parent opinion

OPINION: 'There’s only one secret to equal parenting, and it’s a bottle.'

When I speak to my female friends who are about to become parents, they share a million different little worries. 

Of course, there’s the question of whether they’ll ever sleep again (short answer: yes, long answer: not in the way you used to, for a while at least). 

There’s panic about changing dirty nappies (you’ll get over this one near-instantaneously), whether breastfeeding hurts (it can, but it shouldn’t) and how they’ll recover from birth (slowly, but you’ll look back and the time has flown).

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But one point seems to cause them the most stress as they approach becoming mothers, and oddly enough, it’s a concern about their relationships, not their baby. 

It’s one I shared before my son was born, and one I’ve heard a thousand times since: How can my partner and I tackle this together, equally, as a team, when the whole world is telling me the responsibility rests on my shoulders?

For some people, the answer to this question is simple: they don’t. 

They decide, from the outset, that it’s impossible to share the load equally in the first few years of parenting, and hope that things will even out with their partners eventually. 


It’s not a bad plan, except that it so rarely works: once someone adopts a “primary parent” role, it’s hard to shake, and it only gets harder as time goes on. 

The more qualified a woman is to do her job as a mother, and the less her partner understands it, the tricker it is to pass the baton back. 

Those mothers continue to bear the brunt of both the mental and physical load of raising their children long past babyhood and into their teens. The anticipated “evening out”, where the mother steps back and lets her partner take the reins, rarely happens - and if it does, it isn’t so she can take a well-earned break, but so that she can give birth again and start the cycle anew. 

Image: Supplied


But advocates for this approach will still tell you that it’s the only pragmatic solution, because there is no other option. As a trump card, they’ll mention that they breastfeed. 

Breastfeeding mothers, they’ll tell you, need to take on a primary role because they’re the only ones who can feed their babies. 

Well, perhaps that was once true. But it isn’t anymore. In my experience, there’s only one secret to equal parenting, and it’s a bottle. 

For new mothers, bottles mean sleep, the ability to leave the house without their babies, and the opportunity to truly switch off from time to time.

For new fathers, bottles mean autonomy, independence, and the ability to create their own relationship and routines with their child. 

For relationships, bottles are a goddamn lifesaver. 

When my son was a newborn, he woke up to eat every two to three hours. That’s a punishing schedule for anyone to take on alone, but I didn’t have to: by switching off every second feed with my husband overnight, I slept for five to six hour stretches - sometimes twice in a row in a single night. 


This wasn’t just a saviour for my sleep, although that was the most immediate benefit. The long-term effect was that my baby and his dad created their own feeding and sleep routines, and he could fully participate in every single aspect of our son’s care.

I know couples who get Dad to give a bottle as a “dream feed” around the 11pm mark so Mum can sleep an uninterrupted stretch. 

I know parents who use the bottle only on special occasions, when Mum is spending a night out with girlfriends and doesn’t want to be beholden to a feeding schedule.

I know babies who were fully formula-fed from birth whose parents operate a scrupulously fair your-turn my-turn system, sharing feeds equally between them to the decimal point. Which is to say: it’s not the way you use the bottle that matters, necessarily, but the fact that it gives you the option to make that choice.  

Before you ask, because I know it’s coming, I breastfed my son until he was just over a year old. His bottle was breast milk until he was seven months and we switched to formula (a blessed relief I’d recommend to anyone). 

Pumping wasn’t my favourite thing in the world, but it was infinitely preferable to the alternative - not being able to venture more than a half hour radius from home without my baby in tow in case he suddenly felt peckish. 

My passion for the bottle has nothing to do with what’s inside it. 

This isn’t about what you feed your baby, but how you feed your baby, and most importantly, who can feed your baby. Because the truth of the matter is, if you can’t feed a baby, then you can’t take sole responsibility for it. 


Listen to This Glorious Mess, On this episode, Leigh and Tegan share their breastfeeding experiences, and unsurprisingly they didn't go to plan. Post continues below.

For as long as a baby doesn’t take a bottle, its mother can’t leave its side, and its father can’t be independently responsible for its care. 

And there’s no amount of trade off - no amount of vacuuming or unloading the dishwasher or ordering the online shopping - that a dad can do to make up for the fact that he can’t take sole care of his child, and that his partner, by extension, must.

Of course, you don’t have to offer your baby a bottle. If your family’s decision is to exclusively breastfeed, then that is a valid choice, and you should feel supported in it. It’s a valid choice, but, from everything I’ve seen, it’s not an equal one. 

And until you can walk away from your child with confidence that your partner can look after all of their needs - not just some - the heavy weight of caring for that child will keep resting squarely on your shoulders.

I, for one, prefer the bottle.

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