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4 things we tell new mums that are really damaging

by lizzi (follow)
Helping plant the seeds of positive birth. www.sproutbirthing.com.au
Birth (105)     
Announce your pregnancy and suddenly you are bombarded with all sorts of weird and wonderful advice. Unfortunately a lot of the “advice” that is given is really just a perpetuation of cultural conditioning and often proves to be more damaging than useful. During pregnancy and in those early postpartum days women are really vulnerable so it is important to be careful what messages you are sending – intentional or not.

Here are some really common things that pregnant mums are told about pregnancy, birth and parenting that can actually do more damage than good.

“Just go in and do whatever the midwife / OB says – it’ll be fine.”

I was told this so many times during my first pregnancy and it’s something that I still hear a lot. I see this as damaging on two levels.

Firstly – you actually don’t need anyone to tell you how to give birth. That knowledge is stored in your reptilian brain, as birth is an instinctive process. EVERY woman holds the knowledge of how to birth her baby – just as she holds the knowledge of how to grow her baby. Most of us need a little help to filter through the cultural conditioning that tells us that we don’t know how to birth and a reminder on how to access our instincts. But the knowledge is there and, in the absence of medical complications of course, you don’t need an “expert” to tell you how to give birth.

Medical exam
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Secondly – This suggests that your responsibility for your own birth can be delegated to others. Regardless of who you take advice from YOU are responsible for the decisions that are made. You can choose to simply do whatever the midwife or OB says, but it is important to bear in mind that they may not hold the same goals for your birth as you. They may define a healthy birth in a different way. They may not see a caesarean as a big deal. They may not have the knowledge and tools to help you to truly deal with your fears and achieve your goals.
Yes you can do what the experts say – but that doesn’t mean everything will be fine.
Let’s start reminding women that they hold the birthing power. But to remember that “with great power comes great responsibility”. Embrace it!

”All that matters is a healthy baby.”

I could talk about this topic for hours – so I’ll try to be brief. Every woman that I have ever met wants a healthy baby. And I know a lot of women who are more than willing to sacrifice their own goals, plans, hopes and dreams to get a healthy baby. But a healthy baby is not the only important factor in birth. A healthy mother and a healthy birth both contribute immensely to the goal of a healthy baby. And they are not mutually exclusive. I’m not sure where we got this idea that you can’t have a healthy mother AND a healthy birth AND a healthy baby. This comment really feeds into the idea that mothers don’t matter. We must martyr ourselves for our children. What a great way to enter motherhood – with the thought that “I don’t matter.”

Healthy babies deserve healthy mums. And they both deserve the healthiest start to their relationship as possible.

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Mums matter too!! Image courtesy of MorgueFile.

“It doesn’t matter how you feed your baby. A little formula won’t hurt.”

After a traumatic birth I was desperate to make breastfeeding work. It was important to me, after my body failed to birth my baby, that my body be able to fullfill one of its really important mothering functions. It may not matter to you how I feed my baby, but it matters to me. And if it matters to me then, it actually matters. Full stop. Every time I fed my baby girl formula I cried. And every time a friend told me that how I fed my baby didn’t matter I felt worse and worse. Initially I was upset because I couldn’t feed my baby. Then I started to get the message that I was a horrible mother for even worrying about HOW my baby was fed. I started asking myself what sort of mother I was that I would have a preference for how I fed my baby rather than just shutting up and being happy that she was fed.

Don’t tell women that their hopes, goals and dreams don’t matter. Remind them that they are important and that they make great decisions for their family. Then ask them how you can help. Simple really.

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Birth matters. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

”Just remember that some women would give anything to be in your position.”

Often said to a woman who is “complaining” about some aspect of pregnancy or motherhood. If you have morning sickness, bloating, pelvic pain, sleep deprivation, postpartum depression or anxiety you don’t have to be grateful for them. People seem to have a really hard time differentiating the baby from the various other aspects of pregnancy and birth. It’s entirely possible to really hate one aspect of your pregnancy, birth or parenting experience and still be grateful for your baby.

How about we try a little empathy?! “Oh pelvic pain must be really hard to deal with. Can I do anything to help you out while you are dealing with that?”

For those who have a little knowledge about the patriarchal way our society is set up and the influences of patriarchal doctrine on pregnancy, birth and parenting it’s probably no surprise that the biggest message in each of these comments is: You don’t matter. Your story is unimportant. Your experience is irrelevant.

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You are not just a vessel. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

I’ll never understand how this is supposed to make for healthy babies and healthy families. Strong women = strong families.

I really want to start seeing more: Confident mums who understand and access their power and enter motherhood feeling strong and capable.

What “standard advice” can we start giving mums to help achieve this goal?


Further reading:

Obstetric Violence - What happened to consent??

Trust us - we're the experts

To myself - you need to know

Birthing revolution - The fight against cultural conditioning
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