Your baby doesn’t need you to suffer

happy mother's day! baby son gives flowersfor mother on holiday

Yesterday I wrote about Meg Nagle, the Milk Meg, and her strenuous efforts to normalize infant starvation and maternal exhaustion. She’s hardly alone; nearly all lactation professionals have been desperately working to normalize infant suffering. It’s integral to the ongoing effort to promote breastfeeding regardless of the increasing rate of neonatal dehydration, starvation, brain injuries, falls from mothers’ hospital beds and smothering deaths within them. Sadly, their efforts are bearing fruit for them and suffering for babies. Exclusive breastfeeding on discharge has become the single biggest risk factor for hospital readmission.

Who benefits from normalizing maternal suffering? Natural childbirth advocates, lactivists and misogynists.

When it comes to normalizing maternal suffering, Meg and her lactation colleagues have lots of company. What are natural childbirth advocates and midwives seeking to promote “normal birth” doing if not normalizing maternal agony? And what are advocates of attachment parenting doing if not normalizing women restricting themselves to “women’s work”?

No doubt you’ve heard their admonitions:

Labor pain is good pain!

Babies do not need to learn how to fall asleep on their own. Just breastfeed!

If you’re too tired to care for your baby in the hospital, what are you going to do when you get home?

You should stop taking your antidepressants or the medications that control your ulcerative colitis or your epilepsy so you can breastfeed!

So how can you stay comfortable, rested and healthy when there are so many “professionals” who think you should be suffering instead?

Just remember: your baby doesn’t need you to suffer.

There is NO benefit to your baby from enduring labor pain.

Sure the baby must exit your body somehow and a significant amount of pain is unavoidable either from labor pain or C-section pain but there’s no harm to your baby from minimizing either.

There is NO benefit to your baby from “normal birth.”

Yes, I realize that this is the bread and butter of midwives, doulas and childbirth educators, but their economic wellbeing pales in significance compared to the health of your baby and yourself.

C-sections are safer for babies. The liberal use of interventions is preventive medicine. And waiting for your due date to come and go actually increases the risk of complications for both you and your baby.

There is virtually NO benefit to your term baby from breastfeeding.

Indeed, the benefits are so small that they are literally undetectable in large populations. Breastfeeding is a good thing but it’s only one of two excellent ways to nourish a baby.

Therefore, there is no benefit to exclusive breastfeeding.

It’s great if it works for you and your baby, but it’s equally fine if it doesn’t. There’s no need to torture yourself pumping between feedings if you have insufficient breastmilk. There’s no need to get up in the middle of the night to breastfeed if someone else can give your baby a bottle of formula.

There is no benefit for you in waking up multiple times each night.

Yes, your baby must be fed when he or she is hungry and must be comforted when ill or in distress, but that doesn’t mean that you always have to be the one to do it. Your partner can help, your parents/in-laws can help, nannies and au pairs can help.

There is no benefit to having your baby strapped to you, sleeping in your own bed, or always within inches of wherever you are.

Some women find those things enjoyable and should of course do them (with the exception of bed-sharing, which increases the risk of SIDS). But other women need time and space to themselves, need to socialize with others without the baby, or need to work. There is nothing wrong with enjoying them.

Don’t get me wrong, you WILL suffer even if you take heed of the above precepts. You will suffer some pain and exhaustion because it is impossible to completely avoid either. But most of your suffering will have nothing to do with childbirth, infant feeding or attachment parenting.

You will suffer when your child is ill.

You will suffer when your child is in pain, physical or psychological.

You will suffer if your child gets injured.

You will suffer if your child has a disability, a learning issue, difficulty making friends at school.

You will suffer with worry over and over and over again. The only thing that will change as the years go by is the specifics of what you are worry about this time.

But none of that benefits your child, either.

If maternal suffering doesn’t benefit children, who does it benefit?

It benefits those who make money by convincing women to endure the suffering, and sell books, courses and service to support them through the suffering: midwives, doulas and lactation consultants in particular.

And it benefits misogynists who believe that women exist to suffer and sacrifice for others. As sociologist Pam Lowe explains in Reproductive Health and Maternal Sacrifice:

…At its heart, maternal sacrifice is the notion that ‘proper’ women put the welfare of children, whether born, in utero, or not yet conceived, over and above any choices and/or desires of their own. The idea of maternal sacrifice acts as a powerful signifier in judging women’s behaviour…

Sunna Simmonardottir notes:

…[M]others are instructed to direct all their physical and emotional capacities at their children and … the maternal body and mind is subject to disciplinary practises…

Susan Franzblau has written:

The idea that women are evolutionarily prepared to mother … is consistent with a long historical tradition of using essentialist discourse to predetermine and control women’s reproductive tasks and children’s rearing needs… If the treatment of women differs from the treatment of men, such treatment could be justified in terms of its biological and evolutionary purposes…

In other words, it benefits many people but not women themselves.

Natural childbirth advocates — midwives, doulas, purveyors of books and courses — should stop normalizing maternal suffering.

Lactation professionals and lactivists should stop normalizing maternal suffering.

Misogynists should stop normalizing maternal suffering.

I have no hope of convincing any of these people to do so. They have too much at stake financially or psychologically to give up what has been an enriching and enjoyable practice. But I am working diligently to convince women that they don’t have to listen to those who normalize their suffering.

Your baby doesn’t need you to suffer. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

  • Reggie

    Umm…what? My take away from this article was about the importance of providing those with postpartum mood disorders who need to be hospitalized with culturally competent services which would acknowledge the fact that some parents (I’m using the word parents because not all people who give birth identity as women and mothers) have chosen to breast feed and preventing them from access to a pump is paternalistic and potentially harmful. Lisa describes what sounds like clogged ducts happening during her hospitalization due to initially being unable to pump and then pumping in inappropriate spaces due to a lack of competency with postpartum needs. I’m a practicing mental health provider with experience in both inpatient settings and with postpartum parents, and I’m going to assume that if Dr. Kimmel is good at her position at all she is knowledgeable of the ways breastfeeding and the expectation to only breastfeed puts an unrealistic pressure on parents and could contribute to problems just like the fact that some parents avoid medication for postpartum because of fears of it interfering with breastfeeding. To use your own poorly worded metaphor relating to domestic violence (for one thing, public health and the women’s movement have moved away from the term domestic violence because of its implications about gender, sex and relationship staus and moved to intimate partner violence), keeping postpartum parents from being able to pump and breast feed because of their mood disorders is just as misogynistic and hurtful as keeping survivors of intimate partner violence from being allowed to cook or use the stove.

  • KeeperOfTheBooks

    I was having this sort of conversation with another mom friend today.
    There’s this trope in mom-ing culture that martyr moms are somehow The Best, that you should at all times be ready to chuck yourself in front of a speeding car to knock Junior out of the way or you’re a Bad Mom. And yeah…in that specific case, that IS a mom’s (or parent’s, or decent human being’s) job. Thing is, the overwhelming majority of us aren’t going to be in a speeding car life-or-death situation, and your basic everyday decisions (breastfeeding vs formula feeding, cloth vs disposable, SAHM vs working-outside-the-home mom, public vs private school, et all) are very, VERY rarely at that level, so there’s no point in treating them as such except to stress out moms.
    (Of course, these things assume what’s true about most of the US as opposed to, say, an undeveloped country where you can’t get clean water to make up formula, but that has less to do with formula and more to do with why-the-eff-doesn’t-everyone-have-access-to-clean-water-yet?!)

  • Cristina

    All of the parenting choices I made were solely based on my personal comfort and not for the baby: I didn’t want to be the sole source of food, baby wearing hurt my back, I couldn’t sleep with my baby in the room, etc. Part of me always felt that I should want all of those things because, I dunno, maternal feelings? Bonding? but a huge part of me feels validated for opting for what I wanted instead of what other people told me I should want.

    • Ayr

      Same here, and with baby #2 on the way it will be the same. I refuse to stop taking my medicine for my ulcerative colitis, it’s been proven to not cross the placenta so no harm to my baby, and I can’t go without my blood thinners unless I want another PE. I didn’t baby wear with #1, he slept in our room for the first six or eight weeks of his life then off to his own room since he was sleeping through the night anyway. I was finally able to get some sleep, he has ‘talked’ in his sleep since day one.

    • demodocus

      Yeah, I carried my babies very little once they were a couple months old. The sight of my husband with a baby strapped to his chest was pretty common for a while there, though. Great hands free method, especially for someone who needs a navigational cane.

  • Elizabeth A

    Also, there are tons of women who do both things – I enjoyed carrying my babies snuggled up to me when I was out and about (and after my first encounter with a subway elevator, I vowed that I would never use a stroller again if I could help it), but sometimes I really, really needed to be by myself for the kind of special grown-up time that involved adult conversation and no one touching me.

    Well-rested people do everything better. Parenting included.

  • Madtowngirl

    A quick question, semi-related, that perhaps some of you might be able to answer. I had a scheduled C-section, and baby is fine of course, but she was spitting up clear fluid for the first 24 hours of life. One of the nurses said this can sometimes happen if baby does not experience contractions. Obviously, it didn’t matter in the overall health of my child, and she didn’t develop pneumonia or anything. I’m wondering if there is any truth to this? The pediatrician didn’t seem to have a clear answer, other than it happens with some babies.

    • fiftyfifty1

      Don’t know for sure, but that exact thing happened with my fist kid, vaginal born. Second one was a planned CS and no barfing of clear fluid for that one.

      • Madtowngirl

        Interesting, so it does sound like this is a case of “it just happens to some babies.” Thanks!

        • fiftyfifty1

          It’s pretty funny though, isn’t it?

          L&D nurse: “Your baby keeps spitting up huge amounts of clear fluid because it missed out on the labor contractions that should have emptied the stomach.”

          Lactation consultant: “Don’t worry that you are only making drops, a baby’s stomach can only hold 5cc.” Ha!

    • rational thinker

      could it be because they swallow amniotic fluid in the womb and baby didn’t have water broken hours before birth so maybe that’s why, I really don’t know its just my best guess but if the doctor says its fine I wouldn’t worry about it.

      • Madtowngirl

        Yeah I’m not too worried, especially since she is no longer spitting anything up. Mainly curiosity. 🙂

    • Kelly

      My second did that and I delivered vaginally. They said it was because it was a quick labor as it was less than three hours. It went away pretty quickly and then she started spitting up milk.

    • mabelcruet

      She’s kind of right-there’s a condition called ‘transient tachypnoea of the newborn’ (meaning that the baby breathes a little quicker than normal for a couple of days after birth). Its thought to be due to delayed resorption of fluid from the lungs. During intrauterine life, babies normally practice breathing, although obviously they are breathing in the amniotic fluid and not air. It’s an essential part of lung development-without enough fluid, or in a baby who isn’t able to do practice breathing because of skeletal or muscle problems, the lungs won’t develop properly. So when they are born, there is some fluid in the airspaces in the lungs. This rapidly gets re-absorbed by their body, but in some babies its a bit slow to get removed. Generally those babies have grunty breathing, and their chests heave like they are having to work harder with the breathing, not usually spit up fluid. It’s said to be more common in babies delivered by section because they don’t get the external compression that babies coming down the birth canal would have, but it can also happen to babies who are born vaginally too.

      Technically its possible that the fluid being spit up could come from the lungs, but it could also have been amniotic fluid the baby swallowed (because they do that too, practice their swallowing in utero) and it could be a bit of fluid regurgitating.

      • Madtowngirl

        Thank you for your thorough explanation!

  • Remember that woman who boasted about how she suffered so much from lack of sleep when her kids caught whooping cough? Yeah, see, her kids would have been better off if, instead of “suffering,” she’d have gotten them vaccinated or at least have gotten antibiotics for the first child who caught it.

    • rational thinker

      Yes that bitch. The only suffering she took into account was her own. It was all poor me I cant sleep cause they are practically dying. She only mentions her suffering never the children. Also I think if she had an autistic child she would be giving the child bleach enemas then feel sorry for herself cause she has to clean up the pieces of intestine the kid expelled on the floor.

    • Sarah

      I for one am never likely to forget. It was awful.

  • aurora

    Fabulous post.

  • MainlyMom

    Bravo Dr. Amy! This should be required reading for all pregnant women and their partners!

    • Courtney

      Agreed!

  • alongpursuit

    I’m feeling pretty emotional after reading this post. Dr. Amy: you have been able to help release me from my guilt over never being able to exclusively breastfeed my baby. A million thank-yous.

    • demodocus

      *hugs* I eff’d my 2nd after ebf’ing my 1st (I got stupidly stubborn with the first). They’re both affectionate, healthy, and bright, and it’s the ebf’d kid who likely has a learning issue. Your baby adores you for much more than a full tummy.

    • BeatriceC

      Your baby needs you more than a single drop of breastmilk. Formula is a perfectly wonderful way to meet a baby’s nutritional needs. All the claimed advantages of breastmilk? They’re fairy tales. What matters is that you love and care for your baby and meet their needs, and that’s what you did, so you did wonderfully.

  • ArmyChick

    I love this.

    I did none of those things. My daughter is 7 1/2 and we have a very strong bond. There is no point in nailing yourself to a cross as a mother – even if other people (who don’t have your best interest in mind) tell you otherwise.
    You ARE enough!

  • AnnaD2013

    Amen! Couldn’t agree more! I wish I had been able to end breastfeeding instead of sacrificing my physical and mental health trying to make it work for 4 months, scared of being judged by other people and feeling guilty feeling this way.

  • Mel

    I remember the exact minute I decided to shut down lactation. Spawn had been home for about a week.

    I had given Spawn his noon bottle which took an hour like usual. I took 5 minutes to wash up his bottle/tube feeding equipment and another 5 to prep for pumping.

    Spawn was watching me pump from his rock’n’play.

    I needed to pump for 20 minutes plus 5 minutes to clean up the parts.

    Assuming that Spawn chilled during that time, I would have exactly 1 hour and 25 minutes before his next scheduled feed. All I wanted from Spawn was for him to fall asleep so I could catch a nap before his next feed cycle started.

    I realized in an instant that I was starting to resent Spawn for being awake because I was so damn exhausted from the 4 feeding cycles I covered a day plus 4 other pumping cycles while my husband or parents fed Spawn.

    We had worked so hard to keep Spawn alive and healthy – I didn’t want to start hating him for wanting to spend some time looking at all the colors in the world rather than sleeping.

    I finished pumping and looked up “How to shut down lactation”. I pumped only for comfort, wore tightly fitted bras, found non-drowsy anti-histamines and bitched for the next 6 weeks that my breasts wouldn’t shut off.

    And I played with my baby.

    Best choice I ever made.

    • AnnaD2013

      Sorry accidentally hit the downvote button!

    • mabelcruet

      My sister put fridge-cold cabbage leaves in her bra for comfort when she was stopping breast feeding-they were the right shape to cup her bust, heaven knows where she got that tip. Quite honestly, it made the house smell of steamed cabbage for days but she said it worked.