Did anyone else read the headlines earlier this week lamenting mums who text while breastfeeding and find themselves wanting to shout “shut the f*** up” at the people who came up with this ridiculous theory?
As if we mums aren’t criticised enough for everything we do or don’t do, we’re now being told that if you’re on your phone while breastfeeding your baby, you could damage the mother-child bond and risk your child “becoming either anxiously attached to you or insecurely attached to you”.
And to prove what a heinous crime it is, the people at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center even coined a new term “brexting”, meaning breastfeeding while texting. Because obviously nothing is officially a “thing” until it has a made-up name suitable for the digital age.
I take their point that if you pay your child little or no attention, then yes, they might quite possibly develop attachment issues. But that in itself is a wider issue. To shame women who might possibly be struggling to find their feet as a mum, or who might be feeling lonely and anxious, or who just want some social interaction after singing nursery rhymes all day, is quite frankly damaging.
Just because you are on your smart phone while feeding your baby (whichever way you choose to feed your baby), it doesn’t mean you are going to miss the cues that baby is trying to make contact with you by noises or smiles, as the report suggests. It is possible to text with one hand and smile at your baby at the same time. And I don’t think I know a single mum who would ignore their baby’s cries because they were too busy liking photos on Facebook.
I breastfed all three of my babies for a year each. In the early days, my babies fed eight, 10, or even 12 times a day. During their growth spurts, they fed continually for a day or two. My first baby used to take around an hour for each feed. I spent a hell of a lot of time sat on the sofa nursing my babies.
My friends often call me a mumsy mum. By that, they mean I faithfully update the baby books with all my children’s milestones. I do messy crafts and even messier cooking with my kids. I sing songs and play games with them. We run round the house playing hide and seek. I am the one blubbing in the playground on their first day at school. Every day I remind myself how lucky I am. However, even for me, spending 12 hours a day, lovingly staring at the side of my baby’s head while feeding would have been too much.
Yes, I had moments when I loved to stroke their soft fuzzy hair while they fed. And yes, I used to trace my finger around their tiny ears, amazed at how small and perfect they were. I would gaze longingly at them, utterly amazed that I had grown this tiny being inside me and now here they were in the world.
But after about three minutes, I’d remember I hadn’t replied to my friend’s text from three days ago. Or I’d need to send some work emails. Or do the grocery shop, because we were running low on essentials and I’d rather get my shopping delivered when my children are in bed so I can go to baby group with them in the day. When you’re a mum you never have enough hours to get everything done. So what’s wrong with a little bit of multi-tasking?
But more than that. My iPhone was a real lifeline for me during those early days of motherhood. I was knackered, in a lot of physical discomfort after a difficult birth, pretty much house-bound due to heavy snow for about a month after my daughter was born, my husband was back in work within a week, I had two nasty bouts of mastitis in that first month, and I was at home with a tiny baby and no help. Messaging my amazing NCT friends while feeding my baby kept me sane. The very fact that they too were awake at all hours of the night reassured me that it was normal. We would answer each other’s questions about the contents of our babies’ nappies, feeding and sleeping patterns, and how many layers our babies should be wearing. Because most of us had no one else to ask. There were days when speaking to them online was the only conversation I had with anyone other than my husband. And they “got” things in a way that he didn’t. I genuinely don’t know how I would have got through the early days without their virtual company.
When my second and third babies came along, breastfeeding during the day would happen at soft-play, or in the park, or while helping a toddler have their lunch. Those night-time feeds were such indulgent me-time. Yes, I would use the experience to bond with my baby, because we didn’t have any other real one-to-one time, but I’d also catch up with what was going on with my friends in the real world via my phone. I’d order Christmas and birthday presents, because it was the only time I had to do it without two and then later three children in tow. I’d read the news, because I’ve been a journalist my entire professional life and I feel compelled to know what’s going on in the world, but don’t want to watch distressing headlines with my children around. I was quite sad when the night feeds stopped because I have three children and very little me-time and didn’t know when I would get to do all of that.
My phone would also keep me awake while my husband was lying next to me fast asleep. When you’ve been up six times already in a night, it’s really difficult to keep your eyes open while your baby silently feeds. I would have panics about falling asleep with my tiny baby on my breast and them suffocating – but my phone would help me stay alert.
My children are now 5¾, just turned four, and 18 months. Despite their terrible mummy spending so much time on her phone while feeding them, I can assure you they are perfectly okay.
And so dear mums who read my blog, you continue sending all the texts you need to while you’re feeding your baby. You keep on using nursing time to read those parenting articles that reassure you what you are are experiencing is normal. You continue having those grown up Facebook conversations during feed times with other parents that help keep you sane. You carry on doing your online shopping/paying bills/replying to emails while simultaneously feeding because it’s the only time of day you can get it done.
And you ignore those so-called experts who seem to have no idea what it’s like to be a parent in the modern world. Who seem to think that being on your phone means you can’t be attentive to your baby’s needs. Who continue to make mums feel bad about themselves by telling them everything they do or don’t do will damage their child. You’re doing a fab job at being a mum and don’t let their shameful headline-grabbing attempts at self-promotion tell you otherwise.