do you read, watch TV, or text while breastfeeding? Bad, bad mother

It seems like whenever we mothers manage to do something right, the media simply nudges the bar a little higher- just enough to put it safely out of our reach once again. Oh, you bought organic milk, huh? Was it from grass-fed cows? I didn’t think so. Back to the end of the loser line, mom.

Last week, author Sherry Turkle gave this radio interview on NPR’s Science Friday to promote her new book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Overall, her book sounds like (full disclosure: have not read) a fascinating exploration of the fracturing of our attention in our newly screen-dominated world. This is something I think about all the time, and when I catch myself, in Turkle’s words, “pushing the swing with one hand while texting with the other,” I stop, I put the smartphone away, I give my children the gift of my full attention for those few minutes.

I also worry about what that screen dependency will create in our generation of little ones, raised in a time when Nintendo can freely admit their new 3D gaming system might  negatively impact developing brains without anyone batting an eye. And if our children never learn to entertain themselves without screens, to experience the gift of boredom, what else may they lose? “If we don’t teach our children how to be alone,” Ms. Turkle says in this interview, “they’ll only learn how to be lonely.”

But then Ms. Turkle built what was, for me, at least, a bridge too far. As her ultimate example of just how distracted parents have become, she gave the example of a breastfeeding mother who dares to text while nursing her child. “This is the time when bonding between mother and child is the most consequential,” Turkle scolded. And here’s this mother being so selfish. Turkle suggested a nursing mother should be making eye contact with her baby while nursing, and doing nothing else.

Maybe it’s been a while since Turkle breastfed, but I can still remember those early months with each of my three newborns. They nursed eight times a day, for thirty minutes at a stretch, and that’s if I was lucky; on bad days they just nursed all day long.  I would not have survived those hours without Dr. Phil reruns, the phone to call my mother, and a My Brest Friend Pillow so I could read Us Weekly with one hand, or something else not too taxing on my sleep-deprived brain. There were many, many moments that I gazed down into my newborn’s eyes with great love, eyes that probably couldn’t even see me clearly yet. But there were other moments that I saved my sanity by daring to multitask.

I think this is an unfair expectation of nursing mothers, and this silly stakes-raising is all too common in our experiences as modern parents: you’re not a real mother unless you breastfeed exclusively. And oh yeah, for six months, no rice cereal till then. And oh yeah, you can’t do anything else to ease your incredible isolation, loneliness, and exhaustion while you’re sitting there. 

At least one phone caller to NPR’s Science Friday agrees with me

Unidentified Woman (Caller): Hi. I just wanted to call to comment about the statement that women should not text while they’re breastfeeding their infants. And I just think that’s pretty ridiculous. I don’t myself text, but I do a lot of other things while I nurse my child. We spent a lot of time nursing. And if I didn’t do other things, I would be bored senseless and resentful about breastfeeding… All the while I’m still checking in with my child. And I just think it’s silly to say that women can’t do something else while they’re nursing their child. It does not interfere with bonding. Thank you. Bye-bye.

What, if anything, did you do to pass the time while breastfeeding? Do you think it’s an acceptable time to multitask?