There’s a baby shampoo ad circulating that, likely to the chagrin of essential oil distributors everywhere, implies that “safe” and “natural” aren’t synonymous. “Natural might be the trend,” the ad reads, “but safe will always be our bar.” Five years ago, this ad campaign would have rattled me as much as that friendly Facebook mum you know all-too-well from your own feed. I probably would have shared it on that very social network, with some choice words and an eye-roll emoji, not-so-subtly inviting you into a debate disguised as convivial conversation. Back then, I wasn’t just a proponent of natural parenting. I was a full-on troll; a ride-or-die granola-mum-to-be more dedicated to an arbitrary system of parenting than I was to the actual needs of any real-life child. (Also, I wasn’t a mum yet.)
And then I had a baby, and soon enough the need for my family to simply survive overrode my obsession with being “right.” But not right away.
When I first became pregnant, I continued my maniacal swing away from conventional medicine, refusing to listen to anyone with a differing opinion. Other mums and, worse, internet message boards that supported my natural approach became my primary source of health information. My definition of “health” was anti-hospital, but it was also anti-learning, anti-grace, and, in retrospect, anti-safety. I basically stopped thinking about what was best for me and my unborn baby and let my narrow perception of “The One True Health” dictate many of my decisions. This was, in large part, thanks to a somewhat alarmist Ricki Lake documentary.
But motherhood is one of nature’s best humbling mechanisms. I’m two kids deep now, and I like to think that, over time, I have evolved into a person of greater wisdom and empathy, in both how I approach health and how I treat moms whose views differ from mine. That we each want our kids to be safe and healthy is a given — but how we define those things can vary drastically.
Some of us feel more comfortable with a traditional, research-backed medical model, while others rely on natural solutions. Integrative medicine, a growing field, is essentially a combination of the two. But, is one way the right one?
Experts like Mary Anne Jackson, MD, director of infectious diseases at Children’s Mercy Kansas City, seem to agree that if safety is a priority, evidence-based and integrative medicine are the way to go. But in some scenarios, science and safety go hand in hand. “Parents have to go with their gut instinct for certain things. But there are certain caveats that have scientific proof behind them,” she says. “For example, babies should sleep on their backs and ride in approved car seats. These things are integral to health.”
Many doctors agree that beyond these non-negotiables, there’s some wiggle room. So how do we navigate it? For me, it requires getting cozy in grey areas — because when it comes to health, a black-and-white mindset hasn’t done me any favours. It’s actually gotten me in trouble a few times: like when I told all my mom friends that epidurals were evil (before I even had kids, don’t worry). Or the time I tried to treat a yeast infection on my own (there was yogurt).
We’re told that good parents do things ‘naturally,’ whatever that means, and we try to parent accordingly.
I’m not the only one. In part thanks to this pop-culture moment — everything from the Moon Juice lady’s incomprehensible diet to everyone-and-their-mother’s essential-oil side hustles — there’s a stigma snaking its way through millennial moms. We’re told that good parents do things “naturally,” whatever that means, and we try to parent accordingly.
Taken to an extreme, this trend has led some to rebel against proven practices like vaccines (to grave results), pass up prescription or over-the-counter medication, or go for the wholesale avoidance of all “toxins,” which is…
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