Mother and Baby

20 mums tell us a time they were mum-shamed because it's happening to us all

With the rise of internet trolls, mum-shaming seems to have taken on a life of its own. Countless celebrity mamas including Chrissy Teigen, Pink, Mila Kunis, Coco Rocha, and even Beyoncé have gone through more than their fair share of scolding for their minor parenting “misdemeanours” such as going out for a meal shortly post-birth or enjoying a glass of wine. But alas, you don’t need to be a celebrity or even have social media to be mum-shamed. Most mummy-shaming happens to us regular folk in a much subtler fashion and comes in the form of well-meaning (or not) friends, relatives, co-workers, and passers-by who somehow feel the insatiable urge to comment on our parenting style – and then, unfortunately, act upon said urge.

Although it’s easy to say that comments and opinions should be taken with a pinch of salt, mummy-shaming is real and potentially dangerous. New mothers are filled to the brim with hormones and these remarks can lead to overwhelming mum-guilt (as if we don’t already have enough of that), and uncertainty. According to one study, most mothers feel “constantly judged by society, by other mums, by their mums and by their partners. Their best efforts and many compromises are deemed not good enough.”

We spoke to 20 mothers who will attest that mummy-shaming is indeed real, comes in all shapes and sizes and can happen to all of us at any time. 

 

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1. “You’re not paying your child enough attention”

“While at the paediatrician, my 6-year-old son who is autistic decided to lay down on the floor as he often does. He wasn’t in anybody’s way and, as I’m well aware, it’s better to just leave him there rather than try to get him up. Another mother in the waiting room, not knowing he’s autistic, took it upon herself to angrily say to me, “Can’t you see that all he’s trying to do is get your attention? You obviously don’t pay him enough of it!”

Saba, 33, mother of 2
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2. “You should really clean those”

“A neighbour dropped in unannounced just as I was about to feed the baby. In a moment of mummy-madness, I grabbed the nearest bib to me which was the one I used for her earlier feed. There was a bit of residual breakfast on it. ‘You should really clean those,’ my neighbour said with a smile. ‘I clean my child and I clean her bibs,’ I found myself explaining while rushing around trying to find a clean bib. I know it shouldn’t, but it gets to me sometimes.”

Stella, 32, mother of 1
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3) You don’t have enough breast milk. Give her formula

“I was told that it didn’t look like I had enough breast milk by someone who was not a professional, did not somehow check my boobs for milk supply, and mainly, whose opinion I did not ask for. Her reasoning was that she thought my child could do with a bit more ‘meat on her bones,’ even though the paediatrician said the baby was at a great weight for her age. I, of course, continued solely with breast milk and my girl is now two years old and absolutely fine. My question is, how does one look like they don’t have enough breast milk? Anyone?”

Graziella, 29, mother of 1
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4. “Put a dress on her – she looks like a boy”

“I’m rather fond of my child being comfortable and I’ve noticed she’s way more comfortable in tracksuits than dresses and so that’s how I tend to dress her. People have commented on more than one occasion that she looks like a boy, and it hasn’t bothered me until they start making suggestions, for example, I should put her in a dress or put a ribbon on her head. My baby is bald. I’m not putting a ribbon on her bald head. She’ll look like a potato with a ribbon on it, but that’s better than ‘looking like a boy’ to some people, I guess.”

Elena, 35, mother of 1
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5. “He’ll never learn to sleep on his own if you nurse him to sleep”

“I’ve been mum-shamed so many times. Here’s a short list: You shouldn't let your child play video games too long they will not be social; you should keep them on a schedule or they will never be regular; don't rock or nurse them to sleep, put them down awake or they will never go to sleep on their own (all my kids learnt to sleep just fine); they have to have a balanced dinner every night (yeah, right). The way these things have been said to me have been like I’ve committed a crime. ‘I can't believe you’re putting him down like that!’ The moment I heard that was the moment I promised myself that I would never tell anyone how to parent unless they asked for my opinion.”

Michelle, 49, mother of 3
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6. “Your baby’s nails are too long – here, let me do it”

“When my baby was a few weeks old, I would cut her tiny, paper-thin nails every couple of days. Like all new mothers, I was afraid of cutting them too short, but I never left them to their own devices. Even so, she would still find a way to scratch herself sometimes and I would feel incredibly guilty for perhaps leaving a little corner on one of her nails unclipped. A friend, I’m guessing as a kind gesture, offered to cut my baby’s nails for me because clearly, I am scared and can’t do a good job of it on my own. Comments like these can make you feel kind of useless unless you consciously decide to block them out somehow, but it’s not easy.”

Katharine, 36, mother of 1
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7. “Wow, you’ve put on a lot of weight”

“I was pregnant with my first. I put on around 50 pounds. Sure, that’s a lot of weight to put on in a few months, but, you know, there was a baby in there too. Did I need to be shamed for it? I don’t think so. ‘Wow, you’ve put on a lot of weight,’ ‘For the life of me, I didn’t recognise you,’ and my personal favourite, ‘Why, honey? Why did you do that to yourself? Weren’t you careful?’ Way to make a girl feel special! I lost it in nine months but that’s not the point.”

Nounouka, 37, mother of 2
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8. “Don’t pick her up – you’ll spoil her”

“A friend and I went for a walk and I had the baby in the buggy when she started crying unexpectedly, clearly bothered by something. I started unstrapping her to pick her up when my friend said, ‘don’t pick her up; you’ll spoil her. Just let her cry it out.’ I obviously went ahead and picked the baby up anyway and when I did so, my friend shook her head disapprovingly, clearly disappointed in me. ‘You don’t know anything yet,’ she said. ‘You’ll see.’ I then felt that I had to explain to her that I know my child and if she’s crying in the buggy then something’s wrong. This didn’t seem to appease my walking companion. I was still doing parenting wrong, apparently.”
 
Laurie, 38, mother of 1
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9. “Your kid seems a little slow”

“My baby is eight months old and is not solving crossword puzzles. I’m not worried. My husband is not worried. Our paediatrician is not worried. One of our friends, however, is. Apparently, my child is not speaking, taking steps, or eating on her own because I am not – and I quote – ‘spending enough time with her’ because I work full-time. I have innate mum-guilt as it is and I really wish people would stop passing off their mum-shaming under the guise of concern. The funny thing is that if I Google a parenting concern, there is always something that is in line with my thinking and then another article contradicting that entirely saying I’m doing it all hideously wrong.”

Christina, 40, mother of 1
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10. “Why is your toddler always wearing the same outfit?”

“When my daughter was two, someone had bought her a cute little pink outfit and I would put her in it every Sunday to go to church. The truth is, at the time, we didn’t have much money and she didn’t have a change of Sunday best clothing but, in any event, this outfit was so darn cute and she loved wearing it. She felt like a little princess. One fellow churchgoer came up to me one day and said, ‘Why does she always wear that outfit? Doesn’t she have any other clothes?’ I don’t see the point in such remarks."

Irene, 55, mother of 3
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11. “It’s been 8 months; how come your belly hasn’t gone down yet?”

“Although I’m generally slim, my baby belly is still there eight months after giving birth. This is something that would have bothered me pre-baby but now I’m actually proud of my little pooch. This is where my gorgeous baby lived for nine whole months! Some people, though, are really concerned as to why my belly is not flat yet. I try to console them but it’s not easy.”

Nina, 34, mother of 1
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12. “Oh, C-Sec was it? Too-posh-to-push, are we?”

“No, actually, I nearly died, but thanks for asking. Not that there is anything wrong with the mothers who choose voluntary caesarean sections but my birth plan, up till the last minute, included a natural birth. Unfortunately, this was not to be because there were serious complications during labour and both mine and the baby’s lives were in danger so, although not my first choice, I’m so grateful that a caesarean section was an option. I’m not grateful, however, that I have to keep explaining myself to some people.”

Frankie, 37, mother of 1

 
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13. “You should have tried harder to breastfeed”

“For my first child, I did. I tried really hard to breastfeed him. After the fourth round of mastitis, I gave up. I understand that there are women who have gone through worse and have kept with it and kudos to them but I just couldn’t do anything else. I’m so glad I decided to stop though, as that’s when I feel that I started becoming a fully functioning mother to my child and finally started to enjoy motherhood. I still had guilt, of course, but it was the best thing for us. In fact, with my second child, I didn’t even try to breastfeed, and saved us all the hassle. The amount of slack I’ve received for this is unfathomable. Even years later, people still won’t seem to let it go.”
 
Kris, 48, mother of 2
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14. “You’re making your baby depressed”

“I had post-partum depression with my third child and was actually advised not to breastfeed because I could pass on the negative hormones and end up having a depressed child. You’d think that I would have just ignored this advice and kept on, but actually, a post-partum, depressed and hormonal woman is not really of the soundest of minds and I, regretfully, listened to that advice because I thought I was doing the best for my baby. My OB/GYN later scolded me for listening to such advice but the damage was done. Mummy shaming is dangerous. My advice to new mothers is to do what is right for them and their baby and only seek opinions from their OB/GYN and paediatrician, and to people with opinions – keep it to yourself.”

Renee, 45, mother of 3
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15. “Why would you possibly give your child a dummy?”

“In my 11 short months as a mother, I have heard some corkers. Someone saw from one of my Instagram pics that my baby was asleep on my bed and decided to warn me on the dangers of having the baby in my bed, lest of all that she would be 15 and still sleeping with me (I replied that I would love that). My favourite type of mummy-shamers are the ones that try to pass it off as a compliment. ‘You seem really forward-thinking in all other aspects, so why would you possibly give your child a dummy?’ I was actually stumped for words on that one and ended up just shrugging. What’s the point in explaining myself?”

Trina, 35, mother of 1
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16. “You’ve let yourself go”

“For some reason I keep getting asked when I’m going to get my hair done. My roots have grown out but I’d rather use up any spare time catching up on sleep than sitting in a hairdresser’s chair. I’ve also been told not to give in to the urge to let myself go. Or that I should more make time for my husband and arrange a date night. Or that we should get out more. Thankfully, I have a very understanding partner and we are on the same page about all of it. When we do finally get some time alone together after the kids are asleep, we’d rather just order takeout and binge Netflix in our pyjamas.”

Alexis, 34, mother of 2
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17. “The baby is too cold/The baby is too warm”

“People around me seem to be convinced that I have a problem telling the temperature. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that my boy is either overdressed or underdressed, especially by my mother-in-law. It has got to the point that if I turn my back for a second, he’s either got an extra blanket on him, or has had an item of clothing removed. I’ve also been told by someone that I breastfed too long, and by someone else that I breastfed too little. I just can’t seem to get it right it seems. Bad mummy.”

Maria, 26, mother of 1
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18. “You’re too over-protective”

“When my daughter was born she was put in a special care unit for a while due to an issue with her larynx. I admit this freaked me out and perhaps made me a little panicky about certain things but within reason. For the first few months of her life, I wouldn’t let people kiss the baby and was branded a hypochondriac and over-protective. These monikers seem to have stuck even two years later. For instance, I don’t like giving my daughter a lot of sugar often and recently someone offered her some cake and I politely declined, so she turned to my child and said, ‘your mummy is too strict with you.’”

Bea, 34, mother of 1
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19. “You shouldn’t be quiet when she’s sleeping”

“Apparently, I’m supposed to go around making a racket when my child is asleep so that she doesn’t get used to only sleeping in a quiet environment. I must admit, at first, I tried it this way and she kept waking up, so now I make sure the house is quiet while she’s asleep. ‘My child can sleep through a nuclear bomb,’ I’m often told. Well, mine wakes up at the slightest creek in the floorboards. What am I supposed to do; throw the whole baby away?”

Danielle, 26, mother of 1 
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20. “If you don’t christen her, something bad could happen”

​“I can usually ignore all the other bits of nonsense that I’ve heard over the years but this one for me takes the biscuit. We decided not to christen our children as we’re not really religious but people in our circle, both friends and relatives, are constantly making inappropriate comments about it. ‘They won’t get into heaven,’ ‘Do it for the grandparents, make them happy,’ ‘What if they want to get married in a church when they’re older? They won’t be able to as non-members!’ The worst thing I’ve heard is that something bad could happen if we don’t christen them, and I can’t help feeling a little superstitious about it. Whenever anything unpleasant happens, from a runny nose to a sprained ankle, I’m sure that everyone thinks it’s my fault for not baptising them!”

Cleo, 37, mother of 3

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