I have a confession to make. Today for lunch, I had sushi. That’s right, me and my 9-month baby bump boldly sauntered up to the sushi counter at the 30 Rock cafeteria and with my shocked colleagues looking on, ordered one of the forbidden foods of pre-nataldom—raw fish. And there’s more, I may have had a half glass of wine somewhere around month 6 of pregnancy. I know you’re shocked at what a horrible, negligent mother I am. I’ve already failed my child and he’s not even born yet!
Has motherhood always been so full of guilt? From the moment of conception you’ve got the absurdly long list of foods and activities to avoid. The obsession with how much weight you may or may not be gaining. God forbid you put on pounds like a Kim Kardashian. There’s the decisions about the birthing process itself. Doctor? Dula? Midwife? Are you woman enough to push this baby out without an epidural? And that’s all just the guilt and judgment you’ll face while pregnant. Once the baby arrives it only gets worse!
In fact, one of our biggest societal mommy guilt trips is the question of breastfeeding. As one Mom put it: “It felt to me…that breast-feeding was one of the first real challenges motherhood presented me, and that if I failed, I would be failing my son.” I bet a lot of moms can relate to that. I certainly can. I had an easy time breastfeeding my daughter but many women don’t—either for health reasons or just logistical reasons. For working moms, it isn’t easy to go through the ordeal of trying to pump discreetly at work with milk seeping through your blouse. And that awkward question of where exactly you’re supposed to store the extracted breast milk. Something tells me the shared office fridge is not the right answer.
But all that awkwardness, pain, trouble and frustration is worth it because of the enormous benefits that breast-feeding provides. Right? Well, actually it’s not so clear. New research by the World Health Organization finds that the short-term benefits to babies of breast feeding are real, the long term benefits are quite a bit more tenuous. Basically they found little actual evidence of breast feeding providing protection against, high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, or obesity. The study found only a modest impact on IQ. It also bears noting that 40 years ago about 75% of moms formula fed their newborns and those kids seemed to turn out ok.
So it turns out that breast-feeding is still a good thing, but worth the guilt and judgment that we give ourselves and face from others? Probably not. In fact, it seems like much of our mommy guilt is some weird mixture of our desire to be perceived as a certain kind of mom mixed with societal norms, and not really based on a whole lot of science about what’s best for our kids.
As for that sushi and wine. In Japan, expectant moms are actually encouraged to eat sushi as part of a healthy pre-natal diet. And there’s literally no evidence that a small amount of alcohol consumed infrequently causes any sort of problem for baby. Hardcore alcohol abuse: definitely bad. But a glass of wine with dinner on occasion, well just ask a French mom how problematic that is. So let’s cut ourselves some slack and savor a little soft cheese from time to time. This mom, is certainly not going to judge.