Wednesday, October 5, 2011

From a Breastfeeding Mom to All Moms, Everywhere.

From a Breastfeeding Mom to All Moms, Everywhere.

I'm a breastfeeding feminist. I believe that breastmilk, evolutionarily, was made for human consumption. It is complex and, scientifically speaking, ideal for babies.

That said, there are times when mothers choose to quit breastfeeding. There are times when mothers choose to quit pumping breastmilk and bottlefeeding. There are times when mothers do not breastfeed at all.

And you know what bugs me the most out of all of this? That those mothers consistently feel the need to explain to us, the breastfeeders, the world, why they formula feed. Formula feeding moms feel the need to justify to the world - "This is why I'm not breastfeeding!" - they have to explain to us the reason why they made that parenting decision.

And yeah, that makes me pretty sad. Do you know why? Because I trust those moms to make that parenting decision. I am not those women. I do not live their lives, I do not know what they have gone through, I do not know the challenges they have faced. By that fact alone, I have no right to judge the choices they make regarding how they feed their babies. Even Jessica Valenti said that formula feeding was 100% right for her. Why should we ask her to justify that decision? We don't know her and we don't live her life.

A friend Sarah and I were out with a group of moms recently, and when I disappeared to talk to someone else, the topic of breastfeeding - and struggling with breastfeeding - came up. Sarah told me later that two other moms out of the large group professed having difficulties before my friend spoke up about her experience with public health nurses telling her she was starving her child and the subsequent the guilt trip she faced on the internet when she blogged about supplementing with formula. And she confessed to me that as soon as she put it out there, as soon as her story hung over the group in silence, she was nervous about what the other moms would say. Thankfully one wise mother piped up and said something I have said before, too: "We as mothers have enough to worry about, we need to be free to make the decisions that are best for our babies without being made to feel guilty."

If you formula feed or if you breastfeed - your baby is fed and loved and cared for. You are an amazing mom.
Squeaky D raises his fist in Solidarity

I do talk about breastfeeding a lot. It's what I do these days. But I've also shared the story of a Formula Feeding mom. I am a close supporter of many moms who formula feed. I want people to know that you can support and encourage breastfeeding without leaving formula feeding moms behind.

In the last week or so, things have become very heated in the feminist twitter community. Yes, there is one, it's weird and awesome all at the same time. Of course I love it.

Firstly, it must be addressed that there are some women who are not kind. Bluntly, that is it. There are women who champion breastfeeding without being considerate, without being kind or compassionate. Some of them even spread a hateful message. I do not stand behind these women, and I encourage everyone I meet to be inclusive and kind. This is very obviously a sensitive topic and I don't think there is anything wrong with treating it as such.

And secondly, breastfeeding in this modern time has become, unfortunately, something that is mysterious. There are a lot of misleading half-truths that are consistently spread by older generations, doctors, nurses, hospital "lactation consultants," and formula companies. We desperately want to spread truth about breastfeeding, and sometimes that means questioning things that women have heard.

For instance, someone shared in the midst of the kurfuffle that her mother could not breastfeed because she was intolerant to breast milk. Babies are not intolerant to breast milk. A baby could have an allergy or a sensitivity to something a mother is eating, but maybe that mother would have made the choice to eliminate peanuts or eggs (or whatever) from her diet and continued breastfeeding. Maybe not. But maybe so! And isn't it her right to know that and make an informed decision? It is hard for us breastfeeding mothers to stay quiet when we hear people repeating misinformation and all at once respect the relationship that mother may have with her choice to formula feed.

We know about the "mommy guilt," all of us. I know of it so deeply that sometimes it is crippling and I can feel weighed down and crushed by it. I can't imagine what it might be like to be bottle feeding publicly have have someone shame me for parenting my child. As a breastfeeder I fight for the right to breastfeed publicly but I have never had someone insinuate that I was a bad mother for breastfeeding. How upsetting, how demoralizing, how infuriating, how utterly cruel. This is not a comfortable position and I myself would probably also take a defensive stance. My worth as a mother is hardly defined by how I feed my baby. 

Please, my formula feeding moms, my fellow moms. Please understand that so many of us, we don't think you are stupid. We don't think you are uneducated. We don't think you didn't try hard enough. We don't think your baby is eating poison and we don't think your kid is going to be stupid.

We just want formula companies to stop their false advertising. We don't want them to lie to mothers anymore. We don't want them to pretend to offer breastfeeding support.

That's it, really. We just want the truth and the experts on breastfeeding to be the ones offering breastfeeding support. We want educated doctors, nurses, and internationally certified lactation consultants handing out unbiased information and support. I don't mind that formula companies exist and I think formula should be available, I just want them to keep a respectful distance from a mother's right to educate herself about feeding her baby.

We want all moms to make the best choice for them and their babies and their families. And you don't have to justify it to us, the breastfeeders, or anyone else.

Can I say it again? Your baby is loved and cared for. You are an amazing mom. We can all support all mothers so that each one knows her rights and has the access to make her best decisions, no matter what they may be.


  1. As soon as anyone realizes I'm not currently breastfeeding, I see the judgement all over their face. It's absolutely true that I feel compelled to explain to them why I couldn't breastfeed my daughter; to justify why I'm not nourishing my child with the best food there is.

    If they knew how hard we tried, maybe they would have some sympathy.

    If they knew the feeling of missing that bond, maybe they would ache like I do.

    If they knew that I feel like a failure as a mom already for being incapable of doing this natural thing, maybe they wouldn't feel the need to judge me.

    Thanks for being understanding of formula feeding moms everywhere :)

  2. My wife and I couldn't have given less of an (expletive) what other moms thought about her breastfeeding habits. It's none of their business.

    I don't like politics, and I don't like preaching, but people will make anything into a political issue and force their opinions on the rest of the world. Folks like this need to worry about their own lives and kids and boobs and homes and families and stay out of other women's bras.

  3. Yeah, so I was just thinking. Why do we feel the compulsion and entitlement to know how other people are feeding their children? It's kind of an intimate detail, isn't it? We don't walk up to someone and ask them how/what they feed any other member of their family, so why are babies different? I guess it just falls into one of the weird things about pregnancy/parenthood category, people feel it is their universal right to speak up? I don't know.

    I was very much looking forward to this post Farren. I believe 100% that if every lactivist were as kind as compassionate as you we would have a whole lot more breastfed babies. Never once have I felt shamed or less a mother in your presence, even when you and I had a very honest talk about my choice to supplement vs. ask for other mother's milk to feed A.

    Your post is thoughtful and represents both sides. I love it. I wish more lactivists took your stance, delivered their information and championed their cause like you do. You said it perfectly - a mother should never feel guilt for choosing formula for any circumstance. The fight against misinformation, needs to start at the top, with the formula companies, the hospitals and the nurses. Bringing a "passion" for correct information about breastfeeding, at any cost, can be so supremely damaging to a mother and a baby.

    Thanks for protecting me, supporting me, and ultimately championing the correct cause: fed, happy babies.

  4. this is beautiful, Farren. as a mom who did both [ff'd my first, bf'd my second], I can say that I whole-heartedly made the absolute right choice for BOTH kids. I made the right choice by choosing formula for Emma, and I made the right choice by continuing to breastfeed Lucy. Each child was different, and each child had different issues. We need more compassionate lactivists. We also need less judgement in the momma world.

  5. What a wonderfully written post. I wish that every lactivist had this same opinion. Both my boys have received formula, my older one self-weaned at 10 months and my pedi severely guilted me into supplementing with my younger son at 2 months (try listening to the nasty tone and "do you feed him when he's hungry?" come from your formerly trusted doctor). I never felt judged in person, but been judged multiple times on blogs and in social media circles. It's not a great feeling. Thanks for the wonderful words.

  6. You are so right.

    I had to stop BFing when my daughter was 8.5 mo old. I felt the need to explain the reasoning behind it to everyone who saw me giving her formula. It hurt. I felt guilt and shame and I was embarrassed. I wanted to give my daughter more, but I couldn't.

    When I step back and look at it now, I just think...what if formula didn't exist? She needed formula because I could no longer share my milk with her. She NEEDED it.

    Not one single person judged me to my face, but maybe it's because they all knew why. I don't know.

    I feel grateful to have had the support I did - family, friends - real life and internet, it was a ridiculously hard time for me. My daughter is almost 18 months old now and I still get teary when I think about it. I miss that bonding time that we had.

    Back to your point - we must support each other as MOTHERS. Period. Your life is not mine, my choices are not yours, the needs of my family are different than anyone else's.

  7. I am a breastfeeding mom and I support what you have shared here 100%! Thank you for taking the time to write such meaningful words.

    I do have to say that this applies to more than just breastfeeding. As human beings we tend to revel in tearing others down to build ourselves up. We need to unite and support one another more... as human beings, as women and as mothers.

  8. I agree with Erik and Avy. Now that I'm finished with formula for the rest of my life (barring a big time accident!) I really just feel like, what in the fuck were those women thinking, involving themselves in how I was feeding my baby? It's nobody's business what other moms are doing, unless they have substantial evidence that the mom in question is mentally deficient or criminally insane. OF COURSE all moms are doing what is best for their babies.

    I understand Feminist Breeder's pov about the way the system is set up to help women to fail at breastfeeding. I also understand that, whether my choice was a product of a fucked up system of care for new mothers or not, I did what was best for my kids. Period. Everybody does, and anybody who doesn't understand that is coming from a place of arrogance.

    Anyway, you're a smart, awesome woman and I'm so glad I know you.

  9. AMEN! Thank you for posting my exact thoughts on this subject so eloquently.

  10. Farren this was very nice to read, I'm years away from Breastfeeding, and expressing compassion for those who cannot or chose not to breast feed is so wonderful. Due to an operation I lost my breast feeding connection with Emma and it crushed me as a mother, it made me feel less of a mother not society. But I did get over it and still enjoyed a wonderful bond with my beautiful daughter.

  11. Great post! I have girlfriends that struggle with the implications of formula feeding, and it is hard to see moms experiencing so much guilt. One friend admitted to not feeling "biologically capable of being a mother" when she was not able to produce enough breast milk to sustain her son. Another very lucky friend was able to use the Breast Milk Bank in Vancouver when she was not able to breast feed due to a breast reduction surgery years ago, but she still felt guilty about feeding with a bottle in public. Another girlfriends insistence to use only breast milk when she clearly was not producing enough, resulted in her baby to start actually losing weight, becoming emaciated before her doctor informed her that he was going to report her if she did not supplement her breast milk with formula. She still feels very guilty about having to formula feed..

    It is an issue I've never had to face, and I hope that I am able to breast feed without problems like me mother did for me! If I can't though, I hope to experience acceptance and support from other mothers.

  12. My first comment here, Hi Farren!
    I have much to say, but not the right words to express it. I BF and FF both my kids for all the right reasons. Like you said, they were mine and my husband's reasons and ours alone.
    I just want to say thank you! I have felt the mother's guilt in the form of a "feeding" conversation. This is a lovely representation of the "right" way to go about things. Again, a wonderful read, thanks.

  13. Here's the thing, I feed my children. I assume you all do to. I don't care if you breast feed, formula feed or both. I again assume that you have made an informed decision in the best interest of your child, your situation and your life. Just like every decision you make in parenting.

    No single decision I make should define me as a parent nor as a human. I have four children (or will have by the April) and each decision I make is unique to that child and that moment in time. I do not want to be labelled as a breast feeding mom, a co-sleeping mom or any other ridiculous label. I prefer just plain old mom, one who's doing her best to raise happy, healthy, loved kids.

  14. I have a completely different perspective on this matter....
    I have a 15 year old daughter that I gave up for adoption. So breastfeeding was completely out of the question and highly inappropriate. To ease everyones mind your formula fed children will be smart. My daughter is on the honor role and a runway model. I do however wish there would have been some way for me to breastfeed as it looks like such an amazing experience. I am pretty sure I am not having children so the fact that I got to experience the pregnancy was amazing!! :)

    Farren you are an amazing writter, Mother, person and I love you to pieces! You are an inspiration and I now want to become a Mother's advocate! Everyone join together don't be divided. :)