes put in the “perfum” or “fragrance” listed on shampoos, conditioners, soaps, perfumes and makeup that you can buy. When I first learned this, I was reluctant to change because I didn’t know how the transition would be, but when I started taking all my baths with Jade, I was worried enough about her drinking the bathwater that I was inspired to make the change. I can say now, that I’m happy with my decision and I look forward to going over the details of my experiences in another article.

 Wireless – The price of unplugging

Many will remember the news articles going around about how mobile phones can cause cancer. This is because of the radiation they give off in order to transmit signals. However, many do not think about all the other devices they now own that also use radiation to transmit data. Wireless internet, Bluetooth, and cordless phones, all produce radiation, the safety of which is still too early to know.

Now I’ll admit, this has been a hard one to cut back on for me. Even as I type this, I am doing so from my tablet which connects to our Wi-Fi. However, there are easy ways to cut back. When I am home, I do not carry my mobile on me; I keep it in a central location in our house so that I can hear it ringing without being next to it. On my wireless devices, I turn off the Wi-Fi when I am not using it (which as a plus also saves battery life, by the way). I try to use as many wired products as possible, such as for my mouse and keyboard. When out and about, I keep my mobile in my bag farthest from me, and turn it off when it’s not needed. Also, as good practice, it’s good to hold mobile phones away from your head when they are trying to connect, as this is when the signal is strongest.

How to Still Relax

After hearing all this, you might go, “Eek, now I need to throw out half the stuff I own!”, but relax, don’t panic. You don’t need to switch over everything, and the things you do choose to rethink, you can do so overtime. These are long-term health effects after all.

Also remember, the body is amazing at dealing with what we throw at it. Take a drug too long and your body will learn to counter the effect. Take a poison in small doses, and your body will often build an immunity. I once heard of an experiment they did where they made a guy where glasses that turned everything he saw upside-down for an extended period of time. At the end of the trial period, he actually saw things right side-up, but when taking off the glasses everything was then upside down again. These are the wonders of the human body.

That said, there’s something to be said for not swamping your body with toxins and radiation either. A lot of the products I’ve listed have been shown to cause health problems, and the more of these your body is fighting at once, the more likely your immune system will be weakened and not be able to handle additional load.

The point is to keep everything in moderation. Minimize what you can, remove risks that don’t gain you anything, and you’re giving your body an extra step up. By knowing what’s out there, you can give your body an occasional break while still enjoying modern life, because at the end of the day, if you’re making the right decisions for the right reasons, then your life will be at its best.

 

Breastfeeding is the healthiest and most natural way to feed our babies, a fact even printed on the side of formula packaging, yet the best way in which to breastfeed seems to be an area of some debate. When, for how long, and in what manner you feed has become a confusing bundle of mixed advice, leaving new mothers struggling to feel like they are doing the right thing.

But why does it have to be so complicated? Surely other mammals are not following a carefully thought out formula, taught to them by others, to feed their babies. Their little ones are hungry, so they feed them; end of story.

Here are some of the breastfeeding “rules” I’ve heard of and why I DON’T listen to them:

“Your baby should feed every X hours.” Have you ever heard the expression “don’t wake a sleeping baby”? Babies don’t like being woken up, so why force them?  Your Baby knows when they are hungry and they will tell you when they are. As long as they look and act like a healthy, growing child, than that should be enough to let you know they are getting enough nourishment.

“It’s bad to let your baby feed for comfort.” I believe this instinct is there for a reason. Perhaps to make sure mom is there in times of danger, or perhaps to help keep mom’s milk supply at the right level. Either way, I trust evolution. As long as you’re eating healthy, your baby is too. So relax, your baby will regulate their amount of intake to what’s best for them.

“Baby should feed for X minutes each feed.” When I first heard this rule I heard something like 30 to 40 minutes is what should be expected, and with a newborn baby who took about that long, everything seemed grand. Then as time went on, suddenly my daughter started feeding for only 5 minutes at a time. I would try to coax her back on, but this would only upset her. I was worried she wasn’t getting enough! So I asked an adviser at the local breastfeeding group about it, and she cleared things up. Apparently some babies just get really efficient at it, and only need to feed 5 minutes at a time. I stopped pressuring Jade to eat more, she was happy, so I was happy. This was yet another reminder in baby knows best!

“You should try to get baby to drain both breasts at each feed.” Different babies feed differently. Some will want to go on to the next breast as soon as they’ve drained the first, some will be full off of one. It’s best to listen to your individual baby’s needs. For my Jade, she’s happy with just the one at most feeds.

“Switch which breast you use each time you feed.” This rule is to prevent you from losing the ability to feed from one breast or the other from lack of use, which can happen. However, don’t panic! Yes, you should make sure you are not forming habits that leave you only feeding from one breast all the time, but at the same time, think of this more like the ‘don’t always carry your bag on the same shoulder’ rule. If it makes sense to feed twice from the same side for whatever reason, that’s ok. You don’t need a mobile phone app or a bracelet or anything fancy like that to track what side you last fed on and rule your life. Let yourself relax and feel free to wing it a bit! Also, if you need an idea which breast you haven’t been using the last feed or two, just give them a squeeze!

Real Concerns of Breastfeeding

Sore nipples. Ok, so sore nipples are not fun. I’ve been there. When Jade was a newborn she was what my baby book called a “barracuda baby”, meaning when she fed she meant business. Blisters plagued my new-to-breastfeeding nipples, and I got to the point where I wasn’t sure I could take much more.

Some use shields to fix the problem, but these are controversial and I would mark them as a last resort, because feeding too much with nipple shields can inhibit your baby’s ability to feed straight off of the nipple. So what is a good solution? A midwife I talked to suggested Lanolin.

Lanolin is the oily wax in sheep’s wool which protects their coat from water. It’s all natural, and is fine to go through baby’s digestive system, making it a perfect soother for abused nipples. It made all the difference for me, and I would recommend buying a tube before baby arrives just in case.

For peace of mind though know that sore nipples, if you get them, are temporary! As long as your baby is latching on correctly (baby’s top lip right above the nipple, their lower lip a good mouthful below), the soreness will only be from your nipples adjusting to the new situation and will pass. Hang in there; any breastfeeding mom will tell you it’s worth it!

Milk Leakage. This problem is pretty much gone for me now but it was quite an annoying issue when Jade was a newborn. So, how to best solve it? For me, I purchased several pairs of organic cotton and hemp breast pads which work great during the day and are quite comfortable. They can also be easily thrown in the wash. You just have to make sure to switch them out for new ones whenever one starts to get damp, which I found usually happened on the breast that wasn’t being used during a feed.

As for night time, since I don’t wear a bra while I’m sleeping, I found having a small muslin against my breast and one to exchange it with within reaching distance was the best solution, especially for night time feeds while bed sharing.

Diet. You’ve probably heard there are things you should consume, and things you shouldn’t, while breastfeeding. However, there are some varying opinions in terms of do’s and don’ts. Here’s my take on it:

Do’s – Eat as much of a natural diet as possible to give baby the best energy possible.

Don’ts – Junk food, processed sugar, caffeine, alcohol. If you shouldn’t be eating it, neither should baby!

I think a lot of women don’t realise how much of what they eat actually gets into their breast milk, but let me assure you, it does. I made all natural lemon squares the other day and the next day Jade’s poo smelled like lemons!

Finally, note that I did not put raw meat or eggs on my “don’ts” list. As long as ingredients are carefully sourced from healthy, naturally raised stock and are eaten fresh, I consider these ingredients to be more of a gain rather than a loss. There are, after all, added nutrients to raw foods that are cooked away otherwise.

The Benefits of Breastfeeding

Why breastfeed? Because the list of benefits is beyond anything else!

Breastfed babies have better immunity, less allergies, are less prone to obesity, often grow to be more intelligent, and have a lesser chance of SIDS.

Moms who breastfeed are less vulnerable to postpartum depression, more relaxed, naturally lose weight, have a lower chance of breast cancer, and are able to form a tight bond with their baby through breastfeeding.

And to top it all off, breast milk is available free and on-demand! No heating or mixing up formula with a crying baby in the background, no worrying about transporting milk and keeping it refrigerated, less mess while baby eats, no sterilising bottles, and no worrying about baby getting too much or not enough.

Why breastfeed? Because breast milk is nature’s (w)hole-in-one!

 

I find it surprising how “normal” being on medication has become. People are constantly swallowing these chemical compounds during everyday life for headaches, heartburn, depression, ADD, trouble sleeping, stuffiness, etc. etc. In fact, I’ve had plenty of times when people have asked me what I take and when I say “nothing”, they seem surprised. The “more natural” route of vitamins has the same sort of following, with people taking them for everything from more energy to better skin. So what’s wrong with this picture? Here’s what I think.

Medicines

Let’s start with medicines. Now don’t get me wrong, I do think there is a time and place for them especially when it comes to medical emergencies. The issue here is that they have become the crutch that people lean on to avoid facing the real problem. ‘Have a headache? Take a pill and keep going!’ Says the ads, but did that person ever stop to think that maybe they have a headache because their body needs to slow down, de-stress, and get more hydrated?

Even when people do realise that, for example, they need to rest even after they have taken something, they often don’t rest as long as they should, because their body’s way of communicating how it’s doing has been muted.

Ever hear of the rare disorder where a person is born without the ability to feel pain? Sounds great, right? Not really. That same person is in risk of serious injury all their life, because their body will not warn them if they start to accidentally damage themselves.

Medicines often treat symptoms rather than causes. Which means relying on them often means not giving the body what it really needs to get healthy. Continually doing this means not only are you risking more long term damage, but you are also creating a continual cycle of needing more medicine.

More because you are still doing what caused the problem in the first place, and because the body is smart. If you start giving it strange substances that mess with it’s system, it doesn’t like it, so it adjusts. This is why, for example, you shouldn’t take sleeping pills. At first it will work great, but then over time your body will work to counteract the effect until you’re not much better off then where you started. So, you have to take more to get the same effect or you can stop. However if you stop, you will now have even more trouble sleeping than when you started, because you’re body is now compensating for the medication it’s expecting, yay!

Finally my last concern with medicine, it’s unpredictable! Yes, it will most likely do what’s advertised on the box, but did you ever read the list of potential side affects, or hear of other disastrous health issues that have cropped up from taking x drug? This is because the body is complicated. And while we like to pretend we understand it, there is a lot about it we still don’t know. Then of course, there’s that fact that everyone’s body is different!

Vitamins

So what about vitamins? Surely taking vitamins, which we need in everyday life anyways, couldn’t be bad? This is the way I thought until I met my husband. He doesn’t trust vitamins. ‘Why?’ I asked, puzzled. To which he answered, ‘because they come out of a factory.’

This got me thinking. What exactly are these pills I’m taking? They’re not exactly natural. I did a bit of research and realised that for one thing, vitamins are not pure. They’re mixed and encapsulated in various other components in an attempt to make them go down well, taste right, and be digested in the right manner. Some of these ingredients have been listed as harmless, others untested, and still others have been marked for concern. Then of course there is the vitamin itself.

When I was pregnant I got a lot of pressure to take the right balance of vitamins. Take folic acid they said, but avoid vitamin A. Why avoid vitamin A? Because it can cause birth defects! Eek!

So, being the natural person that I am, I started looking up what foods had vitamin A in them so that I could avoid an overdose. The answer? A lot. Dairy, fruit, vegetables, and meat; foods from all of these groups have significant amounts of vitamin A in them. With few healthy foods left in the list, I felt like there must be something missing to this picture, and there was.

Vitamin A is actually quite important for your body. It helps with eyesight among other things. Upon digging a little deeper I found that what doctors are actually concerned about is pregnant women taking too much vitamin A in the form of supplements.

Eating foods with vitamin A naturally in them is for the most part (excepting say, liver), just fine, since in these natural food sources the body is accustomed to taking just what it needs and leaving the rest. Vitamins in the form of food supplements are given in a much more concentrated form and digested differently, so an overdose is much more possible. Moral of the story? If at all possible, get vitamins in the way they were meant to be acquired: through food!

Besides, if you aim to get the vitamins you need in food, then you are also giving your body lots of other good stuff you might be low on otherwise – minerals, antioxidants, fiber, etc., and you’ll be leaving less room for those empty calorie foods which add other problems.

Ironically, when I asked my midwife what foods I could eat to make sure I got enough folic acid for the baby, she didn’t have an answer for me. (The answer, by the way, is a lot of green leafy vegetables, among other whole foods.)

It’s sad to me how the natural solution seems to be often not even mentioned in modern medical teachings. Which brings me to a word of warning I have said before: learn what you are eating!

There have been various government policies put in place, at least in the US, to encourage various types of food manufacturers to add supplements to their products, for example iodized salt, and vitamin D in milk. This is an unfortunate solution to the problem that too many unhealthy food items are being sold to the public in the first place, leaving citizens vitamin deficient.

Unfortunately for us, this means things like overdosing on vitamin A or other fat-soluble vitamins can happen much more easily, so do watch for ingredient labels for what supplements might be added.

The More Natural Way

Vitamin deficient? Unfortunately to date there is no magical gruel like they have in The Matrix that has everything the body needs all perfectly balanced. But really, who wants that? Personally I would much prefer a nice energizing salad that tastes great and leaves me feeling great.

And medicine? Give your body rest, nutrients, exercise, and emotional boosts in self confidence and relaxation, and the rewards will be much greater and more long lasting.

So this is my recommendation to you, next time something isn’t right in your body, ask this, “what is my body asking for? What does it really need to fix the balance?” You’re body will reward you for listening.

 

“Does your daughter sleep through the night yet?”

When Jade was just 6 weeks old I got my first night of not needing to get out of bed all night, which if you talk to pretty much any parent, is pretty phenomenal.

Even on average, I was only getting up about once per night. The reason I was able to get so much sleep? The wonders of bed sharing!

When you sleep with your baby all curled up at your side, you can basically feed them in your sleep, so that means the only reason to get up is to change them. And I don’t know about all babies, but Jade doesn’t eliminate in her sleep, so if there’s a wet nappy it’s because she has properly woken up for some reason.

That means once she got used to the day-night cycle she was happy to sleep through, because who needs to wake up when you only need to nuzzle in for a snack?

To be fair, the scenario I’ve painted here is for the breastfeeding mother, which I know isn’t everyone. I completely recommend breastfeeding if you’re able, but I’ll go into that more another day. As for now, regardless of how you feed your baby, bed sharing is a great way to connect with your little one and be there for them.

I often hear stories of parents struggling to trick their baby into sleeping without them (or giving up and letting them cry themselves to sleep), the long nights of getting up for constant feeds, and the artificial solutions like trying to feed them filling substances before bed. It just doesn’t make sense to me. Why struggle so hard to find a solution to a problem that nature already solved?

We were made to sleep with our babies. Think about it. If you were out in the wilderness, like so many animal mothers, would you really want your vulnerable little sleeping baby to be sleeping separate to you while predators were about?

So why have people formed this habit? Parents have been made to be scared. As with all areas of life, there are ways for things to go horribly wrong. Bed sharing has been labelled dangerous by some, and because of that the public eye has turned away from it. That is why it is important to look up rules for safe bed sharing, just as you should for having them sleep in their cot.

If you are safe in the way you bed share, I personally feel it’s much safer than it they’re sleeping separately, because you have a better sense of if they need you. I will admit that, in the first few weeks of bed sharing with Jade, there were some times when I accidentally pulled the sheet over her head when I was trying to cover myself. She didn’t like this, so she would start wriggling and that would alert me to the issue so I would then fix it.

If she had accidentally gotten her head covered while sleeping in a cot (which can happen if you don’t put the baby towards the bottom of the mattress), I doubt her wriggling would have been enough to alert me.

By the way, if you are thinking “but I’m a heavy sleeper! I might not wake up!” know this: you’re instincts as a mother will wake you. I have always been a very heavy sleeper. In fact, I even slept through an earthquake once. However, even from day one when I was exhausted from giving birth, if my little girl started wriggling in her sleep I was instantly conscious.

That said, if you are not the birth mother of your baby I don’t know how it works, so I would recommend looking it up. Regardless, do look up bed sharing safety if you are considering it.

Some of the rules we follow include having a bed rail on our bed (mattress on the floor also works), no drugs or alcohol, making sure to get enough sleep, and arranging sheets, blankets, and pillows so that baby is not in danger of getting her head covered by any of them.

By the way, the solution we ended up with for the sheet covering issue was for me to have a separate small cellular blanket which I use just for my shoulders. This way the sheet stays well below Jade’s head as it only covers up to my waist.

To sum up, we have been bed sharing with our daughter since day one and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I mean really, who doesn’t love cuddling up to their sweet little sleeping baby, going to sleep, and then waking up to that curious little face looking up at you in the morning?

 

When I was a preteen I took my first dive into the world of healthy but unpopular choices. I gave up all processed sugars, sugar substitutes, and caffeine, along with foods that had unusually long lists of unrecognizable ingredients in them.

Why? Well, as is a common motivating factor for dietary changes, I was overweight.

Luckily I had some guidance. My mom, like many members of my family, has struggled with weight her whole life. As a result of this and her love of reading, she has read probably every book out there on nutrition, diets, and everything in between. And luckily for me, she loves talking about it.

There are many diets out there. In fact, in my opinion it’s the new religion because everyone out there has their own opinion of what people should be eating. The choice for me felt obvious though. Eat food that the body was evolved to eat, in a form that your system already knows how to deal with, and your body will take care of the rest.

Sugar for example, eat sugar in the form of fruit and the body is happy and healthy. Eat it in the form of table sugar and you run into all sorts of problems.

‘Oh I’m not eating that much,’ you might say, but a word of warning for sugar and all food additives: READ LABELS. When I first gave up sugar etc. and started reading labels, I was shocked at what they put sugar in. Bread? Canned vegetables? Salt?? All yes. What a joke. If there is anything you take away from this post, it must be this: Learn what you are eating. Reading labels has been a godsend for me, even when I went back on sugar etc. for a while, because it meant I was in control of the quantity of those substances.

Anyways, so what happened when I gave up eating food that had been through a lab and back? I lost 55 pounds in a matter of months. I was very skinny then, and over time 10 pounds of that came back to leave me at the nice healthy weight of 135 pounds at the height of 5′ 7″, but I was fine with that, because that was where my body was most comfortable.

Where to Compromise

I did my diet for 10 years before taking a few years off, and now I’m back on it again with my daughter. Whenever making a change to your diet, I recommend making changes for the long haul, because fast fixes are temporary.

I actually feel lucky that I have genes that cause me to gain weight at any slight slip in routine, because it’s a reminder to me that I’m doing something that will affect me negatively in the long run. For all you never-gain-weight people, remember, there are many worse problems that come from eating poorly than weight gain.

That said, just because I’ve chosen a life of no processed sugar doesn’t mean I haven’t found ways to enjoy a wide range of foods and sweets. I totally recommend learning how to cook/bake if you don’t already, because being able to make things like BBQ sauce, muffins, and even chocolate (well, carob) éclairs with all natural ingredients makes life amazing.

For those wanting to join me, a few notes to help you get started:

  • Sweeteners I trust: Maple syrup, maple sugar, honey, stevia (pure green powder form preferably!), date syrup, date sugar, fruit juice.
  • Sweeteners to stay away from: sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, molasses, brown sugar, dextrose, maltodextrin, aspartame.

Note: This is by no means a complete list. When in doubt, look it up. I recommend checking out both how they make or acquire said sweetener, and the sweetener’s GI (Glycemic Index).