“Breastfeed Less, Bottle Feed More:” Why Unsolicited Parenting Advice Is So Rightfully Irritating

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African Mother and Child

Source: GeorgiaCourt / Getty

“Juanita thinks you should stop breastfeeding the baby during the day and give her more bottles,” my mother said matter-of-factly.

I moved the phone from one ear to the other as I looked down and noticed that I had successfully rocked my baby to sleep.

“Wait, what? Why would I do that?” I asked, already feeling the agitation welling up inside of me.

I had to ask for clarity because from where I stood, it sounded like my mom was telling me that a relative was suggesting that I wean my then-2-month-old daughter off the boob. But being that it was such an absurd suggestion, I was certain that I was misinterpreting things.

“She said you should start giving her more bottles during the day so that you can start weaning her off of the breast to make her a little less clingy so that other people can take care of her,” my mom explained.

My daughter, who would willingly take a bottle but primarily preferred the breast, was going through a stage where she was all about mommy. She didn’t really want to be held by anyone else for longer than a few minutes. She’d start to cry within minutes of me leaving the house and wouldn’t truly stop until I returned. She appeared to be the happiest baby on earth when she was in my arms, nestled under my chin. Based on all of the research I had done, I was convinced that this type of behavior was developmentally appropriate for babies her age, so I didn’t think much of it. Sure, this phase made things slightly challenging for both my husband and I, but we established a plan that allowed us to cater to her needs during that time and we were making it work. She didn’t really need to be taken care of by anyone else because her parents had made the necessary adjustments. Apparently, this relative, who hadn’t even laid physical eyes on my child yet, had determined that her behavior needed “fixing” and that breastfeeding was the culprit.

“Juanita doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” I snapped so forcefully that I shocked both myself and my mother. My baby began to stir in my arms.

“Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m just telling you what she said,” my mom said softly, realizing that she’d hit a sore spot.

“Sorry, ma. I didn’t mean to snap at you,” I apologized. “Let me go put the baby down for her nap and I’ll call you back.”

I had always been slightly creeped out by the idea of breastfeeding, but I eventually realized that this was simply due to my lack of exposure. I had never actually witnessed anyone do it. However, when I became pregnant with my daughter, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. Despite not knowing many women in my life who had done it, I began doing my research and when my daughter was born, I dived in head first. And to my surprise, baby girl and I began to flourish and established a positive, healthy breastfeeding relationship. We survived those first couple of nights in the hospital where I was plagued with uncertainty regarding whether or not she was getting enough milk. We overcame my rookie mom mistakes and awkward positioning. We pushed through those seemingly endless nights when it felt like baby girl wanted to nurse every hour on the hour. We overcame soreness and cluster feeding. And when we emerged from the fog, I realized that nursing my baby offered much more than just nutrition, it offered comfort and it has helped us to build an impenetrable bond that I wouldn’t trade for the world. Now, here comes someone, with little to no knowledge about my baby, trying to bust up the groove. I think not.

After successfully transferring my sleeping infant from my arms into her crib, I sat on the sofa replaying the conversation in my head, trying to pinpoint exactly what had triggered my rage. Initially, I figured that I was just really sensitive when it came to the subject of nursing. However, as I sat playing a mental game of connect the dots, I began to realize that since giving birth to my daughter, this wasn’t the first time that I’ve sat around trying to make sense of this now-familiar feeling. Every single time it was the result of some random person dropping their two cents about what I should or shouldn’t do with my baby. What perplexed me, however, is that fact that I have always been a person who is open to advice. If you know something that I don’t, please put me up on game. In fact, my co-worker-turned-friend, Natasha, has truly been a blessing to my life and a guiding light with all of the amazing mommy advice she gives me on a regular basis. She’s sweet, helpful, practical, and knowledgeable. However, it seems that having a baby has triggered an immense onslaught of advice – and not just any old advice:

Condescending advice.
Oversimplified advice.
Painfully obvious advice.
And of course, plain old bad advice.

But just what makes it all so gosh darn irritating?

“The problem with unsolicited parenting advice is that often comes with no tangible help. Often times family dynamics are set up so that the mother does the bulk of the parenting; cooking, cleaning, discipline, bedtime, bath time, etc. so extending “advice” can often times add more stress to an already very busy mother,” explains popular Maryland-based doula, Oliviyah Bowens, known on Instagram as @herholisticpath. “New moms in particular need less advice and more support.”

What’s even more interesting is how some people react when you don’t fall over yourself and hungrily consume their advice or question the probe the rationale behind it. I have a relative who has been shading me for nearly two months because I simply asked “Why?” in response to some of her random, out of the blue, irrational advice.

“I think it’s really important to ask moms, ‘What do you feel like you should do?’ because this question is a direct acknowledgment that just by nature of being a mother (or father) you have a deeper connection with your child than anyone else and therefore have insight that is valuable,” Bowens continued. “There’s no doubt that experience often times produces wisdom and another parent can have great advice but the entry point into getting that advice has to be non-judgements and preferably initiated by someone asking for advice.”

It seems, however, that unsolicited parenting advice is just par for the course. It comes with the territory and every parent has to deal with it at some point. Take my girlfriend, for example, who is currently at odds with her mother-in-law because she relentlessly harassed her about giving her newborn solids before it was time. Perhaps surviving those moments with relationships still intact is less about the people giving the unwanted advice and more about how we respond.

“We all respect the village; however, the whole village isn’t built on good ground,” advises Amanda Frazier, founder of Brooklyn-based support group Moms Anonymous. “So you have the final say when it comes to your child. Advice will be given left and right. Some of it, you’re gonna have to smile, nod and dodge.”

The wife and mom hilariously went on to offer a rather interesting analogy for how we should handle unwanted advice.

“When people give advice I didn’t ask for, I think about the people giving out flyers, you take them to be nice. But they almost always wind up in the garbage because you don’t need what they’re selling.”

 

How do you handle annoying parenting advice?

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