The Mother Who Doesn’t Nurse Her Baby

The Mother Who Doesn’t Nurse Her Baby

Yesterday I attended a special end-of-year activity at my daughter’s school, where I sat next to another mother I’m friendly with.
“Mazal tov!” I told her, “I heard you just had a baby!”
“Thank you! Yes! She just turned a month old.”
“Thank G-d, how wonderful! How did you manage to come without her? You fed her right before you left home?”
“No, I don’t nurse. I couldn’t do this,” and she gestured to her 9-year-old daughter, implying, I understood, that she couldn’t cope as a mother of 5 kids, “if I did.”
I rarely meet mothers who don’t nurse their babies. But on those rare occasions, they generally present a justification for their unusual choice.
So I expected this mother to also offer a reason for her decision, about the shape of her nipples or her low milk supply or that she gives birth by C-section and is too worn out from the recovery to nurse.
But no, she just left it at that. Nursing doesn’t work for her, and she doesn’t do it. No explanations offered or, she felt, necessary.
And I left that conversation stunned. Awe-struck, actually.
I should add that this woman is a dedicated mother. She is also a highly intelligent, well-read person who has certainly heard all about the studies and statistics related to the benefits of nursing.
And she, still, has decided that for her and her family, nursing is not the right thing to do. And she doesn’t give a hoot what others might think of her for doing so.

And I was reminded of a different conversation I had last week, with the mother of my daughter’s best friend at their end-of-year gymnastics performance.
In my neighborhood, it is unusual for women to choose to be stay-at-home moms, like me. About as unusual as it is for a mother to not nurse, in fact.
So this woman, who is a lovely person and also a dedicated mom of 5 kids, was telling me about how she just went back to her job in hi-tech after 8 months of maternity leave. She works 8.5 hours at her workplace but usually has to continue working for an hour or two at home after her kids go to bed.
“And what do you do, Chana?”
And I told her I’m a stay-at-home mom and I have this blog for mothers who speak English.
“But then what do you do all day?”
And I found myself, suddenly, completely unable to account for how I spend my days.
I’m not some big balabusta who spends her days cooking and cleaning and doing laundry. And my blog? How much time does that take up? So I inflated things a little, and told her I spend “at least 2 hours a day” on my blog. And then I spend a lot of time “taking care of my home” and “doing things for my kids” and “davening” but I found it tough to make a case for my lifestyle to this mother sitting next to me who manages to do the same things I do while also holding down a demanding full-time job.
It wasn’t, mind you, that this mother painted an idyllic picture of her life as a mother with a demanding career. She told me how she feels like she is always working, her mind never stops racing, even when she’s asleep! And her older daughter complains about how much she works. And in some ways, because of the cost of daycare, it would actually save her money to work less.

But despite her disclaimers, a week later I am still piecing together my shattered sense of self-worth after my conversation with her.
I wish that I could be more like that mother who doesn’t nurse. To know that it’s enough that I’m deeply happy and satisfied with my life as it is. And that I’ve made the best decisions for me and my family. No explanations offered or, as that mother felt (and I wish I did too) necessary.

48 comments

  1. Chana, you could have written this for me!! Haha.
    I am also a mother who doesn’t nurse (although in my case so far I have nursed at least a bit as long as I can but I struggle with most of issues you mentioned and it’s actually not been possible for me to do it fully without seriously risking my baby’s health). And I come from a family where everyone only nurses, live in a community that is the same and often get asked why I don’t. I have consciously started not explaining it as well but it took a lot of courage to do that. If asked, I will explain but will not otherwise.
    As far as statistics go, by the way, newest research I’ve seen actually puts in doubt many of the benefits of nursing alone. It seems that mothers who do nurse often also do many other things that benefit their babies and the benefits are a combination of all those things. Meaning that a mother who can’t nurse or decides it is not right for her kids or her family can be doing all those other things also (eg feeding healthy diet, just as an example). Just goes to show being a good mother doesn’t mean just doing one single thing this way or that way but it’s a whole life-long creative introspective hard-working journey that is different for everyone.

  2. By the way, just wanted to add, being a stay at home mom is my dream job!! I’m working up to being able to do it. Nothing to be ashamed of.

  3. Here is my take on how to be a confident parent:
    1. Remember that everyone is unique and has their unique situation. Don’t judge yourself by what someone else is doing.
    2. When you hear a talk by “Super Mom” allow yourself to feel inspired, not threatened or inadequate.
    3. Perfect parenting is not the best way to bring up healthy kids.
    4. Every parent has their talents and strong points, utilize them to create a unique parenting style that will help your children thrive.
    5. Give lots of positive feedback to your spouse and hopefully he will compliment you in return. Every parent deserves a cheering squad!!

    • JewishMom

      thank you mina, I love hearing your wisdom on motherhood! please explain though how I can feel inspired when hearing about a “supermom”

  4. As a stay at home mom this has also happened to me, that a full time working mother asked me what I do all day long.When I answered “Well cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping etc.” she replied, “But I also do these things”.Like you described in the post, my self worth just plummeted.However I have decided that next time somebody makes a comment like that I should just tell them “Good for you!I am happy you are able to manage that, I know I can’t” and just leave it there. Thank you for this post!

    • I think this is a very important point! I AM a working mother who (somehow) (barely) manages to cook and clean and shop on top of my full work day. And I look at mothers who work more hours or who have a longer commute (BH it’s only 15 minutes door to door for me!) and I wonder how on earth THEY manage! But Hashem knows exactly what is right for each person and what they can handle and gives them that precise life circumstance to allow them to succeed. Even though I fantasize about being a stay-at-home mom and not having to send my kid to a babysitter from 3 months old, even if it were feasible for our family, deep down, I’m not 100% sure it would be the best thing for me. I once heard Rav Ezriel Tauber z”l say something along the lines of, “if you had someone else’s circumstances, not only would you be miserable, but you’d also be ill-equipped to fulfill your very unique purpose that Hashem gave you.”

  5. long-time stay-at-home mother, here, raised by a proud stay-at-home mother who encouraged me to get my degrees and wait until my children were in school before going back to work…

    well, what have i been doing for almost 30 years?
    as my good friend who’s also a stay-at-home-mother taught me to say:

    what have i been doing? Waiting for a Bus!!!

  6. chana your post is very depressing: how is it possible that a mother of 8 who did so many things in her life(techouva alya far from your dear family raising a large famkly and taking care of everyone blogging helping so many women…) hox is it possible that you dont assert yourself!!! i m sorry this is the result of brainwash by the media and the western world. you should pity this woman she is a slave and you are free

  7. i am very touchy on the subject because there is a great lie beneath this. a mom who works 9 hour a day outside home plus in the evening is no more a super mom than you who gives all her energy and time to her kids AND husband. yes you have more time for yourself but you should be proud of yourself sinnce you are able to connect to what real purpose on earth is…connecting to Hashem and revealing His presence.

  8. Savta Ima

    Hi, chana Jenny, great and balanced article. Two thoughts for you on Being Inspired by Supermom”:
    1. Perhaps you have heard of the iconic and brilliant pundit, journalist, and radio talk show host, Barry Farber, unparallelled in his gift for words. I would frequently hear him say that when you hear something being described in superlatives, always ask, “Compared to What?” There’s always something or someone bigger, better, more miserable, whatever. I am not trying to imply that a particular woman you see as a superwoman is less so. Just that – remember to keep it real. Being human and therefore imperfect, superwomen not only have their struggles, but guaranteed if you’d ask, you’d find out they know, and better than anyone looking in on them. I’d say, admiring a superwoman is good because it’s a way to practice vatranut on your own expectations of self, lol.
    2. Way way way back in caveman days when I was in seminary, a discussion came up about why we should read gedolim biographies. One would think it would be for inspiration, so we can aspire to model their greatness and holy ways…but…come on, for real!? It can be depressing! So our Rebbetzin explained that no, read them just to know. Just to know this is what a gadol is like. A gadol is not a superwoman, but each of them is pedestal-level exceptional. So, I’d say, it’s stam good to just know there are moms like this. And then go back to your own beautiful unique four walls and family and self.

  9. Imma Fix It

    Chana, I was a SAHM for over 15 years. During that time, unasked, our Rav, when we consulted him about other things, would look at my husband and say, “Your wife should go to work.” We viewed this as aitzeh, not psak. Husband wanted wife home not working. I am not the best balabusta. My house was rarely neat. I was busy all day. Child care cost more than I would make in a year, we viewed children as our priority. There are many times I was glad I was home. Many many others I wished not. And some of my children nursed better than others, when the nursing coach implored me to give my baby bottles as she was starving, I listened quickly. I do not judge and respect everyone’s choices as their own. I often now wish i was home, and do not make much money but at the moment it is all the money we have coming in. So be happy with your decisions, they are the right ones for you and nobody can second guess you. Hold your head up. Be proud and be awesome.

    • This is what I was trying to say but you said it better than I could have. Parenting like any of these life journeys is taking it step by step and working out what is best in that moment, what your child/husband/relative needs, what you need, what works… then trusting that and hoping you have the right advice, information and clarity. And being ready to adjust again if things change. That’s why it’s so hard because everyone has their own path although you can get advice and inspiration along the way.

  10. Rabbi Noach Weinberg, of blessed memory taught: The Almighty created us to have pleasure. I left medical school to become Torah observant and be a stay-at-home mom for 17 years because it gave me the greatest pleasure possible. It would not have been as deeply pleasurable for me to work as a physician or as anything else outside of my home for many hours during those years of raising a family of young children, so that is the choice I made. But we are all made differently, and so for many women it is genuinely more pleasurable for them to not be stay-at-home moms. We even enjoyed living very simply, without a lot of money to spend.:)

  11. I just love your honesty

  12. the life of that woman who works in hi tech kinda sounds like a nightmare

  13. If a mother has no need to work for a living (ie. her family has the financial stability and she has no psychological need) then why would she go out and get a job?
    Just for the sake of being frantically busy, like women who don’t have a choice?
    Just so she can have extra money and stuff that she’s perfectly contented without?
    Just so she can have a glib answer for silly questions like “what do you do all day?”
    Obviously if you CAN be a homemaker and you LIKE being a homemaker, that’s the only sane thing to do.
    Good for you for being a voice of sanity.

  14. Just have to chime in again after reading all of the comments… I don’t think it’s about placing a value judgement on being a stay-at-home mom vs. a working mom. A SAHM can be a supermom just as much as a working mom can be, AND VICE-VERSA! (Though kol hakavod to everyone offering chizzuk to Chana Jenny!) It’s about feeling confident in the choices you make/the deck of cards Hashem dealt you, and knowing that it’s right for you and your family, regardless of what others are doing and what is considered “normal” or “acceptable” among your neighbhours.

    • I read a beautiful thing in a book, I think it was about a Rosh Yeshiva in London. When his children would come home and comment that the house they had just visited was gorgeous, he would answer: “Yes they do have a lovely house but the nicest house of all is right here at our address.”
      The key is appreciate who you are and what you have! !

  15. what struck me is that there is social criticism no matter what you do: if you don’t nurse you’re a “bad mom” if you stay home you’re “not enough of a balabuste”. but it doesn’t stop there: if you choose to nurse there are rules for that as well – what happens if you keep nursing after your baby is already walking? (hint – many eyebrows rise); if you work outside the home – you are also a “bad mom” and so on…
    Chana Jenny! you taught me that only I can be the best mom for my children. I can never thank you enough for that!

  16. As a full time working mother I will share my thoughts from the other side. Firstly even you mentioned how “She told me how she feels like she is always working, her mind never stops racing, even when she’s asleep! And her older daughter complains about how much she works” Life as a full time working mother is HARD and almost no one is capable of doing it for real. Something is going to have to give and its very hard to balance. The only reason I do it still is for the money I need to support my family… If someone offered to support me fully I would leave right now. Because I am very disciplined and organized I have learned to manage on a daily basis – but suppers are never creative, Shabbos food is always exactly the same and I always feel guilty when my children are off and I’m not. But I totally hear how being a full time MOM is very busy as well – on the few days I was off I realized that… So please do not feel as if your self worth is shattered – I actually envy you – that you are living for real – 24-7… While I only can hope to one day get to really live and grow and fulfill my life’s Tafkid properly. I can go on and on – but I am at work πŸ˜‰ I love reading your insights and inspirational articles when I get a second at work on some lighter workload days. In my home life – not a second for that ;(

  17. I must comment that I WISH I could be home with my kids more- if people knew what little money we have they’d understand that I cannot afford to.

  18. Chana Jenny, when you posted that woman saying, “I do the same thing as you but I work too, so what do you do all day?” I imagined myself thinking – yeah but I’m happier doing it!
    Ok I know you’re all saying no comparison, but a brain that has a tiny bit less to think about – ie only the raising the family part – can have more room for the person to grow as a mother and really “be there” for the children, rather than just “doing the same thing”. I’m home but I feel that I grow by being home, I grow myself as a person and as a mother. So I guess what I’m saying is I’m not just home for my kids, I’m home for me.

    But I’m not negating the last person who said how little money she has. We too have very little, but in my situation BH if I worked it would go to babysitting and childcare that I can’t say I’d make much of that money — which is a good excuse for me to stay home:) CF, if you give me your full name (maybe through ChanaJenny, I’d love to daven for you and your family’s parnassah so that you too can be there for your children more). As Esther Baila Schwartz says: Do not be discouraged by the stage you are in, look for the bracha and good in every single stage. Right now you are in the working stage, that is where you need to be, that is what’s best for you and your family.

    One more thing — I saw a bubby in the comments say: “I used to be a stay-at-home mom and it really FULFILLED me.” And I could imagine that would be me one day saying that. But wait, I’m in the moment now — I better start remembering how FULFILLED I feel and act like it! Cuz all I do is complain about what I’m not getting done because my little ones need me all day!

  19. I was at a gathering for a number of women in which we were asked to go around the room and introduce ourselves and what we do. This question of “what I do” used to agonize me after I left my job a numbers of year ago for lack of satisfaction in my field. I’ve been home caring for my kids ever since. Now I have a special needs kid. I do laundry, dishes, shop, feed my family..Every year I take on a few added adventures, teaching art, translation etc But which most defines me? Every stages of life dislays a different side of me. So when it came to my turn, after “meeting” the teachers, nurses, therapists etc in the room, i just blurted out “I’m a lot more than what I do”, and somehow that suited me. Enough trying to define ourselves in a tiny range of words. We’re all incredible people with strengths and talents, no matter how we spend our days and minutes, no one any better than the next. Just take pride in who you are and whatever you do!

    • I am so so so happy you posted this (I keep coming back to these comments because I feel so many of them are so wise and inspiring). I actually have a “career” at the moment (my husband and I both work part-time so our kids will hopefully never need to go to nursery unless we feel they would benefit from it) but whenever I can, I don’t tell people what I do professionally. What does it even mean what I “do”? I wake up, I feed my baby, I made breakfast and lunches for everyone, I go to work etc?? What part of that do people actually want to know about? For me it’s all important and precious. So I just tend to say I’m a part-time stay at home mom!

    • JewishMom

      nice!

  20. Chana Jenny, love your honesty!

    Well, I don’t nurse (I usually stop around 6-8 weeks pp) AND am a stay at home mom. And happy about both of those!
    One of my favorite quotes is “nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
    And some people really do try to make me feel bad about one or both of those choices. But it doesn’t work.

    I feel and know with all my heart and mind that I am making the right choices.
    Therefore, nobody can make me feel inferior. A woman nurses for 6 months? 1 year? 2 years? Good for her. I don’t see what it has to do with me.
    A woman works 8 hours? Makes 20,000 nis a day? Is the super boss the whole company’s 1000 employees rely on? Good for her. I don’t see what it has to do with me.

    The comparison/feeling inferior or superior does not stop at not nursing/not working. This touches many subjects regarding appearance, chinuch, spirituality, shalom bayis, etc.. I know my own emes. Let others worry about their own.
    I think that is key point to life. “Ezehu ashir? Hasameach b’chelko.”

    • JewishMom

      bless me I should be more like you!

      • I am sorry – maybe the post appeared holier than thou. You do not want to be more like me! I totally agree with the one who said how amazing it is that you find HaShem in so many of your daily tasks and how you run this amazing website jewishmom.com and give chizuk to thousands of mothers!
        In this regard (of being smecha with my chelek) it helps me to formulate in my mind or on paper WHY I am doing what I’m doing.
        Not nursing is a conscious choice. Being a SAHM is a conscious choice. Why did I make these choices? (though it does not end there – the list goes on… living in Eretz Yisrael, chinuch decisions I make for my kids, shalom bayis, hair covering, etc.)
        So I jot down the reasons why I make the choices I make (either mentally or on paper). And why these choices are good for me. Then that is my emes and nobody can tread on it.

        I try to save the guilt for averois and teshuva. I have a lot of those, unfortunately.

  21. all those comments are amazing and so true!

  22. Sorah berger

    The honest truth is that staying home with ones children is the ideal – from a Torah perspective and a parenting perspective. If a woman works today because of a financial need (which is usually the case) it is a less ideal situation but a nisayon she must go through now. It doesn’t mean that she can’t be a great mom and her children won’t turn out well- but in general a mom that is home full time is able to really focus on her kids without the added stress of working outside the house.
    The ideal is to be home! Ive Bh been fortunate to be able to be home for the last 18 years and I wouldn’t have traded this experience for anything else. It was the biggest gift for myself and my children.
    Am I the best housekeeper? Not really, but I know that I tried my hardest to always be there for my children.
    You should never second guess youself with your choice to stay home- you did what is best for your kids and that is the priority for a mother. You did the ideal!

    • The honest truth is that if we are doing our best on the path Hashem has guided us to, that is the ideal.

      We all have unique talents, a unique personality and a unique family situation. Chana Jenny, I love your site, your positivity, your writing and you are an inspiration. You are so talented – I love how you make connections between different events that most of us would not even notice and I come away from your site inspired.

      I remember in the past you wrote that when you were a child you did not envision yourself as a stay at home mom (and I am POSITIVE you did not plan on being such an inspiration for Jewish moms everywhere). Clearly you are precisely where Hashem wants you to be – and that is lucky for all us readers.

      To those who are writing comments, please be sensitive that some of us are on other paths which Hashem put us on, and do not want to be judged as being on a “lesser” path, just as a SAHM does not. As a child I was sure that I was going to be a SAHM, but Hashem sent me elsewhere (I B”H have a large family and a “career” – some would peg me as a “supermom”). I think that I am on the ideal path for me and my family, since this is the one Hashem clearly meant me to be on.

      Chana Jenny, I could not write “JewishMom.com” (dont have any of the talent for that), and perhaps you could not be doing what I do in my specific job. So what? We are all just trying to do our best with our path in life.

      Thank you for always writing thought-provoking and inspiring articles!

    • JewishMom

      thank you! all of these comments from everyone have given me so much chizuk!!!

  23. Sorah berger

    I just wanted to add that I would never have been able to grow spiritually the same way if I was working the past two decades (I still have so much more to work on but I did make some radical changes!). Being home and having more time to daven and talk to Hashem is exactly what women are supposed to be doing. Hashem created Adam to work the fields not Chava. Our main tikun is really to raise our children. Unfortunately we are living in an upside down world where many priorities have been mixed up. From a tznius perspective too the ideal is for women to be home. Our emahos were in tents! We are meant to be home and it really saddens me when I hear women talking negatively about mothers staying home. You should be so proud of what you’ve accomplished the past twenty years!

  24. A woman is queen in her home, her inner kingdom. Her husband and children are her works of art. She has the power to nurture and mold them. Anyone can take over that hi tech woman’s job. Nobody can be your husband’s wife or your children’s mother. I pass my neighbor’s house (she is a babysitter) almost daily and I hear babies crying bec. one babysitter can’t possibly take care of so many babies at once and I feel bad for those babies whose mothers were forced to leave them. We have 18, 20, years to shape, mold, and influence our children. Why give up these precious never to return years when we can be there fully for our children? A woman working 9 hrs a day, no matter how superhuman she is, is definitely shortchanging her children. I’m not judging anyone who is forced to do this but why would anyone willingly do this?

  25. Just to add another perspective, some women are better mothers if they get out and work also. That’s ok. The goal is to be YOUR best.

  26. so emet dk

  27. Who says she’s “supermom?” She said her daughter complains and that her mind is always racing. I am also a stay at home mother, my husband is a teacher, it would definitely be helpful for me to work, but I tell him “how can I?” So many responsibilities to take care of and I don’t want to have a racing mind. I have 5 kids, I’ve always been home. There’s mending (which I enjoy actually), cooking (here and there), tiding up, davening, shiurim that I listen to so I can be a very person. I’d actually enjoy going to work, however, at this point in my life (12 years now) it’s not doable.

  28. I saved this article and now I finally came back to read it. I am that mom now lol. My first 6 I nursed for at least almost a year. They were home-births, water births. Now my 7th baby got 6 weeks of mama’s milk and that’s it. I feel so good about my decision. Because of many other factors in my life I am so happy to not be nursing. There was a transition where I missed it but I am so happy now.

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