When I became pregnant for the first time, I was a frequent peruser and consumer at all the big baby stores and websites. I would comb the aisles admiring all the stuff that promised to make mothering so much easier for my baby and I. I read up on all the reviews of best monitors, feeding pillows, recliners, nursing pads, bottles, diapers, wipes, car seats, high chairs…. well, you get it as I’m sure you’ve been there. I signed up for all the baby update emails and would swipe every pregnancy magazine from my OB’s office (I figured if I got busted I would blame it on pregnancy brain, oopsy!). I read all the recommended reading for expecting women (and then some) . Needless to say, I felt like a wealth of information by the time baby came. I knew the in’s and out’s of every baby product I’d purchased or was given and was ready to use all this great life-changing stuff. Life was going to be a breeze. How did moms ever live without all this stuff anyway?
Then the big day came. We followed the checklist that told us what stuff to pack for the hospital stay. I made sure to take my breastfeeding pillow with me to the hospital since it was going to be a lifesaver when it came to nursing comfortably. I had my perfect baby boy and the time came for my first attempt to breastfeed my baby on my handy dandy feeding pillow. I grabbed my teeny 6 lb. 4 oz. baby boy and plopped him on. Ahhhh, life is good…. until it’s not. This thing sucked! He was falling through and I was totally uncomfortable. What the hell? The nurse came in and shoved more pillows in around me than I could count. To prop him, to prop me, to relieve my back, to rest my arm. It was insane! Not to mention discouraging as hell. I told myself it was just a learning process and we’d get the hang of using the pillow (P.S. we didn’t, I have a love/hate relationship with that thing but somehow I managed to nurse him until 19 months).
Fast forward through fails and successes of various monitors, strollers, pumps (oh those damn breast pumps), spoons, bath tubs, foods, bibs (again, you get it) and two kids later when I finally realized that all that life-saving/changing stuff is total bullshit. That feeding pillow is bullshit. That bathtub thermometer, bullshit. Bassinette, bullshit. That spoon that changes color to tell you their food is too hot, bullshit. Sorry video monitor lovers, that’s bullshit. Wipee warmers, okay not total bullshit ’cause I don’t like cold wipes on my ass either but by principal, bullshit. The diaper pail with that spinny trash bag, TOTAL BULLSHIT! I seriously saw a pail that was $80. $80!!! Oh, that reminds me, changing table? Really?
While all this stuff sounds like it will revolutionize the way you care for your baby, have you ever wondered how mothers without all this stuff care for their babies? Because, after all, it is possible. So why do we think we need all the stuff?
When we’re pregnant, all of a sudden our decision-making abilities are questioned. A lot. We face a continuous outpouring of advice, solicited or not, day in and day out. We hear what we should and shouldn’t do about EVERYTHING starting the minute we announce our pregnancy. And when we’re faced with so many people questioning our choices we start to doubt ourselves (baby companies know this and thrive on it). It’s only natural and it happens to even the most strong-minded women. We question our capabilities on just about every aspect of raising and caring for our babies. How will we ever make enough milk to feed our baby without a breast pump? Answer, get a breast pump. How will we ever get into a comfortable and “ergonomically” correct position to feed our baby? Answer, feeding pillow. How will we ever change our baby’s diaper without a changing table then wipe their butts with cold wipes and hide any olfactory evidence? Answers, changing table, warmer and specially designed trash can, err, diaper pail.
These gadgets make a fortune off of unsuspecting and vulnerable new mothers and even some experienced mothers (seriously, it’s an almost 50 billion dollar a year industry). We don’t want to be perceived as bad mothers for any decision we make regarding our children. And for some women, people’s opinions can weigh heavily on the choices they make. So we buy the stuff that’s supposed to help us be better mothers without questioning who’s bottom line it is actually benefiting.
When you stop to think of all the mother/expectant-mother directed industries like formula companies, hospitals, diaper companies, and all those companies that make those gadgets and doohickies, they all present the same expectations to the mother: if you buy/consume our products/services, your baby will be happier/healthier/sleep better/eat better/be more comfortable/develop better which will help mother be happier/ healthier/sleep better/eat better/be more comfortable. That sounds amazing, right!
So why not get all the stuff if it can potentially help mom and baby? What’s wrong with that? The problem with all the stuff is they can create doubt and insecurities in mothers. For example, a new mother hoping to breastfeed may feel that in order to make a sufficient amount of milk for her baby she will need to use a breast pump. However, a breast pump can actually create a milk production problem for mom, especially right after birth. Mom may overproduce at first then become engorged which can lead to extremely uncomfortable feedings, flatter nipples which may make it challenging for baby to latch on to the breast, plugged ducts, mastitis, and may even decrease her milk supply. Breast pumps are often unnecessary unless mothers need to provide breastmilk for their compromised infants, they’re returning to work or school or if they’re planning to be away from their baby for a period of time. I would even recommend that mothers speak to their lactation consultants before considering the use of a breast pump. Yet, mothers often feel a breast pump is something they need in order to be successful at breastfeeding. In fact, many mothers may experience feelings of failure when the breast pump only draws a small amount of milk from the mother’s breast when in reality the pump is in no way an indicator of how much milk the mother is actually producing.
While gadgets like breast pumps and feeding pillows may sound “convenient”, they can (and often do) create a barrier between the mother’s natural instincts and her child. Take me for example, with my first baby, I purchased that color changing spoon so I could be sure his food was at the “perfect” temperature for him to eat. I look back now and ask myself why I didn’t just try it myself! That spoon, like all that other stuff, created a barrier for me because it created this unrealistic expectation that I had to do everything perfectly for my baby. He was perfect so I had to do everything I could to meet this perfect standard. That spoon in its infinite wisdom represented perfection. What a load of crap. He’s a baby, and while, yes, we all think our babies are perfect, just like us they’re not perfect. They have different needs that need to be met differently and we, as their mothers, are perfectly equipped to meet those needs. Really.
The stuff can breed feelings of failure. I used to feel like I wasn’t holding my baby correctly when I tried nursing him on the feeding pillow. He didn’t latch properly and it became painful He would cry nonstop and I worried that he was hungry (I know now that he was constantly nursing because he was just cluster feeding). But I honestly thought it was because I was doing something wrong. I always felt like I was doing something wrong. The stuff gave me a false sense of security like maybe I had a chance at getting something right because I couldn’t possibly be fooled by a cotton-stuffed C-shaped piece of fabric. And yet, I was.
Maybe this came with experience (as most things do) but with my second and third babies I just learned to minimize. I didn’t fill my diaper bag with all that stuff I “needed” in case the baby, I don’t know, spontaneously combusted. I didn’t use the pillow or color changing spoons. I didn’t buy those fancy burp towels or shoes for every outfit. I just did with what I had and you know what, things got much easier. I also developed a greater sense of security and confidence in my own instincts.
Letting go of all that stuff taught me to be more aware of my baby’s most basic needs. I became much more in tune with my kids because I learned to overcome obstacles by going bare bones and just adapting. I learned that while the stuff may be nice and somewhat useful it really isn’t something my baby or I need. It is, after all, just stuff.
You know that saying “What would Jesus do”? Well I often find myself thinking “What would a mother from a small Mexican village do?” or “What would a mother in Africa do?” and that really seems to ground me. Those mothers aren’t afraid of judgment or feel inadequate as mothers for not having a fancy diaper pail or specific piece of furniture to change their baby’s diapers. They’re not worried about buying some swaddling blanket that claims to knock your baby out as soon as you wrap them up. They’re just caring for their babies as best they can and doing an amazing job at it. It’s inspiring.
Mothers have a deeply rooted and unfailing ability to care for their babies. We have the abilities to meet all their most basic needs just by being their mothers. We’re their incubators, their food source, their nurseries, their source of unconditional love, their playground, and their home. They need little else, as do we.