A new grandchild… a time for happiness or stress?

Becoming a parent is an amazing and exciting event, and for grandparents it just as exciting too!  Even if your baby isn’t the first grandchild in the family, it will still be a time that everyone wants to be involved in.  You probably noticed that being pregnant almost seemed to make you public property to some people, and even strangers were happy to tell you their birth stories and give you advice.  I remember being eagerly told that my life “would never be the same again” by several people – including strangers 🙂

When it comes to breastfeeding your baby, you will hear just as many stories from other people – including the inevitable horror stories.  Establishing the breastfeeding relationship with your baby takes time.  Breastfeeding is something we have to learn to do.  Yes, it is the natural way to feed a baby, but if it’s not something we’ve done before, then we need to learn – just as we learnt to walk, talk, eat, etc as we grew up.  In the past we would have learnt a lot about breastfeeding as we grew up, by seeing women in our close community breastfeeding.  Unfortunately our communities are more widespread these days and we don’t grow up around cousins, aunts, friends of the family, breastfeeding their babies.  One of the ways humans learn to do things is by seeing others doing them – just look at children desperate to copy what their older siblings and parents are doing!

Sadly, due to the way many of our parents, and even grandparents, were advised to care for their babies, we are often not lucky enough to be able to learn from their breastfeeding experiences.  This can lead to some real conflict in the family.  Grandparents want the best for their grandchildren and usually really want to help their own children (you) become parents too.  Most grandparents will have been strongly encouraged to feed to a schedule – often 4 hourly – which would have meant that breastfeeding would almost certainly have failed.  Mothers were told to let their baby cry rather than spoil them by picking them up or holding them for too long.  Some mothers defied the “rules” of those days and breastfed on demand anyway, but they seem to be in the minority.  Have you noticed how we seem to go along with what “medical” people tell us, without questioning them, no matter how hard it might be, or how it goes against what our instincts are telling us to do?  Whole generations of mothers followed these “rules”.

Imagine how grandparents feel seeing their son/daughter looking after their baby with no routine or plan for the day?  For some, it must look as though everything is totally out of control!  For others it might feel that the baby is not being looked after properly… after all, the “rules” are not being followed.  If you were taught that picking up a baby all the time would spoil them, then you would be worried if someone else seemed to be doing the thing that would ruin the child.  Imagine the dilemma!  What do you do?  Interfere?  Or let the baby suffer?

And for new parents it can be difficult to trust our instincts.  It’s uncomfortable to feel that you have to justify your (inexperienced) thoughts on parenting to someone who has already successfully raised their child(ren).  No matter how old we get, it can be hard to go against our own parents – you are always their child, no matter how old you are!  Backing up thoughts with research sometimes works, but most of us have heard the “well, you grew up all right” response.

What we know about a baby’s development and breastfeeding now is so much more than what was known when our parents were new parents.  Some of it will sound amazing, but much of it might actually make grandparents feel guilty.  Guilty for not doing the “right thing”, but maybe also for not following their instincts and parenting the way they really wanted to…

Either way, what do you do?  The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers has a downloadable leaflet called You’re going to be a Grandparent.  It is a document that talks about why breastfeeding is important for a baby, and why it’s also good for the mother.  It answers some questions too – like the ones about feeding so often, feeding for too long, and how grandparents can really help and be involved with their new grandchild without resorting to giving bottles.

It might be worth thinking about things that would be really helpful to you and asking grandparents to do some of those things for you.  Give them the chance to take your baby for a walk or bath the baby if you want to – but if you are not comfortable with that, don’t feel you have to!  Talk to them about what you are trying to do, and how you would like them to be involved – ask them to take lots of pictures for you, knit or sew for your baby, talk about stories or songs they used to read or sing when you/your partner were babies.  Learn some phrases that help you respond:  “that’s really interesting, thank you” or “I hear what you’re saying but the research I’ve read says…..  Can I show you?”  Here are some more ideas you might find useful.

You all love your baby, and all want what’s best for him or her.  Comments can be difficult to deal with, and somehow when they come from grandparents they seem to manage to knock our confidence and beliefs so much more.  Make sure you and your partner talk about what you want to do and find ways to support each other during these times.  Your partner may be able to talk to his or her parents more easily.

I feel very sad when I talk to new mothers trying to deal with breastfeeding issues that are primarily due to the changes they have made as a result of comments undermining their confidence.  If you are struggling with this and need some help to get breastfeeding back on track, or help with ways to handle unwanted input to your parenting style (or anything else to do with breastfeeding), leave a comment on this post, contact a local breastfeeding support group, local peer supporters, or La Leche League.

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