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.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Who benefits from normalizing maternal suffering? Natural childbirth advocates, lactivists and misogynists.[/pullquote]

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.