This is not going to be a rant about health professionals.  Nor is it a rant about grannies, mothers-in-law or anyone else for that matter.  It is a rant about how fear can work its way into the mind of a mother, especially a new mother, and derail her own instincts or lead her to hide her perfectly valid choices as a mother, for fear of being criticized.

I’ve written here before about the effect of fear in parenting.  Many of us (myself included) have made decisions about our children based on a fear of what might happen.  In my last post I wrote about how that fear can prevent us from being as flexible as our children need us to be, and about how some childcare books prey on our fears in their attempt to impose predictability and control on what is actually a very fluid relationship.

So why am I cross?  Yesterday I was chatting to a breastfeeding mother and she was talking about her baby’s bed-time needs.  She said, “I know you’re not supposed to, but I do feed my baby to sleep.” She gave a sheepish grin and some colour came to her face.  She was embarrassed to admit it, perhaps seeing me as a potentially-critical ‘professional’ or perhaps even just as a mother who would disapprove of her choice.  I said, “Who says you’re not supposed to do that?  Where is that rule written?”  Her reply? “My health visitor.”

(For the benefit of American readers, a health visitor is a nurse practitioner trained in child health– ages 0-5.)

I wondered to myself whether the same health visitor would advise a mother of a bottle-fed baby to take the bottle out of his mouth before he fell asleep, or if a baby using a dummy (pacifier) should have the dummy removed before falling asleep.  Why this concern about breastfeeding a baby til he falls asleep?  Is it based on a worry that a child will expect this forever? Is it because we fear a baby’s dependence?  Or is it because society finds it difficult to accept a mother’s role as comforter?

My own thought is that many people assume that a baby’s expectation of comfort from his mother is a learned behaviour.  To my mind this is patently wrong.  All mammalian babies are born expecting their mothers’ care.  The nature/nurture argument and Freudian psychology are so ingrained in our culture that we assume that a baby’s behaviour is always down to his parents: blame the mother.

I admit that before I had children I assumed that babies are like a blank canvas on which you paint all of the qualities you want in your offspring.  When I had a high-need baby I struggled to understand why she cried so much, why she was so sensitive.  What was I doing wrong?  Nine years later I can confidently say: nothing.  It’s just the way she is.  But I was told not to feed her to sleep, not to pick her up when she cried, not to sympathise when she bumped her head, not to run to her if she hurt herself, to whisper when she shouted.  I suppose if I had done these things, it might have ‘hardened’ her.  But at what cost?  Nine years later she is a thoughtful, sensitive, perceptive person who experiences her emotions keenly and can empathise deeply with others.  I see nothing negative in this.  And importantly, I can say with satisfaction that I acted on the feelings that came from deep within me and made my decisions based on the deep and unique connection I have with my daughter.

Parents love their children. They want the best for them.  Unfortunately, professionals, whether they be health professionals, authors, or just professional busy-bodies, can easily undermine a new mother’s confidence.  We have in-built instincts, and yet other people think they know better.  How can someone else know how to mother my babies better than me?  Telling a breastfeeding mother not to feed her baby to sleep undermines her instincts, it makes her life harder, and it confuses the baby.  It’s like someone telling me I can’t have the most comfortable pillow in the house because I might begin to expect it.  Babies just don’t get our double-speak.

A baby’s basic instructions? “Hold me, feed me, keep me warm. Love me.” It’s simple. Resistance is futile.

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A bit of a rant, actually
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20 thoughts on “A bit of a rant, actually

  • 19/11/2011 at 9:35 am
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    I call it doing what ‘my nummies’ tell me. Nice to be reminded about high need children. Mine is now seven. She saves most of her craziness for home, and I often forget that she’s different. And I can tell you with absolute certainty, that if she hadn’t been fed to sleep (every single time!!) neither of us would have had any sleep at all for at least the first 3 years!!

    • 21/11/2011 at 8:36 pm
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      Hi Jane,
      I’m delighted that this resonated with you. What else do your nummies tell you to do? I’d love to hear more about how you got in touch with your instincts.
      Thanks for commenting,
      Lisa

  • 19/11/2011 at 12:25 pm
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    THANKYOU!!!!!!!!!! It’s so nice to have these reminders that I don’t have to excuse my instinctive parenting style to fit in with other people’s beliefs. I know my childen and how best to meet their needs thanks Lisa x

    • 21/11/2011 at 8:35 pm
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      Yes Emma, wouldn’t it be nice if, rather than doubting ourselves, we congratulated ourselves for being so in touch with our instincts?! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.
      Love,
      Lisa

  • 19/11/2011 at 5:57 pm
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    Awesome. Thank you. I couldn’t agree more. My son ALWAYS needed to be breastfeed to sleep, to the point of driving me bonkers, and thinking I had done something wrong. But still, I gave him what he needed (after trying out not nursing him to sleep and it DEFINITELY not working early on…I gave that up quick!). Then my daughter was born…and lo in behold not even did she NOT need to be nursed to sleep, she seemed to be happier oft times when I didn’t nurse her to sleep (less tummy upsets). So yeah…it wasn’t me. Every baby is different! So thanks for this, mom’s need to know this!

    • 19/11/2011 at 7:44 pm
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      Hi Kimberly,
      You raise a very valuable point: that a one-size-fits-all approach fails to take into account variance among the species! No two babies are alike! Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.
      Lisa

  • 19/11/2011 at 8:30 pm
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    Great post! I can think of a couple of people and one book that I could label as undermining my parenting but really it was my lack of confidence in my parenting abilities. I can also think of one person who really helped me to appreciate my own maternal instincts. She didn’t tell me what to do; she showed me how good I was at being a mother and she still does. She models great parenting and helps me understand what I’m doing right. I don’t always do things the ‘correct’ way but it’s the right way for me and my children.

    • 19/11/2011 at 8:49 pm
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      I love what you have to say Helen. It makes such a difference to have at least one person who is open to supporting you in the way you parent. We all do it differently. It takes a big person to accept that and to allow you the freedom to plough your own furrow.

      I wonder whether you’d be willing to share more about why you lacked confidence in your parenting abilities? I did too, and I’d like to learn more about why mothers feel this way.
      Thanks for commenting,
      Lisa

  • 21/11/2011 at 2:26 pm
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    I always finish reading your blog in a much better state of mind than when I started – thank you Lisa!

    In the early days with my first baby, I struggled with that ‘guilt’ of doing these things that I thought I wasn’t supposed to be doing – feeding my baby to sleep, sleeping with him, carrying him around in a sling. That makes it all so much harder. When I was pregnant with my second child, I remember thinking that the one thing that I was going to make sure I did this time – and the one piece of advice I would offer to any mother – was to do whatever is best for today, and not to think about what affect it might have on the future.

    • 21/11/2011 at 8:38 pm
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      Kirsten,
      What a great thing you have to say here– taking things one day at a time can help us to make the best decisions for today without a worry about what is to come. I wonder whether you’d be willing to say more about how you have implemented that in your own life? What would you say to a mother who asks, “But how do you do that?”
      Thanks for ready and writing, and I’m so pleased that these thoughts help your state of mind! Writing them down helps mine too!
      Love,
      Lisa

      • 24/11/2011 at 11:03 pm
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        Hi Lisa,
        I used to worry that if I had my baby in bed with us, he’d never learn to sleep on his own, that he’d always wake repeatedly in the night and want to feed. That meant that I would sometimes lie awake thinking about that, when I should have just been catching up on sleep! I read book after book, trying to find gentle ways of helping him to sleep on his own, but didn’t ever implement any of the suggestions because they all seemed like much harder work than just sleeping with my baby and feeding him whenever he wanted! As it turned out, of course, he now sleeps on his own all night long (most nights!) and was doing so by the time he was 2. With my new baby I no longer try to figure out different ways of dealing with the situation. Every night we just do whatever is going to get all members of the family the most sleep on that particular night. I know that it will all work itself out in time.

        I was actually also thinking about this today in terms of eating. My daughter has just turned one and has never been spoon-fed. She was eating some dip today using her fingers to scoop it out of the tub, and I felt a sudden panic that I hadn’t yet started teaching her about using spoons. Thankfully I quickly remembered that she sees us using cutlery every day and that one day she’d want to try it for herself! For today, the easiest way to get some food into her is to let her use her hands, and so that’s the way we’re going to do it!

        • 26/11/2011 at 8:27 pm
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          Hello Kirsten,
          Thank you so much for pointing out the value of children learning by example! We can spend so much effort trying to teach them or organising things for their learning, when actually they learn so much just by observing us. One less thing to worry about!

          It means a lot to me that you continue to read and comment. Thanks for considering what I write here and sharing your own experience. I loved hearing how you went for the ‘easiest’ option– mother nature does us a favour by giving us an easy option, and then we spend ages trying to resist it!! Go figure! 🙂

          Love,
          Lisa

  • 22/11/2011 at 4:22 am
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    What a beautiful post! I always feel happier after reading your work. And, perhaps, a sense of pride/contentment that I ‘am’ doing things okay with my daughter (phew). I almost always feed my baby to sleep (always for daytime naps), and definitely feel the pressure from people and books to avoid doing so at all costs. Why do they want mothers to detach from their babies so much?

    • 22/11/2011 at 5:37 pm
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      Hi Melonie,
      It’s really humbling to hear that you always feel happier after reading what I write here. Feeding your baby to sleep for a daytime nap is a great way to recharge your own batteries or catch up on reading. When they stop napping in the day it can be so tiring! Enjoy!
      Thanks for reading and commenting,
      Lisa

  • 22/11/2011 at 2:37 pm
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    I enjoyed your blog. I spend loads of time telling mum’s to ditch the million baby books they own that all give different advice and to sit down and listen to their instincts instead. Baby’s are pretty simple to understand and I personally felt that by avoiding outside influences (baby manuals) with mine it helped me to understand my babies better. I fed til mine slept, I lugged them around in slings, I let them lead in weaning and ended up with two chilled and confident girls. Babies know what they want and by trusting your instincts the two of you can communicate very effectively quickly. The hardest part is being able to relax during the yelling and remembering that babies don’t break too easily so a few tears whilst you’re learning won’t hurt your them. Most baby books should just be burnt of a pyre!

    • 23/11/2011 at 9:31 pm
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      Hi Rachael,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment. It sounds like you found it easier than most to listen to your instincts and to feel confident about your choices. I’m sure many mothers would envy you! Would you be willing to say more about why you think this was easier for you?

      When you tell mums to ditch the baby books do they listen to you, or do you think they find it hard to do so?

      Thanks again for reading and commenting,
      Lisa

  • 23/11/2011 at 9:54 pm
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    I Love you!! Thank you so much, With my eldest I encountered so many people, especially professionals, who ‘knew better’ than me as to how to care for my baby. This time around i refused to be pushed around and with the help of some lovely people like you i’m more and more sure i made the right decision as you see so many people so upset as they discover the ‘facts’ they were fed by people around them actually are unfounded and their instincts were right all along! Keep Blogging I think you’re wonderful!!

    • 24/11/2011 at 12:44 pm
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      Hello Laura,
      How nice to be on the receiving end of such love! Thank you for brightening up my Thursday.

      It is a terrible feeling when you listen to someone else and find out that you should have listened to yourself all along. On the other hand, it’s experiences like these that can really help a mother to understand that she DOES have the answers.

      Thank you for reading and for taking the time to comment!
      Love,
      Lisa

  • 27/11/2011 at 9:44 pm
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    Hi, Lisa – great post! I thought I would confirm that health visitors do tell bottle feeding mothers not to let their babies fall asleep while feeding or with a dummy. In this regard, the censure seems to be one of parenting philosophy, not the feeding methodology. Having breastfed one of my four for19 months (not even expressed milk in a bottle) and the other three somewhere between 2 weeks and 4 months (then switching to bottles), I believe what matters most is the parent’s philosophy to parenting and for those of us to digress from the Authorized Text (be it the American Academy of Pediatrics or the NHS), the courage to stay the course can be challenging. So in my case, even when I couldn’t breastfeed, I still held my baby like I was and fed on demand and without regard to amounts consumed. I also cosleep and baby wear. Many find these practices far too intense – even my own mother continues to berate me for wearing my 1 year old in a back pack (at six months along with number 5, there is no room in the front, lol!) and urges me to get a play pen (gasp – as if!). Since my eldest is approaching 21 years old, I have the benefit of long experience and I know that my instincts are good and babies are adaptable. And I rarely have need to consult a baby book these days. Unless its by an author I like, I feel free to ignore them – just like I ignore the health visitor. Just one of the many benefits of experience, lol!

    • 28/11/2011 at 11:36 am
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      Thanks Katie for highlighting the value of experience. It sounds like you have marched to the beat of your own drummer right through your parenting journey and have come out feeling confident of your own choices. Hooray!

      And I appreciate your comment about health visitors’ advice regardless of feeding choices. Thanks for pointing that out.
      Keep reading, keep commenting– I appreciate the company!
      Love,
      Lisa

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