Actress and activist Alicia Silverstone is raising some eyebrows with the parenting tips in her new book "The Kind Mama." Actually, "raising eyebrows" is an understatement. Among the wide variety of topics she discusses are potty training at 6 months old, pre-chewing her baby's food and her belief that a vegan diet can improve fertility. In the past, Silverstone been involved in controversies like appearing nude in ads for PETA, but her parenting methods have brought far more criticism. Is it warranted — or do the rest of us just need to catch up?
Silverstone and her husband, musician Christopher Jarecki, have one son, Bear, now almost 3. Many of the parenting practices she advocates are based in attachment parenting — for example, breastfeeding with baby-led weaning and co-sleeping (it should be noted that the American Academy of Pediatrics considers bed-sharing unsafe). She also backs Elimination Communication, which has garnered quite a following recently. Proponents say infants are born ready to be potty trained, and they have their babies urinate and defecate into a receptacle and make a sound so the baby learns to associate the noise with elimination. Many swear by it.
"Just like your baby tells you it needs to eat or it's tired, they tell you when they need to go to the bathroom. They give you cues, but we're ignoring those cues. If you pay attention, they actually have a pause button and will give you enough time to get to a place that makes it comfortable for them to go. It's amazing," Silverstone told People magazine.
Silverstone shares a lot of good advice, and all moms have the freedom to choose how to raise their babies. However, I am concerned about some of the fertility claims in her book. The full title is "The Kind Mama: A Simple Guide to Supercharged Fertility, a Radiant Pregnancy, a Sweeter Birth, and a Healthier, More Beautiful Beginning."
I respect her choice to be vegan, but I don't believe it's the cure-all she promotes it to be. "Eat well, get healthy, then ditch all the planning and trying and just let it flow," she suggests. "There's no better way to make a baby than with yummy, soulful sex!" That's pretty simplistic — and, frankly, insulting to women who have struggled with infertility for years. Plus, there's no conclusive evidence that being a vegan increases fertility. Some couples have spent thousands of dollars on treatments with no positive results that can leave them depressed and desperate for fresh ideas. I'm concerned that her advice may create false hope for those who have suffered enough pain.
Also on the topic of infertility, she makes these claims about tampons: "[Y]our chichi is the most absorbent part of your body. Unfortunately, feminine-care manufacturers aren't required to tell you what's in their products, which means that no one's talking about the potential pesticide residues from non-organic cotton and the 'fragrances' containing hormone-upsetting, fertility-knocking phthalates that are snuggling up to your hoo-ha." These types of claims are found throughout the book.
To be fair, not all the advice is questionable. While discussing bonding, Silverstone says she's against letting a baby "cry it out, self-soothe, or otherwise independently take care of himself before he's ready." Studies are solid on how important bonding is to both parent and baby in the early months. Most doctors recommend responding quickly to baby's needs. You can't "spoil" a newborn.
If you decide to read the book, be sure to check with your pediatrician before you follow any advice that seems out of the ordinary or goes against your mommy instincts. After all, that is the most powerful tool in choosing what's right for your baby.