parent opinion

'I wrote an article about bottle feeding my baby. Someone told me I was 'sickening'.

This week is World Breastfeeding Week, and there's no understating its importance. Without a doubt, there's more work to be done in advocating for the rights of women, especially in the postpartum period. Raising awareness of the demands of breastfeeding and ensuring that women have access to adequate support, including appropriate leave from work and facilities when they return, is critical to the health of both mothers and babies.

So you won't hear any arguments from me: advocating for mothers who breastfeed is critical. 

But so is advocating for mothers who don't.

There's no question that mothers who don't breastfeed, or who don't breastfeed for long, remain the subject of criticism - both generally, in the messages we broadcast as a society, and specifically, in how people feel entitled to approach individuals and comment on how they're feeding their child.

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Video via Mamamia.

The comments vary in tone and style, but they are substantially the same. 


You are selfish.

You are sacrificing the health of your baby for your own convenience. 

Breastfeeding is natural. Formula feeding isn't.

You should have tried harder. You can always, always try harder. 

On a recent article I wrote about bottle feeding, total strangers felt empowered to make these points and more. 

"We are the only species on Earth who gives our newborns the milk of another animal. It's sickening," said one particularly evocative comment (presumably also sickened by other innovations unique to the human species like sewerage systems and antibiotics; presumably also happy for humans to take the course that other animals do if they can't feed their newborns, being abandoning them to die).  

We've come a long way in recent years when it comes to how society at large speaks about women, and mothers specifically. But commenting on a mother's choice not to breastfeed still seems to be a free-for-all.

The fact is, there are a huge number of reasons mothers might not breastfeed.  

Some mothers don't breastfeed because they have a physical impediment that makes it impossible. 

Some mothers don't breastfeed because they're on medication which means they can't.

Some mothers don't breastfeed because, as desperately hard as they try, they just can't get it to click.


Some mothers start breastfeeding, but stop earlier than expected, because the emotional or physical toll it takes on them makes it impossible to continue. 

Some mothers start breastfeeding, but stop earlier than they'd hoped, because their babies aren't thriving on their breastmilk. 

And some mothers don't breastfeed because they simply choose not to. 

None of these reasons are "selfish", but even if they were, the premise that mothers must set themselves aside entirely from the moment their babies are conceived, or else feel guilty for the rest of their lives, is damaging beyond belief. 

None of these reasons are "selfish", but they also simply aren't anyone else's business. Mothers who don't breastfeed shouldn't need to justify those circumstances to anyone. They don't need to "prove" they couldn't, or that they tried. They don;t need to say they feel guilty about it. They don't need to say... anything.

This week is World Breastfeeding Week, and mothers who don't breastfeed probably don't need to hear anyone else to expand on the health benefits of breastmilk for their baby. They probably don't need to read another story about how other women "pushed through" initial issues with breastfeeding. They certainly don't need to be told the way they feed their babies is "unnatural", when - like so many other incredible feats of science - the ability to formula feed in the absence of breastmilk quite literally saves lives.


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But they might need to someone to tell them it's okay if they couldn't breastfeed their baby for as long as they would have liked to, or at all. 

They might need someone to tell them that their health, and their mental health, are worthy priorities, even if society tells them that their baby is all that matters. 

They might need someone to tell them that they don't need to "prove" to anyone that they tried to breastfeed, or how hard, or for how long.

They might need someone to tell them they don't need to "earn" the right to give their baby formula. 

They might need someone to tell them that nothing – not even this – is worth driving themselves to a breaking point. 

And they might need a stranger to make the only comment that's acceptable this World Breastfeeding Week on the way they feed their baby: 

You are doing an exceptional job. 

Did you know we have a whole family focussed community you can join on Facebook for more discussions like this? Join the Mamamia Family Facebook group and follow Mamamia Family on Instagram and tell us what #parentinglookslike for you!

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