ParentsFebruary 9, 2020

Why I warned mums about phones and breastfeeding


Last week Renee Liang, a paediatrician, poet and mother, wrote about a parenting expert’s ‘brexting’ remarks. Here Dr Natalie Flynn responds.

I’m not surprised my comments about “brexting” elicited strong responses from mothers. Unfortunately, they were mischaracterised in an article on The Spinoff.

Dr Renee Liang has written an entertaining and deeply heart-felt ode to her phone which not only keeps her in contact with friends and family but solves everyday problems for her – including whether to buy prawns.

I love my phone for the same reasons. And not just my phone. As I have said in my book, with my first baby, I sometimes ate chocolate and watched reality TV while breastfeeding.

So be clear, I am not telling mothers to give up possibly one of the few things they look forward to in the long days and nights of feeding. My book, Smart Mothering, frees mothers from many such guilt trips.

However the research is clear: there are important times of intimacy between mother and baby, and feeding (whether with a bottle or breast) is one of the main ones. So it is correct to warn against excessive device use, if it leads to little to no mother to baby eye contact.

Dr Liang dismisses the evidence of the “still-face” experiments showing a baby’s adverse reaction to a non-responsive face on the grounds that it is an old experiment. Yes, the initial experiment is from the 1970s, but it has been repeated since then with the same results. First the baby is alarmed, and gradually withdraws their gaze. These studies cannot be ignored.

In my book I stress this, however: “Don’t worry, I’m not telling you about these studies to try to convince you to throw away your phones, rather I simply want you to be aware that how you look and behave when you use your phone is having an impact on your child.”

It’s also suggested that anyone who has breastfed would know that is a time when babies close their eyes and are unaware of whether mother is gazing at them or not. I breast-fed three children for one year each, and in my own experience, they did gaze at my face – a lot. And increasingly so as our relationship grew. I would anticipate the reverse if gaze was ignored.

There’s no problem with texting or taking part in online communities if it takes up a part of feeding times. But if feeding time means phone time to you, I would suggest you may wish to reconsider. Dr Liang says she consulted Facebook to ask if “brexting” was bad. I think there are better authorities.

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