There is a disturbing phenomenon relating to what happens to many mums and dads who choose more natural, child-centred approaches to parenting. When parents are criticised for neglecting their children – though criticism is a poor teacher – one is at least not surprised. But when parents are denounced, dissuaded or even shamed for choosing to be more nurturing, this seems astonishing. It appears that, frequently, those who try natural parenting risk finding themselves alone, judged or marginalised. In a nutshell, natural parenting, means trusting and following your babies’ need-cues, rather than forcing them to fit in with your schedules. Generally, it might feature touchstones such as demand breastfeeding, self-weaning (sometimes as late as four years or older), co-sleeping and self-paced toilet training. It means setting boundaries without resorting to shaming or punishment. Many parents enjoy mature and mutually respectful relationships with their children as a result of having used empathy and understanding, rather than demanding submission. Around the world, parents are turning to such child-centred methods in increasing numbers. If you practice a more natural style of parenting, whether through conviction or by way of exploration, you could encounter considerable resistance from others. At a time in life when we should be enjoying community support and shared joy, many parents are feeling excommunicated and ostracised. It can be astounding what a passionately hostile reaction natural mothering can evoke in some onlookers. The result at times appears to be a subculture of people who are hiding and alone. There is significant social and professional pressure to conform, to not exceed the limits of nurturance that our community feels comfortable with. This has led many natural parents to cloak themselves in secrecy. What follows are some examples of the experiences that parents have shared with me. One mother recounted how her choice to breastfeed her daughter after six months was frowned upon by her family in-law. During visits, she was compelled to leave the room in embarrassment each time she needed to nurse. She felt condemned, saddled with judgements and criticism. She had hoped to be surrounded by sympathetic others who would celebrate her mothering and instead was shunned and put down. Her longing for communal celebration of her mother-child bond was unmet. The sense of supportive extended family was compromised by her wish to better nurture her daughter. Breastfeeding in public places brought its own anguish. Plagued by people’s “nasty stares”, she became a breastfeeding refugee. Restaurateurs would usher her to the office, some even bid her to nurse in the toilet! It took a lot of courage, but eventually she developed a thick enough skin to breastfeed anywhere, vowing to put hers and her baby’s needs first. She made a firm decision to let people around her be responsible for their own prejudices. Though she felt stronger, she still felt besieged and was often stung by others’ disapproving stares. By the time her daughter reached 18 months, she found herself doing all she could to keep her breastfeeding secret and confidential. Friends who found out that she was still allowing her daughter to suckle began to accuse her of “clinginess” or “separation anxiety”. Her own mother stepped into the ring, telling her that what she was doing was shameful. In the second and third year, her friends’ reactions to her breastfeeding were of outright ridicule and humiliation. She survived being a laughing stock through the support of the Australian Breastfeeding Association, and the unfailing protection from her husband. Another mother described her family’s reaction to her breastfeeding her two year-old, as one of vigorous shaming and disapproval. A breastfeeding prohibition was imposed at her parents’ house, with admonitions such as: “don’t do it within our sight”, “not at the table”, or “take him to another room!” She painfully recalls the debasement of having her breast viewed – by her family – with absolute disgust. Members of her family accused her of “being weak” and of allowing herself to be “manipulated” by her child. She felt totally isolated, at times even harassed. Stigmatisation eventually gave way to direct interference and sabotage. Her mother-in-law took the child aside and told her that she was not allowed to feed at mummy’s breast any more. The little one came home crying and begging not to be taken to her granny’s any more. Co-sleeping can also attract scorn. A couple who shared a bed with their child until he was four, also kept this a secret because of friends’ mockery and derision. The dire warnings flowed thick and fast, in recurring themes: “You’ll create a rod for your own back!” “You’ll never get him out of your bed!”, “You’re nuts!” None of these warnings materialised into realities. They found members of the older generation more adamant – not one of them was accepting of their sleeping arrangement. Interestingly, it seemed to them that even among younger folk only a minority were supportive. What was bewildering to them was the passion with which the attacks came. Some people exploded into indignation, outrage, as if a great injustice were being committed. Why, they asked, did they react as if personally offended by this couple’s choice to venture outside the unwritten norms? For years, their co-sleeping was kept secret, they simply went underground and avoided the topic of sleeping arrangements in conversation. Not immune to self-doubt under pressure, sometimes they wondered if they were cranks who were abusing their child. Now, years later, when they talk about it openly, they still find few people that don’t react with disapproval. Sadly, what resembles a conspiracy of secrecy prevented them, like many others, from enjoying the support of like-minded parents who have also run for cover. Many parents similar to the above come to the dire conclusion that their friends, family and larger community would not support them in their efforts to be attentively tuned in to their children’s needs. They would have met none of the vitriol if they had stayed within the limits prescribed by their family and peers. They chose isolation over the feeling of betraying their beliefs and betraying their children. A “continuum” oriented mother found to her great surprise that other mothers were her harshest critics. She had expectations that her friends, who were also parents, would be supportive of her efforts to be attentive to her children. Incredibly, she found that other parents were much more critical of her devotion toward her children than the friends who had no children. This is by no means an unusual account. Could it be that to witness natural parenting can stir in the beholder feelings of inadequacy, or guilt? It is difficult enough to resist the pressure to conform when this pressure comes from friends and family. When coercion comes from health or legal professionals, the effects can be all the more damaging. For example, one mother told me that suckling her sons until they were two and four respectively was done in spite of her doctor, who several times insisted that she stop. She was unable to understand why her doctor had so emphatically and repeatedly cautioned her to wean her children against both her and their wishes, particularly as she was not seeking parenting advice. Another doctor urged her to smack her son and keep him still, because he was playfully running in and out of the office. He had not touched anything, yet his exuberance was offensive to the doctor, who somehow presumed a need for discipline. Though she refused to smack the boy, she felt too shocked and intimidated to protest. These experiences have made her extremely prudent and hesitant when selecting a medical practitioner. The vulnerability of sitting in the patient’s chair can amplify the impact of unsolicited and repugnant advice. The most appalling story I have heard, involves the possibility of serious legal consequences for a mother’s choice of “continuum” methods. A Family Court counsellor took the liberty to diagnose the nursing mother of a four-year old as “over anxious”, and suffering from an “attachment disorder”. This diagnosis is utterly baseless, unfounded, and contradicted by current literature. It is personal prejudice, pure and simple, and amounts to persecution. The notes taken by the counsellor could have had devastating effects in terms of custody implications. This mother faced increased risk of reduced custody; for choosing to parent in a way that extends beyond the norm. Should we be afraid to demonstrate a more intensive nurturance than our doctors, lawyers or counsellors feel comfortable with? Many parents who follow more natural methods are forced underground, unaware of all the others out there trying to follow their instincts in isolation. They can end up feeling like outcasts and crackpots in a world that wants to diagnose and correct them. I wish I had a penny for every time I have heard a parent bemoan their distaste for controlled crying or similar prescribed techniques that require ignoring their child’s cries. These parents feel deprived of support for their beliefs. Unable to find alternatives, they languish under the pressure to conform and wear the team colours. I’ve had mothers call me and say they felt isolated, diminished, and ridiculed in mother’s groups for stating that they couldn’t bring themselves to let their babi