Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Mother Guilt

A few days ago I picked up a book called 'Healthy Mother, Better Breastfeeding' by Francesca Naish and Janette Roberts. In line with my current field of study I thought it might be helpful. And parts of it are: I particularly liked the affirmations to use when you are feeding, to help relax and settle into it instead of thinking "Oh god not again, I have a million things to do" which I think many mothers suffer from in the beginning (and even not in the beginning). I also liked the information about herbs that are safe or unsafe for use when breastfeeding, and the way the book normalises co-sleeping and night-feeding. We need more of that to battle against the Gina Fords and Tracey Hoggs of the world!

But what I didn't like was the strong implication that the mother's duty is to be completely and healthy in every way. No coffee, certainly no alcohol, no non-organic foods, only purified water, etc. Tinned food is suspect as is just about every kind of synthetic material in your house. It was so profoundly unrealistic. And also hugely middle-class bias. Hey, I'm supposedly middle-class and since being a full-time mother I can't even afford organic food for the most part.

It worries me because this is not what we need to get more women breastfeeding. I suspect it will put off those who already think it slightly inconvenient. My research, for example Gabrielle Palmer's excellent The Politics of Breastfeeding, leads me in the opposite direction: a woman can breastfeed successfully and give her infant or child all he/she needs, on a barely adequate diet. Yes, the woman may suffer nutritionally if her diet is poor, but the baby won't. The baby takes what it needs to survive. This is particularly why breastfeeding is so crucial in Third World countries, where the water is often not only 'impure' but downright dangerous, and the food may be of limited variety.

And, of course, I felt the familiar mother guilt coming on as I read about all I 'should' be doing to give my baby the purest breast milk possible. Luckily I'm wise to these twitches these days and I quickly put the book down and went on doing the best I can, with what I have to work with (which isn't perfection, sorry ladies).

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