Amy Suarez | |
No docs, teachers, social workers

California March 2nd — Redlands mom Lara Carlos is part of a parenting movement that bucks the mainstream.

Her three children, ages 7, 6 and 4, have never touched fast food. They were breastfed well into toddlerhood, carried close to their mom in a sling and are home schooled.

The Carlos kids, whose father, Kerry, is an acupuncturist, have never been seen by a medical doctor or taken antibiotics. Discomfort from illnesses is eased with herbs and chiropractic adjustments, never Tylenol. The youngest was born at home with a midwife, as will a fourth baby due any day, and the boys are not circumcised. The family sleeps together in one bed.

“It’s about going back to the way things were,” said Lara Carlos, 30, a childbirth educator. “There are a lot of people trying to get away from feeling like they (do not) have control of their health or their families.”

Traditional thinking about child rearing is being turned on its head by the Carlos family and a growing number of others intent on natural, healthy lifestyles. Known as holistic parenting, this new generation of moms and dads are eschewing convenience and common practices in favor of toxin-free, earth-friendly living.

Not everyone favors such an approach, especially when it comes to some parents’ decision to avoid having their children vaccinated because of concern over safety and toxins.

Holistic is the idea that all natural systems – including the mental, physical and biological – are connected and function as a whole.

The trend is driven largely by well-read women who want to live responsibly, despite occasional disapproval of their choices by their extended families and society. The popularity of holistic parenting is evident in numerous support groups nationwide, and has followed the growth of similar industries such as natural products and organic foods.

Lara Carlos co-founded the Barefoot Mamas’ Network four years ago to find like-minded parents. The 150-member group meets monthly at The Wellness Loft in Redlands, with speakers on topics such as baby weaning and childbirth options. The group helps by taking meals to members with newborns.

“It’s provided that sisterhood that’s been lost in our culture. It’s a place for someone who doesn’t know what to do, their baby is crying, they’re having trouble breastfeeding or they just want to talk about some of the decisions parents have to make, like vaccines,” said Lara Carlos, who hopes to take the group national this year.

Responsive parenting

Another group, the Holistic Moms Network, has 120 chapters nationwide and 14,000 followers on Facebook. The Temecula Valley chapter has a dozen members and meets monthly to discuss topics such as homeopathy and cloth diapering.

Many holistic parents also belong to organizations such as Attachment Parenting International and La Leche League, which also promote responsive parenting.

While holistic parenting revolves around balanced living, its proponents follow different paths, said Nancy Massotto, who founded the Holistic Moms Network in New Jersey in 2002. Some may eat only out of their organic gardens while others just try to not eat fast food, and some may live off the grid while others choose to not use plastic baggies in their kids’ lunches.

Their common bond is disillusionment about what’s going on in society, she said.

“A lot of today’s parents are disappointed in the way our lifestyle has become very commercialized. The generation before us embraced things that were high-tech, new and trendy, Western medicine and junk food, to make our lives more convenient but also very disposable,” Massotto said.

Like many others, Massotto said when she abandoned processed foods and moved to a whole diet she noticed her allergies eased and her immune system strengthened. That led to other holistic traditions, like chiropractic, for her, her husband and two sons, ages 5 and 10.

She makes her own cleaning products out of white vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice to avoid toxins. Her children’s sandwiches are wrapped in reusable fabric and they drink organic milk to avoid growth hormones and antibiotics.

Shunning vaccines

The anti-vaccine stance by some is perhaps the most controversial of holistic parenting practices. It counters recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which says vaccines are generally recognized as safe with minor side effects and protect against serious diseases that can lead to meningitis, seizures, deafness, brain damage and death. Severe reactions are rare.

Children should receive as many as 28 vaccines before age 2 under recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Stopping immunizations could lead to a resurgence of disease. From 1989 and 1991, a U.S. measles outbreak struck primarily people who had not been vaccinated or were inadequately vaccinated, according to the CDC. The epidemic killed 120 people.

“What’s happened is we’ve lost our institutional memory of what things used to be like before we had the measles vaccine, when otherwise healthy kids would get measles and end up in the hospital with pneumonia, or a case of chickenpox would cause a sore that became infected with strep,” said Dr. David Becker, a UC San Francisco professor and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Section on Complementary and Integrative Medicine.

“It’s hard for families to keep in mind because they don’t see it any more.”

Wildomar midwife Coley Douglass-Allen and her husband, Wayne Allen, a stay-at-home dad, decided not to vaccinate their 17-month-old daughter, Remedy.

“The likelihood of her being exposed to something life-threatening is really low,” Douglass-Allen said. “Certain things we vaccinate for, like measles and mumps, even if she got it, she would get sick, she’d get better and move on.”

Besides, vaccines are not 100 percent effective and children can have adverse reactions, she said.

The Allens plan to home school Remedy and believe in boosting her immune system by feeding her organic foods from their garden, including steamed zucchini, broccoli, corn and berries. They also avoid medications, instead giving homeopathic remedies such as chamomilla for teething and colic.

“Teething is part of their growing process,” Douglass-Allen said. “It’s nice to be able to help a little with the pain with the homeopathic, but I think it’s just something that needs to be. Tylenol has its own bad things. You don’t know how your child is going to react.”

Holistic parents often rankle their families with their choices. Douglass-Allen’s father-in-law regularly sends them newspaper clippings about vaccines and asks them to reconsider, she said.

“It’s hard,” she said, “that’s why it’s nice to have the Holistic Moms Network and a couple other groups I’m in. It’s nice to have that support.”


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