Mother’s Hierarchy of Needs: And the winner is…

A couple of weeks ago I took a poll on your needs. What do you prioritise above all else? If you want see what all of the options were  just click hereBut, of course, there can only be one winner. It was a close run race but, by just a single vote, your choice for the most accurate ‘mother’s hierarchy of needs’ is

 

*achingly long drum roll*

 

THE SLEEP ONE!

 

The Sleep One

The Sleep One

 

Yes, though it wasn’t my first choice (probably because it took me about 30 second to design and the others were labours of love, but whatevs, I, like, don’t even care) I think we can all agree that this is pretty darn accurate. Especially in the initial months. Actually, what am I talking about. It’s always accurate. We just came back from a two week holiday on which my delightful Bubs decided to go from sleep through to waking an unpredictable amount of times (always at least two). I’ve never returned from a holiday more tired than when I left. One is not amused.

So, there you have it. Sleep. Everything else. It’s as simple as that.

 

 

Thanks goes to @StephieDoug (sisterhoodandallthat.com) for her Twitter response:

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Of swimming and Kegels: The postnatal exercise chat.

If you have had a baby in the UK then, at some point very soon after you gave birth a midwife, nurse, physio, health visitor or all of the above should have talked to you about exercise and recovery. It is very very very cool that this happens (I actually mean this, though I know sarcasm is what you’ve come to expect from me) but in my experience I have found that the subject of this chat tends to fall into two different categories: the essential bit and the optimistic bit.

The Essential Bit.

Now, Dear Reader if you take nothing else from this post, nay this entire blog, take this. Do. Your. Pelvic. Floor. Exercises.

And. Keep. Doing. Them.

Got that?

The midwives etc will probably have harangued you about this a few times. And if you went to a pregnancy/postnatal yoga classes you have probably experienced the ever so slightly awkward silence that happens when the instructor says something like

“And now we’ll do our pelvic floor exercises. And lift…”

No eye contact happens in that part of the class. Absolutely none. 

But as much as you may not want to hear another mention ‘making a motion as if to stop you passing water’ ever again in all of your days, there people are right!  Especially when they tell you to do them for the rest of your life and not just until you’re ‘back to normal’. As if that ever happens any way.

At first it’s not difficult to remember your Kegels (as American baby books seem to insists pelvic floor exercises are called) when you’ve just gone through labour. Because, let’s be honest, we have a few embarrassing reminders. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then I’m afraid you’ll be lost for the next little while. In fact, if you haven’t wet yourself at least once on the way to the loo shortly after giving birth (and beyond) I’m afraid we just can’t be friends. We just can’t.

(Pregnant ladies, sorry if that last paragraph has horrified you, but, sister, it’s happening.)

When things start to get a bit less Tena Lady, though, and you’re mind is on other things – or one very loud and pooey other thing – it’s easy to start slacking. DON’T. Don’t ask me how I know, just take it from me. Keep up the Kegels!

Therein lies the most useful part of the postnatal exercise chat. Shall we practise now ladies? And lift…

 

The More Than Slightly Optimistic Bit.

I think I got ‘the exercise talk ‘ in one form or another a total of three times. When being discharged from hospital, when being discharged from the community midwives and then again when I went into hospital for the crazies (around the 10 week mark). The first two times I was warned “No exercise other than walking for the first 6 weeks.” Um, yeah, that’s totally fine.

The first 6 weeks? Try 6 months! I hardly bloody exercised before I had kids, why am I going to start now that I’m being woken-up three times a night? If I have baby-free time it will be spent drinking wine and watching offensive television, or sleeping. Thank you very much.*

 

Incessant evening rocking was all the exercise I needed when my son was 6 weeks old.

Incessant evening rocking was all the exercise I needed when my son was 6 weeks old.

 

So, yes, the 6 weeks came and went, and the next six weeks came and went, without so much as a lunge in sight. After a while I did start to go to a delightfully laid back class called ‘Rock Your Baby’ where I could sit Bubs in his sling whilst feeling the burn to a soundtrack of ‘Radio Gaga’ and ‘Moves like Jagger’. Ideal.

Because, the thing is, when you have a baby pretty much the only way you can exercise is with your baby. Yes, okay, you could go out to an evening class that starts at 7.30pm and finishes at 9pm but until you’ve got the sleep thing down that is basically self-torture. And even after, when the magical, mythical ‘evening’ returns to your lives going spinning may not be the first thing you want to do with it. (See my previous wine and television comment).

This is why the next bit of repeated advice from health-professional seems a bit incongruous.

“Swimming is a great way to exercise for new mums.”

Is it? Is it? I mean, yes, I get logically why it is. Non weight-bearing, uses the whole body, calming to the mind etc. But there’s this other issue that sort of gets in the way here. It’s that I have a baby. And babies aren’t that good at swimming. Okay, yes they are, they’ve got the ‘dolphin reflex’ or something and if you pay £12 a week from the age of 3-days-old they’ll be  swimming like a fish before they’re weaned, blah blah blah. But I can’t very well strap Bubs to my back and start doing lengths now, can I?

And even if you can find childcare there are other issues. Like, do breastpads even work in the pool? I have this unshakable image of a new mum happily booming up and down unaware of the two white vapour trails following behind her like she’s a jumbo jet.

There’s also the swimming costume issue. I believe we should all be proud of our postnatal bodies (see previous post) but we’re not, are we? And catching yourself in one of those awful leisure centre mirrors the first time you that bravely don your tankini once more just isn’t great. But that’s nothing compared to suddenly being half naked infront of 50 strangers when you’re at your most physically vulnerable. In my local pool they have a cafe on the same level as the pool and people basically sit out on a terrace and watch the swimmers. Fully clothed. With a cup of tea. Whilst I’m aware that I will be very glad of this facility in later years when I can lazily play on my phone whilst the kids splash about, it currently makes me feel like a postnatal whale in an aquarium.

 

So, that’s it really. I don’t entirely hve a point with this post except to say, you know, go for a walk every now and again but I wouldn’t stress about exercise. Do it when you want to do it. Maybe trick you’re baby into thinking you’re playing a delightful game with them when really you’re using the little one in as human dumbbells. But don’t sweat. We’ve got enough to worry about.

 

 

 

 

*exercise is, like, really good for your mental health (and physical health, obvs). you should in no way take my nonsensical ranting as discouragement.

 

What are your needs?? Time to vote!

In my last post I created a ‘hierarchy of needs’ for mums. Basically just to show that, whatever you’re going through, we all find it tough in one way or another. I also posted the #hierarchyofneeds on Twitter (come in people, it’s 2014, you gotta have a hashtag!)  Loads of people responded offering suggestions of what they would add. Two main themes, not totally unrelated if I may say, arose. The first, of course, was Gin! How could I have been so remiss as to miss out alcohol? Wine also came up a few times, naturally. The second was how much headspace was totally central to getting through this parenting lark. I’d put it at the top of the pyramid, but maybe it was really at the heart of it all. Cuddles, coffee, showers and puke-free clothes also came up.

So I got to thinking, downloaded some free apps (you gotta love free apps) and made a few more #hierarchyofneeds models. I have displayed them for you below. So, what do you think? Which do you feel best conveys your own needs? Have your say in the, frankly quite funky, poll below. I will announce the winner a week from now. Make your voice heard!

(Obvs this is a completely meaningless bloggy vote but, you know, humour me).

 

The Original One

The Original One

 

 

The Sleep One

The Sleep One

 

 

The Venn Diagram One

The Venn Diagram One

 

 

The Thorough One

The Thorough/Complicated One

 

 

 

 

‘Good’ Births, Weight Loss and Sleeping Through: why no mum wants to be told she’s ‘lucky’.

A conversation I had recently:

Me: Oh yeah, he’s just starting to get mobile now, so that’s a bit scary!

Nameless Mum of Two: How old is he now?

Me: Just about 8 months.

NMOT: Wow, 8 months and just starting to crawl. You’re lucky, mine both crawled at 6 months. You don’t want them crawling. *eye roll*

Me: (internally) OK, I’ll be quiet now then.

Dear reader, I’d like to tell you a little bit about why telling a mum she’s ‘lucky’ is one of those things that sounds like a compliment but makes you want to scream in someone’s face…

I, like many (most?) women I know found giving birth pretty traumatic. And why wouldn’t I? There was an actual person coming out of my actual body. Granted, I was aware that this was going to happen for over nine months previous to the event and you might think that the human brain, with all it’s vast capacities, would be capable of imagining something close to the experience. But you’d be wrong. It can’t. In fact, even the stuff I could imagine changed. I was induced so it all started in hospital; I had to have an assisted birth in theatre; and my Bubs was taken out of the room the minute he was born to be checked by a paediatrician (he was very healthy).

My friends’ births all happened in very different ways. From water births lasting less than 8 hours, to emergency c-sections, to labours lasting over 3 days. Bleurgh. Now given the choice, I’m sure most of us would choose a short water birth if we had to pick from that delightful menu. Hmm, actually, would I? You can’t have diamorphine when you have a water birth and that’s about the only thing I’m looking forward to about going through labour again. So maybe I’d choose a short, drug-addled birth. Mmm, diamorphine…

In reality, you are more likely to look like this.

But I digress! The interesting thing is that my friends’ reactions to these births didn’t necessarily match-up with what others’ ideas of a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ births are. When I began open up to my Health Visitor (who is amazing) about how I felt about my birth (crap crap crappedy crap, in case you were wondering) she told me that when she was a midwife she saw that any type of birth could be distressing. You could be in the hospital with a woman having no pain relief, keeping relatively calm and using a birthing pool. You might think what a lovely birth it was, as a midwife who’s seen it all. But that same birth could leave the mother in a state of shock and feeling very vulnerable. Because, you know, as I mentioned before. Actual person. Your actual body. Combined. Actually happening.

But any woman who had a relatively quick birth, or who have managed to not have any pain relief, or even whose baby just had a small head, will inevitably be told that their ‘lucky’ at some point. The problem with this, especially when it comes from the mouths of other birth-mothers is what it implies. Because your basically saying ‘my labour was harder/worse than your labour’ or ‘oh it wasn’t that bad dear, do pipe down’. While some of that might be physically true, it is just plain unhelpful. If a woman is continually told this she may end up feeling belittled. She might begin to feel she can’t talk about her birth in negative terms at all. She might even feel she is being weak and self-important for wanting to express her feelings of trauma. And that would be crappy, wouldn’t it?

Because my birth wasn’t ‘straight-forward’ I generally got the sympathy I desired, but I do have one example of this. Shortly after giving birth I spoke to an old friend on the phone. She, like most people, asked about the birth. I said it hadn’t been very good and that I didn’t really want to talk about it as I found it all quite upsetting. Her response was to ask if had been, like, a bad bad birth, or whether I just felt it was bad? I replied it was probably ‘in the middle’, already feeling quite belittled. Then she launched into a description of a really bad birth. Dear reader, I must confess, I just held the phone away from my ear until it was over.

Now, I’m not saying that there’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ birth. Of course there is! We all know of people who have gone through hell and, in a way, any of us who haven’t are lucky. I feel very lucky to live in a country where I wasn’t presented a bill at the end of my hospital stay and didn’t have to think about whether I could afford it when the doctors started talking about theatre. Come to think of it I’m bloody lucky to have been born in a country where there are enough hospitals to accommodate all births and two of them are 15 minutes from my house! So gratitude for your relative fortune is fantastic, but being told you should be grateful by some stranger who rolls their eyes as if to say ‘you just don’t get how hard it can be’? Well that’s just bloody annoying!

And it’s not just births that are surrounded by this kind of language. Take weight loss, for example. I am the first person to admit that I react with a curious mixture of jealousy and admiration when I see a fellow mum with a flat tummy. But there’s a weird thing in our society where people commenting, slightly bitterly, on someone’s (lack of) weight is totally socially acceptable. Thinner new mums are always being told they’re ‘lucky’ that the baby weight ‘just dropped off them’. But I’m pretty sure my retention of the extra stone around my middle is less to do with bad luck than with the amount of biscuits I eat.

What’s more, just because a woman’s thin we can’t assume she feels good about herself. Any celebrity mag can tell you that! Slimming down doesn’t mean her boobs haven’t gone all weird and changed shape. Or that the skin on her belly hasn’t turned from being all nice and smooth to resembling a loaf of tiger bread. And maybe, just maybe, the weight has ‘dropped off’ of her because she’s stressed and not eating properly. That doesn’t sound very lucky to me. (Look out for my new book The Anxiety Diet out in all good bookstores, spring 2015). Whatever the case, the effect is the same. ‘You’re lucky’ is usually taken to mean ‘you’re luckier than me’. And that can be interpreted as ‘count your blessings and shut up’.

It’s the same with everything. The mother whose baby sleeps well at night feels she shouldn’t talk about being tired. Now, I’m not saying go on about it to your friends who has twins who take it in turns to wake up six times a night, but I am saying that you probably are tired. Very tired. As far as I can make out, all parents exist on a spectrum of tiredness. Allow me to illustrate:

We're all bloody tired, ok?

We’re all bloody tired, ok?

In short, however ‘lucky’ a mum may seem, it’s still really really hard with a new born. So we all need to be able to express that.

Have you heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? Well this dude Maslow was trying to explain why even when people live in safety and have all of their physical, and even intellectual, needs met they can still be unhappy. Basically, if you’re wondering whether your kids are going to be fed today you’re unlikely to have an existential crisis about the very meaning of your life. However, if you’re sitting with a hearty breakfast, having slept safely in your bed, about to go to your rewarding job, you’re more likely to think about people who have no food and wonder why you’re not content despite your riches. Huzzah, an existential crisis!

Well I’ve borrowed Maslow’s idea but adjusted it a little, for mums. What do you think?

An actual graph, what I made myself.

An actual graph, what I made myself.

Okay this isn’t going to make many ripples in the pond of postnatal psychology, but of the spirit of is true I think. Some of us will have it very physically rough. I know that my experience of postnatal depression was bad, but there are a lot worse things that could have happened. I am genuinely grateful for my lot. Even so, I also genuinely suffered. It is possible for any parent in any circumstance to find things unbelievably tough. This is sometimes hard to understand, even frustrating, especially when a mother is going on about how her baby sleeps so much she can barely leave the house (yes, that happened to me and no, I wasn’t totally understanding). But really, everyone needs a good moan. Especially a mum!

 

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This post is linked up to…

 

And then the fun began...

 

The Tyranny of ‘Tummy Time’.

We’ve all been there, it’s 5:30pm and your baby’s starting to get the early evening grumps. You do a nappy change, maybe give them a feed and jangle their favourite shiny toy above their face for a bit. Before you know it it’s 6pm and you realise you’ve made it through another day. Hurrah! Perhaps your partner arrives home from work to give you a break/bring you that hot drink you’ve been craving for the last 8 hours. But wait, just as you settle for a ten-minute sit-down the cold horror of realisation hits: you have forgotten to do tummy time. Again! Will you ever learn??

When I was pregnant I heard the term ‘tummy time’ being thrown around a fair bit. I didn’t really know what it was but I suppose I had a vague idea that it was time letting your baby lie on your tummy and have a cuddle. Something like that, I can’t say I thought about it much. But by the time baby boy was, around 6-8 weeks old I thought I should probably google it (this is not a good idea, never google it, never). I found a very nice little video on babycentre.com about babies having time on their tums, it was informative and no pushy. But wait! There was a newborn in the video. But my baby had been alive for well OVER A MONTH! Epic mum fail.

Once I found out what tummy time was it seemed to be everywhere. It seemed to be the number one essential activity you should do with your baby. My son hated it. There’s always lots of advice about ‘how to’ with these things and I remember some of it saying that you shouldn’t leave your baby on their front if they get too distressed, so I was like, ‘Ok, 2 seconds it is!’ The funny thing was that he had pretty good head control, he just didn’t really get it yet. As you can imagine I was completely chilled out about it all and felt safe in the knowledge that each baby develops at their own pace. (sense the sarcasm, dear reader)

If your child is this happy doing tummy time then congratulations, you have found the Holy Grail of babies.

If your child is this happy doing tummy time from the get go then congratulations; you have found the Holy Grail of babies.

And so it was that tummy time became one of the main focusses of my crippling anxiety. I just hadn’t done it right and now my baby was impaired by my ignorance! Ok, well I wasn’t that melodramatic but my stomach turned every time I thought about it. When I look back now it seems a bit comedy how worried and embarrassed I was. At the time there were few laughs.

I kept seeing posters that said ‘by 3 months your baby should be spending at least half an hour a day on their front’, or that it was ‘essential to your baby’s development’. And then there was all that crap about ‘flat-head syndrome’. Because, you know if you’re not doing tummy time with your baby you’re obviously leaving them flat on their back all day with no movement at all. Arg!

I remember when tummy time would come up in conversation with other mums. It elicited two very different responses. The first was to instantly flip their baby over and demonstrate the incredible neck lifting skill they had cultivated and then act like you weren’t showing-off. These were not my fave mums. The second response involved a flash of stress in the eyes – you know that God-I-should-be-doing-that-but-I’m-not look that parents often have – followed by something along the lines of ‘oh, I haven’t been doing that very much’. These words were often said in hushed, conspiratorial tones, as if divulging a deep, dark secret.

But the fact is that if I had tried to get my son to spend half an hour a day on his front at 3 months it would have meant half an hour’s more crying every day and, frankly, I couldn’t take that. But, naturally, I felt selfish for not doing it. Because, of course, me not wanting him face-plant on his play mat, wriggling helplessly and crying could only be interpreted as selfish. Hmm, perhaps there was a flaw in that logic.

With hindsight I know that if you see a sentence that begins with ‘by X months your baby should be…’ it’s time to turn the page, close the book or click that little x at the top of the browser window. Seriously guys, we don’t need that crap. Since when was tummy time a thing any way?

Go and ask your mum if she’s heard of tummy time. No? Now, have a look at you and your siblings, are any of you unable to roll over? Probably not.

Yes, yes, I know, I know! Tummy time was introduced as a concept somewhere around the 1990s, when parents were advised to put their babies on their backs to sleep, as a way of ensuring that they developed all of their core muscles. Blah blah blah. I’m not saying don’t do it. I carried on with it. I even managed to let him struggle for a minute or two before I swooped in for a cuddle. Sometimes. But some days I forgot and some days we only did it for 30 seconds. Guess what? My son is 9 months old and he can crawl and pull himself up on the furniture and sit up and all that good stuff. 6 months ago he was not doing half an hour a day tummy time.

So what was all that worry for? Absolutely nothing. Next time around I think I’ll see tummy time as something else to do when I can’t face waving another jangly, shiny object or singing another song. I will certainly do it as often I as I remember, but I will try not to make forgetting a failure. Because ours babies will get there, they always do.

Photo source: http://www.nhs.uk/start4life/Pages/baby-activities.aspx

Lies, Damn Lies and Breastfeeding Workshops.

Arg. We hate 'SHOULD'.

There’s that ‘should’ again.

Are you pregnant? Have you been to any breast-feeding workshops yet? Well, you’re in for a treat! Let me give you a little preview.

I went to two breast-feeding workshops when I was pregnant. One was run by the NHS at the hospital I gave birth in, the other was part of the (otherwise excellent) NCT antenatal course my husband and I had booked onto. They were very similar. Well, one was more awkward and strange than the other, but that’s another post entirely. The information they gave was almost exactly the same and was arranged into two distinct halves. First half: why breast is best (and, implicitly, formula is bad). Second half: why breast-feeding is basically a lovely, easy thing that is natural and instinctive and great.

Hmm, you may well know where I’m going with this.

At the time these workshops seemed pretty helpful (though one was totally odd, will have to post about it now I’ve mentioned it twice). The workshop leaders demonstrated how to get a good latch and all that so I felt pretty good about it. You know, before I actually had a baby.

Before I go any further, and before I am bombarded by ardent breast-feeders, nothing I am about to say should discourage a woman from trying to breastfeed. It is obviously a good thing to do, for all kinds of reasons. So if you are doing it then hurrah! That’s not what this is about.

So, breast is best. Well, yes, that is the research based conclusion that has been drawn over some decades. I think the idea that the milk produced by the human body, tailor-made by nature, is superior to anything even the cleverest of us can manufacture seems pretty reasonable. My problem is that everyone at the breastfeeding workshops was already at a breastfeeding workshop. They had chosen to sit in an uncomfortable chair, for two hours, in the evening, whilst heavily pregnant. This may be a clue that they are already intending to at least give breastfeeding a good go.

But no, half of the workshop (over an hour in both cases) was devoted to listing the benefits of breastfeeding. We had to take it in turns to give a reason why breast-feeding is important. You know, like school.

“Yes, Mary, that’s right, your child is less likely to become obese.” “That’s right, Brian, children who are breastfed are less likely to get ear infections.”

Irrefutable fact???

I feel this may be slightly exaggerated.

Good, well, thanks for that.

We then had to share reasons why you wouldn’t breast-feed. At one of the workshops (the weird one) I said “Well, some people might want to drink and smoke.” This was not well-received. Not at all. The breastfeeding coach turned to me wide-eyed and said “Breast milk with alcohol and nicotine is still better than formula.”* I muttered something about this is not being a personal reason, just an example. Then I stared at the floor for about five minutes.

In fact, the whole ‘reasons why not’ section was definitely just an exercise in refuting any statement we made. At one point during the NHS workshop the midwife leading it had a five-minute exchange with a woman about how it was possible to find comfortable nursing bras for every size.** The woman had already been all over trying to get a fitting that didn’t give her back ache, but that’s no excuse.

Any way, you would leave those rooms with no doubt in your mind that breast-feeding was the far far far far far superior option for the health of your child and your bonding relationship.

The second section, basically a ‘how to’ could have done with borrowing some time from the pro-breast feeding drilling because it lacked detail and, frankly, any relation to reality. But here’s a quick round-up:

1) The main reason women give up breast-feeding is lack of support (so we did a bit about how our partners could support us, fair enough).

2) Breast-feeding is natural and the baby knows what to do. Cue video of a newborn baby pretty much latching themselves on to their mother. Lots of cuddly moments and mums saying how happy they were that they breastfed.

3) A little demo of different breast-feeding positions, with photos and a very light doll that bears little to no resemblance to the weight and shape of a newborn baby.

4) Constant reminders that it shouldn’t hurt if you get it right. It’s all about the latch ladies. And you do not need nipple cream. No no no.

I shall stop here to briefly mention that in an unscientific survey carried out by myself it was found around 97% of women, those who continue and those who don’t, find breastfeeding pretty darn painful for a good few weeks, even months.

This is omitted from the information given, as is any mention of the serious issues that can arise from breastfeeding.  I heard nothing about mastitis or any painful infections that could occur. Nothing about blockages in milk ducts. Nothing about the sheer exhaustion of being the only person who can feed your baby. Nothing about other ways to soothe your baby so that you don’t feel like they are constantly stuck to your boobs. Nothing about how a traumatic and/or physically taxing birth and recovery can effect your milk supply. Nothing about the fact that for this reason and others some women’s milk doesn’t come in at all, or not sufficiently for your baby to be satisfied; that was my problem and I had no idea it was even a thing until 4 weeks in.

So, generally sort of informative but not particularly helpful. The main reason I say this is that if you have any of the issues I’ve listed above, or one of a thousand other reasons means you can’t/decide not to breastfeed then you feel like utter crap. I suppose they want to keep it positive in order to encourage us all to try. But if you encounter any problems (and most do) the memory of these workshops becomes utterly discouraging.

Here are the messages you have been given: Your baby is less likely to develop all kinds of health issues if you breastfeed AND almost everyone can breastfeed if they give it a good try and have support. This, my friends, is the combined moral of sections one and two.

Now, let’s flip that around: Your is baby is more likely to develop all kinds of health issues if you don’t breastfeed. If you’re finding it difficult you’re probably not trying hard enough or you just need more support.

Oh, hello guilt attack of the highest calibre, what an depressing surprise!

When my son was 4 weeks old he was still below his birth weight. I just didn’t have enough milk. And I felt like a failure. I couldn’t feed my child. Except that I could, I just had to do it with a bottle and some powder. And you know what? It was the Health Visitor who actually advised me to make the switch. After months of midwives insisting it was the last resort, another healthcare professional actually recommended formula feeding. In 2 days by son put on 300g and had exceeded his birth weight. After this she said to me that I could decide what I did from here on in: breast, formula or combination. Mostly importantly she added “Whatever you decide, no harm will come to your baby.” The magic words.

“No harm will come to your baby.” And it hasn’t, he is such a happy healthy bundle of fun and light. He is the proof that formula is fine.

So, you know, if you don't give your baby breast milk, it's probably because you don't think they deserve the best start. Yeah, that'll be it.

So, you know, if you don’t give your baby breast milk, it’s probably because you don’t think they deserve the best start. Yeah, that’ll be it.

By all means promote breast-feeding. Educate those who don’t feel confident. Involve partners and provide support. This is all great stuff. But maybe, somewhere in all of this, remember that some women decide that breast is not best. Not in their circumstances. They don’t decide this out of ignorance or neglect. They aren’t lazy or uninformed. They still desire, and will maintain, a close bond with their child. So maybe somewhere amongst all the unnecessarily pushy advice there could be one small disclaimer: whatever you decide, no harm will come to your baby. 

Or how about this: Breast is best, but formula is fine! That is surely a research based slogan? Not sure the NHS will be adopting it any time soon though.

The way in which advice is delivered can have major psychological effects on mothers. Surely if I’ve noticed this then so has someone who can influence the way we provide parent education? The best gift you have give a baby is a happy mother; not one stripped of all confidence, feeling guilty and doubting herself. So maybe it’s time for a change. Who’s with me?

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What was your experience of breast-feeding support? Wonderful? Terrible? Leave a comment below, go to my facebook page, or tweet me @aafew 

* I reckon this is probably not true.

** This is more likely to be true but, again, probably not.

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Burn the books!

Are you reading any baby books at the moment? How’s that going for you? Are they offering you an affirmation of your innate parenting ability? Are they giving you handy hints and tips without being dictatorial? Are they offering you useful guidance that doesn’t make you feel overwhelmed or inadequate in any way? Oh good, that’s great.

Wait? What’s that you say? These books aren’t affirming your parenting choices? They are making you feel confused and inadequate? You do feel overwhelmed by the mountains of advice you’re receiving from all of these ‘helpful experts’. Well then, my friends, I’ll tell you what to do with those books; burn them!!

Ok, scrap that. Please don’t actually burn any books. In general I find not-doing-stuff-the-nazis-did a solid rule to live by. But if we’re not going to burn them we should definitely bin them.

That’s right, you heard me. Bin them! That book you read when your baby was five-days-old that told you feeding on demand would lead to childhood obesity: bin it! Or the one that told you leaving your baby to cry would cause long-term psychological damage (you only wanted to go to the toilet but now you’re wracked with guilt) bin it! Don’t give it to charity shop, don’t pass it on to a pregnant friend, put it IN THE BIN. It’s not useful. It’s rubbish, garbage, waste I tells ya! (though it should be noted that it’s waste that’s widely recyclable so put it in the paper bin, but, you know, that’s still a bin).

My problem is less with the demanding specifics of some baby books – though I have a thousand issues with those – than with the cacophony of conflicting advice that is just waiting to leap out of the bookshelves and into the dazed and vulnerable minds of new parents. Even more so that the doling out of this advice is big business. If a book is successful it spawns a sequel, or the author starts putting their name to products. Is this all for the benefit of parents? I begin to think not.

There are a million ways to be a good mum but I am yet to find a book that acknowledges this, let alone one that details a few different choices side-by-side without making a value judgement on any*. As it is, if you choose the ‘attachment parenting’ approach and co-sleep with your baby you’re likely to feel self-conscious about being judged by those who have read that this is dangerous. Then again, others are likely to fear judgement from you because they choose to put their baby in another room early on because you’ve read that this is damaging. The thing is, we don’t judge each other half as much as we judge our ourselves. And this internal awareness that everything we do is potentially wrong just fuels the anxiety and (yep, you guessed it) guilt that can so easily take hold of us as new parents.

I co-slept with my son for the first four weeks because it was the only way any of us slept, then I moved him to his own room at 10 weeks because he was bloody loud and I was completely exhausted. Honestly, I wish I hadn’t read anything about either of these decision, no books, no websites, certainly no forums. Because, 8 months in, I see that they were both the right thing to do at the time; for all of us. But I was constantly questioning myself, feeling selfish or lazy for not trying harder to ‘do the right thing’, bleugh!

The truth is, most of us don’t subscribe completely to the theories and methods of any one parenting style. We do what works. And if the birth of your first child weren’t the most exhausting, surprising, heart-wrenching emotional roller-coaster of your life you may just be able to take what you needed from these books and casually disagree with the rest. But I couldn’t, and I don’t know who many who could.

This is why I have stopped reading about how to take care of babies. I know how to take care of my baby. I’m really good at it. And so are you. Yes, you. And if there’s a book making you feel like you’re not then bin it. Just bin it!

*I really hope a book like this exists, if you know of one please comment and recommend.

Not enjoying it? That’s okay.

“Enjoy this time; it goes so quickly.”

These were the words uttered to me on numerous occasions when my baby boy was just a few weeks old. The thing is, I remember thinking I bloody hope it goes so quickly. Because to be honest its pretty rubbish at the start. It’s hard for me to say that as a mum. It induces the obligatory guilt that one feels whenever we are even slightly less than positive about having a baby. It’s as though saying we’re not happy all the time, in every moment, means somehow we love our child less. It doesn’t, just for the record.

So, here’s a radical statement about the early days of parenthood:

It’s okay not to enjoy them. Like, at all!

Bet that’s not in many of the baby books.

Being a mother is stressful. If anyone tells you (in word or general demeanour) it’s all an enjoyable jaunt through life with a fabulously cute and perfect companion, they are lying. Or they are in denial. Or they are trying desperately to impress the world. Or they are an android prototype set to usurp human dominance on the earth.

When else in your life would you expect yourself to enjoy getting four hours broken sleep a night and being too busy or tired to take a shower? The first few months are bloody tough so be gentle with yourself; enjoy what you enjoy and get through the rest. There are likely to be moments of unutterable affection between you and your baby, but they may be few and far between for a while. Please don’t feel guilty about that. I mean, you will feel guilty about that, but just so you know you’re not the only one, not by a long way.

And it’s the guilt that’s the killer. The tiredness, feeling overwhelmed, the frustration when your baby starts crying again at four in the morning, half an hour after you’ve just finally put them down; all this is pretty darn tough on it’s own. But when we pile guilt and worry on top of it, it becomes crushing.

So I’ll be honest will you, I had some lovely moments in the first weeks of my son’s life but, overall, I didn’t enjoy it. I wish I’d realised then that this was just fine and had no long-term implications for my feelings for my son, or our relationship (he’s basically my best friend, sad but true).

In fact, I vow never to tell anyone with a baby under two months old to ‘cherish’ this time together. Because when we can cherish it we will, and in those moments we can’t we really don’t need to be told to!