I have teenage daughters and I have been reflecting on life as a mother and on those early days, weeks and months with my babies when I felt a bit lost, like I was doing it wrong and being told I was making a rod for my back.
Becoming a mother was a huge transition – as it is for most of us. I became more selfless and able and I learnt to trust my instincts. Before I became a mum I was never interested in breastfeeding or co-sleeping – in fact I mocked it when I went to antenatal classes..
When I was pregnant, I started reading and talking to friends who were mothers and they spoke positively – although fairly realistically – about birth and feeding and my thoughts started to change. I read well – Sheila Kitzinger and Ina May Gaskin – and I started listening to my instincts. I booked a homebirth with a birthing pool and I planned to breastfeed – still wasn’t convinced by the co-sleeping though!
Armed with good information, a supportive husband and a great midwife I laboured and birthed at home – it was harder than I ever expected but I did it. There were no complications, it was straightforward and pretty quick once it got going. Breastfeeding was tough to start with – didn’t have a clue what I was doing or what to expect but two weeks in it clicked and we were off. Co-sleeping started on her first night! I had just grown her and birthed her, it didn’t feel right to have her anywhere else but next to me.
But the next few weeks were a battle. My instincts were to soothe, rock, cuddle and feed my baby but the advice at the time was all about independence and routines – Gina Ford was new and popular and I had so many comments about making a rod for my back, spoiling my baby, giving in to her, developing bad habits, was she a good baby?, did she sleep?, blah, blah, blah…
When she was 8 weeks old, I was a bit demented. I felt like I was doing everything wrong, I was stressed and emotional. My brilliant husband asked what I wanted and I said I wanted to cuddle her and feed her and co-sleep and carry her – he said well that’s what we do then. I stopped battling with my baby and the world was a happier place. I still had all the making a rod for my back comments but, with my happier baby, I finally felt like I was doing it right and, as a family, we did it our way.
- We co-slept – she never slept in a cot
- I breastfed and combine fed her with a bottle and formula
- I cuddled and rocked her to sleep
- I picked her up when she cried and I carried her around with me
I did not spoil her or make a rod for my back and I didn’t create any bad habits by responding to her needs. When my next baby came along 3 years later, I did exactly the same.
My teenagers are pretty confident, happy and independent. They don’t need rocking to sleep and neither do they need a boob! And they been in their own beds for many years now. I no longer pick them up when they cries because they are taller than me so I cuddle them instead because they are my children and I want them to feel soothed, loved and listened to if they are upset.
As my children have grown I have continued to trust my instincts, to follow their lead, to listen to them and know them and, most days, I feel confident in my parenting because it’s about winging it, making it up and doing our best. And on the other days I also have chocolate and wine…
Janine Smith | a specialist in pregnancy, birth and parent support