Parenting through experience, not books

The difficulties my wife faced in breastfeeding made me realise that what matters is my child's well-being, and not the opinions of other people

The recent debate over formula milk prices took me back four years, to when my son was born.

Being first-time parents, my wife and I wanted to bring up our child the best way we could.

So we did our research - reading all the books and joining all the online parenting forums we could find - just so we could raise the healthy, intelligent, well-behaved child we wanted.

And, of course, one of the ways we wanted to be The Best Parents Ever was for our son to be breastfed as long as possible.

After all, breast milk is supposed to contain antibodies that help babies fight infections.

Breastfed children are also supposed to enjoy a lower risk of conditions such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes when they grow up.

I experienced first-hand how important the role of the father is - not just in taking care of the children, but also in supporting his wife mentally, physically and spiritually through the arduous task of parenting.

There is also the bonding between mother and child as a result of constant close contact while breastfeeding.

At the hospital in the days after giving birth, my wife and I watched the videos that showed how to breastfeed and listened to the advice of the lactation consultant who taught us how to get the baby to latch on.

I remember getting up at night to help my wife through the difficult process of trying to get our infant son to suckle at her breast.

We even purchased a nursing system, aimed at helping babies to latch on to the nipple, which is supposed to help mothers with low milk supply to lactate.

This involved me, up in our bedroom way past midnight, struggling to tape a container of milk to my wife's body as well as tubes to her breasts.

Sure, we can look back and laugh about it now, but it was a serious source of concern when my son was a newborn.

My son just couldn't or wouldn't latch on and my wife wasn't able to produce enough milk for him.

So I plunked down what was easily upwards of $120 every month for formula milk.

Not because I bought into the claims of formula milk companies that their products could make my child smarter or grow faster, but just because I didn't want my child to starve.

Looking back, I probably could have chosen a cheaper brand, but cost was hardly the first thing on my mind.

My wife often cried as she struggled with breastfeeding, while at the same time dealing with recovering from her caesarean section.

The online forums she'd joined, ostensibly aimed at encouraging new mothers to breastfeed, didn't help much.

They were instead full of photos, posted by other members, of the bags and bags full of breastmilk they had managed to pump.

There were also memes of how breastfeeding mothers were superior to those who fed their children formula milk.

Four months after he was born, my son just decided that he'd had enough of breast milk and refused to latch on. It was, naturally, heartbreaking for my wife to no longer be the main source of our son's sustenance.

But four years later, he's healthy and intelligent and still the apple of our eye, and no worse the wear for having been fed on formula milk.

Besides, a recent study by the Journal of Pediatrics suggests that after the age of five, there are no cognitive differences between children who are breastfed and those who aren't.

The whole episode, as exasperating as it was, was a learning experience for my wife and me.

We found out that parenting is something that you can learn only through experience, not books.

My wife learnt not to be so hard on herself and that what ultimately matters is the well-being of our child, not the opinions of people on the Internet.

I saw for myself how becoming a mother had taken its toll on my wife, through the process of giving birth to breastfeeding to learning how to take care of a baby.

In addition to the mandated one week of paternity leave, I took an extra week off.

Besides taking care of the baby, I had to help my wife - she could barely walk after her surgery and needed help to do simple chores or just get around.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 18, 2017, with the headline 'Parenting through experience, not books'. Print Edition | Subscribe