Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Jacqueline Edwards, Staffordshire, UK
Young single mother
I am a young, single mother and breastfeed my baby.
Before my son was born, I knew that I would be doing everything by myself from day one. I didn’t think that this would be too difficult as I had worked for several years as a nanny and had plenty of experience looking after other peoples’ babies. The only thing that was going to be new to me was breastfeeding.
I might have had a slight advantage over other first-time mothers, some of whom have never even held a young baby, let alone changed a nappy, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the intensity of the relationship with my son.
When I was a nanny, I had my evenings and weekends free, not to mention holidays, but now I was on call 24/7 and found it daunting, to say the least. This is something that almost all new mothers experience but the difference with parenting alone is that it really is up to you to provide constant care without the help and support of another adult. A married friend of mine, who had had a baby a few months before me, asked one day why I found it so difficult. It was hard for her to grasp because she thought that she was in the same situation, being herself a new mother with a young baby, yet she was coping remarkably well.
As a single mother you don’t have another person there to hold the baby for you when you need to have a shower, or to bring you a drink or a meal when you are marooned for hours on the sofa cluster feeding in the evenings. If you realize late at night that you have no milk or bread left for breakfast the next day, or have just used your last nappy, no one is going to go out and get these things, or pick some more up on his way home from work. And it’s all these little details that can make life with a new baby more difficult than it need be.
I am aware that most mothers who do have partners are still taking care of the baby most of the time alone, but just knowing that at some point in the evening there will be another pair of hands to hold the baby or make the dinner can make the world of difference. You can wait until your partner gets home and then have a shower or relax and you know that he will make or bring dinner home for you.
I imagine that the experience of being a single bottle-feeding mother is similar in most respects to that of a breastfeeding single mum, but the big difference is that she can leave her baby with other people in a way that a breastfeeding mother wouldn’t be able or, in my case, wouldn’t want to. This may relieve some of the intensity and perhaps some single mothers choose bottle-feeding for this reason. However, I think that this perceived advantage could actually sometimes be a disadvantage for a single mother. Night feedings, for example, must surely be harder for single bottle-feeding mothers as there is no other adult to help.
The following are a few suggestions for a single breastfeeding mother with a young baby that I wish I had known at the time!
- Do most of your shopping online. I found supermarket trips really difficult and often had to leave the shop empty handed only to go back later or on another day.
- Always have a few extra essential items in the house just in case you run out of something late at night.
- Lower your cleaning standards dramatically and try to spread the house cleaning over several days, tackling just one main job, such as the kitchen or bathroom per day. Perhaps even scrimp and save to pay someone to clean your house for just a couple of hours a week.
- Make several weeks’ worth of healthy dinners before the baby is born and freeze them but don’t eat them before the baby is born, like I did!
- Be realistic in what you can achieve in the course of a day and aim to do in a week what you could previously get done in one day.
- Ask for more help from friends and family.
La Leche League can provide a great support network for breastfeeding mothers but as a single mother you may feel reluctant to attend a meeting. While being a single mother is not unusual, most women with young babies are still in relationships so it’s understandable that single mothers may feel that they will not fit in, or that such a group will judge them. Personally, I have not found this to be the case and have benefited greatly from attending LLL meetings. Of course, it’s always possible that you may come across someone who does have an issue with your single status but I think that it’s unlikely they would be rude enough to say anything about it.
On an emotional level, it can be difficult having to hear about how loving and supportive someone’s husband is, when you are struggling to do everything alone on a day-to-day basis and are possibly still coming to terms with whatever happened with your own relationship. But I still feel that there are a lot of advantages to being around other mothers, both for sharing information and gaining support for your choices.
Things do get easier with time. As your baby gets older things become less intense. Have an hour to yourself if you have a close friend or family member with whom you feel comfortable leaving your baby—sometimes this can be enough to help you feel relaxed and refreshed.
Are you a single mother? What have you found difficult about parenting alone and how have you managed to fit breastfeeding into your life?