I’ll never forget the first terrible advice I got as a mother.
It came from the pediatrician who examined my daughter before releasing us from the hospital 48 hours after she was born. He was a nice man, very friendly, and — I’m sure — very good at his job.
But he gave me breastfeeding advice, and he’d never breastfed a damn thing in his life.
Rose was cluster feeding for the first few weeks of her life. She was basically never NOT latched on to me. Looking back, I’m sure she just needed the comfort. Her new world was a bright, cold place full of loud noises and strange sights, and being physically attached to my body was the only way she had ever known how to exist.
As he was typing notes on my daughter’s eating habits, the pediatrician kindly told me: “You shouldn’t breastfeed more than once every two hours, or your nipples are going to pay the price.”
I took his words as Gospel, because he was a doctor, and I had never been a mom before, and because I hadn’t slept more than 45 minutes straight since going into labor five days earlier — and most of all because I was SO not on board with the idea of my nipples paying any kind of price for anything, anywhere, anytime.
I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was an exhausted mess of bodily fluids — blood, sweat, tears, breastmilk. And he was kind of right — I was in a lot of pain.
And so, over the next few days, I really beat myself up over the fact that I let Rose nurse whenever she wanted. I didn’t have the emotional or physical strength to refuse her. But because of what this doctor had said, I felt guilty that I was overindulging her, damaging myself or making a stupid, rookie mom mistake.
And guess what? I HAD made a stupid, rookie mom mistake — I let somebody else tell me what was best for MY child. And I’ve never done it since.
There was absolutely nothing wrong with this well-meaning medical professional offering advice to the mother of his patient. That’s what I paid him for! But it was the wrong advice for me. Because I let her nurse on-demand, we established a rock-solid nursing relationship that worked for us then and still works for us now.
But the experience taught me that, from now on, before I let someone else’s opinion impact how I feel about myself as a mother, I need to consider a few things.
Does this person know what the heck they’re talking about?
Have they ever breastfed? Sleep-trained? Dealt with a colicky baby? Dealt with a baby at all? Does this person have kids or are they some rando off the street who watched too much “Supernanny?” Now, I don’t think you have to be a mom to give a mom advice. You can have a wealth of knowledge about how to deal with children from experience as a babysitter, doctor, nurse, aunt, uncle, caring neighbor….whatever. But just because they know kids doesn’t mean they know your kid.
This guy was a great doctor, I am sure. And if his advice would have been something like, “Did you know that recent studies peer-reviewed by the Oxford Society of Smart Breastfeeding People found that women who nurse more than once every two hours have a 70 percent higher chance of losing their nipples? For real. They totally just fall off. I just read about that, because I’m a doctor.” And I would have been like “Wow, thank goodness my doctor reads. My nipples thank you, sir.”
But instead it was a personal opinion about something that he really didn’t have experience with, and simply because he has more degrees than I do, I got intimidated.
Does this person have a full and complete picture of my life?
I got a lot of advice in the beginning that would have been great…for a person with a totally different reality from my own. Example: everyone told my husband and I we needed date nights. That’s a great suggestion! But…we were broke, couldn’t afford a babysitter. Even if we could have, Rose would scream as soon as I handed her off to anyone, my husband included, and she would keep screaming until I took her back, whether it was five seconds later or five hours. When I did leave her, I couldn’t enjoy myself because I was sick with anxiety the entire time. The advice was good – just not for me and my baby.
Does this person have my best interests at heart?
You’ll learn this the minute you get pregnant: some people just really, really like giving advice. They like giving preggos advice about ultrasounds, belly bands, protein intake and even cervical massage (here’s some free advice for you: don’t Google that last one). They like giving new moms advice about baby names and bottle feeding and nursery color schemes and cosleeping and…well, you get the picture. Many people will offer counsel because they truly want you to be the happy, healthy mother of a happy, healthy baby. Many just want to tell you what to do, because they like how they sound doing it.