With a feeding child in our arms, we have all done it. We have all absent-mindedly held our babies in position while scrolling through our twitter feed or firing off a quick email. We've all cradled them to our chest and repositioned them slightly while adding a few pins to our favourite Pintrest board or checking the latest images on our Instagram feed. In the middle of the night, we've all supported their weight with one arm while holding a phone in the other to play scrabble - hoping it will keep us awake.
So why the outrage when we see that Zara Phillips does this too?
Last week, photographs of the new mother showed her giving her daughter a bottle while sitting in their parked car. The royal held her baby and the bottle in one hand. In the other hand, she held her cell phone. Many of the snaps we saw showed her looking at that phone. She was in all likelihood responding to messages, catching up with friends, or just having a second of down time and playing Angry Birds- and good for her.
In internet forums, on news story comment boards, and of course on social media, there has been no holding back from those that have decided that Zara Phillips is a bad mother because she was concentrating on her phone while also feeding her baby. She has been widely criticised for this act of multi-tasking. For not maintaining eye contact with her child during the feed, for not using her spare hand to stroke her daughter's hair or massage her daughter's skin - she has been called out for all of this. Her child won't bond with her, they've said. Her child won't feel loved, they've said. Her child won't feel valued, they've said. Her child won't learn about relationships, they've said. Well what a load of rubbish. Here's a newsflash specifically for anyone who commented on those pictures of Zara and Mia in that vein. New mums deserve a break too. Sometimes the only time they get it is when they are feeding the child in their arms. (I know, it's hardly a break, is it?)
I almost always have my phone with me when I'm feeding my eight month old daughter. I usually don't pick it up until after she has settled in for her feed, but after that, I can have it in my hands for a ten or fifteen minute stretch. According to the commenters on the Zara Phillips story, this makes me a neglectful mother more interested in what my Facebook friends are up to than my daughter's breastfeeding habits.
Well here's the thing, I'm not sorry about being on my phone while feeding my baby. In fact, in my view, it's a highly efficient use of my time.
My daughter is a good feeder. It would be fair to say, in fact, that she has got feeding sussed. She doesn't need me to keep fussing over her once it is underway. She doesn't need me to talk her through the entire feed. She doesn't need me to coax her and encourage her by stroking her hand or her hair. She just wants to get on with feeding.
And I, meanwhile, love taking a bit of time out from a noisy, busy day, and entering the pincode on my phone. No emails are that important to me that I need to answer them straight away. No twitter conversations are that crucial to my life that I must keep them going all through the day. It's never urgent that I update my Facebook status with a snap taken hours earlier of Jasmin playing with a ball. But these are the things I do. I reply to blog comments, I show off the latest achievements of my little ones by posting them on Instagram, I look up recipes for chocolate cake, I window shop for clothes I might wear when we go on holiday. I do a whole load of trivial stuff that quite frankly I don't really need to do. And I love doing it.
This is the thing. Bringing up a baby is bloody hard. It's exhilarating, yes, but it's also exhausting. The cycle of nappies, feeding, shushing, rocking, cooing, putting to sleep - it's never-ending. The constant worry about them, the feeling your brain is full of things you must remember about them, the entertaining, the carrying around, the playing with - it's relentless. It truly never ends.
Of course, as a parent, you wouldn't have this any other way. You love your child unconditionally and no matter what time of the night it is. You want to care for them non-stop all day and all night. But you also sometimes just need to switch off and scroll through your Facebook feed. This doesn't mean you're not also concentrating on them. This doesn't mean you're forgetting about them as they lie in your arms. Turning on your phone, in short, doesn't make you any less of a good mother.
I refuse to feel guilty for turning on my phone when I'm breastfeeding. In those minutes, I get a little me-time. I get a little dose of the outside world in the form of a news story, I get a mini update from the life of a friend I've not had time to talk to in six months. I get a little space to think about something that has nothing to do with my children.
As a mother, you never truly switch off. But sometimes, you just need a little diversion, and a little time to cast your mind towards something other than nappies and sleep patterns. When you've spent every minute of the day so far concentrating hard on your children, sometimes you just need to come up for air wherever and whenever you can. Sometimes, you just need a little escape.