I had an interaction recently that made me so sad. I met with a woman who wanted to get her baby weighed. I started with my standard questions – how often is he feeding, for how long, etc. She then brought up how she wanted to get baby back to direct breastfeeding, as she’d been pumping and bottle-feeding expressed milk. She said she was tired of getting dirty looks when bottle-feeding out in public and felt like she was short-changing her baby by not direct breastfeeding. My heart almost broke as I watched this woman break down in tears and say she thought she was a terrible mom. The saddest part is that this isn’t the first time I’ve heard something like this. Lots of moms pump and offer expressed milk in a bottle in public – some aren’t comfortable nursing in public. However, I don’t think anyone should be glaring at anyone who is feeding a baby in public, whether it’s from a bottle or a boob. This is another example of how judgment hurts. Pumping and bottle-feeding worked for this mom and her family; yet here she was, in tears because of some judgmental people who were probably thinking, You should be breastfeeding that baby! This mom said sometimes she just wanted to scream, it’s expressed milk!! But still, even if it was formula in the bottle, no mother who is feeding her baby deserves dirty looks. It’s the mothers who just plain DON’T feed their babies who need dirty looks (and then some).
Since I am a lactation consultant, infant feeding is near and dear to my heart. Obviously I support breastfeeding. However, I don’t think the definition of supporting breastfeeding includes demonizing moms who formula feed. How does that benefit anyone? If I were to make a mom who formula feeds her baby feel guilty, all I would do is make myself (and breastfeeding advocates) look like a jerk and make her angry/frustrated/upset/sad. To me, that’s a lose-lose situation. All moms are just trying to do the best they can for their babies. Maybe that sounds a bit naïve and Pollyannaish, but I truly believe it. Infant feeding is a very emotionally-charged topic for most women; it’s hard to not take things personally when you hear/read things that are different from what you do or believe. What I find interesting is I hear a lot of the same things from both “sides.” Formula-feeding moms talk about the dirty looks and scathing remarks they get when they bottle-feed in public, while breastfeeding moms discuss being asked to leave public places and enduring nasty looks when they breastfeed in public (with or without a cover). Both types of infant feeding are being judged, when in reality it’s nobody’s place to judge either one.
I don’t have a lot of experience with formula; I am still breastfeeding my 2 year old and he never had a drop of formula. However, I don’t want this to just be a blog about my experiences as a mother; what I want is to provide a forum for women to share their stories of how they are great mamas. If anyone has a story they’d like to share, please send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org! I ask that the posts stay positive – no “bashing” of one group or another. I’m especially interested in how mamas have overcome their own feelings of guilt or resolved internal conflicts about what makes a good mama. I think hearing everyone else’s stories can help us identify areas where we judge (consciously or unconsciously) and perhaps approach other mothers with more empathy and less distaste. I have one mother’s experience with formula almost ready to go, so look for that in the near future!