As moms, we come up with countlessÂ reasons to feel guilty. (My motto as I was raising my four kids: I mother, therefore I am guilty.) But there are certainÂ thingsÂ that should never, ever cause you an ounce of guilt, including your childbirth choices, and the choices you make during your babyâs early infancy.
How do I know? As an obstetrician-gynecologist who writes extensively about natural childbirth, breastfeeding, and attachment parenting, Iâve read the scientific literature and know that it often differs dramatically from what new moms are told. Below, fourÂ instances in which feeling guilty is completely unjustified.
You had an epidural
Childbirth hurtsâan unbelievable amount. Pain specialists have found that the pain of childbirth is among the worst pain a human being can experience.
Whatâs that you say? Itâs good pain. No, thereâs no such thing as good pain.
Childbirth pain is carried by the exact same nerves, along the same pathways in the spinal cord, to the same pain centers in the brain, by way of the same neurotransmitters as every other source of pain. Yes, the pain comes from a happy event, giving birth. But passing a kidney stone is also a happy event for a sufferer and you donât notice men declining pain relief for kidney stones.
Epidurals âdrugâ the baby? The medication in an epidural isnât injected into the blood stream. It bathes the nerves as they leave the spinal cord. So little of the medication gets into the motherâs blood stream that it doesnât âdrugâ her. Even less crosses the placenta so it couldnât possibly drug the baby.
Sure, epidurals like any form of pain medication carry risks, but those risks apply to the mother, not the baby, and if the mother judges the pain to be severe enough to accept the small risks associated with epidurals (like the 1% risk of spinal headache), it makes sense to accept those risks.
The pain of childbirth is empowering? Call me when they start telling men that unmedicated vasectomy is empowering.
YouÂ had a C-section
Childbirth is dangerous. It is a leading cause of death among young women and the leading cause of death for babies. Weâve come a long way in preventing and managing deadly complications, but we canât abolish all risk. Often the only thing we can decide is whoâmother or babyâis going to shoulder that risk.
For example, when a baby isÂ breech (bottom first), the risk of injury and death during childbirth is much higher than if it were positioned head first. If the mother opts to have a C-section, the additional risk to the baby disappears as mom takes on risk (from the surgery) to herself. Women who choose a C-section to protect the baby are behaving selflessly and deserve our admiration, not condemnation.
What about the harms of C-sections to babies? Most of those purported harms are either short-term breathing issues that resolve by themselves or purely speculative, like claims that a C-section can disturb an infantâs gut microbiome (the population of bacteria that lives in the digestive tract). We donât yet know what constitutes a normal gut microbiome in infants, let alone what a disrupted microbiome looks like.
You stoppedÂ breastfeeding (or never started in the first place)
The biggest risk of infant formula comes from making it with contaminated water. In countries with clean water, that risk disappears.
How about the benefits of breastfeeding? The only benefits supported by solid scientific evidence are fewer colds and fewer episodes of diarrheal illness across the entire population of infants.
What about claims that breastfeeding prevents obesity, allergies, and other illnesses? Theyâre based on evidence that is weak, conflicting, and doesnât correct for confounding variables like maternal education and socioeconomic status. Women who are more educated and wealthier are more likely to breastfeed. Most of the claimed benefits of breastfeeding are really benefits of having more money and access to high-quality healthcare.
RELATED: Myths and Facts About Breastfeeding
YouÂ didnât feel bonded to your baby right away
Some women feel love at first sight when they meet their future partner, but most donât. Thatâs because it takes time for deep and abiding love to develop. The same is true for many mothers and their infants. Love isnât instantaneous; it grows slowly.
Babies are not ducklings. They don't imprint on their mothers shortly after birth. Human bonding is a long process that happens spontaneously and inevitably. Everything we know about mother-infant attachment tells us that skin-to-skin contact isnât necessary. Breastfeeding isnât necessary. Even being born from the body of your mother isnât necessary (as any adoptive parent could tell you).
The reality is that being a good mother is NOT about specific parenting choices. The most critical ingredient of good mothering is love. And that love is what makes for a healthy child.
Amy Tuteur, MD, is the author of the new book Push Back: Guilt in the Age of Natural Parenting ($27; amazon.com).