I give talks at mom and baby groups about breastfeeding. By the time most moms make it out to a group, they’ve passed the very early, make-or-break stage of breastfeeding. They have two-month-olds or four-month-olds, and while they still have breastfeeding questions, they are definitely past the point where I’m selling breastfeeding to them. Some of them have given up on breastfeeding, most of them haven’t, but either way I’m not looking to single anyone out.
I usually get the discussion rolling with an opening question that any parent can answer. Something along the lines of, “What’s one thing that surprised you about parenting?” Or, “If you could go back to before your baby was born and tell yourself one thing, what would it be?” I emphasize that no one has to share their breastfeeding story with me, and that I am not there to evaluate anyone’s parenting. I’m just there to answer questions they may have.
In spite of my efforts to not be the breastfeeding police, most of the moms do share their breastfeeding story. Whether they’re breastfeeding or not at this point, they all at least tried, and so they have some experience good or bad that they’re carrying around with them. I listen and do my best to honour their experience, however it turned out.
There are a few things I’ve learned from my time playing ‘Representative for Breastfeeding.’ One is that we all want our stories to be heard respectfully. Another is that most of us (myself included) take parenting choices very personally, and it’s hard for us not to internalize someone else’s statements about breastfeeding or discipline or infant sleep. But my biggest lesson, by far, is that pretty much no parent knows what they’re doing.
Babies don’t come with a manual, and they can’t provide you with regular reports on the quality of your parenting. When you have an infant, you’re working largely on instinct and second-hand information. But it’s important that you don’t mess this up too badly, so you try to evaluate the data to see how you’re doing. How much does your child sleep? How much does your child poop? How much does your child cry? How much does your child weigh? We read these signs like we’re reading tea leaves, searching for order in the chaos. And then we look at our neighbour’s kid, and try to see how our kid measures up in comparison.
Inevitably, as mothers share their experiences, two mothers come up with stories that stand in direct opposition to each other. Which is OK – no two mothers are alike and no two babies are alike. Trying to make everyone fit the same mold is fruitless. But still, when it happens, the question hovers in the air. Who’s right?
This is what I’ve come to believe about breastfeeding, and parenting in general: If your child is healthy, and it’s working for you, that’s all that matters. No further explanation is required. If you have the sort of kid who likes to sleep in a crib, that’s all right. If you have the sort of kid who likes to sleep with one hand on you, that’s all right. If you have the sort of kid who feeds every 3 hours for 10 minutes, that’s all right. If you have the sort of kid who feeds every 2 hours for 45 minutes, that’s all right. As long as the kid in question is healthy, and you are generally OK with things, no one else matters.
Sometimes, people from outside your family feel concerned about you or your child. They interpret your child in the light of their own child, or something they’ve read, or an experience they had 30 years ago. They say something because they genuinely care. They offer books or the number for their naturopath or a suggestion for how to better discipline your toddler. When someone offers unsolicited advice to me, I often don’t know how to respond. I may begin to question myself, or wonder if there’s really something wrong. Because I don’t exactly know what I’m doing, here, either.
Thankfully, I’ve discovered that you do not owe anyone outside of your immediate family an explanation. Other people can provide advice or experience, but you are free to take it or leave it. As long as your child is healthy and safe, and things are working for your family, you don’t have to provide any further explanation to anyone. Whether it’s me talking about breastfeeding at a mom and baby group, or the cashier at the grocery store, or a well-meaning older relative. If the question is Who’s right? the answer is No one. And everyone. It depends. Have a cookie.
Cookies are always the answer. And this is straight from the keyboard of the breastfeeding police, so you know the information is solid.
Have you ever received advice that was clearly off-base for yourself or your child? How do you react when that happens? I’d love to hear your tips!