Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Why Formula Feeders Visit Breastfeeding Websites

I am often asked: Why do formula feeders frequent breastfeeding sites? Why do they trawl through breastfeeding-related discussions only to declare that the process made them feel guilty? Why would a grown adult put themselves in this situation, a situation which is clearly triggering? In this post, I’ll explain the reason behind this bizarre phenomenon. I'm talking about the green-eyed bitch:

Envy: noun
a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck

In short, formula feeders specifically seek out pro-breastfeeding stimuli because they are envious, or should I say, defensive formula feeders do this. Extremes of envy are not universal amongst all formula feeders, rather, those partial to defensiveness are aptly prone to envy. In a previous post 'How to Spot a Defensive Formula Feeder' I described the tendency of defensive formula feeders (DFFs) to actively seek out contact with breastfeeders and breastfeeding literature:

“Their behaviour has a self-defeating, almost masochistic quality. It is as if DFFs welcome the process of getting hurt and are attracted to media which triggers them. They actively seek out breastfeeding forums, blogs and advocates. If they mistakenly stumble upon such a group, they do not leave. Instead they enjoy the masochistic buzz of being offended and arguing.”

It’s as if they have an almost irresistible fascination with ‘the other team’. They are caught up in envy. Now, to point out the bleedin’ obvious, envy is not a pleasant emotion to be tangled in. It is painful, conflicting and shame-inducing. To cope with envy there are two major defence mechanisms that the DFF can utilize: avoidance or obsession. For our purposes we’re concerned with the latter.

Lactation Envy

In the chapter of my book devoted to envy, I discussed the mechanics of this emotion - in this post I’ll give you the condensed version: Envy is wanting to have what another person has, for the DFF, their feeling of envy centers on their lack of a breastfeeding relationship. This lack creates a void, something is missing - is less than - especially in comparison to the envied one. 

Envy stings when the DFF compares herself to breastfeeders. As she is wrapped in this painful experience of being unable to live up to the standards that other mothers have attained, the DFF’s attention is focused on these other mothers. Essentially, a secret bond is created between the DFF and breastfeeders. I call this the ‘envy bond’. Breastfeeding mothers get settled in the DFF’s thoughts as an obsessive mental preoccupation. A constant comparative thinking starts, sometimes with increased curiosity about the actions, attitudes, behaviours of the envied. Fascination with breastfeeders and sensitivity to breastfeeders’ treatment of the formula feeder renders the latter vulnerable to shame. Breastfeeders are, often unwittingly, a prominent and powerful force in the experience of formula feeders’ envy. Let’s expand on this:

Many studies around feelings of envy and competitiveness have suggested that what is envied tells more about oneself than it tells about the envied other. The envied other is a mirror of the lack one feels inside. To be activated, envy needs an 'other', someone who is showing or mirroring what is consciously or unconsciously needed or wished for oneself. Ever wondered why moms tend to feel envious of certain moms and not of others? Why does a DFF feel painful, almost visceral, envy at the sight of a mother nursing her child, but not at the sight of a very rich celebrity creating a dream nursery with expensive decor, or the sight of Kate Middleton displaying blow-dried perfection just hours after having given birth before retiring to her palace? 

The answer is twofold: firstly, envy is felt chiefly toward those who are our peers, for reasons having to do with ‘justice’. People do not necessarily envy the wealth of celebrities, because the discrepancy does not reflect badly on them. It is only when the discrepancy between someone else’s success and one’s own failure serves to demonstrate or call attention to one’s shortcomings that envy results. DFFs envy breastfeeders precisely because they could have experienced similar success. It was within their grasp. The breastfeeding mother is signalling or mirroring some parts in the formula feeding mother that have not been used, developed or activated.

Secondly, breastfeeding displays those characteristics, attitudes, or behaviours that carry some meaning to the DFF personally. If breastfeeding did not carry a particular worth, it wouldn’t be noticed or would simply provoke indifference. To quote my book:

“The irony is that however much mothers deny, distort or misconstrue the truth about breastfeeding, it continues to matter to them – enormously. In fact, they deny, distort and misconstrue breastfeeding because it matters to them.” (Breast Intentions, 2014).

Breastfeeders absorb an important part of the DFF’s thoughts, a process characterised by observation, scrutinization, sometimes obsessive mental preoccupation, as if the DFF wishes to know everything about successful breastfeeders: how are they feeling? succeeding? performing? By doing this, the DFF is trying to gauge what went wrong in their own breastfeeding journey and whether she could have tried hard enough. She is unconsciously researching to find an answer to the ever-present question: Why could these women do it but not me? What personal qualities do they have that I don’t?

Envy incognito

Of course many DFFs disguise their envy. They seem, from the outside at least, to be more hostile than envious. They disparage breastfeeding advocates and/or denounce breastfeeding’s benefits, belittling it as inconsequential. This, my friends, is a mere farce, a defence mechanism, and quite a prolific one at that. In order to pacify their envy, DFFs attempt to persuade themselves and those around them, that what they envy - they actually loathe. Freud labelled such behaviour ‘reaction formation’ – an attempt to deny one’s true emotional state by taking on the opposite. DFFs are trying to pacify uncomfortable feelings of envy by downplaying breastfeeding.

"Okay, I get it, but why are you telling us this?"

I’m telling you this because although envy is a bitch, she is also a great motivator. Feelings of envy can either thwart success or stimulate it. So, if you’re a DFF reading this, I urge you to redirect your envy towards positive means. When you realise that your envy of breastfeeding reveals more about yourself than about the breastfeeder, the envy-bond between you both becomes looser. This can be a turning point for you. What I’m proposing here is a different use of your emotional energies. This point needs to elaboration:

Remember in my recent post about Mommy Guilt I explained that emotions provoke or provide energy: this energy can be proactive such as feeling admiration, motivation, inspiration. Or it can be reactive such as feeling angry, resentful, jealous. Usually it is not the emotion but the use of its energy that creates the problem. Trawling through breastfeeding forums and causing arguments is a reactive and destructive use of your emotional energy. 

Constructive and proactive uses on the other hand, such as researching relactation or lobbying for health policy amendment, will help to mobilize the emotional energy to produce positive change. Indeed, drastic changes can be brought about over the powerful energy fuelled by emotion. Feel let down by the health care system? Lodge an official complaint against those health professionals you believe were negligent. Think formula is too risk-laden, too expensive? Lobby to get formula production more strongly regulated. Feel there isn’t enough support for breastfeeding postpartum? Start a petition and get your local politician involved. Want to breastfeed right now? Look into relactation. Envy can open the door to a wealth of positive change – if you channel it productively rather than destructively.

Indeed, envy is a signpost for change. Envy is evidence that you are still wanting, that you haven’t given up hope – and that’s awesome! Redirect this emotional energy to find out ways you can fulfil your breastfeeding goals. By all means, use envy as a mirror, that is, look at breastfeeders, explore where and in which ways you could emulate them now, or in the future. Observe and assimilate their coping strategies and problem-solving techniques. In fact, using envy as a motivational force and catalyst for positive change will enable you to experience a component of similarity and affinity with the very breastfeeding mothers you have been envious of! 

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Overcoming Mommy Guilt

In last week's post (get your butt over here y'all), I explained the self-serving mechanisms involved in mommy guilt: the ways in which guilt forms an addictive cycle. In this post I'm going to explain the guilt-triggering mechanism in more depth and - most importantly - suggest how to crack the cycle. Seat-belts, people!

Let's begin with a radical consideration: If you don’t want to feel a certain way, just don’t feel it. I know that’s far easier to say than to do, especially after a long time of forming habitual butthurt to certain things. Your brain has spent months, maybe even years, beating a neural pathway to butthurt, and you’ll need to retrain it. Let me explain..

The Voluntariness of Guilt

We humans are happy to take full responsibility for some of our emotions no matter how unbidden, so long as they fit into our personal agendas (pride, love, compassion, whatever). We deny responsibility for others (guilt, envy, lust) due to the most self-serving of reasons: to make excuses for ourselves. Our choices do not just ‘happen’ to us. Likewise, our emotions don’t just happen to us either. We practice them, cultivate them, and in many cases choose them, even if unconsciously (Check out the fabulous book by Professor Sheena Iyengar, ‘The Art of Choosing’).

Now, to say that moms choose to feel guilty is not to say that their guilt is a sheer instance of ‘will’. Circumstances may play a role. You may not have chosen to be on Facebook the same time an anti-formula article is shared, and after clicking the link and reading the content of the article you may begin to feel guilty about your choice to formula feed, and you now have to decide what to do with this feeling. You did not choose to be in this situation, presented with such an offensive article, but you chose to read it. Indeed, you may return to the source numerous times, maybe contact the author and tell her a thing or two. So you are not completely the victim here. Even if you did not know that this particular article was about to be shared, you did know about the reputation of the internet and the dangers that lurk in such an open, largely uncensored medium.

In this way, guilt is not a single episode, much less a sudden ‘burst’ of emotion aroused by stimuli. As the Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.” Guilt does not just happen to us and it is not simply dictated by the circumstances. We don’t go from having zero guilt to being overwhelmed with guilt at the sudden trigger of an article. Our guilt is our responsibility, and so we should take responsibility for it.

Let’s look at the butthurt-development process:

Here you are, and here is the offending article. You feel yourself getting tense, but now, do you get guilty? You have a number of choices, though none of them feels good. You can leave the website, you can think about the content in a different way, you can stay and debate, you can get angry. Meanwhile in all of these responses, you sense in yourself a rising guilt. You grow more tense and irritable. You find yourself thinking all sorts of insults and defensive responses to throw at the author, the sharer, the liker, and anyone who agrees with them. But your choices are real choices, with real consequences, some of which further the guilt, while others tend to shift the guilt - perhaps further towards yourself or towards the author (“you should feel ashamed for writing this”), and other choices tend to diminish it.

Contagious Mommy Guilt

The issue of the level of control we have over guilt is much more complex than a black-and-white distinction between activity and passivity. Sometimes emotional choices are so easy to make that we don’t think of ourselves as making them at all. We go on auto-pilot. Indeed, it’s easy and effortless to feel guilty when we step foot on the hyper-charged battlefield of the Mommy Wars. When the majority of formula feeders are proclaiming to feel guilty, this general consensus spreads like a virus to other formula feeders. “If they all feel guilty, then I should too”. The more formula feeders that publicise their guilt the more socially appropriate, even desirable, this behaviour is deemed by others. A common chain-reaction goes something like this: a mother reads an offensive article, then she acts guilty because it is socially expected, from which genuine guilt may follow. Psychologists call this ‘herd instinct’ or ‘social proof’. The social climate dictates: the better a mother you are, the worse you should feel when you stray from virtuous choices.

Then there are the mothers who ‘set themselves up’, knowing the probable emotional consequences. An example is the many formula feeders that click ‘like’ on The Alpha Parent Facebook page and then pour over the updates that appear on their feed, triggering themselves with self-loathing. 

It is, of course, very convenient for these moms to think of their emotions (which motivate a great deal of their behaviour) as beyond their control. That way, they can blame their silly outbursts on their anger, and not take responsibility for it themselves. Sneaky.

In a nutshell

We mothers would be wise to divorce ourselves from the self-pacifying belief that emotions are hijackers that render us victims and instead think of them as strategies we cultivate and put into play. Now here’s a random fact for the nerds amongst you: The Latin root of the word ‘emotion’ means ‘to move’. Emotions are vehicles for transforming or moving your life. When you feel guilty, try to identify what the emotion is telling you. Think of your emotions as helpful messages. Fear protects. Sadness releases. Joy uplifts. Empathy unites. Guilt teaches. In this sense, guilt is a call to action to correct our mistakes and to learn from them. Then we become better mothers/people/citizens because we are boosting our self-efficiency, banishing our anxiety and making new, better choices. 

Truly understanding the nature of our emotions and how they express and embody our deepest values is the cornerstone message of my book Breast Intentions. In the chapter titled ‘Guilt’ I discuss how misunderstandings of our guilt lead to excuses that we use to duck responsibility. I explain that the road to emotional integrity involves resisting those excuses and taking responsibility, and most importantly, how to do this as a mother. Worth a look, if you want to understand (and overcome) the shackles of the reticent maternal mind. 

To end this post on a philosophical-note and to give you something to ponder, I’d like to refer back to Roosevelt's infamous insight. The fact is, with the exception of our own minds, no power on earth has the consistent and absolute ability to make us feel guilty. Whatever happens, you have a choice as to how you interpret or react to something. You can’t control other people. Sometimes, you can’t control circumstances either. You can only control yourself – your own thoughts, your mind, and the attitude you take. However much we might be prompted by cues from other people or our environment, the choice to feel guilty is ours and ours alone. Owning one’s guilt includes recognizing that the source of the emotion and the reasons for it are part of our inner world.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Skinny on Mommy Guilt

Everyone loves Roosevelt's motivational mantra: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. It adorns fridge magnets and keychains the world over. But it seems, there is one group of people who don’t appreciate this sentiment. In fact, they argue exemption from it. Yup, I’m talking about mothers.

For a group of people who celebrate so passionately their prerogative of choice, it is bitterly ironic that mothers are keen to dispose of this belief when their emotions are involved. “Stop being judgemental, I should not be made to feel guilty” is their mating call. It’s so common that almost everyone takes heed, lest they be seen as a kind of evil Morton Downey Jr.

Yet contrary to what some mothers and stand-up comedians may claim, women are not fragile simpering wallflowers at the mercy of iron-tongued tormentors. They are not passive pawns pushed around by the force of others’ words. The image of the female as a boiling pot of feelings, a puppet to her emotions, easily triggered and unable to control herself is a misogynistic invention of a culture that's still riding on patriarchal coattails. Sadly, many women continue to lap up this rhetoric, and when they become mothers, it becomes enshrined in their self-entitled, self-serving psyche. In this post, I’m going to demonstrate why ‘Mommy Guilt’ is the biggest farce since Nestle donned a nurse's outfit.

Guilt: The Narcissist of Emotions

Let me tell you a thing or two about guilt. Guilt is the quintessential self-conscious emotion. At its heart, guilt is a self-involved, egocentric experience. In parenting, it is a moral emotion that arises when a mom experiences discrepancies between her standards and her behaviour. As Dr Helen Lewis explains in her book “Shame and Guilt in Neurosis”:

“In the experience of guilt, the self is doing the judging; the experience is thus self-contained and self-propelled. Guilt is about something specific about which the self is critical”

In fact, mommy guilt has strategic functionality rather than being a mere reaction. The mother absorbed in her own guilt may discover, for example, that ‘punishing herself’ allows her to be irresponsible or unsociable. Or perhaps she views the feeling of guilt as neutralising the ‘wrong’ she believes she has committed.

When a mother feels guilty it means she can talk about herself and how she feels for hours. Because that’s what guilt is about: you. It’s a way of focusing on yourself that doesn’t feel self-indulgent because you’re shining a light in the shameful, dark parts of your psyche. It’s sort of a back-handed compliment to yourself because the fact you feel guilty means you have morals, so you’re basically a decent person.

When we understand that mommy guilt, like many emotions, has utility, we can begin to understand that...

Mommy Guilt is Self-Imposed

Picture the scene: I write a blog post about the risks of formula feeding/circumcision/whatever, which ‘makes’ you feel guilty. Let’s try thinking of it in purely logical terms: I posted something and you felt guilty.

Now take it further: I posted something. You felt guilty.

Now for the next step: I did what I did. You did guilt.

Why should me doing whatever it is I did have control over your feelings? Ahhhh, now we’re getting somewhere..

The reason why guilt is so pervasive in motherhood is precisely because it is self-imposed. Psychologists Dr June Tangney and Dr Ronda Dearing In their book, ‘Shame and Guilt’, define guilt as “a private experience arising from self-generated pangs of conscience” (2002, p14). One can to a considerable extent shrug off other people’s criticism and even their contempt, but one cannot shrug off one’s own. Guilt is blame of the self by the self. By its very nature, guilt assumes a wrong doing that one has committed. So in order to feel guilt, two components must be present: 1. A wrongdoing. 2. Personal blame. Now let’s apply this to an obvious example: failure to breastfeed. If the mother believed that breast milk and formula were equivalent, #1 would be absent in her view. Thus, she wouldn't feel guilty for not breastfeeding. If on the other hand, #1 is present but #2 is not, the result is merely shame not guilt.

Guilt is a personal judgement of culpability that is expressed in the attitudes the individual holds towards herself. When motivational speaker Chip Conley announced “Guilt is an emotional bouillabaisse. Its stock is your sense of choice and responsibility” (Conley 2012) he was maintaining that personal acceptance of blame is essential to the experience of guilt. You see, emotions are very much tied up with belief systems and thought structures, and cannot be separated from them. When a formula feeding mother personally believes that breastfeeding is optimum, guilt is aroused. If a formula feeding mother believes that formula is on par with breast milk, she won’t feel guilt, and no amount of ‘bullying’ from a lactivist blog post will arouse that guilt.

If you're feeling guilty right now (heck, you're a parent), look at your guilt with the idea that you are, or might be, responsible and ask yourself these probing questions: “What am I doing this for?” “What am I getting out of this?” If you do this, you can often see aspects of your strategic behaviour that would otherwise escape you. By contrast, if you look at your guilt with the idea that it is a force beyond your control, something inflicted on you by someone else, you'll be prone to make excuses for yourself. Sound familiar? Victimhood calling!

To believe that others can make us feel guilt is to adopt victim mentality (see my previous post: “How to Spot a Defensive Formula Feeder”). Yet we are not victims. We are not toddlers unable to regulate our emotions. We are active agents, we are parents for hells sake!, and we have responsibilities. How will you ever be free of guilt if you attribute its existence to the control of others? As long as mothers blame others for their guilt, they effectively rob themselves of their own emotional integrity and consequent empowerment. If you are not responsible, then you are not empowered to make changes. Being responsible means taking responsibility for your parenting decisions. That does not mean that you’re in charge of your environment and in control of all the stimuli you encounter. It does mean that you’re in charge of your own inner environment. 

The Blame Game

The experience of being guilt-stricken is so uncomfortable and threatening to a mother’s self-esteem that, more often than not, she experiences an inclination to shift that hostility and blame outward (Lewis 1987). A mother’s guilt can feel extremely painful and devastating. When she feels it, she is berating herself. To make matters even worse, with many maternal misdemeanours, there are very few options for remedying the failure. So there Mom is – hopelessly mired in an agonizing, ego-threatening state of guilt, with no obvious way out. 

How do moms, in the midst of guilt, attempt to cope or contain this hateful emotion? One strategy that is likely to be effective, at least in the short term, is to turn the tables and shift the blame. A lot of formula feeders for example, come to resent themselves for the vast discrepancy between how they wish they fed their child and how they actually fed their child. A lot of this self-condemnation is dealt with through a process of externalization: it is directed outward, against life, fate, institutions, or people, or it is directed against the self but is perceived or experienced as coming from the outside. Blaming others (instead of the self) can serve an ego-protective function. Breastfeeding advocates are ideal targets. As Tracey Cassels over at Evolutionary Parenting, has observed:

“I have to ask myself – why are you so offended?  Why are you saying I’m trying to guilt you?  That I’m a breastfeeding nazi or some other ridiculous moniker?  Why do you need to mount a campaign claiming you’ve been “made” to feel like a bad parent because I simply tell it like it is?  What you forget is that only you can allow yourself to feel guilt, and if you know in your heart of hearts that what you’re doing is good, then the guilt won’t follow.” 

By externalising blame, guilt-stricken formula feeders attempt to defend and preserve their self-esteem. Their anger is pushed towards others, but it is anger which results from one’s own feeling of helplessness.  

Furthermore, by attacking her ‘accuser’ ("You're a dick for judging my lack of breastfeeding"), the mother can divert the audience’s attention away from the original fault ("I'm a dick for not breastfeeding"). This sort of guilt-induced defensive externalisation is fairly irrational, even from the perspective of the guilt-stricken mother. However it is compelling to her as it allows her to enjoy many benefits - externalising blame in this way serves to reduce painful self-awareness, and, as a further bonus, the accompanying feelings of self-righteous anger can help the guilt-stricken mother to regain some sense of agency and control as well as solidarity with other butthurt mothers. Anger is an emotion of potency and authority. In contrast, guilt is an emotion of the worthless, the paralysed, the ineffective. Thus, by redirecting hostility, by turning their bitterness outward, guilt-stricken mothers become angry instead, reactivating and bolstering the self, which was previously so impaired by the guilt experience.

Rightyo! That's your lot for this week. In my next post, I'll be discussing how to overcome Mommy Guilt (yes, it's not a deadly disease, recovery is possible). Linky.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

How to Get Pregnant Whilst Breastfeeding

Mother Nature is a hypocritical sod. Check this out: The raison d'etre of your existence is reproduction. So why then, does good ol’ Mother Nature muzzle our fertility while we’re lactating? And is there anything we can do to get pregnant without pulling the plug on breastfeeding? In this post I will answer both questions in turn. What gives me the confidence to speak about this issue? Firstly, I've been there (conceived under 6 month postpartum whilst exclusively breastfeeding), secondly, I've conducted a shed-load of academic research into breastfeeding fertility.

A word of warning before we begin: As a result of reading this, you may find yourself up the duff, toot sweet. Want closely-spaced siblings? Dream of tandem-feeding? Read on!

Aunt Flo takes a vacation

While breastfeeding a lot of mothers notice that ‘shark week’ no longer occurs every month. Yet, as with many physiological happenings that appear idiotic, Mother Nature has a plan. You see, every time you bring your baby to your breast, you are sending your body an important message: “I have my hands full here, this baby needs me!” Because breastfeeding is such an intensive energy-draining practice, your body halts the baby production line so that you can focus your energies on the little cherub you’ve just popped out. Aunt Flo (your menstrual cycle) goes AWOL.

Whilst this is frustrating for the broody mom wishing to get knocked up, it is legit in evolutionary terms, it makes sense. Our bodies evolved in circumstances where moms were carrying their babies 24/7 (we lived in herds and never settled in one spot for too long), where foraging for food and catching prey required significant physical exertion, where babies would suckle every 15 minutes, and where we relied on our own body heat to keep us warm. We modern moms like to whinge that we’ve got it tough, that we’re soooooo busy with multitasking overload, but we don’t know SHIT compared to our prehistoric sisters. 

Mother Nature knew that if babies were ever going to survive longer than their shrivelled cord stump, Mom couldn’t be getting pregnant anytime soon. If she did, she would be too knackered to do all that maternal stuff. And so, by the wonders of natural selection, we inherited an epidemiological quirk: our fertility pauses during lactation, a phenomena known as, yup: ‘lactational amerrhoea’ (took me several days to learn to pronounce that shit, and I still say it like ‘men’s diarrhoea’).

Interesting, but can I successfully breastfeed *and* get pregnant?

Yes, you can!

Okay, how? 

Practically every lay article ever written on breastfeeding fertility has offered the following solutions to the ‘get pregnant whilst breastfeeding’ conundrum: 1. Give your baby a pacifier. 2. Space feedings. 3. Stop night-nursing. 4. Introduce solid foods. 5. Failing all that, wean baby from the breast.

Each of these suggestions is a simplistic anti-breastfeeding knee-jerk scraping of the barrel. They all involve reducing breastfeeds in an attempt to kick-start ovulation. Recall that breastfeeding sends your body the message: “I’ve got my hands full looking after this baby”. The above solutions aim to send the contrary message: “My baby doesn’t need me that much”, or even: “my baby is dead”.

Each solution has varying degrees of success - good for your fertility, not so good for your baby. Folks who offer the above solutions have clearly not read all of the fertility research. We can’t blame them. Most of the research into breastfeeding and fertility focuses on developing countries because fertility is a huge issue to those folks. In countries where survival means strenuous daily physical activity and poor nutrition, postpartum fertility can mean the difference between life (mom doesn’t get pregnant and so can sustain her infant), or death (mom gets pregnant and infant #1 perishes).

However, if you dig around the vaults of epidemiological fertility research (and here’s where being a PhD student has slapped me on the back and bought me a pint), you can discover the dichotomy between lactational amerrhoea in developing countries and lactational amerrhoea in prosperous Western countries.

In essence:

The key to getting pregnant is sending your body a new message: “I’ve got my hands full…BUT it’s still safe to get pregnant right now”. How can you do this? Forget Fertility Friend, your new BFF may just be your local grocery store...

Introducing the ‘Relative Metabolic Load Hypothesis’

Despite its fancy label, this theory is straight forward. Ever since scientists learnt how to precisely measure reproductive hormone levels in saliva and urine, a new body of evidence opened up: the relationship between maternal nutrition and fecundity; or in other words: what you eat while breastfeeding affects your fertility status. Woah, goosebumps! Exciting, no?

This hypothesis suggests that ‘shocking’ your body through nutrition can kick-start fertility. In one study (Lunn et al 1984), a substantial increase in food consumption during lactation had negligible effects on milk production and milk quality but – and here’s the magic – it hastened the return of menstrual cycling, and shortened the interval to next conception!  Yup, turns out the female reproductive system is highly sensitive to metabolic energy availability. It’s the same kind of process as seen in anorexia, only in breastfeeding, the mechanism is way more sensitive (Rosetta and Taylor 2009).

What you eat during lactation has an important effect on fertility – an effect independent of nursing frequency (Frisch, 1978John et al., 1987). Consider this curious fact: Moms that nurse with high frequency get pregnant just as fast as moms who nurse much less frequently... providing they meet the threshold of ‘well-nourished’ (Worthman et al 1993; Valeggia and Ellison 2004; Ellison 2001; Lipson and Ellison 1996). Let’s just soak that up for a moment: Stuffing your face while breastfeeding can increase your fertility. I’ll say it again: Eating more food can increase your chances of conception. 

OMG! So how does it work? 

The studies show that resumption of menstrual cycling is closely coordinated with changing insulin levels, and whaddya know: insulin is a pretty badass stimulator of ovarian estrogen production (Willis et al 2001). Insulin reflects changes in metabolic energy balance (Valeggia and Ellison 2009), it’s a signal to your body that food is available.

So, if you want to increase your chances of getting pregnant while breastfeeding do what scientists refer to as ‘creating favourable energetic conditions’. A sudden burst of energy-dense food consumption can trigger the following cascade: Firstly, mom experiences a brief period of insulin resistance above her average levels, and then, usually a few weeks later, her ovarian cycling resumes. Within this time period, she may notice that her body begins to produce fertile quality cervical fluid (gunky eggwhite vaginal discharge) as her hormone levels pass over that all-important estrogen-threshold. To illustrate, take a gander at the diagram below (taken from the wonderful Weschler 2003). It shows your hormone levels as your body repeatedly attempts to ovulate, and then succeeds:

In other words: Sudden gorging can increase your chances of getting pregnant because it raises your insulin levels higher than your body is used to. Elevated insulin then stimulates ovarian steroid production, causing estrogen levels to rise. (Science, I could hump your leg right now!) Rising estrogen stimulates your fat cells to bring the insulin levels back into the normal range. This whole process serves to jump-start ovarian function as maternal energy availability rises above the demands of milk production. It’s all about reassuring your body that it’s safe to breed. No need to reduce breastfeeds.

This amazing process – your body’s intuition – is a pattern that we humans share with both chimpanzees and orang-utans (Ellison 2001; Emery Thompson 2005). Energy dense foods are cues we can use to satisfy our body’s drive to synchronise reproductive success with energy availability. But before you get all health-police on my butt, I’m not suggesting you should start auditioning for ‘Fat: The Fight Of My Life’ or anything like that. Rather, I'm suggesting that increasing your energy intake is a temporary strategy with the purpose of reassuring your body that food reserves are plentiful. You can always opt for those energy dense foods that come in healthier guises (nuts and honey are stellar examples), but dayuuuum, just look at that cake!

In a nutshell…

You CAN (quite literally) have your cake and eat it. It is possible to nurse all hours under the sun and still conceive. The duration of lactational amenorrhea is inter-related with the relative metabolic load of lactation: fertility will stall if the body experiences lactation as a heavy burden. So, whilst infant feeding behaviour determines absolute metabolic load, maternal nutrition impacts upon relative load. Tonight, we feast!

Good luck, and enjoy the BFP!

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Monday, December 1, 2014

The Formula Feeder Doth Protest Too Much

If you’re been alive for the fast five or so years, you may have noticed something peculiar: the emergence of a new zeitgeist of contempt for breastfeeding. Even a cursory look at the lifestyle section of many online newspapers reveals a contemporary back-catalogue now groaning under the weight of the collective bitching of a vocal minority of failed breastfeeders.

In this post I question the motives of these failed breastfeeders, let’s call them ‘formula apologists’ – the folk who make it their raison d'etre to criticise breastfeeding - that is, to criticise its promotion and its significance. You see, nobody comes immaculately to the infant feeding debate. Its discussion can never be abstract. As I discussed in the chapter of my book aptly titled ‘Defensiveness’, the agenda of these people is not as transparent as they would hope. Ask yourself this question: by virtue of being failures, do these people really qualify as noted dispensers of feeding advice? Do they have the well-being of all mothers in mind, or just mothers that ad credence to their personal experience? In most instances, these ‘formula apologists’ are engaging in a massive case of ex post facto justification. To explain, I’m going to run you thorough some of their most prolific whinges:


Formula apologists lament about something they call the "scientisation of parenthood” and the "de-authorisation of the mother" (Lee 2011; Furedi 2008). These made-up rhetorical devices are a vain attempt to politicise a sound and rational advancement: scientific authority has come to trump parental convenience in our moral consciousness (boo hoo, guilt, torment, condemnation, etc). They sob that "the freedom of the mother to shape her mothering practices has been compromised" (!!!!) (ob cit).

I discussed this in my book (sorry to keep plugging the book but it’s relevant folks), and I quote:

“Facts regarding the risks of formula feeding are locked into a Pandora’s Box and treated as hate speech. Woe betide mothers call each other out on their choices – that would cause hurt feelings, they argue. Indeed, formula-apologists are heavily reliant on the rhetoric of emotion, demanding that we be mindful of mothers’s subjective 'feelings', because logic and objective morality muddy the agenda they are seeking to advance. Essentially, they aim to replace a moral view of infant feeding with an emotional view” – Breast Intentions.

To use their words, formula apologists cry that: "contemporary culture requires that the parent – the mother especially – pay serious attention to scientific and expert guidance about ‘parenting’ in order to reduce risks to child health and welfare" (Lee 2011). OMG science, how very DARE you! ..Now readers, is it just me or, isn't science guiding parenting a freekin GOOD thing?? Better to be guided by science than by knee-jerk emotion. Or are the formula apologists suggesting that science is only a good thing if it enhances parental convenience?

These folk pout that It's A Woman's CHOICE How She Bloody Well Feeds Her Child Thank You Very Much, except, like, it isn't really, cause we think women only have "constrained choice". What's constraining this choice, they argue? SCIENCE! It's those science bastards again. Science "presents the evidence about formula feeding as predominatively negative" (Knaak 2005; see also Knaak 2006). But formula isn't negative they argue - at least not for Mom. Many mothers cherish formula as a utensil of liberation! Cited benefits of formula feeding include - and I quote: "convenient", "easy", "providing freedom from the baby", "providing a means of getting back to normal" and this bizarre twist of fuck: formula enables us to "re-establish our identity as non-mothers" (Earle 2002; Lee 2007). Dudes, I hate to say it, but if you want an identity as 'non-mothers', that ship sailed with your last uterine contraction. Soz.


Yup, you read that title correctly. Your boobs are conspiring against you, those misogynistic globes of torment! Not only do formula apologists downplay scientific evidence, they also whittle breastfeeding into a tool of oppression. Misapplying feminist rhetoric, formula apologists attempt to reconceptualise breastfeeding as a social practice, and a sexist one at that! (Blum 1999; Hausman 2003; Law 2000). They frame breastfeeding as part of political 'gender relations' (Jansson 2009). This reductionist diversion strategy defaces breastfeeding, turning it from a biology to ideology. 

The irony is that whilst many formula apologists claim to be feminists, they are simultaneously playing right into the hands of patriarchal capitalism - a system that defines the male body and mind as the norm and female functioning (hello, lactation!) as a deviation. What’s more, the formula apologists’ response to a normal bodily function is even moreso anti-feminist because it is needlessly reactive and awkwardly paternal:

“The blame-free breastfeeding culture they seek to create, infantalises women, framing them not as active agents capable of controlling their destiny and achieving their goals, but of passive wallflowers at the mercy of forces they are powerless to defy.” (Breast Intentions).

Formula-apologists, on your way, back to feminist school!


Here’s where the agenda of formula apologists becomes so transparent, if it were a condom it would be illegal. Despite celebrating their ‘choice’ in forcing their infants to consume fourth-best nutrition, formula apologists still demand that they are good mothers. Yup. So, on one hand they want to broadcast this stellar identity as "good mothers", yet recall on the other hand they also want to "re-establish their identity as non-mothers". Taking the proverbial cake, some?

Formula apologists are angry at the notion of being held morally accountable for their decision to formula feed. They're pissed at the notion - there mere thought - that their babies could be regarded as victims of their actions. Check out this lament from Ellie Lee, one of the most outspoken formula apologists: "The health of children in particular has been identified as a potent site for development of risk consciousness in this regard, because of their presumed innocence and vulnerability" (Lee 2007). Notice the sly addition of the word 'presumed'. Kids are ‘presumed’ innocent. 

Yet despite Ellie’s cries of guilt and maternal victimization, in one of her own studies, only 20% of formula feeders stated that they cared about the effects of formula on their babies' health (Lee 2007). (Only 20%! Jeeeze that "good mother" accolade needs some work). And herein lies the big beef harboured by formula apologists, in their own words: "'Health' has attained increasingly moralised connotations, as it is more and more considered to be a state that can, and should, be chosen by responsible individuals" (Lee 2007; Burrows et al 1995; Nettleton 2004; Murphy 2004). Choosing to be healthy, we are told, is a bad thing. Go figure!

The hole is dug further:

"Contemporary culture is thus one that requires parents to agree – even if they do so ambiguously – that they will always put the child first" (Lee 2011). This again, we are told, is a bad thing. (The cheek of it!! Putting kids first!)

If this weren’t pathetic enough, formula apologists then boo hoo over the fact that they aren't being patted on the back and positively rewarded for their mediocrity. One mother who shared her story on a formula-apologist site sniffled that: "Nobody says 'Good for you for feeding your babies!'" ..Well, formula guys, if it makes you feel better, no one ever says to me: "Good for you!" whenever I put clothes on my kids. Perhaps I had better phone the Samaritans.


We’ve just looked at how formula apologists believe that individuals (read: mothers) do not have personal responsibility for the choices that they make. So, this begs the question: who does? Their answer to this conundrum is to blame the woolly notion of ‘society’. Society is to blame for the choices mothers make. In arguing this, they appeal to leftwing liberal ideology to shelter them from acknowledging the consequences of their choices. Let's look at this classy charade:

Essentially, formula apologists are fighting for a self-serving utopia in which people - mothers in particular - are free to act without moral consequence. One way they attempt to do this is by over-reliance on collectivist rhetoric and the denial of individual self-determinism. Collectivism (i.e. lamenting that 'society' is to blame for individual women's breastfeeding failures) eliminates their need for moral responsibility.

And then the irony becomes deafening: Despite demanding that others heed their emotional sentimentalities, the pro-formula lobby are not what you could call tolerant. Indeed, they are viciously intolerant of any divergence from their ill-perceived right as mothers to not have their liberty impinged upon by their bothersome infants’ needs:

“A major way formula apologists attempt to strengthen the faux-link between breastfeeding success and luck is to raise concern about the morality of judging. If success is simply down to good fortune in the form of societal privilege and working breasts, then in theory, breastfeeding mothers should not judge those who are not lucky enough to enjoy these attributes, they argue.” – Breast Intentions.

In the eyes of every formula apologist, poor bfing rates stem from a hazy collectivist scapegoat they call 'society'. Whilst, to a degree, I concede that society is responsible towards us, aren't we in turn responsible towards society? Heck, aren't we society?

Another layer to the irony inherent within formula apologism: the main self-appointed advocates for the apologist lobby are middle class educated women who actually do very little to help those disadvantaged women they claim to defend. Despite parroting their rhetoric without really helping anyone, the quasi-political activism they engage in is dedicated to convincing themselves that they are somehow beneficent to those below them. It's Slactivism at it's most pungent. Warm fuzzies aplenty but very little political change.


It's time we all: woman the hell up, big girl panties and all.

There are two strands to the breastfeeding vs formula feeding debate and you should want to be on the side of the academics. Their discourse is characterised by scientific method over emotion. The other side of the debate is not. It belongs to the bitter bloggers, the columnists and quasi-professional media whores. They see infant feeding as a key battleground in a culture war. Of these two narratives – the academic and the angry – which one reaches the ears of those who need, most immediately, to form a judgement about infant feeding? The mother agonising over whether to continue breastfeeding is ill-served by the voices of bitter failures. For her agony rests in truly wanting to breastfeed, but simultaneously being told by a failed majority that breastfeeding ‘doesn’t matter that much’. Every mother who returns home with a baby in a carry-crib and a body pumped full of hormones deserves much more than cards, flowers, and a laundry-list of sob stories. The ‘breastfeeding doesn’t matter’ formula apologists would do well to heed the desires and dreams of the new mothers coming behind them, rather than undermining them to fuel a personal self-pacifying agenda.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Optimum Family Size - The Facts

How many children should I have? It’s the question that plagues many of us breeders. Some never fully resolve the budding uncertainty of the “What If…” conundrum. What if I have just one more? What if I stop at the traditional two? What if I don’t give my child any siblings at all? This article will help to alleviate those concerns using leading sociological, economical and even physiological research.


The pros:

  • The percentage of women having only one child has nearly doubled over a generation (Kelley 2007). In fact, only children are America’s fastest growing family demographic (Hass 1999) so your kid will not be as unusual as they would have been a generation ago. Much of the stigma has been consigned to history (Blair 2013).
    Only-children tend to have more successes in life.
  • Only-children tend to have a higher proportion of successes in life and that they tend to have higher I.Q.'s than any other family setup (Goleman 1985).
  • Parents outnumber children.
  • Your existing house/flat is likely to be big enough to accommodate all the necessary parenting paraphernalia.
  • Ditto the car.
  • Childlessness aside, this is the most environmentally-friendly family setup.
  • A single child family permits the most rapid reconnection with a pre-natal lifestyle; at work, at home and socially, if that’s important to you (Brazier 2013).
  • Your child will never be forced to share parental care and attention.
  • As a result of seldom-interrupted adult interaction, only-children often become articulated, surprisingly-mature little characters.
  • Only-children tend to do well in school, both because they’re able to express themselves clearly and well and because they’re used to and skilled at interacting with adults (Blair 2013).
  • Only-children are able to amuse themselves happily and to spend significant amounts of time alone.
  • You will be able to afford to give your child more educational opportunities. In fact, only children are likely to get three years more education than a child from a family of six (Goleman 1985).
    Only-children tend to do well in school.
  • No sibling rivalry.
  • Your child is likely to be taller than their siblinged peers (Lawson and Mace 2008).
  • Only-children tend to have a logical and organised mindset (Blair 2013). Because they grow up primarily around adults, only-children are more used to expecting a logical transaction when they interact with people. They never have to put up with siblings who threw tantrums, nor are they regularly forced to abandon logic to argue jealously with them.
  • No inheritance squabbles when you die.

The cons:

  • Only-child families are often the recipients of stigma (Yoder 1999).
  • Your kid is more likely to be a fatty. In fact, being an only child is seen as one of the ‘most significant’ causes of obesity in children (Wang et al 2007; Padez et al 2005; Pearce et al 2009; Winkinson 1977).
    Only children are more likely to be obese.
  • Some studies suggest that only-children can feel pressured, overprotected or, worst of all, come to doubt their own capabilities or their parents’ sincerity (Blair 2013).
  • Only-children can feel as though they are living their lives for their parents rather than for themselves (Blair 2013).
  • One-child families have a higher than normal incidence of ‘emotional incest’. With no other child to dilute the intensity of the parent-child bond, everything about the only-child is watched closely, including his health, physical development, school performance, talents, weaknesses, and achievements. All the parents’ worries, wishes and dreams are channelled into one offspring (Adams 2011). 
  • Some commentators suggest that your experience of the ‘terrible-twos’ will be harder. The theory is that siblings generally have a lower tolerance of rebarbative behaviour in a child than that child’s parents. A child, arguably, can get away with less if a sibling is on the scene. The essence of this argument could be said to extend well beyond the terrible twos (Brazier 2013).
  • Be forewarned, this bullet point is going to sting: Only-children tend to be more disruptive, get into more fights, make friends slower and keep them for shorter. They find it more difficult to ‘get along with people who are different’. They are less empathetic and poor at comforting and helping other children. They are less upbeat than their siblinged counterparts. They are also worse at ‘respecting the property rights of others’ and poor at soaking-up pressure. In a word, they are less ‘emotionally-intelligent’ (Downey and Condron 2004).
  • Although parents of an only-child usually make enormous efforts to provide their child with plenty of opportunities to socialise with their peers, these interactions will be fairly circumscribed. They’re likely to have been planned, time-limited, and supervised by adults. This means their child misses out on learning the skills needed to establish ‘territory’ without an adult there to sort things out for them, to stand up for themselves diplomatically and find ways to share limited toys or space (Blair 2013). However this deficit appears to be overcome by adolescence (Zeher and Downey 2013).
    Only children lose the support of siblings.
  • If your child is bullied at school, they are without a main source of support. A British study from the Economic and Social Research Council has found siblings to be an important and invisible source of support for children who are bullied in everyday life, including school (Hadfield et al 2006).
  • Being practical and sensible and wanting to do everything as expertly as possible predisposes only-children to unhealthy perfectionism. It is natural for every child to compare themselves to those around them. Given that there’s usually a preponderance of admiring and encouraging adults in the only-child’s life – throughout childhood – it means they set their standards in relation to them (Blair 2013).
  • Only-children find it difficult to tolerate disorder. When things in their life fall into disarray, there is usually an adult on hand to sort it out, more or less straight away. That means the only-child will grow up with little, if any, experience of coping with disorder and confusion, particularly lasting disorder and confusion. When an only-child finds themselves in a disordered situation later as an adult they can feel anxious and afraid. They fear the loss of control and predictability they’ve been accustomed to (Blair 2013).
  • There is some evidence to suggest that children benefit from the experience of having an opposite-sex sibling. This is known as ‘gender complementarity’. Whilst having more than one child doesn’t guarantee a gender split, having just one child completely rules it out (Brazier 2013).
    Only children are less likely to marry.
  • Adults who grew up as an only child were least likely to marry.  Those who do marry are the most at risk for divorce than adults who grow up with at least one sibling (Bobbitt-Zeher et al 2013).
  • You’re more likely to get divorced than other parents. Rates of divorce among only-child mothers are twice that of women who have two to four children (Falbo 1978 – recent research is needed to ascertain whether this is the case contemporarily; the climb in modern divorce rates would suggest so).
  • If you get divorced, your child is less likely to cope as well as their siblinged peers. Studies have shown that only-children demonstrate the most serious adjustment problems during their parents’ divorce (Forehand et al 1991).
  • When you grow senile and need eldercare, this places a huge burden upon your only child. It seriously stunts their geographic mobility and labor market outcomes (Rainer and Siedler 2005).
  • There’s no other way to put this one: If the worst happens and your child dies, you will be left childless. One report from Denmark, for instance, showed that when a child dies, parents are significantly more likely to die themselves from unnatural causes; accidents and suicide. A 2005 study showed that parents who lose a child are at greater risk of ‘extreme emotional loneliness and severe depressive symptoms’, including suicide (Stroebe et al 2005; Li et al 2005). Divorce rates among bereaved parents are up to eight times the norm (Lehman et al 1987). Couples are less likely to split if they have older children living at the time of death (Rogers et al 2008). Remember furthermore, there are also other types of ‘loss’. An only child who responds to the opportunities of globalisation by moving abroad, will leave parents with no proximate sibling (Brazier 2013).


The pros:

  • This is the most popular family size (Frejka et al 2008). Consequently, most ‘family ticket’ deals for restaurants, flights, themeparks et al, are designed specifically for this ‘two adults, two children’ family setup.
  • This is the magic number for your happiness, according to a recent study (Myrskylä and Margolis 2014). The research tracked British and German parents through the journey of parenthood and found that after 2 kids, the feel-good novelty wears off and the stress levels rise.
  • With this size you have a perfect ‘one-to-one’ ratio. Dr Alan Singer, in his book Creating Your Perfect Family Size, has observed that “in families with two children, one parent tends to gravitate toward one child more than the other, and it’s not predictably one sex or another, but varies from family to family” (Singer 2011).
    Sibling pairs report more positive feelings towards each other.
  • The elder child tends to take the ‘caretaker’ role whilst the younger child takes the ‘baby’ role, and the traits of each complement one another. The organised and caring first born wants someone to keep in order and to nurture, and the fun-loving but rather less organised and more dependent last born is likely to respond well  to this (Blair 2013).
  • This is going to sound morbid, but if one of your children were to die, you’d still have a spare one left. In a large-scale American study, a third of mothers and a quarter of fathers said that “Not to be left childless in the case of death of only child” was their chief motivation in countenancing the conception of a second child (Brazier 2013).
  • When fights break out, there’s no such thing as “Two (or more) Against One.”
  • Your children are likely to be taller than their peers with multiple siblings (Lawson and Mace 2008).
  • This family size is thought to be protective against child psychiatric problems (Taanila et al 1992).
  • This is a great family size for when your kids grow up. Studies show that adult sibling pairs report more positive feelings towards each other than other sibling alternatives; this is particularly so if you have two girls (Spitze and Trent 2006)

The cons:

  • If the two children are twins, conflict is likely. This is because they are both effectively ‘first borns’ and so both want to be in charge, particularly if they are both highly competitive (Blair 2013).
    The younger child is predisposed to insecurity.
  • Firstborns enjoy a higher proportion of successes in later life and that they tended to have higher I.Q.'s than later-born children (Goleman 1985). This means that the younger child is predisposed to insecurity. The effect is more intense when siblings are spaced close together (see here).
  • First-borns also receive about 20 more minutes of quality father-time and 25 more minutes of quality mother- time each day at each age than the second-born child does at the same age. Ouch! (Price 2007).
  • The youngest child is more likely to engage in 'risky adolescent behaviour' such as substance abuse and sexual experimentation (Argys et al 2007).


The pros:

  • Most parents say that it is when child #3 arrives that team work really thrives. Like or or not, it becomes apparent pretty quickly that the two of you will be obliged to work together if you are to keep everything afloat (Cockrell et al).
    The middle child is likely to be highly creative and innovative.
  • The middle child is likely to be highly creative and innovative. There’s an interesting reason for this: from the moment they were born, they had to share their parents with an older sibling, and before too long, with a new baby as well. They lack the advantage of maturity so that means their older sibling can do most things better than they can, and they are no longer the needy and adorable baby. This means that the middle child has to be quite innovative to find ways that will attract and hold their parents’ attention. They carry this creativity through life (Blair 2013).
  • For very much the same reasons, the middle child is likely to grow up socially smart – that is, knowing how to draw enough attention to themselves to get what they need, but without annoying others by stealing the spotlight from them.
  • This is apparently the best family setup for household wealth, according to a US study (Scholz and Seshadri 2007).

The cons:

  • You are now in outnumbered territory.
  • Having three children seems to be the tipping point in which parents devote less time to caring for their offspring relative to those with one or two children. However once the youngest child reaches school entry age, this ceases (Craig and Bittman 2005).
  • Grandparents are more likely to limit babysitting to one child at a time (due to the aforementioned outnumberedness).
  • Bus rides, train journeys, theme parks and any other scenario that requires sitting in pairs will mean separating one child from the rest.
  • You are likely to need a bigger car.
  • In restaurants you are likely to have to wait for a bigger table.
    Your middle child is fighting a constant battle to be heard.
  • Your middle born is more likely to have poorer self-esteem than his siblings, and to believe his parents are more punitive and less loving toward him than to his siblings. He feels as though he is fighting “a constant battle to be heard” (Brazier 2013). These feelings are strongest when the spacing between siblings is about two or three years (Goleman 1985).
  • There’s now so much kids’ stuff all over the floor, you think it breeds at night. 
  • This seems to be the threshold when other people are less forgiving: “Nowadays, people seem to be aghast if a couple wants more than two children” chimed Pamela Paul, in her Washington Post article, aptly titled ‘Three Kids? You Showoffs!’ (Paul 2008).
  • The middle child often gets unwittingly pushed into a diplomat’s role. Sandwiched between two siblings who both want things done very much their own way and for their own reasons, the middle child is likely to be the one who proposes a reasonable compromise. Quite often, this compromise would be at his or her own expense, because if someone has to give that little bit more, they will habitually be the one to do so (Blair 2013).
  • This seems to be the tipping point where childcare options are concerned. In most families, the amount of work created by three children, and the expense entailed for childcare times three, virtually compels one parent to be at home while the other works (Singer 2011).


The pros:

  • You can get a tremendous sense of satisfaction from the mini-empire you’re building.
  • Less chance of ‘gender disappointment’ – more kids boosts the chances that you will have a mix of genders.
    Your kids tend to stand up for what they believe is right.
  • Children from large families learn to think fast, to read other people’s desires and intended actions (and to take advantage of that knowledge) and stand up for what they believe to be right or what they feel they deserve – without the help of adults (Blair 2013).
  • In large families someone’s always knocking over someone else’s carefully arranged set of blocks or deleting their favourite game on the computer, so individuals in these families have plenty of opportunities to figure out what to do when things go into disarray. 
  • The more siblings a child has, the more socially skilled they will be, and the better they’ll be at getting their way, if they need to, when they’re with other people (Blair 2013).
  • From hide-and-seek to tag, games are easier to sustain with more participants, particularly when the ages vary. In fact, ‘play works best in terms of nurturance when those playing are at different stages in childhood’ (Gray 2011).
  • The youngest child in a large family is likely to have stellar mental health (Lawson and Mace 2010).
    Your kids tend to engage in more physical activity.
  • Large families tend to engage in more physical activity than smaller families, and watch less TV (Crawford 2006).
  • Children from large families are sociable and more likely to prefer the company of their peers to being alone (Blair 2013).
  • Your children are learning important social skills, such as delayed gratification, because you are not hanging on their every word (Brazier 2013).
  • Large families have the lowest risk of experiencing ‘emotional incest’ (see cons of 1 child). In large families, expectations are parcelled out: child 1 can be the achiever, child 2 can be the athlete, child 3 the artist, and so on (Adams 2011).
  • When your children grow up and marry, they will be less likely to divorce. In fact, one large-scale study found that the likelihood of divorce is reduced by 2% for each additional sibling that a person has grown up with, wowsa! (Bobbitt-Zeher et al 2013).  But wait, there’s a magic number! This increased divorce protection levels off after seven sibs.  At this point the gains of big family for training for adulthood seems to have been reached, according to the study.
  • If YOU end up divorcing, one large-scale longitudinal study suggests that the negative effects on your children will be mitigated by having multiple sibs (Sun and Li 2009).
  • On an even more serious note, some studies have found that large families are less likely to harbour child abuse, in part because siblings act as a kind of surveillance team (Ohlander and Chew 2008).
  • Your children are less likely to commit suicide (Denney et al 2009).
  • If you’re prehistorically-inclined (read: traditional) more kids means more chance of having a boy and that means more chance of ‘passing on the family name’. Whatevs.

The cons:

  • There’s a lot more noise, more chaos, and more work to do. You need more food in the fridge, more diapers changed, more bottles washed, not to mention more brain cells to keep up with the kids, naps, and other stuff.
    A lot more noise, chaos, and work.
  • This family setup is a killer for your career (Troske and Voicu 2007). In large families, the idea that one parent will be the stay-at-home carer is pretty much a given (Singer 2011).
  • People be hatin’. Large families are often the recipients of stigma. They “are presumed to be either really rich, having children as status symbols, or really poor, living off the dole and completely devoid of culture” (Zernike 2009). Ouch!
  • You’ll be frowned upon by environmentally-conscious folk and heck, just about everyone (Yoder 1999).
  • You will need to trade your car in for a mini-bus.
  • The expense! 
  • One kid brings home the flu and passes it on to another sibling, who then passes it on to another sibling and - you get the idea, permanent illness!
    Viruses get passed from sibling to sibling to sibling to..
  • A high number of siblings dilutes parents’ ability to mould the personality of their children. The 24/7 uber surveillance enjoyed by helicopter-types is nigh impossible with a large brood. 
  • Unless you’re a multi-millionaire or have saints for extended family, one parent will probably need to give up work permanently in order to care for the brood.
  • Women who gave birth to four or more children, are more likely to show signs of cardiovascular disease (Herst 2014).
  • There’s now so much kids’ stuff all over the floor, you can’t see the floor.
  • Parents are grossly outnumbered by a wild bunch of little people.
  • By necessity, you and your partner will need to take time away from being a couple to care for the kids. ‘Your time’ gets folded into ‘family time’ and you can begin to lose the sense of being a couple.
  • Mom is at a significant increased risk of cervical cancer: more kids – more risk (NHS 2013).
  • Suddenly, everything turns into a production line: getting everyone dressed, juggling nap times, feeding, playtime routines, etc. 
  • You’ll have to schedule everything from meals to bathroom time (Singer 2011).
    You have to schedule everything.
  • More children means less time spent with each of them, which makes it less likely that each child will have their needs met promptly. The effect of this is that children of larger families – and in particular, the middle borns – will be less likely than others to ask that their own needs and desires are addressed  (Blair 2013).
  • Less time spent with your children individually means your Guilt Circuit goes into overdrive. 
  • You will need a people carrier or similarly large vehicle.
  • Your kids are more likely to be shorter than their peers (Lawson and Mace 2008).
  • Being in public will occasion more than a few side-eyes. Tolerance of the noise and anarchy which come with a large brood will be tested in anywhere but the most child-friendly of places.
  • Eating out can be extremely difficult as not many restaurants will have a big enough table.
  • After a long, hard day with a large family, there are two choices in front of you: sex and sleep.. Do I even need to finish this sentence?
  • More siblings – more allergies. The theory is that the more children a woman has, the fewer antibodies she passes to her unborn babies via the placenta so decreasing the chances of later babies developing an allergy later in life (Karmaus et al 2004; Jarvis et al 1997). Although some studies have questioned this.
  • It’s a cruel irony that as the workload and chaos increase, and your need for help escalates, the resources dry up. The once overbearing grandparent presence in your life comes to a screeching halt and potential babysitters are frightened away, Granny and Grampy for instance (Coall et al 2009).
    Potential babysitters are frightened away.
  • There is likely to be a lot of squabbling and differences of opinion as each child tries desperately to distinguish themselves from their brothers and sisters (Blair 2013).
  • For the same reason, the younger children in particular are more likely to be little hooligans, sorry, it’s true. Because their older siblings have already become competent in most, if not all, of the conventional (and safe) ways, that leaves the youngsters with no choice but to break new ground in order to get noticed. The youngest of a large brood tend to be rebellious, and more likely than others to challenge authority (and take risks). It is children’s nature to push against and test the limits that have been set for them, and this, coupled with the fact that parents tend to relax the boundaries with each successive child, means that the youngest children push against the widest limits – and therefore seek out the riskiest options (Blair 2013). It doesn’t get better when they age. In a study of close to 5,000 adult alcoholics and nonalcoholics it was found that there were disproportionate numbers of last-borns from large families among the alcoholics (Goleman 1985).
  • The negatives just keep rolling in for the youngest of large families. These last borns are vulnerable to low self-esteem and to feelings of inferiority. Everyone around them is bigger, stronger and more competent than them. They may even see themselves as ‘behind’ from the start. It’s natural for children to measure themselves against their competitors (namely, their older siblings). Essentially,  what gives their older siblings their advantage – their age and experience – is something the youngsters can’t control in any way, and this makes them feel helpless (Blair 2013; Lawson 2013).
  • When you finally shuffle off this mortal earth, your kids’ inheritance will be split many ways, and thus likely to be tiny and inconsequential - unless you’re Donald Trump in which case ignore this bullet point, and the one about uni fees.
  • Aside from the inheritance scenario, your kids are just generally more likely to be poor when they grow up. Sorry about that (Keister 2003Keister 2004).
    Your kids are more likely to be poor when they grow up.
  • Your children are less likely to go to university (Workman 2011). The theory, put forward by Robert Zajonc, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, holds that the greater the number of children in a family and the shorter the time between their births, the lower will be the intelligence of the children, particularly those born later (Downey 1995; Goleman 1985). One hypothesis given for this is "resource dilution", the more kids you have, the further your resources need to stretch – and that includes academic resources (Booth and Kee 2009; Downey et al 2001; Cáceres-Delpiano 2006). And besides, can you afford to pay for all the uni fees? (Keister 2003).
  • Recall that single-children are more likely to experience divorced parents than those with siblings (see above). Well unfortunately, the adhesive quality of offspring wanes as the family grows in size (Lillard and Waite 1993). Too many children can put extra stress on parents (Heitler 2013). Parental arguments are bad for everyone in a family.  The more the parents fight with each other, the more likely it is that the siblings will imitate their parents.

And there you have it. I hope that by understanding the implications of each family size, you can make an informed choice on the size of your brood. To assist you in your journey, I will be updating this post frequently as new research arises. So why not bookmark or pin it for future reference?

Mengenai Saya

Masochistic Mommy

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