Category Archives: Breastfeeding

“Science” vs. AP?!

A beautiful sky; makes me happy, like parenting.

Entering into a new phase of my parenting journey (back in the throws of babyhood), I quietly wondered whether Attachment Parenting (or, AP, for short) has relevance for me anymore. I started this blog as a space for writing about Attachment Parenting & pursuing a career. Would I want to get back to writing about working & AP’ing as a blogger? (Well… here I am, blogging about it…) Would I be practicing AP with the new wee one?

The answer to that last question is complicated.

My short answer is yes. But it’s not because it has “worked” so well with my first child. And it’s not because I believe that AP is the only or best way to parent.

Here’s the longer answer (sorry… long post alert!)…

Before T was born, MFA Dad & I had no clue what we were doing or how we were going to approach our new roles as parents. We were living away from our closest friends & family, some of whom were starting to have kids, so we really didn’t have any models close by. Our fuzzy (or non-existent) memories of our own early childhoods were not much help. Our parents had selective amnesia & seemed to suggest things were a lot easier than they ended up being for us.

And honestly, we hadn’t thought about parenting at all before I got pregnant. And even then, it took a while for our brains to catch up with all that my body was preparing for. (A law school classmate of mine who had previously been a doula, once warned me in the hallway about books that would scare or scar me… That’s when I realized that “Oh, people take this parenting shtick seriously & actually think about how they want to parent…”)

So it was with some relief that we happened across Dr. William Sears’s The Baby Book while shopping at my least favorite store in the world (Babies R Us). A lot of what Dr. Sears-the-Elder had to say just clicked with both MFA Dad & I. (Also, some of it didn’t click.) We didn’t think that our son would be messed up if we didn’t follow all of his “Baby B’s” (Dr. Sears’s short list of AP “do’s”) but in the book we had found a bunch of baby minding tactics that seemed to mesh well with our lifestyle & world views. (For example, the basic idea that wearing your baby is an easy way to integrate a child into your daily life while keeping them physically close seemed practical to us.)

In short, it was simply nice to find an approach to this overwhelming endeavor that suited us as a couple & new family.

While we are not, perhaps, the AP “poster” family, I am grateful for what I have learned because of AP. It gave me the tools & confidence to parent in a way that felt right when I was a new & inexperienced mom. Even while I was making many first-time mom mistakes.

But here’s the bottom line. I don’t think, nor have I ever thought, really, that AP is the sole owner of “good” parenting. There are also many valid criticisms of AP, as it is represented by Dr. Sears & others.

I don’t know that any of my friends or family who are parents would identify as AP. But I’d babysit their kids or have them over for a sleepover any day. Like us, they all developed their own parenting styles. They’re all great parents & their kids seem to be normal & healthy & secure (most certainly securely attached). They are all delightful kids. And we all also have our challenges with our children.

Still, it is with some wonder (& frankly, confusion) that I observe certain types of blanket criticisms of AP. For example, take the “Science vs” Attachment Parenting podcast, wherein the host challenges the unscientifically-founded scourge of attachment parenting. The host of the podcast managed to find an overzealous follower of AP’s “rules” who takes the role of “motherly sacrifice” to an extreme & then uses the poor woman as a diving board into an equally overzealous critique of AP. (I knew the critique was off base when it started with the premise that the sample mom’s home was “child-centered,” which is opposed to my own interpretation of AP… My own take being that AP is family-based in a way that posits the child is not the center of the family’s existence & if you walk into my home it may take a few seconds to realize there are children living there too.)

Look, I get it… As the podcast’s host explained, there are books & websites & blogs (ahem…) laying out what may seem like “rules” at a quick glance. Dr. Sears & others use their authority as medical professionals and/or references to “science” to convince unwitting parents that AP is unquestionably better for babies & children. The idea of “rules” or getting things “wrong” (& possibly messing up your child as a result) makes AP simultaneously attractive & overwhelming to many parents.

Let’s get this out of the way: It’s never a good idea to blindly follow anyone’s set of rules when it comes to raising your children.

Discussions around different approaches to parenting typically present stark choices with severe consequences. The choices is almost never so stark (unless one of those choices involves neglect or harm—be it physical or psychological—of the child). But if you’re a parent, you are most likely an adult who should have learned the lesson that you don’t jump just because someone (even someone in a doctor’s or lab coat) yells “jump.”

AP’s “rules” are only rules if you let them be rules. Dr. Sears doesn’t care what you do or don’t do with your child. There is no test. You don’t have to prove yourself as parent of the century.

So, while I disagree with the “Science vs.” characterization of AP, I don’t disagree with the bottom line that using “science” to prove that AP is the only way to raise a healthy child is misleading & you won’t necessarily damage your child if you don’t follow the “rules” of AP.

But here’s the thing… There simply aren’t any such rules. Many AP families use strollers. 🙋 Many AP families have cribs (though we don’t always use them…). 🙋 Dr. Sears himself has advice on bottle-feeding. Sometimes, AP parents let their children cry because they’d like some privacy in the bathroom, it’s the nightly witching hour, or they literally just can’t handle nighttime parenting at the moment.

And I’d bet (if I were the betting type) that most of us don’t “do” AP because of science. AP empowers parents (or it has the potential to, in any case) to parent intuitively. That means I don’t need someone with an MD or PhD to tell me what to do when my baby cries, when she wakes in the middle of the night, or when my older child misbehaves. Nope, I got this! I know my children better than anyone & am not concerned with “outcomes” that have been tracked by researchers or artificially created in a lab.

This premise (that there are strict “rules”) pretty much guarantees “Science vs.” will get AP wrong out of the gate. I’ve already pointed out that AP isn’t necessarily a child-centered parenting philosophy, but it also isn’t parent-centered. The podcast’s host seems to corner the poor sample mom into stating that she doesn’t let her child cry because she can’t handle it. Then she leaves it at that, which is a totally inaccurate characterization of AP. I don’t like my baby’s cries either, but that’s not why most AP parents don’t purposely let their babies cry without responding.

So, let’s look at the topics the “Science vs.” attempts to cover: crying, attachment theory, and sleep.

Babies cry. It’s how they communicate. I wouldn’t ignore my older child if he came to my bedside & whispered “Mommy, my tummy hurts.” I wouldn’t ignore my bleary-eyed husband if he asked me to pour him a cup of coffee as I pour my own. So why would I ignore my baby simply because she can’t yet use words? I want to investigate, at least. I can usually figure out what she’s asking for in her prehistoric way.

But maybe I can’t figure it out. Maybe she’s crying for a long time. Maybe I’m so sleep deprived I can’t take any more crying. Well, then, perhaps walking away is the best thing I can do for her & for me. That’s certainly better than losing my temper or harming baby in some way. But that’s not where I start.

I start from the premise that this little person is completely dependent on me & it’s my job to respond. She’s trying to tell me something important. No matter what time of day or night. No matter if I’m tired. No matter if I don’t want to (though that’s usually not the case). No matter what.

That’s why I respond when my baby cries.

Now, back to those pesky “rules.” Quite simply, there are none.

The “rules” aren’t rules. The podcast unfairly characterizes common AP practices as “rules” when they are guidelines at best. Most literature on AP that I’ve read presents these ideas as “best practices” of sorts, but by no means have I seen any proponent of AP suggest that bottle-feeding, for instance will ruin one’s attachment with one’s child. That’s preposterous & untenable. AP folks tend to be hardliners on the issue of sleep training, but other than that issue, I don’t think most advocates of AP would suggest with a straight face that there’s only one way to do this whole AP thing.

Of course, some will take things to an extreme. But I try to avoid extremes in my daily life & parenting is no different. I have criticized those AP proponents who suggest extreme views of parenting, especially when those views are aimed at women in particular & have the potential to restrict rather than liberate. If someone tells you you must do something as a parent (be it baby wearing, bed sharing, breastfeeding, etc.) pause, reflect on their motivations, and then consider your own reality.

Interestingly, while the podcast correctly separates attachment parenting from attachment theory, it doesn’t quite get that right either. To be clear, attachment parenting as described by Dr. Sears et al., has a tenuous relationship at best with attachment theory. That said, the New York Times recently reported on new discoveries in the world of attachment theory, in an article entitled “Yes, It’s Your Parents’ Fault,” no less.

Of course, it’s not all our parents’ faults. As the “Science vs.” podcast points out, our pesky genes do influence our dispositions & the ways we interact with the world & each other. But, according to the new research reported in the NY Times, it does seem that parenting matters for our future relationships & …

Luckily, as I’ve pointed out previously, “good enough” parenting will usually do the trick. But to suggest that it doesn’t matter at all (as the podcast host does) is flippant & inaccurate.

Which leads us to sleep. Ah, sleep… so elusive with young children in the house! Yet it’s the one area where most AP’ers will agree on an honest to goodness rule: Do not leave your child to cry in order to “sleep train.” Many of us would say you should consider not sleep training at all.

Unfortunately for us adults, babies’ sleep habits are different from ours. In fact, they’re rather inconvenient. They interrupt our nights and our days. Annoying.

At least, we’re culturally conditioned to think that our babies’ sleep habits are annoying or, at best, less than ideal. I’m not going to argue that adult sleep is unimportant—Parents need sleep to function… to support their children & to be living, breathing members of society, even if barely sometimes. And I’m not going to tell you how you feel. Or what degree of exhaustion you should be able to tolerate. Or that your baby’s sleep is normal. Or that you should sleep next to your baby. Or that you shouldn’t.

You’re the parent. You get to make that call. Not some random blogger. Not someone hosting a podcast.

All I’ll say here is that there are a number of sleep configurations that AP families adopt. I’ve done a little of everything, even sleep training (short of intentionally leaving a child alone to cry). (I do have lots of opinions about sleep & I’m working on a sleep-focused post.)

The “Science vs.” podcast presents an extremely simplistic overview of the issue of safe sleep & a singular vision of what healthy sleep might look like.

I understand that folks might have legitimate disagreements over safe sleep. Parents need to talk to & consult sources they trust to decides whether or not a given sleep arrangement is safe enough for them. (I say safe enough because there is no 100% guarantee no matter your sleep arrangement, unfortunately.) “Science vs.” provides some talking points, but only scratches the surface. And it presents the safe sleep question as clear-cut, when I don’t think that it’s at all simple.

For instance, the podcast appears to entirely dismiss the research of Dr. James McKenna (without explicitly naming him) because he’s not an MD. But he happens to be the only researcher to study bed sharing & infant sleep in a lab. His work appears in peer-reviewed journals (some are medical journals). And his approach to bed sharing & safe infant sleep reads to me as being very nuanced. I don’t think he should necessarily be your sole source of information, but I also don’t think his work is so easily dismissed.

As for the sleep training bit, I have to admit that I just don’t understand why critics of AP much care that we don’t sleep train at all or in the conventional ways. I found sleep training to be more trouble than it’s worth. My older son has “slept through the night” (that silly but all-important “milestone”) since around 2 1/2, more or less. He’s 8 & just had his first sleepover with friends away from home, so he can sleep independently. I share these details only to stress that sleep happens. With or without parental fussing.

My 11-month-old does not sleep through the night. She still nurses a couple-few times every night. I’m tired most mornings when I have to wake up for work. Meh. … This, too, shall pass… So for now, I try to enjoy smelling the top of her head or the touch of her soft cheek during those nighttime feedings. For me, the stress of sleep training is not worth it.

I will sleep again. You will sleep again. Soon.

Perhaps critics of AP just want to make sure parents are getting enough sleep. Maybe. But I have a suspicion that the motivations are less generous. There’s a cottage industry built on selling us bleary-eyed parents on various sleep training techniques. And because some of these techniques don’t feel right, there’s a cadre of parents who have had to convince themselves that whatever sleep training they’ve engaged in is at best innocuous. Maybe, just maybe, critics of AP resent the non-mainstream, but more palatable, approach that AP’ers take to sleep. Maybe.

My point is not to make you feel guilty if you personally have tried sleep training. My point is that there’s a strong cultural current moving in one direction & I think AP’s approach to sleep is the focus of so much criticism (as seen in the “Science vs.” podcast) precisely because it resists that current. It’s really no one’s business how you or I, individually, approach sleep.

We deserve to be able to make informed decisions without folks badgering one particular method, particularly when there is absolutely zero evidence that choosing to forgo sleep training (or choosing gentle sleep training techniques) will harm children or babies. And yet, parents are pressured constantly to “do something” about their babies’ sleep. The “Science vs.” podcast host practically begs parents to sleep train for their own sanity with no discussion of normal infant sleep patterns.

It’s just weird. I mean, it’s worth exploring whether your child’s truly deplorable sleep has an underlying medical cause, but beyond that I truly do not understand the cultural pressure to sleep train.

And I say this not as the parent of a unicorn child who slept or sleeps well. Nope. I’ve been to the depths of exhaustion & back. I’m there again. Sometimes I still touch upon that irrational anger that is the special gift of sleep deprivation. I have fitful sleep. Weird dreams.

In other words, I can sympathize with parents of “bad” sleepers. And if your baby is an normal bad sleeper, I have been there. I’ll be there again tonight.

AP is an easy target for parent trash talk, but it doesn’t have to be a caricature. For most thoughtful families who have picked up a technique or two or three from AP, it’s not a silly, old-fashioned, anti-feminist endeavor. It’s not a cult or even a club. It’s just another set of tools in the parenting toolbox.

Just because the science has not definitively shown that AP is the best way to parent doesn’t make it any less or somehow worse than other ways of parenting. It is not necessary to prove that it’s somehow awful. It’s not. Engage in in-depth critique with an open mind, but don’t dismiss out of hand for no good reason.

It is telling that almost none of the critiques that I’ve come across recently have posited another parenting philosophy as a replacement as the proven winner in the (unfortunately) endless competition between parenting styles. Because, let’s be clear, “science” hasn’t proven that other approaches to parenting are “the best” either. We may turn to science for a lot, but on parenting, the science is lacking.

I’ve recently finished reading Our Babies, Ourselves by Meredith Small. She also uses science to provide an analysis of parenting styles from biological and cultural perspectives. You can find a lot to support practices typical of AP families in the book (e.g. bed-sharing, breastfeeding, responsive parenting, etc.) but the interesting thing is that it is clear from the book that these practices are not owned by AP or any particular parenting philosophy. And Small, though she has a clear preference for these AP-type practices, accepts that every culture will place its imprint on parenting practices. She also insists that babies are adaptable little beings & that science has not determined that any one parenting style is likely to result in better adapted or happier adults. (Not that results should be a goal of parenting…)

Now that I’m doing this baby thing for the second time, I can say that I love AP because it makes life easier &, more importantly, it makes being a parent more enjoyable. And even more importantly, I do it because the little person in my care is weird & has prehistoric needs built into her DNA & she doesn’t talk & AP is the best way for me to learn her language. I don’t do it because science or even pseudoscience tells me it’s better. I don’t do it because some “professional” says it’s better.

My journey on this earth as a human has made me appreciate that we are living every day we get to be here (wherever that happens to be). That is, our hours here are not (solely) in service of some yet-to-be-attained goal. My journey as a parent has taught me to enjoy the simple things in life & to connect fiercely with my family, among others. The two together have taught me to enjoy parenting. Sure, not every moment. But, most moments. Even the moments that don’t seem enjoyable at first blush.

AP is just one tool that helps me work toward that connection & enjoyment. It’s not perfect. I’m not perfect. That’s ok. What’s not ok is the hell-bent determination with which some approach AP, on either side of the fence. We are more than our parenting philosophies.

If you’ve read this long post: Thank you! And let m know what you think. What did I get wrong? Right? What helps you enjoy being a parent?

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Filed under Attachment Parenting, Breastfeeding, Gentle Discipline, Living, Mothering, Parenting, Read, Simplicity

Another Mothers’ Day Rant


I like to complain about Mothers’ Day on this blog. Hey, it’s my mommy blog & I can whine if I want to…

Mostly, I think the holiday is bullshit. 

Also, I hate making decisions on what I’ll do to celebrate. Do I escape? Pretend I don’t have a family for the day? Do I force my husband to take me to an over-crowded, rushed, & mediocre brunch? Do I demand special treatment? Breakfast in bed & all that? What about my own mother?! In indulging in myself, am I neglecting her?! And I have work on Monday, so there can’t be too much booze or fun because I need to sleep & get ready for the work week. Ack! 

And all for what? So that we can pretend mothers are honored in this land of zero-paid-maternity leave? So we can pretend mothers are important, even in this culture that undervalues family & women & anything remotely domestic? 

WTF, I thought this was supposed to be special & fun! Where are my Instagram-able #mothersdaymoments?! 

So, it’s the Saturday before Mothers Day & it’s been busy as hell. I got to sleep in a bit (which was awesome!) but I woke up extremely groggy & baby was in need of nursing & a nap. Ok. She’s almost asleep when my phone rings. Bam, she’s awake. Also, where’s the coffee?! Husband makes me coffee (yay!) & leaves. Ok. So now martial arts for the big boy & a walking nap for the baby. Then dentist appointment. Fuck, they asked me to come early but now they’re running behind. I’m hangry ’cause it’s past lunchtime & baby needs more sleep. She’s yelling & I admit I encourage her because I’m so grumpy & want our presence to be known. But everyone’s so damned nice. Darn, I can’t be a total bitch… which is a good thing in the end because I love our dentist & it’s not like we won’t be back. No more cavities for the boy. Phew! And then we grab lunch & I get more caffeine & we’re ok. Groceries for dinner. Baby will sleep in the car right? No! She’ll scream bloody fucking murder!! But my amazing son calms her somehow. I’m gripping the steering wheel in random heavy traffic but I somehow remember to breathe. I notice the sky is beautiful. I’m still grumpy but slightly less so. Home. Finally. My husband has picked up the entire house & is halfway through our laundry. Wow! It’s warm enough to throw open the windows. I want to pass off the baby. Hide in a room & lock the door. But of course the baby needs to nurse. Fine! I’ll be a mom for, like, five more minutes!

My Butterball-turkey-sized 10-months-old falls asleep in my arms. My partner & son bring me a beer. I quietly thank my son for being so patient & lovely today. I quietly thank my husband for the beer & for taking care of the house. I’ve found gratitude & I’m no longer angry or even cranky. 
Now I’m sitting here, rocking with my napping baby, sipping a beer, enjoying a beautiful breeze. How could I possibly complain?! 

Three years ago, on Mothers’ Day I was pregnant & and about to miscarry. Two years ago, I was bitter after having suffered a second miscarriage some months earlier & I was also barely pregnant & about to lose a chemical pregnancy & picking up a bridesmaid’s dress that had to be altered because, well, miscarriage. Last year, I was eight months pregnant but still nervous. This year, I have the honor holding the most perfect, napping baby in my arms. 

In the blink of an eye, despite chaos & loss, I feel like the luckiest mom in the world. 

Happy Mothers’ Day. Seriously!

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Filed under Attachment Parenting, Breastfeeding, Feminism, Living, Miscarriage, Mothering, Partnership, Simplicity, Working

Loving my job(s)

(NB: I don’t usually get political on this blog & I don’t intend to go on any lengthy political rants that don’t relate to parenting or maternity leave, but I have to say… I wrote this post 2 weeks ago & since the inauguration, the current administration has made my day-to-day job very challenging & frustrating. What a difference a day makes! Still, the sentiment in this post is generally still true, so I’ve decided to publish it as is. Maybe I’ll do a follow-up…)

I’ve returned to work. But with the winter holidays, I’ve actually only had a couple of full weeks back on the job. 

There’s no doubt about it, it’s hard to be away for these long days. Commuting + a full day’s work… The hours add up. But…

I’m glad to be back to my work as an attorney. 

There. I said it. 

I am an attachment parenting mom & I don’t feel guilty about leaving my baby to pursue my career. 

Oh, sure, I have worries, but those are limited to the day to day sort. Will I pump enough milk? (Yes, Baby M is taking a bottle!) Will MFA Dad overbundle her in her car seat? Will the babysitter drop her? (There I have to be honest… She’s fallen once from a low chair & that was on my watch.) Will Grandma give her too much milk?

I don’t worry about the long term… Will she somehow be damaged because I left her for the office? Will we not be attached? 

No, those worries are silly. Not only is there no use in worrying about those things (my return to work was inevitable for a number of reasons, not least of which is because I love it), they are simply unfounded. But the main reason I think worrying too much is uncalled for is this:

Babies are remarkably adaptable. 

If they are safe & surrounded by at least one loving adult, they can thrive. If this weren’t the case, adoption would always be a failure. All children with working moms would be damaged because their mothers work. This simply isn’t the case. 

I read the lovely book Our Babies, Ourselves while I was on leave & one of the interesting findings that Meredith Small discusses is that while for many mammals immediate attachment to the mother is necessary for the infant’s survival, that is apparently not the case for human infants. Sure, there’s oxytocin, the famed “love hormone,” that can help facilitate a connection between mother & child, but babies have wily ways of convincing just about any adult to form an on-going attachment with him or her. Because survival. Maybe because historically childbirth was dangerous enough that our species planned for maternal death in infancy. 

Whatever the reason, the point is that babies are adaptable. 

We should be gentle with them. Easy with transitions. Meet their (prehistoric but very real) needs. But they are adaptable & forgiving. 

Women subject themselves to far too much hand-wringing on account of the working mom “dilemma.” It should not be a dilemma. Work if you need to or want to. Stay home if you want to & can. No matter what, make sure your child is attached to his or her caregiver, even if that’s not you at the moment. 

Now, there are many things to get in our way & that’s where the focus should be. 

Affordable, quality childcare is hard to come by. Many families do not have access to quality care outside of the family. 

Maternity leave is non-existent for most women, forcing new mothers to return to work before they’ve physically recovered, let alone bonded fully with baby. 

I was lucky by American standards. 

Eeking out a 5-month maternity leave as an attorney in the USA was no small feat & I appreciated every moment I spent with my new daughter. Forgoing vacation for 3 years to squirrel away every possible hour (in itself a luxury & lucky choice) & tightening the budget so I could supplement with unpaid leave was worth it for me. It shouldn’t be this way, but, America. I didn’t have to go back to work at 3 weeks postpartum (which should literally be a crime).

I’m not trying to be Polyanna-ish about working with an infant at home. There are challenges. My brain is fried by the end of a work day. I have zero time to take care of myself during the week. (Some would say showering is relaxing, but let’s be honest… I only take micro showers these days so my clients & coworkers won’t fear being near me!) When I have to be in the office, I barely get to see Baby M: I leave as she’s waking & come home just in time for bed, more or less. And that doesn’t feel good. 

But overall, it’s good to be back. And I’m ok with having two jobs again!

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Filed under Attachment Parenting, Breastfeeding, Feminism, Lawyering, Living, Mothering, Parenting, Working

My dream workplace…

I realize that breast milk storage bags likely have space for a name for use in hospitals, but I can’t help imagining a workplace where there are a bunch of bright, working moms supporting each other in work & in life. Having intellectual conversations & political discussions & chatter about babies. And coming together to take care of business collaboratively. And pumping. Lots of pumping. With a fridge full of pumped breast milk… requiring use of that name line, naturally. 

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Filed under Breastfeeding, Feminism, Lawyering, Living, Mothering, Snapshots, Working

“Imitation Mother” & Sour Milk


Baby M is 3 months old & we are starting to plan for my eventual return to work. For me, this has meant building up a stash of frozen breast milk & convincing Baby to take milk from a bottle. 

With T, there was nothing I hated more than pumping. In the beginning, I couldn’t pump more than a half ounce or so at home with my crappy little pump. Things were slightly better when I went back to clinic & school because my law school had just purchased a hospital-grade pump for us lactating cows moms. It was far more efficient, but the process was still painful & stressful for me. The pump was efficient & I had a clean private space, but I was simultaneously trying to relax, conjure up images of my sweet baby, & study Constitutioal Law. I never had a proper back-up stash of milk & could barely meet T’s daytime demands. 

This time around, when I was leaking milk everywhere during Baby M’s earliest days, I decided to take advantage of the apparent abundance & pump away. The technology had changed over the past 7 years & my small, affordable pump was more efficient & comfortable than even the hospital-grade one I had used for T. I dutifully pumped (stress free!) between feedings or when Baby M took a surprise long nap. I packaged the milk away & froze it. I watched with amazement as my frozen milk started taking over two shelves in the freezer. Woo-hoo!

Unfortunately, two problems have now popped up…

#1. Baby M will not drink from a bottle. 

After some fussing, MFA Dad got her to take a bottle when she was about 6 or 8 weeks old. Then I got a little lazy with the pumping as my milk supply settled down a bit & we didn’t make a habit of giving her a bottle. (When T was a baby, the bottle was never a problem—He loved both bottle & breast & never had a problem switching from one to the other.) Fast forward a month & my mother-in-law is upstairs right now with Baby M, unsuccessfully (from the sounds of it) attempting to convince Baby M to take an ounce of mama milk. MFA Dad has been similarly unsuccessful in recent days as well.

Naturally, I’ve turned to Google for help on convincing Baby M that the bottle isn’t so bad. Of course, there are advertisements for bottles & silicone nipples, each promising to be closer to the breast than the others. And there are myriad blog posts with advice like “try the bottle while walking” or “give baby the bottle while she sleeps” or stories about quitting jobs or babies crying ad infunitum.

On one breastfeeding advocacy website, one father described his daughter’s rejection of the bottle as a refusal “to settle for an imitation mother.”

Y’all know how I dislike language that fuels guilt & this is one I can’t let slide by. I don’t think that this dad (who was obviously working super hard to meet his daughter’s needs) meant to make his wife or other working mothers feel guilty. He simply shared his experience & struggles & problem-solving strategy. But this is the type of language that sometimes appears in breastfeeding advocacy literature that alienates working moms & bottle-feeding moms. 

To be clear, a bottle is not an “imitation mother.” It’s an imitation boob. Babies are little primates who need to eat & their physiology requires any feeding device be designed around babies’ sucking capabilities. Mothers who breastfeed are fulfilling this biological requirement in one particular way & it happens to be the way that requires the least amount of equipment. Breastfeeding also has known benefits for mother & baby, but really, it’s simply an mammalian process & just one aspect of mothering. Human “mothering” (or, just parenting) is so much more than feeding, even if some of that mothering takes place while breastfeeding. 

A mother cradling her son in one hand & feeding him with a bottle of formula in the other hand is also mothering. She is certainly not “imitation mothering.” That dad who couldn’t get his daughter to take the bottle was “mothering” when he was caring for his daughter & when he ultimately found he was able to feed her with a sippy cup.  The babysitter or nanny giving baby a bottle of pumped breast milk is also “mothering.”

And mothering by many is okay

As long as your child & your family is happy with whatever baby raising configuration you have, your baby will be happy, attached & well adjusted!

Not that it’s easy… Currently, I need to keep repeating that Baby M will be okay when I go back to work to convince myself that we will all adjust. But I have experience on my side this time around… My awesome seven-year-old has thrived despite the fact that I was studying or working from his early days. No imitation mother needed, thank you very much! Just lots of love & lots of bottles & lots of nursing. 

As for imitation boobs… I’m on the search for the perfect one that will trick my wee one to drink while I’m away from her. And I’m finding there’s a fine line in terms of advertising for silicone nipples that might fit the bill. In my online searching, I find breastfeeding advocates who criticize bottle makers who make claims that their bottle nipples are close to the real deal. I can understand these criticisms, the idea being that by advertising a bottle as a replacement for the breast, these companies are undermining breastfeeding. I will say, I still see a lot more bottle feeding than breastfeeding out in the everyday world. So, there may be something to this criticism.

But to make breastfeeding work long-term, many of us need to find that breast-like silicone nipple. So on another level, I appreciate the fact that bottle manufacturers have been making bottles & nipples that are more likely to trick my reluctant bottle drinker. 

If M falls for the bottle, what she’ll be drinking from it is less certain, though, because…

#2. Most of that milk I froze tastes like crap.

So here I’m going to do a 360.

I recently defrosted some breast milk from my abundant freezer stash to make up a practice bottle. I dropped a bit of the milk onto my hand to test for temperature & taste…

Yuck! 

It was a bit sour & I suddenly remembered that my milk tasted a bit off after freezing when T was an infant. Not that he cared. So I didn’t care. At the time, I learned that there is an enzyme called lipase in breast milk that can cause it to taste soapy or off, even if it’s been stored properly. The milk itself is perfectly fine.

But here it was again! Lipase appears to be affecting the taste of my milk & now Baby M does seem to care!

So I googled the sh@! out of that too… And I started to worry. Did I have too much lipase in my milk? Why? It’s been associated with nutritional deficiencies… 

I could neutralize the enzyme by scalding my milk before freezing it, but lipase seems to be important for baby in terms of digesting the milk. And what other nutrients would be lost? And can you imagine a more maddening task than pumping and then scalding a couple ounces of milk at a time?!

The truth is (and here’s the 360 degree turn from what I said above), breast milk was not designed to be expressed & then stored for long periods of time. It’s supposed to go from mom’s nipple to baby’s mouth, directly & in short order. 

You’d think this might make me feel guilty, but it actually makes me feel better. There is nothing wrong with me or my milk! Baby is thriving on it, so it’s purely a storage issue. I’ve stopped googling nutritional deficiencies as it’s likely not a problem with me. 

While modern technology is amazing (and the pumps available today are truly technological miracles!), I find myself stymied by basic biology (or is it physiology?). I am a modern mother, with a family & a career & a freezer full of lipase-happy sour milk. But baby & my body are still engaged in a process that has not evolved much during the past 3 million years or so. 

So I have to work with those biological limits. Of course, I’ll try to keep up with a supply of fresh milk by pumping every day at work. Maybe she’ll go for the lipase-full milk if I mix it with fresh milk or formula. It’s a modern world after all, and I thankfully have options that are perfectly healthy, even if less perfect than fresh breast milk. 

As long as we can find a solution that respects baby M’s needs & doesn’t involve copious amounts of tears or stress, we’ll all be okay. Just because I respect human biology (especially when it comes to babies) doesn’t mean I have to feel guilty about living a modern life. 

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Bodies, pregnancy & birth: “Bouncing back”

Me & baby M, 6 days postpartum

On evening #2 postpartum I had a strange sensation & a thought. I was listening for M’s burp to come, but instead felt my own body shifting back to its previous order. It’s as if my intestines were settling down with a big sigh, my body literally re-ordering itself. I really started to think about what my postpartum body is, would be & should be. While society has come a ways in discussions of the postpartum period & postpartum bodies (both with humor & sincerity), we still have far to go.

So much of what we think about postpartum bodies has to do with weight. It’s no news that our culture is obsessed with women’s weights & for some f’d up reason, we’re almost more obsessed with weight after giving birth than at any other time in a woman’s life. At a time when we should be so proud of our bodies for building & sustaining life, we’re pressured (or allowing ourselves to feel pressured) to change our miracle makers. Women deserve a big ol’ break from the body (self-) talk postpartum, not new demands.

As if taking care of a newborn isn’t enough. As if recovering from birthing isn’t enough. As if reorganizing your innards isn’t enough. As if making breast milk isn’t enough. As if taking a damned shower isn’t enough.

But really, the weight issue is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s the socially accepted code for talking about women’s bodies. What we don’t talk about are all the other body issues that come with postpartum. Losing control over basic bodily functions. (If we’re honest, this includes not only peeing, but also pooping, farting, sweating & crying… Did I miss anything?) Dealing with new bodily functions we can’t control either. (I’m talking about you, leaky boobs!) Worrying about having (good) sex again. Having newborns, then babies, then toddlers, then children who still think of (& treat) our bodies as extensions of themselves. 

Postpartum body issues are about more than how we look to the outside world. And we don’t necessarily have a good way of talking about all this yet. Heck, no one talked to me about the health of my pelvic floor after I had my son over seven years ago, not even my midwife. And certainly no one warned me that I’d still feel “touched out” sometimes by my child seven years later.

In terms of bodily integrity, somehow, having a foreign body growing inside me for nine months has paled in comparison to postpartum (& motherhood, generally…). And it doesn’t help that the healing portion of the postpartum period lasts so long. Feeling bed-ridden for days & then housebound for weeks is hard, especially on the heels of an active pregnancy (heck, I was at work the day before I gave birth!). 

What I came to realize in those early days (as I sat around, nursing around the clock & try to catch fits of sleep here & there…) is that postpartum is such a contrast to the powerful experiences of pregnancy & birth. Suddenly, after growing a human child in my womb, after pushing that baby out with blood, sweat & tears (not to mention other bodily substances!), there I lay, needing help getting out of bed! 

We need & deserve help in the postpartum period. We need to heal & recover. We need to put our bodies’ energies (what little we have left, that is) toward nourishing ourselves & our new babies (& keeping us both alive!). We need to keep our sanity & put a check on those baby blues (not to mention dealing with full-blown postpartum depression). When my mom told me that no one stayed around to help her after she brought me & then my brother home from the hospital, I felt so sad & angry that new mothers have been (& continue to be) so underserved at such a vulnerable time. 

It’s obviously different for each woman, but if I’m honest, part of the reason the postpartum period is so hard is that it is, in some ways, a let down. After giving birth, we need help not only walking to the bathroom or getting dinner on the table… We need help feeling normal & important. We need support in so many ways.

Sure, I may be crazy in love with the new little person in my life, but it’s a bummer to feel so weak & out of control in those early weeks following birth. When my mother in law & husband brought me breakfast in bed the first few days after giving birth, I felt special. When my mom made me an herbal sitz bath, I felt loved. 

Mothers need to “bounce back” mentally before even getting back to a more-or-less functioning body. Fitting into my pre-pregnancy jeans is just not a priority, even if I am starting to work on being more physically active. Feeling some sort of normal is a priority. I’m lucky to have had the help of family getting there.

A few days postpartum, I sat in the bath admiring my soft belly. My uterus was still painfully shrinking back to its former size. My belly button was a weird inny-outy blob & my beautiful linea negra still adorned my strangely pigmented & deflated belly. My abdomen was a bit uneven, as if somehow my liver were now crooked. Or my small intestines we balled up on one side. My nipples were practically scabbed over & slathered in nipple cream. This is ok, I thought to myself. This body, today, is wonderful!

Now, 10 weeks later, I sometimes think that if I put baby girl down in the bassinet for her nap, I could exercise. Some days I do put her in the stroller for a proper walk. Most days I just hold her tight. I don’t need my body “back” right now. My body is all that it needs to be in this moment, even if that means I’m a human pillow for an hour or so.

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So, how do we support mothers?


Just in time for Mother’s Day last month, the Washington Post published a flame-y opinion piece by Amy Tuteur. Perhaps this is why I was a bit cynical in my own reflections on Mother’s Day this year (aside from my son reminding me that I had ruined his day, twice). 

As a mother who has given birth & is preparing to give birth again soon (not to mention those miscarriages that were like mini-births in their own way), I had to chuckle when I saw that the title called out the natural birth movement as an “industry.”

To call the relatively minor support system that has grown around the (relatively) recent awareness & desire for natural birth an “industry” (when the presumed “opposite”—the medical system—is literally an industry, and a very lucrative & powerful one) is a gross exaggeration, to say the least. And coming from a former obstetrician, the motives of the author are a bit suspect. 

Tuteur complains that midwives make an average of $75,000-$99,000 dollars. Funny, since most midwives are highly trained nurses working in a hospital setting. And those working outside the hospital setting, assuming they are equally highly trained nurses, deserve that & more, considering they have to fight insurance for coverage of the basic costs of attending births. 

But I digress, because what I really want to talk about are moms. How do we support moms? Birth is just the beginning, but it is a signpost for how we treat moms & families generally. It matters how we talk to moms about birth.

Tuteur is right about many things. For instance, we ought not to forget that “natural” is not always better. As she aptly points out, women have been birthing “naturally” for eons & for most of that time birth was dangerous for both mother & child. 

But on how we should treat birth today in the United States, now that healthy outcomes are the norm, I think Tuteur’s inflammatory, “us vs. them” approach is absolutely wrong. 

As is her style, Tuteur treats birthing women as black & white pawns, women who are either for or against natural birth or medicalized birth. In Tuteur’s world, it seems you must either be catching your own baby under a tree in a remote forest or scheduling your c-section so that you can squeeze in your pedicure appointment.

Let’s be honest, most women realize that birth & motherhood is a much more complicated affair. 

My first birth was natural-ish. I was hooked up to an IV. Using Hypnobirthing techniques to manage discomfort. Attended to by midwives. In a hospital. My son was administered antibiotics (with my consent) shortly after birth. I required interventions of a personal nature that I’d rather not talk about on the Internet. My son took some hospital-provided (definitely-not-organic) formula while I recovered. A lactation consultant taught me the key nursing positions.

I felt empowered by my birthing experience. I regret none of the interventions I required (even if I do wish we could have avoided those pesky antibiotics…). 

I realize that I was lucky. I had great insurance as a law student at a fancy school. I had choices! I lived in an area with a good hospital & an even better group of midwives (along with back-up OBs) whom I trusted completely.  

My birthing experience was not natural or medicalized. It was a little of both. It was messy & complicated because that’s what birth is. We cannot control the birthing process, only our reactions to the experience. And even that emotional control sometimes only comes after the fact. Sometimes, I can imagine, it never comes at all, leaving women to feel their birth experience was both physically & emotionally out of their hands.

We cannot necessarily control the circumstances of our birthings. When women can’t choose their care providers. When they aren’t empowered to choose a basic starting point or offered options that align with their values & priorities. Which is why some women legitimately feel hurt or traumatized by their birthing experiences. 

We shouldn’t discount these women’s voices or insist that all that matters is taking home a healthy baby. 

Which is why I get so ruffled by Tuteur & her polarizing writing. 

I don’t think it helps mothers to demonize one group or approach to birthing in an attempt to help some mothers feel better about their own birthing experiences.

Don’t get me wrong, Tuteur’s ultimate point—that making mothers feel guilty or bad about interventions in their own births is a terrible thing—is right on. Shame on any person (another mother, healthcare provider, natural birth advocate, etc.) who makes a woman feel guilty for choices or necessary interventions made during her birth. But does a basic respect for all women in birth (& the myriad choices those women might make given the modern miracles of today) require shutting down & belittling advocacy for natural birth?

It’s a mistake to simply flip the board over & upturn the players. When we mistake advocacy for an ultimatum, we create boogie men (or women, as the case may be) that haunt our parenting decisions. We see those who chose differently than we did as judges & bullies, especially when those others embody the choices that we might have made under more ideal circumstances. 

But in truth, advocacy serves a purpose & the overwhelming majority of advocates aren’t judging or finger wagging. Where would c-section rates climb to without natural birth advocates? What would the state of homebirth midwifery be without advocates who caution against homebirth or who promote safe homebirthing options?

The ugly truth is not that you are doing it wrong. The ugly truth is that all of these issues are terribly messy & navigating the myriad of birthing & parenting choices (to the extent that we have choices) is taxing, emotionally & otherwise. Which perhaps helps to explain why it’s so easy to feel under attack. 

The better question for women who feel hurt by their birthing experiences is simply, “Why?” And then we should listen. 

If it’s another mother on the playground or on an Internet message board, well, we can help those mothers better understand each other. It’s an interpersonal & a basic manners issue. If it’s a natural birth advocate or one of those pesky natural birth instructors or programs that Tuteur picks on in her article, it’s a little bigger than mom-to-mom conflict, but it’s still essentially an interpersonal issue, or even a training issue. 

If it’s an OB or a hospital, well, then we’re moving into institutional & systematic issues that raise serious questions about power & patient rights. It’s a bigger problem & something we should take seriously if we care about birth. If it’s an incompetent or militant midwife, that’s also a very serious issue that gets into legal & systemic problems that are complicated & sometimes seem to be intractable. 

Tuteur’s mistake is to focus on the interpersonal issues to the exclusion of the systemic problems, at least in this article. (She deals with homebirth issues extensively on her website & other fora, though she perhaps is not entirely fair in her approach to the issue & tends to simply demonize all midwives.) Mothers may be legitimately hurt by any of these interpersonal or systemic actors & I agree that we should be cautious about idealizing a “perfect” birth. We should carefully listen to any mother who feels bad about her birthing experience. I try to listen as a way to curb my own enthusiasm for natural birth. I do my part by trying hard not to be an asshole. 

But I have to say that my limited observation tells me that those women who have been most traumatized feel that it was a systemic issue that hurt them. What can we do for them? It’s a harder issue. Tuteur’s solution—take down the natural birthing “industry”—is entirely inadequate. 

There is nothing inherently wrong with education focused on natural birthing techniques. That women who are passionate about birth can sometimes make a living or a bit of money by supporting like-minded mothers does not make natural birth advocacy an evil empire, intent on setting women up for “failure.” 

Could some of these folks do a better job preparing women for Plan B (e.g. medical interventions)? Probably. Could some of them be a bit more focused on the reality of messy birth & less on how many candles you’ll have in your bedroom? Probably. 

I wholeheartedly agree that natural childbirth education needs to embrace the contingencies of birthing. But many already do that. In my Hypnobirthing class (which I took when I was pregnant with T), the instructor showed us many videos of quiet, peaceful births. Then we also saw a c-sections delivery & got the low-down on induction & forceps. All delivered practically & without judgment. In the Hypnobabies course I’m taking, visualization exercises remind me to be prepared for any direction my birthing might take. The company also offers a course for mothers planning a c-section. It’s not all gloom & doom, as Tuteur’s article makes it seem. There’s a lot of sympathy & understanding for a myriad of birthing experiences in the natural birth advocacy world.

We have to give ourselves grace for our mistakes and misfortunes alike.  And we have to extend that grace to others, as well. 

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