Allison Keating answers your queries about life & relationships
Question: I have a three-month old baby and have been struggling a bit with breastfeeding. I am so determined to do it as I want to give my baby the best start. My husband was fully on board with my decision and for the first few weeks was fully behind me, doing everything to make sure I had everything I need. However, he has recently started suggesting that it is time to move on to bottles and that we need to start living for ourselves again. He has also mentioned that it is stopping him from bonding with the baby. I recently saw a message from his mother pop up on his WhatsApp and read it — I know I shouldn’t have — and in it she was asking if I was still at the breastfeeding and had any of her suggestions worked! I feel so betrayed by both of them. His sister never breastfed and I always felt that she viewed my decision to exclusively breastfeed as a criticism of her — as did his mum. I want to confront him about it but I feel too vulnerable. How can I trust him now and how can I have my mother-in-law in my house again? I am so angry with her for trying to interfere in my family. Help!
Allison replies: Oh, there is so much in this. Firstly, I’m so sorry you feel betrayed and unsupported. Breastfeeding is hard enough without feeling your choice is being judged and talked about behind your back. I can hear your vulnerability — three months in and you want this so much for your baby and yourself. It’s something that feels so important that you value.
That is part of the betrayal. You felt this was something yourself and your husband agreed upon as a couple, as new parents and as a family. As something you both valued. His support and facilitation was important to help establish the breastfeeding.
Even tentatively saying that you have been “struggling a bit” reflects your concern that if openly say how it is, you know it will feed into others within the next circle who didn’t breastfeed.
I remember being in what could only be called a breastfeeding haze — wanting to breastfeed so much, but feeling like I was failing miserably — and literally crying over spilt milk one day. Chatting with other mothers who are also trying to establish breastfeeding can help on many different levels. Be with people or groups who are supportive and can provide tangible tips and emotional support. It’s like being with people who are speaking the same language to you, as opposed to feeling like you are defending yourself to others. I’ll come back to this.
You need practical support. What support are you getting? I’m sure you are aware of the different groups; I’ve listed a few below.
Let’s bring in the psychology of why you have astutely recognised that your sister-in-law and mum may feel it is a criticism or rejection of their beliefs to not bottle feed like they did. For all the sleeplessness that you are constantly told about before having a child, something you are not told about is how triggering your parenting choices can be for other parents, as they can feel their choices are rejected if you don’t do the same.
How we parent is deeply personal, based upon our values, family experiences, attachment style, and the norms we grew up with in terms of how to be a mum or how to parent. So much of this is unconscious and quite often a stumbling block within the relationship, as you both feel your way is the “right way”. The more accurate answer is that both of your ways are what you most familiar with. When this is broadened out to your family-in-law, it was more the norm not to breastfeed at that time, and there can be open judgment upon mothers if they are breastfeeding.
Taking a reflective step back, I hear what you are saying. You feel too vulnerable to tell your husband that you saw the text. You have a few choices: you can own it and say you read it; or you can say you feel like you are being judged by your mother and sister-in-law. Adding that you feel a change of heart has occurred in an important decision that you made together, and aking whether his behaviour and support towards the breastfeeding is present.
In my opinion, a direct, honest, and open conversation is needed. Explore the boundaries of what is shared with his family. Rigid boundaries are not healthy, and it is important that he feels he can get support from his family as well, whilst respectfully not sharing what feels outside the privilege of your inner circle as a couple.
This is a stage of huge change and adapting. Being mindful of how vulnerable you are feeling, can I ask you to check in with how you are doing? Being a new parent hits on every level. The identity change occurs physically, mentally, and emotionally. I often note the huge loss of confidence mothers experience postnatally, and it is that support and comfort you are seeking from and within your relationship.
You wish to feel that what you share is safe, even if you are having an off day or feeling frustrated with the breastfeeding, and to trust that your private information won’t be divulged if you feel it would serve to add to the external push of “why you aren’t bottle feeding?”.
I understand that you are angry with your family-in-law. Be honest with your husband and talk it through together. This may feel difficult, but check in with how he is feeling, as he wants to connect with the baby as well. It can be easy to do what needs to be done outside of breastfeeding, as you know how to do it. This can pave the way where you become established as the fall back parent.
There is a lot going on. Mind yourself, process how you are feeling and talk with your husband to feel mutually supported and connected. It’s an intense and difficult time, and it is also a time to figure out how you want to parent, giving space for lots of mistakes, patience, and kindness and no suggestions box.
The National Maternity Hospital offers a helpful breastfeeding booklet on their website. Other resources include Cuidiú breastfeeding supports and peer groups offered by La Leche League Ireland.
Allison regrets that she cannot enter into correspondence. If you have a query you would like addressed in this column, email email@example.com