A state-licensed day care facility’s refusal to swaddle her infant son was the last straw for Abby Schachter.
It was 2013, and Schachter, a Pittsburgh-based libertarian columnist and Jewish commentator, found that although swaddling had helped her three older children to nap when in day care, Pennsylvania had banned the practice in its licensed centers beginning in 2011.
That ban, coupled with new state rules that compelled the day care center to dispose of all food that Schachter had sent to the facility with her child that remained uneaten, drew the ire of the writer, who has contributed columns to The Chronicle as well as The Pittsburgh Tribune Review and JTA.
Throwing away the uneaten food prevented Schachter from discerning how much her child had consumed, she said.
“They were dumping everything,” Schachter recalled. “My assumption was that they would just throw out food that might go bad, like yogurt. But when I called Harrisburg, I found out that they called ‘hazardous’ anything that had been proffered to a child, anything that had been put on the table. They were not allowed to return that food to the lunch bag or give it to the child again later on the same day.”
Since then, Schachter has been on a mission to call out the government on what she terms its “overreaction … to potential dangers that haven’t produced harm” and to recognize those parents who are standing up to those authorities who interfere with the right to parent.
After three years of research and 10 months of writing, Schachter’s first book, “No Child Left Alone: Getting the Government out of Parenting,” (Encounter Books) will be released on Aug. 16, and will be available for purchase online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as in some brick and mortar stores.
What began as a “series of annoyances” launched the journalist on a mission to discover the sources of her annoyances, she said.
After researching the ban on swaddling, for example, Schachter discovered it was based not on a statewide risk/benefit analysis of the practice, but on “Caring for our Children: National Health and Safety Performance Standards Guidelines for Early Care and Education Programs,” a guidebook produced by a federally funded group in Colorado called the National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education (NRC) in conjunction with the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Public Health Association.
The concern about swaddling, Schachter said, was that in group-care environments, the blanket in which the child is swaddled could become loosened and lead to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
And yet, Schachter contends, there have been no incidents of a swaddled infant dying in a day care center from SIDS.
“Swaddling, when done correctly as it has been done for thousands of years, helps babies sleep,” she said.
Schachter would have been “perfectly happy to sign a waiver” in order to have the day care center swaddle her son, but the center refused.
When she spoke to a representative of the NRC about the reasons for the suggested swaddling ban, “things became Orwellian,” Schachter said.
“They said, ‘We’re not against swaddling; we’re against blankets in cribs,’ ” Schachter recalled. And yet, blankets are necessary for swaddling.
Schachter’s critique of the policy continued.
“They don’t show that the probability of risk is likely,” she said of the NRC’s recommendation, “but instead try to make the regulations as broad as possible. They haven’t even proven that a problem exists.”
The issue of governmental interference with parenting extends far beyond swaddling, according to Schachter.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” she claimed.
Other topics in her book include incidents of parents being arrested or reprimanded for allowing children to walk to playgrounds alone or permitting children to ride the subway unattended or otherwise “criminalizing parents for using their own discretion.”
Additional chapters cover legislation favoring breastfeeding over bottle-feeding and kids getting taken away by the state from their families because their obesity is considered a form of “medical neglect.”
“At what point do you look at what [the state is] doing and begin thinking they may be doing more harm than good?” Schachter posited.
While Schachter is an advocate for getting the government out of parenting decisions, she does believe in mandated vaccinations, she said, as she draws “a line between what’s a public problem and what’s a private problem.” When it comes to vaccines, she would like to see the government “come down on parents with a hammer.”
“But what does it matter in Harrisburg if my baby gets swaddled?” she said.
Schachter hopes her book will help expose “how pervasive these problems are,” as well as highlight the parents who are trying to change things.
“I really feel the change will happen when people in different communities across the country realize this is a priority,” she said.
“This is not a book about child-rearing,” Schachter emphasized. “My point is to say you can raise your child any way you want.”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.