What part of "I had breast cancer, that's why I can't breastfeed" don't these people understand?

Breast cancer survivor’s post about why she didn’t breastfeed goes viral.

For new mother Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, the decision not to breastfeed was simple: After breast cancer and a double mastectomy, she can’t.

Nine months after her son Lincoln was born, she’s still stunned by the pressure and judgment she faced from friends, strangers and even the lactation consultants at the hospital. Emily, a national reporter for The Washington Post, wrote about her experience with formula feeding in an essay that has gone viral, illuminating a darker side of the pro-breastfeeding movement.

Not breast-feeding, not apologising - Emily Wax-Thibodeaux with son Lincoln.

In her essay, titled "Why I don't breastfeed, if you must know," Emily described how the blissful moment of watching her husband feed their newborn in the hospital after she gave birth was ruined when lactation consultants descended on the family’s hospital room to suggest breastfeeding as a better option.

When Emily explained that she is a breast cancer survivor who is unable to breastfeed, they still insisted.

“Just try,” one advised. “Let’s hope you get some milk.”

“It may come out anyway, through your armpits,” another said.

Diagnosed with breast cancer at age 32, Emily had a double mastectomy followed by chemotherapy and reconstruction. In the nine months since having Lincoln, Emily continues to get “the question” from mums she meets, whether at yoga class or at the park or even from friends: “So you’re not breastfeeding? It’s better, you know.”

Emily, now 40, says she wrote the story to point out that breastfeeding is not the only way to bond with your baby. “A lot of the breastfeeding literature says you will be closer, have a better bond. But I can’t imagine feeling closer to Lincoln,” she told

Lincoln on the bongo drums. Via Emily_Wax Twitter.

“There is a feeling that you are a more superior mother if you can breastfeed. But motherhood is about so much more.”

In addition to other breast cancer survivors, Emily said, people who responded to her story included mums who had different reasons for not breastfeeding. Some had serious problems, such as babies with cleft palates or women with chronic kidney disease. She also heard from mums who just didn’t want to breastfeed, or found it difficult, or wanted to share feeding responsibilities with their husbands.


“A lot of the emails felt like confessionals, people who felt like they couldn’t talk about it because it was stigmatised,” says Emily, who wished she could have told people who judged her about formula feeding to “back off". She hopes writing about the issue will give others support.

Comments on her story were mostly reassuring. One woman, a self-described “militant (haha) 1990s breastfeeder (anywhere, anytime),” congratulated Emily on her cancer recovery and her baby, and said, “So you got the two important things covered. Anything else is just background noise. You can support breastfeeders and/or bottle-feeders … with more information, if you want, or not. Either way is fine.”

Another responded: “I remember the era in which women who breastfed were castigated. Now the vituperation is aimed at women who feed formula to their infants. My view of feminism and common sense is that one size does not fit all. Let each mother decide what is best for her and her baby.”

Other parents wondered why formula-feeders, in general, even need to defend their stance.

Jennifer Adams wrote on Facebook: “The breast/formula wars are a good example of mind your own business; but my question is, why do you (general you) even care what other people think of your decisions? I breastfed both of my children and had to supplement the second child with formula, and I never considered anyone's opinion but my own; not my husband's, not my friends', just me and the baby — he needed to eat, I didn't have enough milk, voila = formula. No biggie!”

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