They are tired, recovering from birth, learning about their babies. They are being stretched personally and emotionally in ways they could not have imagined before becoming mothers.
So why do family and friends think that criticizing the new mother is appropriate?
Does the mother really benefit from hurtful comments that undermine her confidence?
Is it because she is choosing to care for her baby and herself differently than those who are telling her how to mother? Does it seem that she is rejecting the generations before her? Do her mothering choices appear to be judgment toward those who are telling her what they think? After all, she may be choosing another way.
Mothers and babies learn about one another through a series of interactions and events well-designed by nature. During labour, a mother produces high levels of oxytocin, the hormone that causes her uterus to contract. Oxytocin is the “bonding hormone”. Once baby is born, oxytocin helps mothers to feel deeply connected to their babies. It keeps the mother feeling tender and soft toward her baby with her emotions on high-alert. Oxytocin is essential to breastfeeding and milk production. When a mother is nursing her baby, she is sensitive to her baby’s needs. She understands her baby’s cry. Her body longs to keep her baby close and she is most content when baby is in arm’s reach.
Those critical comments a new mother receives can feel like barbed wire wrapped around her heart.
“You’ll spoil that baby if you hold him so much.”
“Are you SURE you have enough milk? She looks hungry to me.”
“Let him cry, it’s good for his lungs.”
“She needs to learn to self-soothe or she’ll never sleep without you.”
“She is so fussy – are you SURE nothing is wrong?”
“You’ll be sorry if you let him use you as a pacifier.”
The above comments are strongly counter-intuitive to a well-attached mother and baby. In fact, when a new mother hears these words, it may hurt her deeply and make her doubt her own abilities as a mother. In addition, each of these comments is completely inaccurate. If the mother were to follow the advice being offered, her relationship with her baby, as well as her breastfeeding experience, would be adversely affected.
Instead of criticizing and offering unhelpful and harmful advice, let’s instead tell new mothers they are doing an incredible job learning about their babies and themselves. Let’s encourage them to follow their hearts, to trust their maternal instincts.
When a baby is born, so is the mother. They are a couple who know each other best. The relationship they establish in the early days, months and years lasts a lifetime.
There is no place for criticism in the mothering experience. Instead we can empower the mother/baby relationship with our unconditional love and support. That’s what a new mother needs most of all.