Here are 15 things you should never say to mothers; particularly new ones that are struggling mentally. Some may be obvious, others not so. I’ve heard a lot of these things said to me and to other mothers and let me tell you now…none of them are helpful.
In fact, saying any of these can make things so much worse. I have suffered from baby blues, so I’m speaking from real experience. This post isn’t to attack anybody, just to educate. I also want to admit that I have said some of these things before becoming a mother but I’ve learned from them. Without further ado, let’s get into the things you should never say to mothers.
1.) ‘You Are So Lucky To Have A Baby.’
I know this statement may seem innocent, but when a mother is struggling with a newborn baby, it only promotes deep guilt. It makes a mother feel like she is ungrateful for even thinking motherhood is difficult, let alone expressing it. I can imagine it would be a million times worse for a mother that has suffered from a miscarriage/s or required IVF to conceive. The tougher the journey, the more pressure a mother carries to love every second even when she’s not. Yes we know we are lucky, but that doesn’t mean it’s not challenging and reminding us of that when we are at our lowest lows can be mentally crippling.
2.) ‘My Baby Is So Good, They Hardly Ever Cry.’
If you’ve never had a colicky baby, consider yourself fortunate. Abigail was extremely unsettled in the beginning. She screamed from morning to night which was a big contributor to my baby blues. I felt like such a failure. At my mother’s group, I kept hearing over and over how ‘good’ other babies were because they hardly ever cried as I struggled to calm my own daughter down. It made me wonder…was my child ‘bad’ because they cried? Was I doing something wrong? A nurse told me that when a baby cries, they are healthy. They are expressing themselves as they should. A baby that never cries is more worrisome than one that cries too much. Even if you have a super chilled baby, be mindful of how you express that gratitude to a mother who has no idea what that is like.
3.) ‘When Are You Having Your Next One?’
It’s a question we hear so often. We haven’t even stopped post-natal bleeding yet but people want to know when we are going to do it all again. Let me give you one piece of advice: don’t ever ask this question…ever! Firstly it’s not your business. Secondly, women/gender non-conforming people are meant for more than just popping out babies. Thirdly, if they are in the throes of postpartum depression, the last thing they are thinking of is having another child. It can be hard enough to survive through the day in the beginning. If they ever decide to have more children, let them tell you or wait for the pregnancy announcement.
4.) ‘Your Body Really Bounced Back’ OR ‘Have You Lost The Baby Weight Yet?’
It’s 2020 – we need to stop commenting on other people’s bodies…period! Unless you’ve had a child, you’ll never understand what it’s like to watch your body completely change to grow a human. It’s not just the extra weight. It’s the feet that swell and never return to normal. It’s the sagging breasts from nursing. It’s the stretch marks and in my case, emergency c-section scar. A woman’s body has just done the most miraculous thing ever. They have literally created life and squeezed it out. Let them enjoy the child they gave birth to instead of focusing on aesthetics. It’s rude and not important.
5.) ‘You Should Really Try…’ (Sleep Training, Baby Led Weaning…)
Feel free to suggest something if a parent is struggling, but if they say no or don’t follow through with your idea…STOP. Do not insist that they sleep train, baby led wean, breastfeed etc. It doesn’t matter what worked for your child. Every parent and baby is different and unless we are doing something extremely life-threatening, let us pave our own way as mothers. I know not everybody agrees with how I parent but it has worked for Abigail and more importantly, my methods have helped keep my anxiety/depression at bay. Insisting on your way can threaten to break a system that is keeping another mother afloat.
6.) ‘Didn’t You Know It Was Going To Be Tough?’
I heard this exact statement when I was at my absolute lowest of lows. It wasn’t helpful. Yes, I knew I wouldn’t get much sleep. Yes, I figured it would be a massive adjustment. Yes, I guessed it would be challenging. What I didn’t account for was how the hormones (which were completely out of my control) would render me a sobbing mess on the floor. I didn’t know I would have a colicky baby that cried more than she smiled. I didn’t know I would get mastitis within a week of breastfeeding and that my traumatic birth experience would result in an emergency c-section. These words just made me feel worse.
I will forever love my maternity photos taken by the talented Mabel Kwong!
7.) ‘You’ll Change Your Mind.’
If I had a dollar for every single time I heard these words, I would be pretty wealthy. This won’t apply to all mothers, but it does for those of us that only want one child – or none at all! Did you know I wrote up an entire blog post outlining why we weren’t having anymore children? I nearly published it last year, but at the last minute decided I didn’t owe anybody my explanations. The size of our family is nobody’s business but ours. Please stop telling parents with only one child (or childless parents) that they will change their mind. You don’t know if they can even have anymore children. Regardless of their reason, your job is just to respect their decision.
8.) ‘Breast Is Best.’
STOP telling mothers that breast is best. The level of mum shaming that I saw online after having Abigail was disgusting…and I breastfed exclusively for 13 months! I can’t even imagine what would’ve happened if I had decided to use formula. I subscribe to the notion that fed is best. Yes, breastfeeding has a multitude of benefits, but unless you’ve struggled to breastfeed, you’ll never understand how mentally and physically damaging it can be. I had a healthy milk supply and I still had mastitis, infected nipples and bleeding. What about the mothers that have low supply, multiple bouts of mastitis, poor latching and children with milk protein allergies? Even if a woman doesn’t have a single issue and decides she just doesn’t want to do it, that is her right. Breastfeeding is so tough and mothers need support, not shame if they choose not to do it.
9.) ‘I Would Never…’ (Use Formula, Co-Sleep)
I’m going to let you in on a little secret – nobody cares what you would never do. As mentioned earlier, each parent and child is different. Even if you are completely against co-sleeping, for example, do not tell another mother your opinions. It might be the only way she gets some peace. I have been on the receiving end of these unhelpful statements and all they did was make me more depressed/anxious.
10.) ‘I Could Never Go Back To Work.’
That’s great, sounds like you have a lot of privilege! In some areas of the world, a lot of mothers are not supported enough or have the option to raise their children full-time. For others, their identity lies in their career and that’s okay too. I am extremely lucky that my husband works full-time, we own our house and that I’m able to raise Abigail myself, but I know that’s not the case for everybody else. I’ve spoken to a few mothers now that were complete and utter messes the first time they went back to work and left their child at daycare. The level of guilt was enormous. Shaming them for returning to the workforce is just nasty. It’s the equivalent of kicking somebody when they are already down.
11.) ‘Is Your Child Walking Yet?’
I don’t care if your child was walking when they were 2 days old (can you imagine?!), each child moves differently and travels at their own pace. Abigail didn’t walk until she was 15 months old but the amount of people that asked me or expressed frustration that she wasn’t walking yet caused me to take her to see a physiotherapist purely from fear that something was wrong. Everyone always wants to hurry to the next stage instead of just appreciating the individual child for who they are. Don’t ask, because it really doesn’t matter.
12.) ‘You Need To Break That Habit Or They’ll Manipulate You.’
Somebody said this to me at the most fragile moment of my baby blues. I remember dissolving into tears after they left because it filled me with so much despair. At the time, the only way to get Abigail to nap was to rock her in the baby carrier. I finally felt like I was getting some relief and a ‘well-meaning’ individual told me that I had to stop doing that as it was just a manipulation tactic. I was barely surviving each day and to hear that the one thing that was working was ‘wrong’ sent me over the edge. Firstly, a newborn cannot manipulate you. Secondly, you don’t realise how damaging saying something like that can be. Even if a mother rocks her baby to sleep until they are 2, let them. It’s their business and if it’s working, that’s all that matters.
13.) ‘My Child Sleeps All Night.’
If you’ve said this whilst your baby was in the newborn stage, chances are you were lying. I heard this multiple times in my mother’s group. The babies were only a few weeks old but according to the mother’s, the majority of them were sleeping through the night already. Hmmmm? Even if they happen to be clocking 10-12 hours, telling a sleep-deprived mother who is up every hour night after night is tactless. Be careful what you say.
14.) ‘It Goes So Fast, Enjoy Every Second.’
I know I speak for every struggling mother in the beginning that it doesn’t go fast. It goes slow and each day can feel like you’re just surviving. Especially when you’re changing endless nappies, taking hours to get them to sleep and doing everything you can to stop them crying. In times like these, you cannot enjoy every second. It’s impossible. Once again it promotes this guilt that we are terrible mothers for not savouring each bit of spit-up, exhaustion, loss of identity, cracked nipples and more. This is something I tell my mother friends often: you can be absolutely in love with your child and not love every aspect of parenting. It doesn’t make you any less of a mother. Say that instead of telling a helpless mum to enjoy every second.
15.) ‘Sleep When The Baby Sleeps.’
Great in theory but not that easy. I don’t know about you but when Abigail finally fell asleep for 20 minutes (if I was lucky), I would sit and stare at a wall mind-numbingly exhausted. I couldn’t sleep because I knew she wouldn’t stay down for very long so what was the point? I don’t think this is the worst thing you can say but again it’s not overly helpful.
So What CAN I Say To A Mum?
You may be thinking, well what the heck can I say to mothers then? For my next post, I will be sharing 15 things you should absolutely say to mums, as I never like to end things on a negative note.
Do you have anything to add to the list of things you should never say to mothers? Tell us in the comments below.