Friday, 12 February 2010

Extreme parenting!

Surely I am not the only person to have spotted, and been more than mildly horrified by, this new trend for 'competitive parenting'. Of course, I am sure that it must have existed in a lesser form when we were growing up; you know the one - 'oh, my daughter started walking at 10 months!', 'oh, really, my son started at 9 months!' - but the extent to which modern parents are taking it is, frankly, nauseating.

There are so many things about parenting that mothers and fathers seem to feel the need to compete over these days, everything from the basics (when their darling offspring started walking, talking etc) to the number of languages little Junior can babble in, how many different vitamins and minerals he ingests on a daily basis, or how many gnashers he has cut through.

But the one which concerns me the most is competitive breastfeeding. Recently, it seems to have become a competition between modern mothers as to who can breastfeed their child for the longest, and it seems to have become the holy grail for new mothers to aspire to. No doubt this has been heavily influenced by the government's 'Breast is Best' campaign, and I strongly applaud it; if it gives mothers confidence in their ability to breastfeed their child, then it is doing a great job. However, I cannot help but feel that the push for breastfeeding has gone too far in the other direction, to the extent that mothers who bottlefeed, whether by choice or compulsion, can find themselves discriminated against by their smugly breastfeeding friends.

As a mother whose daughter was unable to breastfeed, dropping nearly a pound of her 7lb5 birthweight in the first 5 days of life, the thought of not being able to breastfeed was terrifying. Not only had I had the benefits of breastfeeding thoroughly drummed into me by my no doubt well-meaning midwife, I had received absolutely no information or advice of how to bottlefeed a baby, and I had no idea where to start when my husband kindly but firmly made me understand that ceasing trying to force my newborn to breastfeed would be the kindest thing for all of us. So why was it that I felt a wave of guilt and embarrassment when my health visitor asked how we were feeding our little girl, or felt the need to justify our decision every time a friend or acquiantance asked how she was getting on.

Still, I think I got off fairly lightly. I have heard tales of mums fleeing their NCT meet-ups in tears after finding that they were the only mother to have 'failed' to breastfeed their child, and have witnessed myself the accusing stares and rolling of eyes as a young mother began to bottlefeed her newborn whilst waiting to be called up for his weigh-in. What an awful term, failure, to use for a woman who has just achieved the most miraculous thing that anyone can do, and given life to a beautiful child. Let us be clear, that child will in no way suffer from the 'lack' of breastmilk, and I even venture to suggest that a mother who is happy and content to bottlefeed her baby, certain in the knowledge that he is thriving, will inevitably be a better mother than the one who ends up crying herself to sleep as she struggles to prolong the breastfeeding experience that is not right for her, her baby or even both of them. For the mother and baby who are suited to breastfeeding, then that is absolutely the right option for them, and in fact I intend to attempt to breastfeed my next child. But if it is not successful, then I certainly will not waste my newborn's precious early days beating myself up over the decision to bottlefeed.

I think it is just such an awful shame when mothers and fathers feel the need to judge and criticise the way another parent chooses to raise their child. As far as I am concerned, if said child is happy and healthy, then their parents are clearly doing something right! Parents will inevitably have their own opinions on how their child should be brought up, whether that is teaching them to be bi-lingual, taking them to every baby group under the sun, or being content to sit back and let their child develop at their own pace. All you can do is ensure that your child is one of those happy and healthy ones, and that honour should be more than enough to fill your time, heart and mind without feeling the need to criticise others.

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