Bringing Up Bébé: Breastfeeding & The ‘Perfect’ Mom

Welcome to week four of this book study and we’re officially halfway through! I am so appreciative of the ladies who have either joined in the conversation through the comments, linked up to share their thoughts, or even co-hosted with me. I have learned so much, and continue to do so, as I’ve read through the first eight chapters and I can’t wait to see what other kinds of French wisdom lies beyond the next corner. lisa two martinis.001

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I am excited to introduce to you our next guest blogger! Please welcome Lisa from the blog Two Martinis! She’s currently pregnant with her second child, who is due in April, and spends her time loving on her adorable son. When discussing which chapters she’d like to discuss, Lisa was pretty adamant about guest blogging for these particular chapters about breastfeeding and returning to work. I too, found myself (for the first time I might add, during this reading) at odds with the French practice related to the length of time a new mom breastfeeds and stays home with their newborn.

Without further adieu, here’s Lisa and her thoughts on chapters 7 & 8!


Hi! I’m Lisa and I write over at my lifestyle blog, ‘Two Martinis’. I spend my days running around after my toddler and incubating a tiny little human who will be born in April! This whole motherhood thing is exhausting and so rewarding. I’ve found ‘Bringing Up Bebe’ to be fairly thought provoking, and I’m happy to be able to share my thoughts on chapters 7 & 8 with you! I found these chapters especially interesting because I’m a huge fan of breastfeeding and I’m also a stay-at-home mom. I guess I don’t have that much in common with French moms, but we’ll get into that…

Bebe Au Lait

The way Pamela Druckerman describes French women throughout this book (“Bringing up Bebe”) is fascinating to me, but especially so in this chapter, in which French moms come across as put together, happy, and even (gasp) sexy, albeit somewhat unfriendly.

The first difference she identifies between American moms and French moms, directly after the birth of a baby, is that French mothers don’t breastfeed, or at least they don’t breastfeed for longer than a few days. Now, I’m not sure what the statistics are around this assertion, but I find it pretty shocking in general. I guess, living in America, I was under the impression that everyone knows the benefits of breastfeeding, and they at least try to stick with it for a few weeks, if not months or years. Personally, I nursed my daughter for the first year of her life and then I still nursed her a few times each day until she was around 18 months old, at which point my milk supply dried up from pregnancy. Anyway, the thought that French moms don’t even try to breastfeed because of the inconvenience factor seems really counterintuitive to me, but I definitely see how it would make their lives a bit easier/more convenient!

Druckerman describes, “French mothers generally aren’t won over by the health arguments involving IQ points and secretory IgA. What does persuade them to nurse, he says, is the claim that both they and the baby will enjoy it. Many French mothers would surely like to breast-feed longer than they do. But they don’t want to do it under moral duress or flaunt it at two-year-olds’ birthdays. Powdered milk may be worse for babies, but in no doubt makes the early months of motherhood a lot more relaxing for French moms.”

Druckerman then goes on to describe that French women are very dedicated to losing ‘baby weight’ within a few months, postpartum. So, it appears, from this book, that French moms aren’t opposed to inconveniences when it comes to their appearances, even though they can’t be inconvenienced for their baby’s health. (Sorry if that statement seems harsh, it’s just what I got from this particular chapter!) And their bodies aren’t the only thing that French women want to claim back postpartum, they also want their pre-baby identities back, which means using child care and going back to work and having a house that isn’t overrun with baby toys, and generally fitting the baby into their lives instead of the other way around.

“In France, the dominant social message is that while being a parent is very important, it shouldn’t subsume one’s other roles.”

I guess the piece I’m missing in this chapter is… what about the kids?

Yes, I can see how it would be great if I could spend money on part-time child care so that I could go to the gym and get my pre-baby body back quicker (although, sidenote, breastfeeding made me lose the weight within a month or so… muscle tone, however, was a whole different story), but I didn’t have the energy to do this when my baby was still a newborn. If I had a few extra hours, I was resting or relaxing or cuddling my baby or doing other things I enjoyed. Yes, I worked out, but I didn’t pressure myself to do it just so I could look great.

What message does it send to children that having a baby is an ‘inconvenience’ and something that must be gotten over quickly? While I agree that women should maintain a semblance of their pre-baby identities and be more than ‘just’ a mom, I also think that it’s completely unrealistic that moms shouldn’t expect their entire world to change after having a baby.

I don’t think that moms are martrys, so I don’t think that they should act like sacrificing themselves is necessary or even admirable. I think that parents should go on date nights regularly and moms should work out and have careers (if that’s what they want to do) and maintain relationships with friends.

That being said, bodies change, marriages change, family dynamics change, careers can change, relationships with friends change, priorities change, routines change… everything changes! I find that the most frustrated parents seem to be the ones who aren’t accepting of this and continue to try to fit a square peg in a round hole – meaning their child into a non-child-friendly life. I think that having the expectation that life can simply continue on as usual, even with an additional family member, is unrealistic at best and potentially harmful at worst.

The Perfect Mother Doesn’t Exist

Did you know that, according to Druckerman, almost all French women go back to work after having a baby? I didn’t! Evidently, this is made easier by government run day cares. This is another chapter that had me scratching my head… I love staying at home with my daughter and I’m simply surprised that more French women don’t stay at home if they can afford to. I guess in America financial concerns are a major factor for women to either go back to work or stay at home, and those concerns are made easier in France, since with cheap daycare, it’s almost a no-brainer that a woman working is better for her family’s financial situation. So the stereotypical French mom is a working mom with a ton on her plate, who spends a large portion of her time away from her child, doing adult-type things and leaving the education of her child(ren) to the very-skilled daycare providers.

And then Druckerman goes on to describe the ‘stereotypical’ American parent whose “one-year-old had at-home tutors in French, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. When her child was two, the mother dropped the French but added lessons in art, music, swimming, and some sort of math. Meanwhile, the mother, who’d quit her job as a management consultant, was spending most of her time applying to two dozen preschools.” The assertion is basically that Americans have the tendency to be overly involved with their children in general. That we follow our kids around the playground, narrating every step they take, while French moms sit on the periphery and simply observe.

Here, I guess I’m more French, because I simply don’t have the will nor the energy to narrate Clara’s every move, and I certainly don’t have her signed up for any language classes. To each parent their own, and I certainly know a couple of moms who fit into the American stereotype Druckerman describes, but I think that generally moms in America don’t relate to that at all. The moms I know are more concerned with getting through their days in one piece, and less concerned about their child’s collegiate prospects before they enter preschool. I wonder if our media simply makes it seem like American parents are more overly-involved than they actually are, or whether this is a breed of parent that only exists in certain parts and societies of America.

For American mothers, guilt is an emotional tax we pay for going to work, not buying organic vegetables, or plopping our kids in front of the television so we can surf the Internet or make dinner. If we feel guilty, it’s easier to do these things. We’re not just selfish. We’ve ‘paid’ for our lapses.” She continues, “French mothers absolutely recognize the temptation to feel guilty. They feel as overstretched and inadequate as we Americans do. After all, they’re working while bringing up small children. And like us, they often aren’t living up to their own standards as workers or parents. The difference is that French mothers don’t valorize this guilt. To the contrary, they consider it unhealthy and unpleasant, and they try to banish it.”

Here I will say, that if this description is true, French women have it right.

This chapter concludes with my favorite sentence in the book thus far. A Parisian friend of Druckerman assesses herself as a mother with this simple response, “In general I don’t doubt whether I’m good enough, because I really think I am.”

I can fully identify with this. I actually don’t feel a lot of guilt when it comes to my 18-month-old daughter. I had almost no anxiety when she was born and I still don’t feel worried about her health, future, temperament, etc. I also don’t concern myself with what she’s doing at every second or what she’s thinking or how what I’m doing is affecting her. Quite simply, I do the best I can every day and that’s more than good enough for me. I can’t explain what makes me a laid-back and confident parent, I just know that it seems natural to me. I don’t feel guilty and I don’t think I’m a bad mom. I’m certainly the best mom my daughter is ever going to have, which I plan to remind her of when it gets closer to Mothers Day. Anyway, if you’re a mom I hope you can say something similar. I hope that you feel good enough, because you are.

To Link Up:

  1. Link up your blog post relating to this book study (not a link to your blog) and chapters discussed.
  2. I encourage you all to visit and leave meaningful comments to each of the ladies who are linking up.
  3. Tweet or Instagram your posts and this book study with the hashtag #bebebookstudy so we can easily find each other!

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Lisa is a lifestyle blogger at ‘Two Martinis‘. She loves writing about a little bit of everything, but the topics closest to her heart are marriage, pregnancy, and motherhood. Through her writing, she hopes to encourage other women and mothers in whatever stage of life they’re in. 

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  • Breastfeeding hasn’t always been the norm in America. My parents weren’t breastfed (born in the 50s) and I think it was fairly common during that time to not be…probably why the upswing in 80s parents breastfeeding and having more home births. Another thing about France is they get a lot of vacation days (I read it’s 30)! The European modal of work/life balance is much more family friendly.

    I wonder though if the breastfeeding rate goes up the further you are outside Paris.

    • I would definitely agree…I’m not sure what the norm is for breastfeeding in regards to a few decades ago, but the drop in breastfeeding mothers in France had to do with them going back to work so soon after the baby was born. I think there’s more studies to show the nutritional benefits to nursing up until the first year, but I would think once a little one begins eating solid foods they no longer need to nurse.

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