To Stop the Mom-Shaming, Look in the Mirror

To Stop the Mom-Shaming, Look in the Mirror

I’ve been seeing a lot of stuff lately about how breastfeeding advocates shame mothers, mothers shame mothers, businesses shame mothers, healthcare providers shame mothers. It’s frustrating. I see a lot of this:

“That doctor made me feel bad for formula-feeding.”

“The server gave me the dirtiest look when I started breastfeeding in the café; it made me feel I was doing something wrong.”

“That sancti-mommy lectured me about using formula. It made me feel horrible.”

“My sister (who breastfed) said I was weird for breastfeeding my 3-year-old; it made me feel terrible.”

“That chick said I’m not a real mom because I work outside the home; that made me feel like shit.”

“It made me feel so awful when that mom told me bed-sharing was dangerous.”

“My doctor made me feel like a terrible mother when I asked about taking antidepressants while pregnant.”

These are just a few of the infinite number of ways parents could be shamed. Basically any decision we make as parents is probably going to be questioned by someone. When someone objects to what you’re doing, or says you’re doing something wrong, it can often lead to feelings of shame. But it doesn’t have to.

Do you know what I see in the statements above? A whole lot of refusal to take responsibility for how you feel. A whole lot of letting someone else tell you what your success should look like. A whole lot of letting some jackass decide that you should be ashamed of what you’re doing.

Here’s a way to stop the mom-shaming. Instead of pointing the finger outward at that mom, that breastfeeding specialist, that doctor, that other person – how about pointing the finger inward at yourself? In other words:

STOP GIVING OTHERS THE POWER OVER HOW YOU FEEL.

Photo by Flickr user Sansbury
Photo by Flickr user Sansbury

If you own your decisions, know they were the best for you and your family, and have the confidence to stand by them, nobody can make you feel ashamed. Nobody can make you feel anything – you get to choose how the actions of others affect you.

I’m not saying to never feel anything, or just to brush that dirt off your shoulder like it’s nothing. That’s not going to happen. Shit happens; we react. What I am saying is that when you start to feel ashamed of a parenting decision, take a step back and analyze it. Did I make this decision because it was what was best for ME, or MY family, or MY baby? If the answer is yes, then you have absolutely no reason to feel ashamed. Example time!!

Was switching to formula the best decision for you and your family? Then the next time someone says you’re harming your baby, tell them to fuck off – your family, your decision, and no need to justify it.

Does seeing the research on breastfeeding make you feel like a bad mom because you didn’t breastfeed? Don’t let it. Increasing risk of something does not equal harm. Infant feeding decisions are not made in a vacuum. There are so many variables to consider; risk reduction is just one of them and not necessarily the deciding factor for everyone.

Do you enjoy full-term breastfeeding? Then the next time someone says it’s tantamount to child abuse, tell them to fuck off – your family, your decision, and no need to justify it.

Do you feel pressured by medical professionals to wean because [insert reason here]? Tell them you are the child’s mother and you know what’s best for your family.

Does safe bed-sharing allow everyone in your family to get more sleep? Then the next time someone declares you’re going to kill your baby, tell them to fuck off – your family, your decision, and no need to justify it.

See a pattern here? Own your decisions. If someone questions it, tell them to back off in whatever manner you choose (I’ve illustrated a more direct approach; some of you may prefer a more nuanced, less foul-mouthed response).

If I sound harsh, it’s because I’m so frustrated and saddened. I see so many beautiful, strong, amazing women question themselves because of the words of others. I see what amazing mothers they are; I just wish they did, too.

Who cares what other people think about how you care for your family! The only “right” answer in parenting is the one that works for your family.

Don’t let the actions you take as a parent, define you as a parent. You are not a breastfeeding or formula-feeding or bed-sharing or cloth-diapering or [insert label here] mom – you are a mom who loves her children and makes the best decisions she can, based on the information she has at the time.

Taking back power over how you feel isn’t easy. It’s taken me years to recognize that I didn’t have to let anyone make me feel bad and put that into practice. It’s something I struggle with almost every day.

Also, it will be different when the power balance is off. For example, it’s easier to shrug off a stranger’s disdain than it is to speak up against negative comments by someone in a position of “authority” – like a doctor.

If it’s someone you know and care about (such as a family member or close friend), it may be even harder because of the fear of hurting the relationship. But think about this: you can speak your truth gently and with respect; if the person you love reacts negatively, that’s their issue – not yours.

The following are some tips for taking back your power. It’s things I’ve learned through mothering, working as an IBCLC, going through the 12 Steps as an alcoholic, and just life in general.

  1. Grieve your losses. If you wanted to breastfeed more than anything, but formula ended up being a better option for your family, it’s ok to be upset. Grieve the loss of breastfeeding. If you got no support, or really shitty breastfeeding support (like someone saying the latch looks fine even though you’re in pain) – be angry! Do something to work through that anger, though – don’t bottle it up (no pun intended). Take however long you need to grieve, but try to work through it in healthy ways.
  2. Find a mantra. I personally like saying, “Well, that’s just their opinion” if someone says something negative about me. It’s true – it is that person’s opinion – but I don’t have to accept their opinion as my own. Find something that will help you put emotionally charged situations into perspective.
  3. Be confident. This can be really hard. I don’t think I became confident as a mommy until my first son was 3 and I was pregnant with my second. Even so, I still question my abilities. But if I can honestly say that yes, I am doing the best I can, then that is enough for me. If it’s enough for me, it’s damn well enough for the rest of the world.
  4. Be the change. If you catch yourself judging another mom, stop and think. It can be hard to see people doing things differently – after all, I picked my way because I thought it was best. But what’s best for me, may not be best for another mother/family. And that’s OK. Next time you feel yourself start to be a Judgy McJudgyPants, stop and say, “You know, I’ll bet that mom is doing the best she can. It’s different than what I would do, but I’ll bet it works for her.” Change how you think.
  5. Toughen up. You’re going to encounter Assholes – the ones who deliberately try to make people feel bad because it makes them feel better about themselves. Often, you can’t reason with an Asshole. At that point, pull a Jay-Z and brush your shoulders off. Assholes aren’t worth your time or your emotions. BUT…
  6. Don’t assume everyone is an Asshole. Maybe I’m being too Pollyanna, but I really think that most people say stuff out of a desire to help, not to be a jerk. Perhaps they say it the wrong way, with the wrong tone, at the wrong time, or they shouldn’t have said anything at all. Assume that people come from a place of love or concern for welfare, and you might be surprised at the positivity that comes your way.

I Support You: Gena’s story

I Support You: Gena’s story

This series was inspired by the I Support You campaign, which was created by three amazing bloggers: I Am Not the Babysitter, Mama by the Bay and The Fearless Formula Feeder. I want to provide a place where moms can feel free to share their experiences and find encouragement, love and acceptance – regardless of feeding choices. All moms deserve to feel supported. 

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Gena is the mother of two – one handsome boy and one lovely lady. Read her story below and give her some love in the comments!

Please share a brief summary of your feeding experience.

I formula fed both of my children, ages 6 and 2.

What was your original plan for feeding your children, and how did that compare to what you ultimately ended up doing?

With my first child, my plan was to breastfeed for a month or so.  I know many would think it sounds very unmaternal, but I was not really into nursing, but I thought I would give it a try for a month or so.  When he was born, I tried having him latch on, but he wasn’t getting anything so he kept stopping.  I tried using the breast pump and then they gave me some medication to try and get milk to come in.  Because he was so big (almost 11 lbs) we began giving him formula until I was able to nurse.  After about 5 days, there was still no milk or even colostrum, so we decided to stop and just use formula.  With my second child, I just went right with formula.  It was what I knew and it had worked well with my son, so we went that route.

What kind of support did you have for your feeding choice?

My husband did want me to nurse at first, but when it didn’t work and the formula was working well, he was on board to stop and use formula. My mom didn’t nurse me or my brother, so she was very supportive of my decision.

What was the best part about how you fed your children?

The best part, by far, was that other people could get up and help with all of those night feedings!!!  I also, would not have nursed in public, so I think it would have been difficult to adapt our lifestyle to staying home all the time.  With formula, I was able to feed him wherever we were.

What was the worst?

The only negative that I can think of is the cost!

What myths about how you fed your children were the most hurtful?

That my kids wouldn’t be healthy since they were not nursed!

What is your “truth” that counteracts those myths?

I had friends that had kids the same age as mine that did breastfeed and their kids actually got sick much more than mine! He was almost a year before he had his first cold or ear infection.  At that age, 2 of my friends children already had ear tubes put in!

What would help you (or would have helped you) to feel supported/understood in your choices?

I felt supported by those who mattered!  I didn’t pay much attention to those that don’t know me or know my reasons for my decisions.

Think ten, twenty years into the future. If you could give your grown children one message about how they choose to feed their child what would it be?

Do what you feel is right!  What works for you and your baby is the most important and you do what you think is right!

Thank you for sharing your story, Gena! You are a good mama.

Tell us in the comments about your feeding experience and how you rocked it like this mama!

I Support You: Dana’s story

This series was inspired by the I Support You campaign, which was created by three amazing bloggers: I Am Not the Babysitter, Mama by the Bay and The Fearless Formula Feeder. I want to provide a place where moms can feel free to share their experiences and find encouragement, love and acceptance – regardless of feeding choices. All moms deserve to feel supported. 

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Dana is the mother of a beautiful little girl. Read her story below and give her some love in the comments!

Please share a brief summary of your feeding experience.

I had a great experience with breastfeeding. I had a fairly easy time with it and after the the first 4 or so months I began to really enjoy it myself. I breastfed my daughter until almost 9 months. She stopped showing interest in it so I stopped and started her on formula.

Formula feeding was good too. Although I felt sad to stop and as though she didn’t need me anymore, I also felt a bit of freedom again. Like I had my own body back and I felt as though my schedule wasn’t so restricted. I remember though actually feeling guilty for giving her formula and felt as though I needed to explain as to why with those who I knew breastfed and then I felt a sense of relief not having to breastfeed in front of those who formula fed.

What was your original plan for feeding your child, and how did that compare to what you ultimately ended up doing?

When I first was pregnant, the thought of breastfeeding never even crossed my mind. I never knew anyone who breastfed and I knew nothing about it. It has always been you just formula feed. However, once my friend who was 6 months farther then I had her baby and breastfed, it made me start thinking about breastfeeding. I then decided that this is what was best for me and my baby and I exclusively breastfed for 9 months.

What kind of support did you have for your feeding choice?

I really didn’t have much support. I had my husband, a helpful lactation consultant , and a couple of friends. That was pretty much it. Everyone else just didn’t understand it so therefore they didn’t know how to support.

What was the best part about how you fed your child?

Well, besides the fact that it saved us money, I got to cuddle with her and develop a closeness that I don’t believe I would have other wise.

What was the worst?

The worst part would have to be just feeling as though my body wasn’t MY body. I felt like I was always feeding as well as dealing with my family who didn’t really understand.

What myths about how you fed your child were the most hurtful?

I was called a hippy by my brother and told that I lived in America and not a 3rd world country so I should act like it! That hurt pretty bad!

What would help you (or would have helped you) to feel supported/understood in your choices?

I think it would help everyone if we didn’t put the pressure on each other. Who cares if you breastfeed or formula feed…at least you are FEEDING your baby! I was always feeling self conscious  and worrying what the next person was thinking. I just wanted to be told I was doing a good job because I was caring for my baby…however I may have chose to do that.

Think ten, twenty years into the future. If you could give your grown child(ren) one message about how they choose to feed their child what would it be?

Do what is best for YOU and for your family and for your baby! Don’t worry about ANYONE else and what they THINK is best! They don’t know!!! Because what was best for THEM may not be best for YOU! Trust yourself!

Thank you for sharing your story, Dana! You are a good mama.

Tell us in the comments how support from family helped or hurt your feeding experience!

I Support You: Jade’s story

This series was inspired by the I Support You campaign, which was created by three amazing bloggers: I Am Not the Babysitter, Mama by the Bay and The Fearless Formula Feeder. The questions I used came from Jessica Smock’s interview of her “feeding opposite” at School of Smock. I want to provide a place where moms can feel free to share their experiences and find encouragement, love and acceptance – regardless of feeding choices. All moms deserve to feel supported. 

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Jade is the mother of a beautiful boy. Read her story below and give her some love in the comments!

Please share a brief summary of your feeding experience.

Jade: My mom formula fed both my brother and I. I didn’t have her support when it came to breastfeeding. I was really hesitant and uncomfortable about the whole latching on idea, but I knew it was best for the baby. My husband (who was very supportive and pro-breastfeeding) and I decided that we were going to try to at least pump and possibly try latch.

I went to my very first MOMS appointment at the hospital while I was still pregnant. I told them my plan as well as my medical history. I have PCOS and a small tumor on my pituitary gland. With that information, the nurse told me that I would be very lucky if I can breastfeed.

After my son was born, he was transported to Doernbecher Hospital in Portland for a week. I pumped every chance I got. He was born on a Monday and I didn’t get any milk until the following Sunday. I produced very little and by the next Sunday I was getting nothing.

What was your original plan for feeding your child, and how did that compare to what you ultimately ended up doing?

I was really confused and didn’t really know what to expect. I wish I could have produced milk to meet my son’s needs.

What kind of support did you have for your feeding choice?

People would ask me all the time if I breastfed or formula fed. Nobody really gave me a hard time about formula feeding.

What was the best part about how you fed your child?

I could sleep and daddy could get up and feed baby.

What was the worst?

I felt like I was failing as a mom and not giving my son the nutrients that he needs.

What myths about how you fed your child were the most hurtful?

That formula fed babies are more prone to ear infections, obesity, and overall worse health than breast fed babies.

What is your “truth” that counteracts those myths?

My son is perfectly healthy. Has never been sick other than the common cold, he is very active and I think he is developing fine.

What would help you (or would have helped you) to feel supported/understood in your choices?

I’m not sure; I think more exposure and open-minded family members. I definitely want to try again with my second child.

Think ten, twenty years into the future. If you could give your grown child(ren) one message about how they choose to feed their child what would it be?

I would be supportive of whatever their choices are. My mom wasn’t supportive of me wanting to try to breastfeed.

Please share any additional thoughts you have about infant feeding and how it affects motherhood.

People need to be supportive of new moms. Not everyone can breastfeed and some do not want to. As long as the baby is getting what it needs that’s all that matters.

Thank you for sharing your story, Jade! You are a good mama.

Tell us in the comments how support from family helped or hurt your feeding experience!

I Support You

I’ve been feeling a little lost lately, blog-wise. I know I can write, and I have things I can write about. But when it comes to actually doing it, I freeze. I’ve been frozen for a while.

I can’t put my finger on what’s going on. Depression isn’t really flaring (although this morning’s 0330 wake-up time begs to differ), things are finally settling down here in Texas, I’m working on my Step 8 and I’m enjoying my stay-at-home mom life. But still…it feels like something is missing.

I’m hoping that I’ll get back into the swing of things with a series I’m planning to launch soon. It’s directly inspired by the “I Support You” Campaign launched by three amazing bloggers:

Mama by the Bay

Fearless Formula Feeder

I Am Not the Babysitter

These amazing ladies are trying to truly bring mothers together and help them realize that there is room for everyone at the table. Specifically, the campaign aims to:

  1. Bridge the gap between formula-feeding and breastfeeding parents by fostering friendships and interactions.
  2. Dispel common myths and misperceptions about formula feeding and breastfeeding, by asking parents to share their stories, and by really listening to the truth of their experiences.
  3. Provide information and support to parents as they make decisions about how to feed their children.
  4. Connect parents with local resources, mentors, and friends who are feeding their children in similar ways.

I’ve come a long way in how I view infant feeding. I started at the self-righteous, judgmental end of breastfeeding “support” (All or nothing, and if you don’t breastfeed you’re hurting your child). I cringe just thinking about it. Today, I believe that breastfeeding is the biological norm for our species and that human milk is nutritionally superior to man-made formula. However! I no longer think I have all the answers for every mom. Breastfeeding doesn’t work for everyone. And that’s ok.

One of the calls for action put out by these women was to have bloggers interview their feeding “opposite.” I put out a call on my Facebook page, asking women who used formula if they’d be willing to share their story with me. Within minutes I had several offers, and knew I had to do more. I opened it up to any mama who wanted to share her story – no matter how she fed her baby. I’ve always wanted this blog to be a forum to celebrate all the different ways we are good mamas; here was my chance!

So each week, I will feature a different mother’s infant feeding story. My hope is that we can look beyond infant feeding choice and focus on what’s really important: supporting women as they travel the most rewarding yet challenging path of all, motherhood.

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I can already feel my blog ennui ebbing away. Look for the first post in this series on Friday!

Infant formula is not poison

Infant formula is not poison

I haven’t written about breastfeeding in quite some time. It hasn’t been a big factor in my life recently, as we weaned in December and I quit my job as lactation consultant in January. I’ve kept a small presence in the online portion of a breastfeeding support group I helped found (just can’t quite let go) and when someone recently equated formula to poison, it ruffled my feathers.

Wait, a lactation consultant who doesn’t think formula is the devil?  (Trust me, we’re out there).

The short answer is no. I do think that formula-feeding moms deserve a product with better ingredients (lose the GMO’s, guys, or at least label that you use them so parents can make informed decisions about what they feed their babies!!). However, infant formula is not a substance that, when introduced into or absorbed by a living organism, causes death or injury, esp. one that kills by rapid action. Nor is it an American butt rock band that gave us such classics as “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and “Nothin’ But a Good Time.”

Well, why would it bother me if someone else bad-mouths formula?

Because I used to be one of those judgmental assholes and I feel ashamed of my past.

When I was pregnant, I was determined to breastfeed. I knew it was the best option for my baby and I couldn’t believe that everyone else didn’t think the same as me! I railed on and on to my friend who was pregnant at the same time about how I couldn’t imagine mothers not wanting to breastfeed, what’s wrong with them, how could they harm their babies that way. My friend admitted that she might have to formula feed because of a previous breast reduction surgery, and I pitied her. I embodied the stereotype of the militant lactivist.

Then, I had my baby and got to experience the reality of breastfeeding. It’s not easy, and sometimes it’s downright hellish. I started to see why some moms not want to do it, or might not be able to do it, and my rock-solid belief of “breast is best” started to crack a little (along with my nipples). I began to realize I may have been wrong to be so judgmental.

My friend had her baby and told me that she had never planned to breastfeed; she just used the excuse of her breast reduction surgery to placate me. She told me that she felt uncomfortable with so much attention on her breasts and didn’t want to do it, but was worried how I would judge her if she admitted that. I felt like a world class scumbag. Back then, she was one of my best friends. During a time that was so special to both of us (how many people are lucky enough to experience their first pregnancies alongside their best friend?), I ruined some of the excitement with my narrow-minded views. This took those small cracks in my “breast is best” belief and shattered it.

What little pieces of my judgmental self remained were obliterated when I started working as a lactation consultant. I worked in a hospital with around 500 births a year. In the beginning, I know there were a few moms I upset with my reaction to them using formula. This was in part due to the pressure being put on me to produce higher breastfeeding rates, and every mom that used formula cut into that. Thankfully, I quickly realized that numbers were not as important as the moms and babies who represented them. I also realized that it was not my job to shame a mom into breastfeeding, and being disappointed in a mom for using formula was extremely arrogant and inappropriate. To those moms, I apologize.

Though I did help our hospital achieve amazing breastfeeding rates, I feel my most important job was building up moms – especially those for whom breastfeeding was not working out. Moms would show up in my office, exhausted and worn out from a constant merry-go-round of feeding, pumping, supplementing and tearfully admit that they couldn’t do it anymore. They would then break down and sob, proclaiming themselves failures for not being able to breastfeed and for having to use formula. This is usually the part where my heart broke, and I’d often tear up with them. I looked those moms straight in the eye and told them they were good mothers. I told them that the bond between mom and baby was more important than how baby was fed. I told them their babies were going to thrive and be happy, no matter how baby was fed. I told them they were amazing, strong mamas for loving their babies so much. They would look at me in disbelief, with tears in their eyes, and I would keep repeating it until I saw a glimmer of acceptance. I believed it was my job to be one of the lone breastfeeding supporters who could also (gasp!) support moms who didn’t breastfeed.

It’s because of those moms that I bristle when I see someone call formula poison or insinuate that formula-feeding moms are somehow less than breastfeeding moms. Seeing crap like that only rubs salt in those mothers’ wounds. They beat themselves up enough as it is; they don’t need random people spewing garbage like that. I wish I could go back in time and smack my judgmental self on the forehead. If I could, I would then tell her this:

breast or bottle

 

 

Don’t judge a book by its cover…or better yet, not at all!

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 youareagoodmama@gmail.com! 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!