Retaking The Joys Of Motherhood

I read a paragraph from Carlos Gonzalez’s book Kiss Me! (US Link)*recently that has stayed with me all week and has gone round and round in my head. Speaking about taboos in modern society, he talks of how the subjects of sex and promiscuity or homosexuality are no longer taboo as they were when our parents were children, but modern taboos focus a lot on mothers and children. He then divides that topic into three categories: picking up a crying child, where that child sleeps and how that child is fed, especially if said child is over around 6 months of age.

Gonzalez points out what many mothers already know: When you have close physical contact with your child, they tend to cry less. However, society tells us that if we respond to our children too readily, we’ll be spoiling them. A breastfeeding mother will tell you the ‘easiest’ way to comfort, calm and otherwise have a peaceful life with a baby is to nurse her, whether for nutrition or comfort. Yet society puts such a negative on the idea of comfort nursing – how often haven’t I been asked ‘is she actually feeding, or just sucking for comfort?’ as if it’s a bad thing?

When those things that encourage physical proximity, says Gonzalez, are removed from a mother, she has very little left in her arsenal to help her through her ‘job’ of mothering, and it suddenly becomes really hard work.

Perhaps that is why raising children is such a strain for some mothers. It entails less work than before (we have running water, washing machines, disposable nappies…), yet there are fewer compensations. In a normal situation, where a mother is at liberty to look after her child as she sees fit, the baby cries very little and when he does it pains her and she feels compassion (“Poor little thing, what’s the matter?”). However, when they prohibit you from picking him up, sleeping with him, breastfeeding him or comforting him, the child cries even more, and the mother is helpless in the face of this crying, and her response becomes angry and aggressive (“What’s the matter with him now!”)

One of the rewards of motherhood: closeness

I have heard so many mothers talk so lovingly and happily about the 3am feed with their new baby. There’s something beautiful about that middle of the night feed, when there’s no one else awake, other than the child at your breast (even if you’re bottle feeding, putting the child to your chest, skin to skin, offers an amazing oxytocin release) staring in your eyes.  (Did you know that relationship councilors will often recommend that a couple kiss each other with their eyes open, looking at each other?)

But getting back to the 3am feed. No one in their right mind wants to be woken at that time of day, least of all to do something for someone who depends on them so wholly, but the rewards of falling asleep cuddled up next to a squishy baby,  suckling at your breast, are exquisite.  It’s definitely compensation for being woken up.

On this, Gonzalez says:

Although some try to justify such recommendations by insisting they are ‘to help mothers to rest’, the fact is they never prohibit tiring activities. NO one ever says: “Don’t do too much housework or he’ll get into the bad habit of having a clean house”, or “you’ll have to go with him to do his washing when he leaves home.” In fact, it is usually the most pleasurable part of motherhood that is prohibited: letting your child fall asleep in your arms, singing to him, enjoying him.

But this here is the paragraph that’s rung in my ears all week:

Almost all of these taboos have one thing in common: they prohibit physical contact between mother and child.

Is it any wonder then, that motherhood is so wholly under rated? Is it any wonder that it is difficult, and referred to as the hardest job?

Don’t get me wrong. I cosleep, breastfeed and babywear. I respond to my crying child, and I am with my children most hours of every day, and it is no magic bullet or secret recipe. There are hard days. There are days so hard, all I want to do is sit down and cry, especially during this period of solo parenting, but , and it’s a big but… the rewards of feeling my child go limp as she falls asleep in my arms, the beautiful peace as her breathing deepens and she drifts off in the darkness of night, the serenity of seeing a crying child’s tears turn into a toothy grin when you pick them upthose rewards are what differentiate between simply having children, and actually enjoying motherhood. 

*At the current price of this book I will earn about 20p if you buy through this link, however this is a personal, unsponsored recommendation – I bought the book myself too.

Co-Sleeping and Breastfeeding

A reader asked me to write about co-sleeping and breastfeeding. Although this is something we’ve been doing since around one and a half hours after Ameli’s birth – she was born at 4.40am, we were asleep in our bed by six – it’s still a hard topic to write about because I’ve never really thought about it. We’ve simply just ‘done’ it.

Governments will tell us not to co-sleep, or bed share, as they claim that it reduces the risk of SIDS, yet they acknowledge that it is done in most homes at some point – yet they choose not to talk about doing so safely.

Research has shown various things, and at times all conflicting, but even so the human race has co-slept for most of its existence. It has also breastfed, wet nursed and so on for most of that time.

A study done at the University of Notre Dame, summarises their work thus:

We hope that the studies and data described in this paper, which show that co-sleeping at least in the form of roomsharing especially with an actively breast feeding mother saves lives, is a powerful reason why the simplistic, scientifically inaccurate and misleading statement ‘never sleep with your baby’ needs to be rescinded, wherever and whenever it is published.

According to JJ McKenna1, breastfeeding mothers are more than three times as likely to bed-share.

image: from Atom Egoyan's Sweet HereafterSomething I read, and I can’t for the life of me find it now, when I had just started co-sleeping and breastfeeding was that researchers had found that mothers who co-sleep with their infants were almost unanimously sleeping in the exact same position – with the infant cradled in the nook of the arm, which is protectively around the outside of the baby, and knees drawn up to prevent the baby from shimmying down into the bed. This really fascinated me as I was sleeping like that without anyone ever having told me to.

The Notre Dame study confirms the instinctively safer approach to bed-sharing, saying Our studies have shown that without instruction, the routinely bed-sharing breast feeding mothers almost always placed their infants in the safe supine infant sleep position, probably because it is difficult, if not impossible, to breast feed a prone sleeping infant.

For the babies, bed-sharing meant more regular feeds, and “the nightly durations of breast feeding and to shorten the average intervals between the breast feeding sessions” therein. (Which, as an aside, led to the mothers fertility being regulated.)

Nicky Heskin, in an article about cosleeping and breastfeeding, makes a very valid point too, especially for working mums:

Cosleeping is a great way to fulfill your baby’s physical need for attachment if mommy is not the primary caregiver during the day. Several of my friends who need or choose to work cosleep at night and tell me they don’t feel like they “never see their baby” as some of their colleagues report. Cosleeping also provides the opportunity for increased night nursing (note that cosleeping does not cause increased night nursing: it just means you won’t have to get out of bed for it!). Increased night nursing can help reduce baby’s daytime breastmilk needs and keep milk supply well-stimulated to extend the amount of time working moms are able to be successful at exclusive breastfeeding through pumping.

Cosleeping and breastfeeding as a combination also helps with sleep deprivation. Mothers who learn to breastfeed in the side lying position especially will find themselves feeding without getting up, which makes sleep a lot less disturbed. Later, once babies are able to move a bit more freely, you’ll often find you often don’t even wake up during nursing: I once told my husband that I thought Ameli had slept through, and he actually laughed at me, as he had awoken to the sound of her nursing a few times during the night. At least one of us woke up really refreshed that morning!

early days cosleepingAs always, the ‘rules’ of co-sleeping need to be followed: never co-sleep when you’ve been drinking, never co-sleep if you take drugs, including those that make you drowsy, such as antihistamines, and don’t co-sleep if one of you is a smoker. Also, don’t let the nanny, aunt or grandparent co-sleep with an infant as they do not have the same instincts as a parent and never underestimate those instincts either. One night when Ameli was a few months old I in my sleep reached over and grabbed her as she was about to plunge off the bed. My husband woke me up to tell me what I had just done.

There is a word of warning too though: in the early weeks, until Ameli coulds move, I sat up to breastfeed. One night, side lying, I fell asleep. Instinct kicked in and I woke up and found that my (rather large) breast was over Ameli’s face and she wasn’t able to breathe. Although it hadn’t been going on long enough that she gulped air or was in any distress, I realised the importance of being alert enough – what the Notre Dame study refers to as level 1 and 2 sleep – and avoiding anything that could interfere with your instincts – such as alcohol or extreme exhaustion. (edit: I sat up, because I had been frightened by the experience, since Ameli had not struggled at all [or if she had, it might have been what woke me, but I wasn’t aware of it] , but I must admit that I had ginormous breasts at that stage. It may be safer to side-lie as at least you won’t drop the baby if you fall asleep, but you’ll have to find what works for you.)

Breastfeeding and cosleeping go hand in hand and have done for centuries. In traditional African culture, mothers cosleep with their offspring till four or five years of age. So do they in many Asian cultures.

I’m only an expert on how we have done it, but if you have any questions, or would like to contribute anything, please leave a comment below.

1 McKenna JJ, Mosko S, Richard C. Bed sharing promotes breastfeeding.Pediatrics 1997; 100: 214–219.

Cry It Out and Sleep Training

I am a member of the ‘cry-it-out’ generation. When my daughter, Ameli, was just a few days old, my mother suggested we leave her to cry for twenty minutes and she would sleep better. If she was still crying after twenty minutes, we could go in comfort her, and then start again. I sat in the next room crying as I heard my newborn crying. We did it twice, and I vowed never again.
Read more: Cry It Out and Sleep Training

A Bad Day’s Mothering

I know everyone has them. Those days where you just feel like nothing youre doing is right. When you suspect, in the back of your frazzled mind, that you might be ruining your poor, sweet, crying child, for ever.

Read more: A Bad Day’s Mothering