Consensual Parenting

Hello friends. Sorry it has been so long. Lots of cooking and things to talk about. For now, a parenting topic.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what consent means in the context of parenting. We live in a community that talks about consent a lot, and about how consent is not the absence of “no” it is the presence of “yes.”

Now that our daughter is over a year, they say that their “needs” and “wants” are no longer the same thing. But what does that look like? And aren’t her wants still important?

This has come up as we have begun the process of night weaning. The great thing about attachment parenting is that it is all about what is best for the family. It was getting to the point where having our daughter in our room, and nursing her to bed, and then nursing her whenever she woke up, and then having her in our bed for most of the night… well, you can see where this is going. It wasn’t working for us.

And thinking about consent, what does that mean about my body and doing extended breastfeeding with my daughter? I was starting to resent the night nursing and feeling like I wanted my body back, at least during the night.  So saying no to my daughter at times, about my body, at night, feels a little like getting some autonomy back. It also means finding other ways of comforting her during the night. Whether that means my wife going in, or me snuggling with her in the rocking chair, we are forming a new relationship.

Trying to put her down has been hard for all of us. We started without me in the room, and now both of us are trying to put her down and I’m trying to put her down without nursing at naptime. I always nurse her before sleep, but the idea is that she doesn’t fall asleep nursing and that we say “night night” to nursing and she knows she can nurse again in the morning. It doesn’t work to wrestle with her, and get her to lay down, it just helps to reiterate over and over that she can nurse in the morning and rock her and wait for her to ask to get in her crib.

This is what brought up this idea of consensual parenting. The nights when she goes to bed without screaming are nights when we do what she wants (other than nursing), be that giving her water, holding her, whatever it is, and then letting her decide when she is reading to lay down and rest. We can’t force her to sleep, but we can calm her down, set the environmental, and wait for that “yes.”

This is not the same as not setting boundaries. In fact, the biggest boundary we are setting right now is around my body and saying goodnight to breastfeeding. And we model boundaries all the time. But I think the idea of consent, of truly child-led parenting, and trusting that she knows what she needs, is a great way of thinking about it. This new attitude has allowed me to listen to her more and will hopefully lead to more peaceful nights.


So as you know by now, the lack of exposure in our culture to breastfeeding is one of my big pet peeves. So I was pleasantly surprised to come across this picture in one of those free parenting magazines:

I love this picture for many reasons. One is that you can see the whole breast, it’s not peeking out from the hole of a nursing bra, it’s not even covered by the top of a shirt, it’s just there. I also love that you can see some of the areola, but not too much. It’s actually a great example of a good latch (and how would women know what a good latch looks like when we never see pictures like this?!?!).  I love the content and peaceful look on the baby’s face. What better argument for breastfeeding than that face, right?

So in relation to this topic, I wanted to comment on two TV shows and their depiction, or lack thereof, of breastfeeding.

One is the show Up All Night. We never really find out whether or not she is breastfeeding (or why), but in a recent episode they travel on an airplane and it is clear that their daughter is taking a bottle. There is some comedy around a mid-security line diaper change as well as some anxiety about running out of bottles (you know what you never run out of on a long trip? breast milk!). Anyway, I think this show missed an opportunity for some comedy, because you know what is hilarious? Trying to breastfeeding standing in a security line. Or, as I recently experienced, nursing a squiggly 10 month old during take-off and holding her feet so she doesn’t kick the person sitting next to you. But you only have one free hand so you have to alternate holding one foot at a time. So she kicks the person next to you with her free foot. And she is having a blast. Comedy. I’m just saying, those writers missed out.

The next show is the L Word. Don’t get me started on the many problematic things about this show. But you know something this show doesn’t lack? Boobies! There are breasts everywhere, all the time, usually for sex. However, when one of the characters has a baby, they refer to breastfeeding but NEVER SHOW HER DOING IT! So we learn that breasts are for sex and that breastfeeding is something to hide. This on a show about lesbians! LESBIANS! Aren’t they supposed to be feminists or something?!?! ARGGG!!!

Does anyone have any good media examples of breastfeeding to share?


Dream Feeding-My Favorite Feedings

Sorry it has been a million years. Between the holidays and the baby crawling and cruising, blogging has taken a WAY backseat. But here we go.

So my friend, over at frecklesinthefog turned me on to the idea of Dream Feeding way back in September. This is the idea that if the baby goes to bed at 8, she will be up at 12 to eat. And if I don’t go to bed till 10-10:30, this can be difficult. So why not feed her in her sleep when I go to bed at 10pm? The theory is that she will then sleep till maybe 1 or 2am. I haven’t done that this often, since she often wakes up once before we go to bed to eat. But lately she has been sleeping solidly when she goes down around 8. So I’ve begun Dream Feeding her. I’m not sure it works in terms of sleeping longer, but it has become one of my favorite feedings of the day. Here is why. I rarely get to watch her sleep now since she is sensitive to light as she is first falling asleep (either at night or for naps). So with the Dream Feeding, we have a little light on and I can watch her sleeping. She is so peaceful and beautiful, it is truly magically. Secondly, not only do I get to watch her sleeping, I get to watch her nursing. The way she puts her little hand on my breast and snuggles up to me is just precious. I also relish this time as my wife often falls asleep next to us and so I get to look at both of my loves so sweet and peaceful. I am starting to look forward to these feedings, both for the extended sleep, and the ability to see and appreciate my bonding with the baby.

I nurse our daughter down to sleep. For naps, for bedtime, that is the way it is. I have stopped worrying about this and have accepted that it is what is normal for us and that is totally fine. It can be inconvenient if I need to be away, but babies are not meant to be convenient. I recently came across this quote in the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.

“You may hear the advice that letting you baby fall asleep at the breast creates a ‘bad habit’ because it sets up ‘undesirable sleep associations’ that require you to be there for every nap and bedtime. That’s just not true. The natural design is that babies, nurse, and often they fall asleep at the breast. You don’t ‘teach’ them this, and it’s not a bad habit. It’s just normal” (page 231).

So, that being said, much of our nursing ends up being in the dark as I am trying to get her to go to sleep. Recently I have been offering the breast more during the day (with the fantasy that she will sleep more at night) and to sooth any fussing. This means we have also been doing more “conversational nursing.” This is my other favorite kind of feeding. This is when we talk and play and bond and nurse all at the same time. This can involve her playing with my necklace or my mouth. It often involves me smiling at her playfulness and her stopping nursing for a second to smile up at me. She will often make happy moaning eating noises. These are often short, but wonderful little moments of reconnecting throughout her very busy and social day.

I wanted to share these nursing experiences because I believe these are the kinds of behaviors that mothers often don’t discuss with each other, especially as our babies get older and society believes they should be sleeping through the night and eating mainly solid food. These two nursing experiences are good reminders of the way in which breastfeeding is more than nutrition, it is an important way of connecting.

“Feeding rooms” and more breastfeeding in public

So we went to a big brand new baby store in the area today. I find those places overwhelming but we needed something (cause every baby needs a thanksgiving outfit, right?) and my wife loves shopping. It had a lot of nice stuff as well as the usually obnoxious “boys” and “girls” sections and so much stuff that we don’t need that is marketed to new parent anxieties. But what I want to talk about is the feeding room, which is code for a private and separate breastfeeding room.

Many of these big baby stores have these room as do many malls. On the one hand how nice and thoughtful, right? The rooms usually have comfortable chairs and are bright and cheerful. For breastfeeding parents who don’t feel comfortable in public what a nice option.

BUT, rooms like this segregate breastfeeding moms and further enforce the message that we need to hide. I refuse to go into these rooms to feed my daughter. I realize this can be a complicated choice for some moms. I totally respect women who make the choice to use those rooms. But I choose not to. And I want to change things so that women can feel comfortable breastfeeding in public.

I had to breastfeed while we were there and I sat at a chair at the front of the store and fed her. I hate being told to hide when feeding her. It means I can’t participate in whatever is going on. Lately, because she is very distractible, I’ve had to go in a quiet room when we are at friends houses or our bedroom if we have company. But that is because of where she is at not because I feel I need to hide. My job as a mom is not to make other people comfortable by hiding my body. My job is to care for and feed my daughter whenever and wherever I need to. And maybe to teach her some self esteem and body confidence along the way.

Nudes and Breastfeeding

So naked women are exciting, yes?

Today we went to the Museum of Fine Arts. I was excited to see the exhibit “Degas and the Nude,” not because I particularly love Degas, but because I am always interested to see whats going on at the MFA and, as a Gender and Women’s studies minor (go Obbie GAWS!) am interested in exploring the idea of the naked female body as an object. I was curious to see if the exhibit would engage in the complexity (or straightforward misogyny) of men painting random female bodies for the viewer. There were some interesting pieces of women in brothels, but all the text predominately talked about the different techniques Degas used, not the subject matter. I left feeling a little blah, that I don’t like Degas very much, and that there wasn’t anything particularly evocative about the exhibit. To be fair, the babe cried a lot and so we were somewhat distracted. It was also pretty crowded, which always turns me off.

What I did become aware of was how many children were at the exhibit. Some 5-6 year old children, but also many children in their early teens, of all genders. Now, I look forward to when I can bring our baby to a museum and engage with her about all that she sees, whether it is complicated, oppressive, or otherwise. And I want to raise her in a household where being naked is normal and there is no shame around it. However, I realize this is not the world in which many children are raised and I’m guessing that many of these parents would not allow their children to see nudity in another context.

Which lead me to thinking about breastfeeding in public (to be fair, most things lead to that topic for me these days). The most awkwardness I have ever encountered around breastfeeding has been around families who have teen/preteen children, where the parents feel uncomfortable having their children see a woman breastfeeding. It’s interesting to think about how these paintings are actually quite erotic, but because they are “art” they are seen as acceptable. But when I breastfeed, a totally non-sexual act, it makes people uncomfortable because I am a real person in a public space (is that why they are uncomfortable?).

However, there is something intimate about feeding my child. And as I write this, I realize that I am perhaps supporting that idea that sexuality should remain hidden and that the only reason it is okay that I breastfeed in public is because it is non-sexual. Hmmm. I guess I just wish that women’s bodies and sexualities were allowed to be in the open in a way that isn’t objectifying. So while I shouldn’t have to hide when I need to feed my child, people shouldn’t have to hide and shame their sexuality either.



One of Degas’ more interesting nudes. I love the hair.