I use my phone while breastfeeding, and that's okay

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

I'm writing this while breastfeeding. 

My daughter rests in the crook of my elbow, eyes closed, feet blissfully treading air. As she feeds, my thumb scampers across my phone screen, pecking words out letter by l e t t e r. 

Thank God for autocorrect, I'm thinking. Thank God for my Notepad app. Thank God for Steve Jobs. 

I use my phone nearly every feed. This is something that seems natural in 2018, as natural as checking my email in bed, or (let's face it) flicking through Instagram on the toilet. Not natural at all, in other words. Not natural, but automatic and unthinking and, above all, efficient.

I try to write while feeding, little snatches and thoughts. My phone fills up with half started stories. But mostly I look at online baby forums. Sleep tips. Appropriate developmental play ideas. I obsessively research the benefits of breastfeeding. I read about immuno-compounds and fatty acids. And when I'm exhausted, there's the rabbit hole of Facebook, all the perfect lives unscrolling and unscrolling.

My daughter gives a little happy snort and – oh, there you are! – my God, she is beautiful! Guilt knocks on my heart. 

I put the phone down.

So let's just ask it outright, then: is it bad to use your phone while breastfeeding? Naturally, you need to get online to find out.

One 2015 article tut-tuts that texting and browsing while breastfeeding "undermines bonding". Another cautions that "someday there might be writing on the screen of all mobile phones that says: 'Warning: Not Looking at Your Baby Could Cause Significant Developmental Delays'." But like so many things baby-related, the results are inconclusive. It's hard to study something as huge as a being, as a person becoming who they will be, without correlation and causation mixing themselves into a giant pseudo-scientific mess. 

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So am I damaging my daughter with my smartphone – well, who knows? Part of me wishes it were still 2007, before the question could have existed, when a breastfeed could be no more than that: a breast, a baby, a pause, a gaze. I have a mental image of an angel mother: hair fallen loose on her shoulders, locked in an moment of tilted communion with her babe.

But maybe this is wrong. I get the odd feeling it is actually the Virgin Mary I remember from a painting somewhere, an Old Master. And I wonder if this image of uncompromised, unmediated, un-iPhoned breastfeeding is just another impossible standard.  What the scholar Joan Wolf calls "the ideology of total motherhood" -  a "moral code in which mothers are exhorted to optimise every aspect of their children's lives, beginning with the womb." A system in which we're set up to fail, before we even try. 

So I call my own mum. "When you were breastfeeding me, did you ever do anything else?" She doesn't quite understand the question. "Not really. Sometimes I read a story to your sister." But the TV was in another room. Was it boring, I ask? "It was a break. I could sit down."

She doesn't mention any ecstatic bonding. And I wonder if we have things wrong, these days. Sitting again to feed three hours later, I think of the generations of women before me, back and back and back, this identical nursing pose again and again. Those women feeding their children - not for the beauty of it, not to be like Olivia Wilde in Glamour – but because it was, quite simply, necessary. Before the dinner had to be cooked, the laundry wrung, the older children tended. A moment out of time.

Who and what, then, is nourishing whom?

My daughter opens her eyes and says "ba!". Milk runs from the corner of her grin. She pokes her finger into my neck, wriggles free, and crawls off into the world. I chuck my phone on the charger and follow her.