Tammy Pescatelli: TV Star, Comedienne, and "Good-Enough" Mom Extraordinaire

 

I've been doing some serious writing now for several months, so it was refreshing to have a fun conversation with Tammy Pescatelli recently. She's mom to a preschooler, star (and producer) of her own TV show, and hardworking stand-up comedienne. With credits like Leno, Carson Daly, and Last Comic Standing to her name, plus winner of Comedy Central's Standup Showdown, she's a force to be reckoned with in entertainment.

But I was more interested in her approach to motherhood. She's a hard-working lady in a family that values family -- so much, in fact, that they're full of advice. We're talking enmeshed Italian family here. (As a member of an enmeshed Jewish family, I feel I can say it -- Jewish, Italian -- same thing.)  And like many of us, Tammy is an older mother has had enough life experience to have more confidence in her decisions and in her parenting. She tells me that being in the public eye has reinforced the notion that you can't make everybody happy all the time.

For instance, Tammy revealed to me that she didn't breastfeed her son. Despite her valid (and personal) reasons, she was judged and criticized for it. Long-time BabyShrink readers know this is a pet peeve of mine. So many moms suffer rude (at best) commentary from others who feel somehow justified in crossing over this very personal boundary -- involving our babies and our bodies. And Tammy's story is actually worse than most I've heard -- she received a phone call from a "lactivist" organization, saying that they had "heard" she wasn't breastfeeding her child, and could they send a lactating mother right over as a wet-nurse? SERIOUSLY!

But Tammy has strength and confidence in her convictions. She's focused on her son and her family -- and she knows that balaning their needs with the needs of her demanding career may be difficult -- but ultimately worth it. She's nurtured her internal voice of what's best -- her "Mother's Intuition" -- plus she does her research and consults with experts. And she doesn't apologize or get depressed when others criticize her -- she laughs about it. And she's as pleasant, funny, happy, confident, and centered as she seems on TV.

After all, if we've lost our sense of humor in this kooky journey of parenting, we're in trouble. So thanks for the reminder, Tammy, and good luck with your new show! I can't wait to watch the first episode, this Tuesday, January 25 on WeTV, at 10 pm Eastern.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Breastfeeding & Bottle Feeding: How To Handle A "Nursing Strike" By Your Baby

The flip side of the baby on a "Bottle Strike" is the very common "Nursing Strike". Baby NOT nursing

Babies can switch from one distressing habit to the other, often without warning, leaving sitters and parents in a bind. Moms worry -- Will the baby finally nurse today? Will I lose my milk? Will I be stuck to this breast pump forever? Here are some tips, which are similar to those you can use when Baby is on a "Bottle Strike":

Consider Age -- At certain ages -- 5 months and 9 months are common -- your baby is way more interested in the world than in burrowing in for a cozy nursing session. The draw of the outside world becomes too tempting, making bottle feeding a lot more interesting and fun. Try nursing in a quiet, darkened place. Other babies will simply refuse to nurse unless they're exhausted or sleeping, as they're more interested in playing than nursing. Use a bottle (and nurse at night, when babies are more likely to go for it) until this phase passes.

Consider Temperament -- A baby who is easily overstimulated by being held might feel more comfortable begin fed while turned outward, which is impossible with nursing. Other babies are highly visual and love to look at everything, which is limited when nursing. For these babies you might consider only nursing when baby is tired or at night, using the pump and/or formula for bottle feeding other times.

Practice and Prevention: It's fine to expect your baby to alternate between the breast and bottle -- you've just got to keep him in practice, even if you don't need him to alternate all the time. This means he should be given BOTH the breast and the bottle at least every 1-2 days. This is the most important piece of advice I can give for preventing nursing AND bottle strikes.

Don't Panic: I know you want to nurse your baby, he's refusing to do it, and everyone recommends it, blah blah. Just don't freak out -- your baby has preferences and opinions, and this is only the first of many he'll express over the years -- breastfeeding propaganda be damned. Most babies can be coaxed back into nursing after exploring the fun and easy option of bottle feeding. Taking it in stride will help everyone come to a good compromise. Pump as much as is reasonable to keep your milk coming in the meantime -- but don't make yourself nuts about it. Your baby will be a lot less likely to nurse if you're stressed out and upset.

Offer the breast when he's asleep -- just as with Bottle Strikes, your baby is more likely to accept what you offer when he's drowsy or asleep.

Check with the pediatrician -- thrush, tummy upsets, teething, ear infections and other illness can make nursing more difficult. Remedy any medical problems first.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Breastfeeding & Bottle Feeding: Dealing With A "Bottle Strike" By Your Baby

A common parenting problem: The Baby Refuses a Bottle -- And Mom Works (or otherwise can't always be with the baby). Here are some tips: Prevention and Practice. If you expect her to take a bottle intermittently, you've got to keep up the practice. Have her take a bottle at least every 1-2 days -- even if Mom will be with her -- to keep up her familiarity with it (and prevent problems when you DO need to leave her). I can't emphasize this enough. DON'T PANIC. I know Baby is hungry and fussy, but this too shall pass. The more stressed out you are about it, the more the problem will be reinforced. Stay calm, keep trying, and Baby will eventually accept the bottle again. In the meantime, arrange your schedule so you can nurse, but keep trying with the bottle. Often, Dads, sitters and grandmas have better luck with the bottle than Mom will. We Moms often have trouble trusting that anyone might possibly substitute for us, but this is a sure sign it's time to let go. Offer a bottle to Baby when she's asleep. She's more likely to accept the bottle when drowsy or sleeping. Experiment with different bottles and nipples, but don't blow Baby's college savings on this technique. It often doesn't work -- but worth a try. Babies who refuse one nipple will often accept the same one just a few hours or days later. Don't try to "force feed" in any way. This will start a struggle that you can't win. Offer -- repeatedly -- over different times of the day, different temperatures, and by different people. If she refuses -- immediately take it away for at least a couple of hours -- and don't get aggravated. She'll pick up on your frustration, and a negative cycle will begin. Have Dad, Grandma, Sitter, or Sibling offer the bottle when Mom is COMPLETELY OUT OF THE HOUSE. Babies smell Mom, and will wait her out if they sense she's nearby! And of course, make sure there's no thrush, teething pain, tummy trouble, allergies, or other medical problem interfering. "Bottle Strikes" (or their cousin, the "Nursing Strike") are very common. Just when you're sure Baby will never take the bottle again (or nurse again), you're likely to be surprised. Hang in there!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Breastfeeding & Bottle Feeding: What To Do When Your Baby Bites You

Our 10-month-old is teething. ON ME. She wants to gnaw, chomp, and tear at my skin -- my arm, neck, or of course the worst target, MY NIPPLE. And man, it hurts! These aren't little love nibbles. These are deep, powerful bites that leave marks. Sound familiar? Today, I'll give you some quick info on babies who bite, and by "babies" I mean up to the age of 12-15 months. Those little chompers hurt!

Here are some quick tips:

Ignore and Distract. I know it hurts like hell, but any sort of reaction makes a repeat bite more likely. Your baby loves to learn new ways to impact his world, and Making Mom Shout And Yelp sure ranks high up there in "impacting his world". Detach him, take a deep breath, and move on.

Offer Teething Relief. Frozen wet, clean washcloths, teething rings or whatever your pediatrician recommends for pain relief should be your first consideration. Biting is often due to his erupting teeth bugging him. Biting feels good -- that's why he does it. At this age, he can't help himself.

Offer food or milk -- or don't. Sometimes biting occurs because your baby is hungry. Other times, it's because he's done with eating (or nursing) and getting bored. If the biting keeps up, change tactics to one of the others listed here.

DON'T lecture, pretend that you're hurt, or punish (all tactics found on other online parenting sites). Those tactics cannot work with a baby of this age, given his stage of cognitive development. You'll only end up confusing and upsetting him -- or reinforcing the problem!

I've written about aggression in young children, and if you're interested (or just plain sore from those sharp little teeth digging into your skin), go ahead and check out this post after you read this one for some more insight into the problem.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

My First Time in a National Parenting Mag -- Pregnancy Magazine

The current issue of Pregnancy, see me on Page 60 When I heard from Lisa Fields, a writer for Pregnancy magazine doing a story on "Nursing Must-Haves", I was afraid that we were about to see yet another story on how blissful it is for everyone to breastfeed their babies. As I've said here before, it's surprisingly difficult for many moms to nurse their babies -- moms who try EVERYTHING and still can't do it, despite every single effort to make it work. We hear from these moms here a lot, and they suffer unnecessary guilt over the difficulties they encounter.

But Lisa was interested in including a quote from me in which I at least am able to mention the issue of guilt and the pressure moms experience to "get it right".

It's also exciting for me as I embark on my quest to make important -- and useful -- parenting information more available. Parenting babies and young children can be difficult, and our generation of parents has to sort through a bunch of inaccuracies and propaganda about child development in the quest to be the best parents we can be. Conflicting messages about breastfeeding, potty training, discipline, TV, and other "hot button" issues make it stressful to feel good about making parenting decisions. I've done a lot of work to sort through the garbage and provide you with the most essential and helpful parenting information I can -- information that's vetted directly by me, a psychologist and child development expert, and mom to four young children. To that end, I'm happy to announce that I'm also being used as an expert source in upcoming issues of Parents and American Baby magazines, as well. I'm commenting on some of the most common problems we, as parents, face with our young ones -- and suggest what I hope are helpful ideas to make your life simpler and more satisfying, as parents.

Thanks to Lisa for giving me the opportunity to start to reach a wider audience, and to you for your ongoing support! You can pick up the June/July issue of Pregnancy in Target, and most bookstores and newsstands. (I'm on page 60.)

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Breastfeeding & Bottle Feeding: Being A Good Mom And NOT Breastfeeding

So I'm still huge, and not yet in labor. Luckily the doctor has caved and agreed to schedule an induction for 10/19, if I haven't delivered by then. But in the meantime I'm looking for anything to take my mind off the discomforts and anxieties of imminent labor. Reader Lisa made my day with this email: Dear Dr. Heather,

I was googling the meaning of the term "mainstream parenting" and ran across your site. I read a lot of articles on BabyShrink, including one by the name of:

The “Good-Enough Mother”: Are Breasts Required?

This particular article made me feel choked up and teary-eyed as the mother of three boys. I experienced so close to the original poster's experience, that it was emotional for me to read about. My second son ended up in the hospital with failure to thrive because I did not know I had under-developed breasts, and the pressure to breastfeed was tremendous. It was as though if I didn't breastfeed I was not a good mother -- end of story.

Now don't get me wrong - I think breastfeeding is the most natural and wonderful way to care for a child that there could possibly be, but I have struggled against huge odds to get people to understand that there are those of us out here who simply CANNOT breastfeed... it's not that we chose this option.

I have since had my third son two months ago and planned right off not to fully breastfeed and just give him whatever little bit I could make, and the rest of his meals would be formula. This was the best choice I could have made. Taking the pressure off myself allowed me to make a little bit more milk, and I have totally enjoyed the breastfeeding this time around without feeling like it was forced upon me. (When I say a little.. I mean that I made about 1/3-1/2 oz of milk between both breasts, which increased to 1/2-1 full oz now.)

My close friends and I have always felt that there is no completely right way to do this job of mothering. It's very dependent on the individual child and his or her needs as a person. Reading your site only backed us up on what we believe and I shared it with my closest friend tonight. I have nothing against the AP crowd except that there are those extremists that ruin it's reputation. The ridicule and nastiness they can dish out is in a whole category by itself. I'm just grateful that there are those out there with credentials like you who see that there is good in several parenting approaches, and your philosophies closely resemble my own.

So this is basically a kudos to you, Dr. Heather.

---- Lisa Utah Mother of 3

Here's my response to Lisa:

Hi Lisa,

There are so many moms like you out there who feel this way.

I keep reminding myself that the WHOLE process of pregnancy, labor, delivery, and indeed parenting itself is an ongoing process. Trying to decide what is best for you, your child, and your family, from day to day, is what it's all about -- not following some kind of idealistic dogma about what is "best". In that way, we model to our children that we create solutions that are best for all of us -- not just based on something that someone else said was supposedly correct for everyone. We can (and should be) flexible, for the good of the kids and our families.

I am so glad you are having a nice experience this time around and trusting yourself. Enjoy and thanks again!!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Attachment Parenting: In Praise of Attachment Parenting (Sort Of)

Every week, I buy groceries at our grungy, local health-food store. My daughter affectionately dubbed it "The Stinky Market" -- partly because of that characteristic "health-food store" smell, but also because of the bodily odors emanating from some of the motley group of customers frequenting the place -- a weird combination of surfers, hippies, homeless people, backpacking travelers, and "Euro-Trash". --- Oh, and the occasional yuppie mom like me. (Except I hope I'm not one of the stinky types. In all honestly there aren't TOO many stinky customers, but the one or two in there at any given time are certainly enough.) During each visit, I see at least 4 or 5 "Baby-Wearing" mamas in the store. These dedicated parents take their childrearing (and food shopping) very seriously, braving the narrow aisles with groceries piled precariously high atop rickety shelves, all the while with an infant (or toddler, or preschooler) attached to their bodies. These are the Attachment Parenting advocates living at a major heart of the AP movement. These are dedicated baby-wearers, extended-breastfeeders, family-bedders, and gentle-discipliners. And because I live in a nexus of strident AP, we have more than our fair share of AP fundamentalists. And in fact the Stinky Market is the very place where I've gotten an uninvited comment (and plenty "Stink-Eye") about using strollers.

But this week, I was feeling quite contrite about my last AP post -- not because I have changed my opinion (I haven't). But I realized that the AP parents are really coming from the same place that motivates me in my parenting approach -- we just get to somewhat different places with it. And I also feel really bad about offending some of you out there whom I consider to be readers, supporters, and friends....those of you who practice AP, and don't deserve the uninvited criticism from me. To any of you I offended -- you know who you are -- I offer my sincere apology.

But because it was on my mind so much, I went back to developmental theory, to remind myself exactly WHY I disagree with some of what AP espouses. This is the quick version:

Infant Development: A (Very) Quick Primer The infant starts out in life as a completely dependent being. She relies on her parents (usually the mother) for such fundamental things as nutrition and the regulation of bodily processes. In many ways, the infant is born "unfinished", being delivered at 40 weeks' gestation not because she's really ready to be born, but because the human mother is not physically capable of delivering a larger infant. She needs to be "attached" to her mother to fulfill these needs. This attachment allows successful development into later phases of growth.

Over time, the infant becomes capable of voluntary movement. She starts to control her body in ways SHE wants to; it's no longer up to her own random or reflexive movements. And with this voluntary movement comes the spark of the ability to be mobile, and to communicate.

Movement away from the parent requires a means of communicating over distance with that parent: When you crawl across the room, it's nice to be able to say "Doggie!" and to point at the doggie, to get your parents' attention. Communication becomes more necessary when the child can move away from the parent. And communication is a symbolic way of continuing attachment. We can tell older babies I love you! And their ability to understand abstract communication helps them to feel the love, without being physically held. It's not that physical comfort is no longer necessary, but rather, the baby now has a new, more advanced way to be attached; through communication. And that allows the baby to become more independent, and venture out, away from the parent.

And moving away from the parent is really the point of development, isn't it? It's called independence. This isn't dictated by some non-AP theory, it's simply accepted developmental fact. Remember reading about Margaret Mahler in your Intro Psych class? She was the acknowledged queen researcher of infant development. She observed infants all over the world moving through phases of complete dependence in early infancy, through the phases of Separation-Individuation later in toddlerhood. This phase is topped off by the challenging, difficult phase of Rapprochement, in which the infant is conflicted about independence. She varies between clingy attachment, and boldly venturing out on her own. Many of the questions I get here at BabyShrink have to do with the fundamental conflicts inherent during the Rapprochement phase.

Of course this does not mean that our 2-year-olds are completely independent; we shouldn't be expecting them to bring home a paycheck any time soon. But it does point out the slow modification that our parenting approach needs to make over time; the understanding that the increased ability of the infant to handle (and explore) independence requires us to give them room to do so. The infant starts out needing complete "attachment" to the parents, and gradually needs less and less attachment over time in order to develop independence.

How is this different from Attachment Parenting? Yeah, I know that AP understands and appreciates the nature of "attachment" -- they used it in the name of the approach, after all. And I'm totally with them on the use of AP principles, but only with very young infants, and only when that infant is constitutionally amenable to the intense physical contact of AP. As I said in my previous post, AP comments very little on those infants who simply do better with a little time and space on their own; a little less handling -- and little "breaks" from being "attached" all the time. Many of my readers have babies whose sensory systems simply could not handle all that attachment, and are so much happier with a little "breathing room". And as infants become toddlers, they crave less and less dependence -- and more and more independence. And we, as parents, need to walk that tightrope of "Rapprochement" with them.

So I guess this is my lengthy reply to all of you who commented and emailed on my last AP post -- and also my apology, to any of those I unintentionally offended. I hope this post shows that I agree wholeheartedly with the intended goals of AP -- we just vary in our approach.

IF YOU FOUND THIS POST FIRST, MAKE SURE TO CATCH ANOTHER ONE OF MY AP POSTS HERE AS WELL

Attachment Parenting: Is It Bad for the Child?

Dear Dr. Heather, Does breastfeeding past 2 years of age encourage dependency? I know a child who is still breastfeeding and has become very whiny and attached to her mother. The mother is making no effort to wean the child. Is this type of emotional attachment healthy for the child? She still wakes up to nurse during the night and sleeps in the parent’s bed.

Thanks,

Concerned about a child

Dear "Concerned",

This is a polarizing issue that tends to bring out strong opinions. There is a community that promotes an approach called "Attachment Parenting", based on the work of well-known pediatrician and author William Sears, MD, and one of they key tenets of this approach says that "extended breastfeeding" (past the age of two years) is recommended and important to the development of a child to promote a solid sense of safety and security. However, their key tenets are only based loosely on well-known child development research, and Attachment Parenting certainly has it's critics.

One of the things I do like about Attachment Parenting (AP) is it's understanding of the cultural differences that exist in families around the world, and the promotion of various ways of raising a family that can resonate more fully with various non-Western cultures. For instance, many Asians traditionally -- and happily -- share a family bed, or a family bedroom, as is suggested by AP. I also like the fact that AP promotes the reliance on the family's own resources to know what is best for their children; we don't have to rely on outside "experts" for everything. AP is also well-known for it's insistence that the attachment between infant and mother is essential to the development of a healthy baby, both physically and emotionally. That message sometimes gets lost, or diluted, in Western cultures.

The problem I have with AP is that it's adherents often tend to be quite orthodox in their beliefs. I myself have been sternly lectured for simply using a stroller (as opposed to "baby-wearing", another AP belief), as well as for using a bottle to feed my baby in public. Of course, this is the opposite of the intolerant demagogues who criticize breastfeeding in public -- it's their shared judgmental strictness that bothers me most.

The other concern I have is that it takes a blanket, "one-size-fits-all" approach to all children. Some babies don't want to be held all the time. Some babies need time without physical contact to "decompress" from all that physical stimulation. Some babies don't do well breastfeeding either, and many babies sleep better when they're not disturbed by the direct physical contact of their parents. And your approach to raising your babies has to be dependent, at least partially, on the unique constitution of those babies. You've seen me write about sensory differences here at BabyShrink, and I know far too many babies who have these quirks and preferences to be comfortable giving a blanket statement about "baby-wearing", breastfeeding, or co-sleeping. In our family, only 1 of our 3 children enjoyed being held all the time; the other two needed "time-outs" from direct physical contact in order to look around and "process" all of that physical contact. They (and I) both felt better for a little break now and again, and I used bouncy seats, strollers and cribs regularly for these breaks. It simply isn't fair to criticize parents who accurately judge the needs of their babies to include a little "down time", or to make them afraid that they risk their child's optimal development if they use a stroller or have their crib in their own room.

If you've read other BabyShrink posts, you won't be surprised to hear me say that I strongly support the uniqueness of each individual family to best decide the individual needs of each of their unique babies. And to that end, I say that if it works for a family to have a family bed, or for mom to breastfeed for over two years, I'm not going to criticize that. However, I have met many families who suffer negative consequences of making those decisions, but stick with them in the false belief that it's what's best for their children. Often, an AP family will come to see me for a problem related to the development of their toddler. When I start to gather more information, guess what? Mom is exhausted, usually because she has been unable to sleep through the night since the day her baby was born; she's often still nursing several times a night. And her husband is grumpy because he can't get any "alone time" with his wife, and he's sick of being kicked through the night by a toddler who gets bigger by the day. So mom is beyond exhausted, dad is frustrated and distant, and the toddler becomes the focus of the problem. Everyone suffers in this scenario. In this situation, my advice often includes the suggestion to transition the toddler into his own bed, in his own room, to restore some balance in the lives of the couple. The relationship needs attention, too! If the parents don't have a strong relationship, the development of the child will surely suffer. And if the child needs to sleep in his own bed, and be weaned from breastfeeding, that is a small price to pay if it serves the purpose of bringing the parents back into a more harmonious relationship.

So, "Concerned" reader, I can't say that "extended breastfeeding" will hurt the development of the child, without knowing all the other factors in the family. It remains the responsibility of the family to determine what's best for them -- and for their child. But I certainly don't promote Attachment Parenting as the "be-all, end-all" guide to what's best for your child. Only you can decide that!

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert AND MAKE SURE YOU CHECK OUT THE COMMENTS TO THIS POST FOR AN EXTENDED, INTERESTING DISCUSSION AMONG READERS!

AND DON'T MISS ANOTHER ONE OF MY ATTACHMENT PARENTING POSTS HERE PLUS THIS POST AS WELL -- IT'S BECOME A POPULAR TOPIC!!

Breastfeeding & Bottle Feeding: How Do I Wean My Toddler? I'm Tired of Breastfeeding!

Hi BabyShrink! I’m struggling with weaning my 20-month old daughter. I was determined to 'do it right', even though my baby was colicky. I was willing to do ANYTHING to stop the screaming. Hence I became her pacifier. I’m continually bombarded with conflicting advice that ranges from 'It’s wrong to wean a child before they’re ready – wait for her to give it up on her own or she’ll become a sociopath!' to 'It’s sick! Cut her off or we’re calling child services!' (Okay I’m exaggerating but you get the idea!) At this age, we should be able to put her in her bed awake and let her soothe herself to sleep, but the ‘boob addiction’ is severely holding us back. I’ve tried to get her to cuddle a blanket or a 'luvvie' to no avail. Sigh. I have to admit, when it’s late in the evening – she’s overtired, I’m overtired and my nerves are frayed from the screaming, it’s so easy to cave in and let her nurse for 5 minutes. Voila! She’s asleep! Help!

Lorie in Georgia

Dear Lorie,

I think there is more to your question than just how can I get my child to stop nursing? It's a bigger issue. Now that she's a toddler, how can you transition into providing her with the firmer limits that she now needs? She's not a little baby anymore, and is testing and pushing the limits in many ways. And that's a good thing for her, developmentally. But your overall approach to limit-setting becomes very important now. Psychologically, she needs to know that YOU are in charge.

I know some out there feel they have the right to dictate whether, or how long, you breastfeed. (Did you see my post on nursing? If not, click here.) Only YOU can decide when it's time for you to quit nursing. You've made it way past all the medically recommended timelines for nursing. For your own sense of security, talk with her pediatrician about it in advance to make sure things are OK, medically. But it sounds to me like you're ready to be DONE. So now it's about making up your mind and setting the plan.

You'll need Daddy's help here. Decide when the weaning will take place; choose a weekend or other time when it won't be quite so disruptive if you loose some sleep for a couple of days. TALK TO YOUR DAUGHTER ABOUT IT in advance. Tell her that she's a big girl now. Only tiny babies need nursing. She is so big, she can drink from the cup and even eat pizza (or whatever she likes.) Mommy is ready to have her body back. Mommy knows she can learn to sleep without nursing. Soon, we will be all done with nursing (or whatever she calls it; use her terms.) Tell her that Daddy will be helping her get to sleep until she's used to no more nursing. Get ready for a protracted battle. It's OK; she's old enough now to deal with this.

When it's finally bedtime, you should have a contingency plan for yourself. Perhaps go out with a friend, or plug into your iPod, so you don't have to listen to her protest (or feel guilty about it). Even let her see that you're leaving. Be cheerful, and wave goodbye! I bet that she and her Daddy will work it out better than you expect.

For some kids, this can take several nights. For others, one night, and it's done. But it's important that once you start, you don't cave. CONSISTENCY IS THE KEY.

We'll be eagerly awaiting your results back here on BabyShrink. Let us know what happens! And for more posts on TODDLERS, check out this page.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Breastfeeding & Bottle Feeding: The “Good-Enough Mother”: Are Breasts Required?

Dear BabyShrink,

I fully intended on breastfeeding my first baby. But after trying hard for six weeks, we had to give up. We had 3 lactation specialists, moms, friends, and my doctor helping. But my baby was not gaining weight and crying all the time. I just never made more than a half-ounce of milk at a time, despite pumping and nursing all day (and night). But the specialists all told me to keep trying. That eventually, I would make more milk. I never did, and I could not stand to know that she was hungry. I had to feed her!

Feeding my baby formula felt like a failure as a mom. But she is developing into a wonderful and healthy little girl. Now that I am expecting my second baby, I still think back to that time and I worry about it. It makes me so depressed that I still get teary-eyed every time I think of trying to nurse again. All my friends and my sister were able to nurse. Why not me? People are urging me to try it, but I just can’t go through that again. I was so stressed out at a time I wanted to be enjoying my new baby. Now I will have a toddler to care for as well.

How do I handle this? Any thoughts are appreciated.

Sign me,

Anonymous in Atlanta

Dear, Dear Anonymous Mom,

I asked you if I could post this letter because so many moms out there are experiencing this same thing right now. Terrible guilt and angst because of being unable (or unwilling, for what can be excellent reasons) to breastfeed their babies. Let me say this immediately: as a psychologist, I want you to be as happy and stress-free as possible during the early months with your baby. Your baby’s development and happiness depends very much on YOUR emotional state at that crucial time. If breastfeeding is causing you too much strain and guilt…it’s just not worth it.

OK, I said it! Let the breastfeeding police come and take me away. But it has to be said.

Some of you are about to get angry at me. So before that happens, let me state a few things as fact:

Breastmilk has absolute advantages, nutritionally, over formula

Nursing has been shown to be beneficial in many ways, to both mother and baby

I support the ability of Moms to nurse their kids anywhere at any time

I nursed our four kids

But the pressure to breastfeed can be harmful to many Moms. It’s hurting some of you (and by extension, your babies). While I accept the fact that some Moms simply may not understand the benefits and simplicity of breastfeeding, and I do wish more Moms would at least try it out, I don’t accept the patronizing (matronizing?) attitude that often goes along with judging Moms for their choice not to nurse…or their physical inability to do so.

As a licensed psychologist, I also see many Moms who feel inadequate, uncertain, and self-critical because of society’s pressure to breastfeed. They in turn transmit those feelings to their babies.

Although we are told that virtually all mothers can (and should) nurse their babies, consider the following real-life examples of Moms who simply can’t breastfeed: The Moms who, like Anonymous above, went through several lactation specialists, medications, and weeks of stress, only to find her breasts simply won’t produce milk (and her baby wasn’t gaining weight)

The Moms who need to take medicine for postpartum depression (or other life-threatening illness) and want to protect their babies from the medication

The Moms who have no breasts, or inadequate breast tissue, either because of an accident, illness, surgery or congenital condition

These are cases where Moms CANNOT breastfeed. Yet in each case, these Moms are criticized and judged by others who have the nerve to ask them, “Why aren’t you breastfeeding?”

But I must maintain that there are also situations where Moms CHOOSE NOT to breastfeed, and that choice must be respected. Who are we to judge the choices other parents make about feeding their babies? Who are we to impose our decisions on them?

I would rather see a happy mom and baby with a bottle of formula than a stressed out mom (and baby) struggling through nursing. To me, the most important thing is that Mom feels comfortable in her decisions as a parent. If Mom is happy, everyone’s happy. I actually stole the term "Good Enough Mother" from one of my shrink heroes, Dr. Donald Winnicott. He was the first to say, "back in the day", that you should not strive to be a perfect parent....just a good enough parent. If you want to get the scoop on him, read more here. (It's a little technical, but if you're into psychology, Winnicott is a classic.)

And it extends to the “I’m a better parent than you” kind of competitiveness that continues beyond the baby stage. Who’s toddler is smarter/cuter/faster/going to the “better” preschool? Who is watching the least TV? Who has the better diet?

Our expectations of being “Good Enough” mothers have gotten completely out of whack. And the very strong pressure to breastfeed our babies does not help.

Again, this is all about expectations. It’s important for parents to have realistic expectations of their parenting. Parenting decisions have to be made with the best interests of both parent and child in mind. Breast or bottle? Your choice is best.

If you're struggling with this issue and want to talk personally with me about it, I'd love to help you. Hit the "Parent Coaching" button, or email me at BabyShrink@gmail.com to arrange a Skype, phone, or in-person appointment.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert