New babies are pure and untainted and as a new Mum, I, like many, was determined to ‘get it right.’ Getting it right means following all the official advice to the letter – or at least that was the plan.

NHS and government guidelines are very clear on screen time for babies, stating that children under the age of 2 should not spend any time passively watching television. Not any time at all. None. Whether it is the fear of damaging their growing brains, affecting their mental health or more encouraging laziness leading later on to obesity, it is not clear. But anyone with a toddler will know that these guidelines are unrealistic.

We are living in unprecedented times, and with the absence of any activity that requires leaving the house, the television has become our go to form of entertainment for our son and there are plenty of reasons why screen time isn’t the worse thing in the world and as of today I am going to stop beating myself up about the amount of television my 1-year-old watches.

Television is the only way I can get my son to stay still. As a new walker, he is determined to explore every low and high of our still un-baby-proofed living room. It has its practical uses, allowing all manner of grooming activities: nail trimming, hair cutting, even teeth-brushing, but its most important role is giving myself and my partner a break from crawling after our son on our solid parquet floor. We crouch poised ready to catch him as he falls over yet again. My heart is in my mouth any time he is on his feet and it’s not healthy that this be for an extended amount of time.

Similarly, without screen time, parents are expected to entertain their children every minute they are awake, and frankly, I don’t have the energy. I can sing songs and dance around but only for so long. Children’s attention spans are fickle and it is challenging to keep them constantly entertained and learning. Television is a bottomless pit of information and at this age my son is learning so quickly. Learning to wave and nod his head are some of the things I am convinced he has learned from television as well as a few words, plenty of actions and noises.

The television is a portal into a world we cannot take him to, (pandemic or no pandemic) and like us he will learn about far-flung galaxies and the ice-cold Antarctic from the comfort of the living room. Television can be a real source of inspiration and does well to feed curious minds. I can see no way in which learning about the world from the television is any better or worse than learning from a book, it can be the perfect accompaniment.

In the absence of social interaction from play dates and just being out and about in the community, characters on television have become the people who children get to know the world by, and it is no bad thing. I have noticed the BBC, in particular, do a great job at celebrating diversity, showing people from all walks of life, and all over the world, people we may not have in our own community. It is important that children see diversity and grow up with it if we are to build an anti-racist and anti-discriminatory society and television should support that learning.

And finally, if there is one thing I have learned about myself during my first year of parenting, it is that I am a massive hypocrite and I don’t really want to be a hypocrite. Whether it is eating the treats I deny my son, or preventing him from sitting in front of the television like I do all day, I don’t want to be a parent who has double standards. I, like a lot of people, have an office job and spend much of my day in front of a screen. In this digital age, it is probable that my son too could end up with a job that also relies on a screen, is it worth fighting this inevitability? To relax, I turn the television on, or scroll through my phone and this is all visible to my son. Screens can be a great source of inspiration, education and laughter, and I don’t want to deny my son those things. They will never replace the real thing, though: walks in the woods, visiting a farm, or talking in real life to real people, but at the moment we don’t have those opportunities. So for me, it is time to relax about screen time, accept that it is our culture, our future and right now, it can be the escapism we need.

Updated: Aug 31, 2020

It’s World Breastfeeding Week and I am filled with bittersweet memories of the short time I breastfed my baby boy. I was in awe of how wonderful my body was to be able to nourish him and give him everything he needed to grow. It was a privilege but I would be lying if I said I didn’t find breastfeeding hard, both physically and emotionally and unfortunately it didn’t last long.

After 9 months of giving my body over to the little human I was making inside of me, I was ready to have my body back. I felt trapped by the constant need to go to the toilet, his head taking up the space my bladder usually occupied. I wanted to wear something other than the few bump-friendly outfits I had on rotation: thick stripes, thinner stripes, multi-coloured stripes. I was desperate for sleep having suffered from bouts of insomnia fuelled by anxiety. It was such a relief when my little human was born, I assumed my body was mine again but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I was now his source of food, warmth and comfort. I was needed at every cry. He was hungry and I had to help him. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t go to the toilet. But it wasn’t about me anymore.

In the first few days cluster feeding made me feel like a hamster trapped on a wheel. I would wake up from a couple of hours sleep, my breasts full and uncomfortable expected to do it all again. He wasn’t the best feeder and of course, we were both still learning. Each feed was a challenge and nowhere near as easy and convenient as I thought it should be. I feared going out in case he woke up and I’d need to wrestle a screaming baby to my breast in public. I was afraid of what people would think of me. I felt like a I was terrible at being a mother. Breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world, they had said, so why was it so difficult?

I would spend hours on Google, often in the dead of night, searching for someone to tell me what I was doing wrong. Why was he crying all the time? Why was it so painful? How long was it going to be like this? I felt like for him to be that hungry I mustn’t have been feeding him at all, there can’t have been enough milk, perhaps he wasn't latching correctly. Midwives often said “if it hurts you are doing it wrong.” I googled for answers, but I didn’t find them.

The midwives would come and weigh him and ask how he was feeding. Approving smiles were made when I told them he was “exclusively breastfed.” Michelin star food for babies and I was providing it. It was the very best for him, they said, but it didn’t feel that way to me. I was frightened to introduce formula fearing bottles would confuse him. It would hold us back and I felt like we were making no progress at all. I would hold back tears saying I was finding it difficult, he didn’t latch well, he screamed taking in so much air the milk would often come back up. They would remark how well I was doing; he seemed happy. What I was experiencing was all normal and to be expected. He was gaining weight; there was nothing wrong.

When I first gave birth, I went home with my newborn in a daze, riding a high of unconditional love, adrenalin and hormones, which lasted the next few days. But when the hormones wore off and the adrenalin disappeared my need for sleep was so urgent I would cry at every feed, I knew something needed to change. I gave up after just three weeks.

Knowing now my experience was normal and likely had I persevered, I would still be breastfeeding now but I wasn’t prepared for what it was like and my expectations fuelled my desire to give up. Had I known I wasn’t doing anything wrong and this was just how it was, I wouldn’t have blamed myself as much as I did. I had heard it was hard, but I knew few people that had got through the hardship and out of the other side. There seemed to be two types of people, those that found it easy and those that had given up.

I hated that had given up. It took me some time to come to terms with the fact I was no longer feeding him myself. I had been selfish and wanted my body back. I felt there was a stigma to putting myself first. I denied my baby the nutrients he needed for a couple of extra hours sleep each night and to feel comfortable in my body again. But the truth was I was happier. I was now able to bond with him because I was more relaxed, better rested. I cried less. There shouldn’t be a stigma attached to doing what is right for you and your family. Formula isn’t a bad thing. Looking back now, with a healthy, happy and thriving baby, exclusively formula-fed, (well and solids) I know we made the right choice.

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