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Why I hate the phrase “good baby”

22 Jan

I’ve been thinking about this phrase a lot recently. I know many people (including my mum) who use this as the highest form of praise for a small infant…and it annoys me so much it makes my teeth itch! A “good baby” is one who makes as little impact on the adults in her life as possible – going for hours between feeds from birth, sleeping through the night from a magically young age, not making a peep when she’s in her cot/pram/recliner.

Don’t get me wrong, my mum loves children, babies in particular (good thing, as she had 6 of her own!), and I know she’s just trying to be nice. Especially as she experienced all sorts of baby personalities in her own brood.

But there are many reasons why the phrase “good baby” annoys me…

Perhaps most importantly, I think it contributes to our society’s poor understanding of normal infant behaviour.

So you’ll get strangers telling you you’re spoiling your infant if you carry them (the first time this happened to me a perfect stranger told me I was spoiling my 4 week old son for carrying him in a sling – she said “why isn’t he in his pram? He’ll never sleep properly if he’s not in his pram” and I was actually too surprised to answer, how on earth was it her business?).

Or you’ll be met with horror if you admit to breastfeeding your baby to sleep – you’re making a rod for your own back! He’ll never self-settle! Are you mad?!?

Breastfeeding in particular is undermined by this mythical “good baby”. Breastmilk is so easily digestible, and babies’ tummies are so tiny, that breastfed babies are just not designed to go for hours between feeds (which makes breastfed babies more “challenging” apparently, though it’s more a case of the “good baby” myth rearing its head!). So having to feed just an hour after the last feed ended does not mean you have an excessively hungry baby, it does not mean you’re not producing enough milk (though your baby may be helping your body produce more milk by going through a growth spurt). Crucially, it does not mean you’re failing your baby in any way.

But where my real hatred of the phrase lies is that the flip side of good is bad. To say that this baby is good implies that that baby is bad. And I just cannot accept that any babies are bad. How can it be bad to have your needs for love, food, comfort, company met by crying? Why is wanting to be carried or in physical contact with your parents a bad thing? Why can’t more of us just accept that babies are babies and will behave like babies? It may mean less stressed out parents trying to raise some sort of textbook “good baby”.

Reflections on breastfeeding

9 Jan

A friend on Facebook shared this lovely Youtube link today. It asked parents to share what they would tell themselves if they could go back to when they decided to breastfeed. The responses are lovely – I particularly like the “Real men support breastfeeding” one!

It got me thinking back to when I was pregnant with my son and thinking about how I would feed him. I always assumed I’d breastfeed and didn’t think I’d have any problems, since it’s what breasts and babies are designed for. I didn’t think about it in much depth but assumed I’d breastfeed him for six months, when I’d introduce solids and switch to formula. This is what seemed normal based on the experiences of women around me. I didn’t really have any other template for the breastfeeding relationship.

But I had a terrible start to breastfeeding. Feeds were tremendously, toe-curlingly painful and my nipples were terribly cracked.  I was determined to fix whatever the problem was. My son’s birth had been traumatic and I felt I owed it to him to breastfeed him. I had the capability to find support to overcome my problems whereas he had no choice in the matter.

Finally, thrush was diagnosed when my son was 4 weeks old. But I had to buy fluconazole over the counter, as my GP wouldn’t prescibe it (despite me being armed with Breastfeeding Network’s great leaflet).  But one nipple wouldn’t heal, and was still so painful, so I ended up with antibiotics at 10 weeks. Finally, the crack healed and suddenly feeds were properly pain-free – a revelation!  Our nursing relationship immediately switched from a grim count-down to 26 weeks to being properly enjoyable and relaxed.

In the end, I breastfed exclusively until we introduced solids via baby led weaning at just before 6 months. I continued to feed on demand alongside solid foods. And kept feeding when I returned to work when my son was 12 months. It was great for helping my son transition from being at home full-time to being with a childminder 4 days a week. He eventually self-weaned at 19 months, which I was very emotional about – my baby is growing up! But I have this new baby squirming away inside me and I’m looking forward to having a whole new nursing relationship in the spring.

So what would I tell myself if I could go back in time?

Keep seeking support until you overcome problems – it’ll be worth it! And it’s OK to feel proud of your achievement.

Sunday night ramblings

27 Nov

I am utterly knackered tonight. In fact, if I didn’t want to jot down a quick post I’d be heading to bed! Though I’ve had such a lovely weekend that I don’t mind the bone-crushing tiredness (and baby is nice and active, which makes everything, even blogging,  more fun – it’s that stage of pregnancy where you’re really aware that a new person is wriggling away inside getting readier and readier to make his or her appearance).

Yesterday my sister (also married to an American) and her two girls came to celebrate a belated Thanksgiving with us. Before they arrived we had a frenzy of cleaning. I’m strict about food hygiene (a relic of years of waitressing through university) and like general tidiness (so toys and books get put away every night) but I’m otherwise pretty relaxed about cleaning. Which is the polite way of saying I generally can’t be bothered with “proper” cleaning! As my husband said yesterday, if people didn’t visit us regularly I doubt we’d clean as often as we do…

Anyway, our bout of dusting/window wiping/hoovering/mopping paid off and the flat looked spiffing when we all sat down to our turkey dinner. One of the things I love about Thanksgiving is how sweet the dishes are. My husband makes a mean sweet potato with marshmallows that we enjoy only at Thanksgiving (reckon our teeth would fall out if it were a regular treat!). The pumpkin pie my sister brought was a great mix of spicy and sweet. Our son did us proud by scoffing a big slice of of pie (he also seemed particularly taken with cranberry sauce, which meant he spent the meal looking like he was bleeding from the mouth as cranberry sauce ran down his chin!).

This morning we headed to London Zoo to see Father Christmas. At 20 months, our son had little clue what was going on but the reindeer were cute (much smaller than I imagined) and we enjoyed seeing the penguins and the playground. We’re members at the zoo, so go fairly regularly. We hummed and hawed about going so early, but decided that since today is the first day of Advent (and all of our weekends between now and Christmas are busy) a trip to Father Christmas wasn’t totally ridiculous. I then had yet more pumpkin pie this afternoon when I popped to a friend’s for coffee and a catch up. Dinner consisted of turkey & stuffing sandwiches, which is one of the treats of a big roast meal (sometimes the leftovers are even tastier than the main meal!). It whet my appetite for those days after Christmas when you can subsist on leftovers (and chocolate!).

I’m reading The Politics of Breastfeeding by Gabrielle Palmer at the moment. It’s been on my to-read list for a long time and I’m enjoying it, although I’m also finding it incredibly moving. The fact that our culture has become so removed from this natural process, leading to so much heartache and stress for so many babies and their mothers, all for the pursuit of profit and some sort of “scienceification” of life, makes me sad. It’s also stirring up memories of the start of my own nursing relationship with my son.

I didn’t anticipate any problems with breastfeeding (despite hearing plenty of horror stories about shredded nipples and the like when I was pregnant, usually from the same people who like to tell birth horror stories…). I assumed that I’d find it a breeze and got off to a great start in hospital, even with recovery from an induced labour and a c-section. Instead I ended up with bleeding nipples, undiagnosed thrush, and then infected nipples. Feeding was terribly painful for the first couple of months of my son’s life. Even worse was the guilt I felt as I started to dread feeds and the toe-curling pain they meant…But I was determined to get help, and found great resources like Kellymom, Mumsnet and the Breastfeeding Network, as well as local drop in sessions in Haringey and Islington. It paid off and by 12 weeks we were enjoying pain-free feeding and went on to feed until my son was 19 months. I really appreciate that we got to enjoy such a lovely nursing relationship in the end, and reading this book is making me even more grateful that I could get over the initial problems.

I’d like to post a proper review of The Politics of Breastfeeding at some point.