21 Feb

Support, Advice, and Parental Instinct

As a breastfeeding counsellor, I am sometimes asked why my antenatal classes do not go into great detail about problem solving when things go wrong. The pat answer to this, of course, is that every new family is unique, and I can’t possibly account for all the possible scenarios. I’m also wary of introducing a lot of potential pitfalls, and therefore undermining my own work to show that breastfeeding can be a straightforward experience, and that being well-prepared with an understanding of how it works is more useful than being armed with copious detail about problems that may not occur.

This is a dilemma for me, because to be realistic about breastfeeding as experienced by the majority of new mothers in the UK, I have to acknowledge that there are challenges. So one of my main objectives is to raise awareness of the huge amount of support available to new parents. If time permits, we compile a list, and the group is always impressed by how many people they can think of who might be able to help them over the first few weeks of their babies’ lives. Here are some of the ideas I usually see:

The real trick, though, is in figuring out which of these are sources of trustworthy information (or practical help); and which are, probably with the best intentions in the world, recycling myths and misinformation, or unhelpfully comparing your baby with theirs. But each of these different sources of support has its function, whether it’s sympathy and a cup of tea, the loan of a dvd box set to while away a marathon feeding session, or reassuring confirmation that what you and your baby are going through at any particular stage, is completely normal.

It can also take courage not to follow advice that does not feel right, especially when it comes from a figure of authority. So another of my objectives, both antenatally and postnatally, is to empower new parents to have confidence in their own parenting. We are among the first generations of parents to raise our children in isolation form the extended family, and there are huge commercial interests in undermining parental instincts.

It’s tough being a new parent in the 21st century, but remember that there are reliable sources of help, many of which are under-utilised. So don’t feel you have to struggle on alone, but do pick your support carefully.

Originally written as a guest post for the liberating blog, Free Your Parenting.