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Mother’s situation: Family’s Bottle-feeding culture
I am the first member of my family (and my husband’s family) in recent generations to breastfeed my baby. I have met with a lot of negativity from the start. Both my parents and my husband’s parents want to take their turn to care for their grandson. In their eyes, this involves spending time with him without my being there. My son is not quite three months and is still breastfeeding very frequently. They do not want to hear why I won’t allow him to take a bottle or a pacifier. They think he needs to be in a routine, both for feeding and sleep, and that I am spoiling him by not parenting the way they feel I should. My husband is mostly supportive but naturally feels that by doing things differently we are implicitly criticizing the way in which our parents raised us. What have other new parents experienced when bottle-feeding is a part of their family’s culture? How did you deal with the tricky situations that inevitably arise over the differences in approach to parenting babies?
Mothers who have not breastfed may find it hard to accept that breastfeeding requires a mother to let go of the idea of following strict routines for feeding and sleeping when caring for their babies. If you try to stretch the gaps between feedings, your baby will be upset and not feed as well as he will do if you feed him when he gives you early signals of hunger, such as turning his head towards you or sucking his fist. If you wait until he cries, that’s too late and not only will you have a fussy baby, your supply will fall too. Breastfeeding helps you build a relationship of love and trust that helps your baby to thrive by satisfying his need for food, love, comfort, and connection and you need to be around for all this to happen.
Your parents probably equate your lack of control with failure, simply because it is so very different to raising a bottle-fed baby. You can show them that letting the baby lead does not mean you are being manipulated. The flexibility you practice in meeting your son’s needs as the way to keep everyone happy and stress free demonstrates that your way works. Not following a schedule does not mean that you are not creating your own patterns, they are just not rigid routines.
It takes time and patience, maybe a whole childhood, but if you let your folks see how happy you are to be raising your baby this way, they may come to understand.
Liz Trueman, Warrington, Cheshire, UK
I dealt with it by gently, calmly, but repeatedly reiterating that my choices are best for my particular situation and my child. You have had a family of your own and you will raise your children the way you see fit. Don’t let anyone take that from you, because it will only breed resentment and destroy respect in the long run.
Samantha McGillan, Nottingham, UK
Gosh, I know it can be tough. I am sorry you’re feeling this, when really this should be your “baby moon” phase. It can be hard to make others understand that following one certain route or another neither validates nor denigrates individual, particular choices. I have stopped trying. Now I say instead, “Want to spend time with my children? Great, drop me a text or give me a call and pop over. You’d be welcome to stay for tea or come to a group with us.”
I chose to parent my children using attachment-style methods and breastfeeding. I do this because I researched them and felt this was the most natural fit for my sons and me. Since I am their primary care giver, I feel it is my choice to make and one that does not require family consensus. I am lucky that my parents listened to me and took this on board: they really thought and read a little about it, too, and support me wholeheartedly. They are my back up (always have been) for when I am feeling pressure from others.
It may help if they come to see that routine is not about timings but about ritual. I have a clear pattern throughout the day, but frequency of breastfeeds and sleep is still baby led. We eat around 6 pm, bath the children afterwards, then read a story at bedtime.
Your husband may find it hard to say no to his family and is trying to soften things for both parties. There may be a fine line between accepting your choices and supporting them, which can be a movable line too. Find your own “tribe” and try to shrug off the pressure from family with its support.
My stock response, when I am being told how someone else parented, is a variation on the following: As long as your baby feels comforted, safe, and loved, and you are making informed choices supported by evidence-based research, then what more can you do? It’s not my path but one size does not fit all, in tights or parenting.
Louise Fritchley, Nottingham, UK
I wonder where the idea of spoiling a baby with too much affection comes from? Can you imagine anyone suggesting that to comfort your adult partner or friend if they were in distress would be spoiling them and that they are crying simply to manipulate you? I wonder why then it is different with regard to babies?
Grace Whiting, Ohio, USA
This was an issue for me at first with my mother-in-law. She did not breastfeed, and her other daughters-in-law did not breastfeed. When she traveled to help us right after my son was born, she expected to take over with the baby to give me some rest. After a few days of asking for her help with organizational tasks and letting her hold the baby between feedings, she fell in with the rhythm of our parenting. It felt a bit strange to her, but she understood.
Nicole Kirby, Kansas City, Missouri, USA
Mother’s new situation: I can’t sit still!
My baby is four months old and breastfeeds for long stretches throughout the day. In the early weeks, I found this lovely and relaxing but now I am finding that having to sit still for long periods at random times is making me feel increasingly restless. I feel bad tempered and resentful and at the same time guilty for these feelings because I want what’s best for my child. How do other mothers get anything done when they are confined to the couch so much?
Send your responses to Barbara at email@example.com by January 7, 2017.