I can admit it: A long, long time ago, after I had passed the many hurdles I encountered when breastfeeding my first kid, I was a different kind of breastfeeding advocate. Having avoided the use of formula (which has more to with my husband talking sense into me when I was panicking about having no milk than anything I did myself), I was a bit smug. I even, yes, looked down upon moms who used formula.
But, as people do, I evolved. I paid attention to what people were saying about breastfeeding and how our culture treats breastfeeding. I took the CLC course and developed a better understanding of the science behind breastfeeding and the art of counseling. Do I still have a ways to go? Absolutely. The counseling aspect of what I do is the most challenging; the earliest days of a baby’s life may often be some of the happiest, but are also some of the hardest.
Being able to see how I have gotten from that point way over there, nearly seven years ago, to where I am now, it can be particularly difficult to hear the words that every breastfeeding advocate dreads: Stop shaming moms.
It is the Godwin’s Law of conversations about breastfeeding. Once that card is pulled, there is no way out. Unfortunately, that card is often played early in the game, effectively shutting down conversation that needs to be had in order to nudge our culture along, closer toward being truly supportive of breastfeeding families (and families in general).
The truly funny thing is that, aside from a general desire for all babies to receive human milk because they’re humans and for children and adults to have secure sources of food that nourishes them in whatever ways they need it, I really don’t care what you feed your baby.
No, really. If you’re feeding your baby safely*, I do not care about the content of those feeds or the delivery method.
Here’s what I do care about: You feeling like you’re feeding your baby like a boss.
If you want to breastfeed, I want to help you make that happen. If you want to stop breastfeeding, I want to help you feel secure in that decision, and offer information that you might not hear from everyone, like “watch out for mastitis if you wean suddenly” and “you might feel kind of depressed when your baby weans.”
Sometimes I get angry about things related to breastfeeding, like “solutions” to breastfeeding problems being offered in bottle form, the way infant formula is marketed to parents and healthcare providers, how moms are being told to cover up when nursing in public [insert five million links about this here], and, recently, how necrotizing enterocolitis kills a whole lot more babies a year than, say, choking on hot dogs, but there have been massive campaigns about putting warning labels on hot dogs and very, very little about simple, effective solutions like donor milk. What makes me angry isn’t formula or bottles or babies not getting the so-called “benefits” of breastfeeding. I get angry that people who are choosing to breastfeed and trying their best are being undermined. I get even angrier when someone feels like a failure when what happened was absolutely no fault of their own.
I try to channel this anger into things like blog posts that are, in my opinion, pretty even keeled and reasonable. Even so, I’ve received criticism when suggesting that families talk to a lactation professional before automatically listening to healthcare providers who suggest formula.
Apparently lactation professionals shouldn’t be the end-all and be-all when it comes to lactation, and the only appropriate way to supplement a baby if there’s a medical need is to use formula. You know, even though IBCLCs in general have a whole lot of education and experience and there are options like “supplementing with a mother’s own milk” and “supplementing with donor milk” (and bottles are not the only possible delivery method).
It does feel like we can’t win when it comes to advocacy. There are those advocates who are absolute jerks to moms who use formula, who make the rest of us look bad. There’s a hair trigger on the “shame” and “guilt” topics, and those must be picked through like a minefield. You can try to cover all your bases and make it clear that parents have the right to ask questions about their children’s care and seek second opinions when they feel they need them, and you’re one of “those” breastfeeding advocates who does more harm than good.
But haters are gonna hate, right? In the meantime, I’ll try to not look too much like this:
*There are some things about bottlefeeding that can be unsafe. Some things do not depend upon what is in the bottle (such as bottle propping). Other things can be concerns that are exclusive to feeding formula (such as incorrect ratios when mixing water and formula). All caregivers should be feeding babies safely, whatever babies are being fed.