Thursday, June 18, 2009

Repeat After Me: "I Don't Do Guilt!"

Why are moms so prone to guilt? In the last week I've had a couple of long conversations with mothers who were feeling tremendous amounts of guilt. Interestingly enough, both of them had to do with breastfeeding (not surprising, actually, since I'm a lactation consultant.)

One mother needed to talk to me because she was struggling with her decision about when to wean. She's a terrific mom...really sort of a superwoman, like so many moms I see every day. She is mothering a precious baby, working at a demanding job, and taking care of home and hearth. She struggles with feeling guilty about the time she takes at work to pump, even though her job performance continues to be excellent. Her husband feels like pumping might be draining her and has suggested she wean. She doesn't really want to wean quite yet, but feels bad about not taking hubby's advice after she asked him for it. What a conundrum.
As an IBCLC, my job is to support and encourage breastfeeding mothers, but each mother has to make her own decision about how long she's going to nurse. So instead of trying to give her a bunch of options, though we did talk some about management, I focused on guilt. I asked her to make a point of telling herself each morning, "I don't do guilt!" I know she'll make the right decision for herself and her baby, but she doesn't need to feel guilty if that decision involves weaning before baby is a year old!

The second mother had lactation failure with her first baby. She has been pumping and trying very hard to develop a supply, but yesterday she brought her pump back. Depression has set in, and she feels terribly guilty for giving up. To make matters worse, she speaks very little English, and her doctor, who speaks no Spanish, insists she use a formula that doesn't seem to agree with her baby. She has begun taking antidepressants, but still feels overwhelmed by guilt. It doesn't help that her peers tell her the reason her baby is small is because she's not nursing.
I think it would be very wrong for me to add to her guilt at this point. Instead, my job is to encourage her because she has tried so hard. I told her that breastfeeding is NOT what makes her a good mother. I reminded her that she was the expert on her baby, not the doctor and encouraged her to talk with the doctor (via translator) again. I don't know how much good I did, but I told her the same thing I told Mom 1: Tell yourself daily, "I don't do guilt."

It's taken me 49 years to learn this myself. I've done guilt all my life. My dad and stepmom spent years trying to help me learn the "I don't do guilt" lesson. It finally sunk in (more or less). Life is just too short to waste it on guilt. Unless a mother is truly a monster (like the Alabama mom who set her house on fire with her child inside), there just isn't any need for her to feel guilty. We all learn as we go, and children are unbelievably forgiving (at least before they become teens).

So if you are letting others make you feel guilty about breastfeeding or not breastfeeding, about co-sleeping or not co-sleeping, about working outside the home or not going back to your job, STOP! Repeat after me: "I DON'T TO GUILT!"


  1. Amen! I am lucky that my husband never feels guilty about (most) of our parenting decisions. So when I start to get that all-too-natural guilty feeling I talk it out with him. He always reminds me that breastfeeding/nursing-to-sleep/babywearing/co-sleeping are all of the things that are right for OUR FAMILY. And if we stick to that we'll be very proud of our parenting when all is said and done.

  2. Gosh- I swear, there are more things for moms to feel guilty about than there are stars. I remember, all to well, the feeling of guilt associated with breastfeeding. I felt guilty when we were surprised with another pregnancy when our first was only 7 mths old. We had worked really hard at establishing a good breastfeeding relationship (including 3 mths of exclusively pumping with one nursing at night) then I get pregnant. I felt so guilty having to suppliment with formula when my milk started to dissapear. SO guilty. But, you're right! We should say "I don't do guilt!"

  3. It's so nice to know other Mom's are struggling with the same issues...and it all leads back to guilt! I tried for a couple months to breastfeed, but my daughter was not gaining weight. I was breastfeeding, then supplementing with a bottle and then pumping...this lead to a long routine in the middle of the night. After a while I gave up and started exclusively pumping. I felt SO guilty and still hate that I gave up. I try to remind myself that she is still getting my milk. But now, I'll tell myself "I don't do guilt"! Thanks Glenni!

  4. It's great to hear from each of you who are choosing NOT to do guilt! Keep it up!! Even as I parent my older kids it's easy to second guess our decisions and slide into guilt, but we have to keep on saying, "I Don't Do Guilt!!"

  5. This is a great post. More moms need to know that they/we can only ever do our best with breastfeeding. Everyone needs to do their best with what they have, their bodies, their information, their support...and if it all isn't enough in the end we need to learn to let go and know that we can still be good moms. Thaks for this. :)