A Response to an Article Entitled, “Why Breast Isn’t Always Best”
It’s a piece written from a very emotional place. Its clear this mother felt criticized and guilty. That’s a common experience for women who use formula. The reality is, in our society breastfeeding is not easy. There are many barriers in place and while women are told by their doctors, nurses, media, friends and pretty much everyone that they should breastfeed, the real message they get is very different because of a lack of support.
They are told one thing, and then what they see are the obstacles that society has created and no one helps them overcome. In the light of that circumstance, their rational often turns into an antagonistic relationship with (or I suppose, against) breastfeeding and by proxy people who promote breastfeeding or even women who do breastfeed. I think it’s because they realize the very society that says they want them to breastfeed is what makes it very difficult to breastfeeed. I don’t like that they turn against breastfeeding, or breastfeeding advocacy or women who breastfeed. That part isn’t right. You can’t turn your back on evidence and facts because you want to. But I certainly understand where their pain comes from.
Many mothers who use formula have shared with me their experiences, and I can honestly say, I have never thought a single one of them didn’t have a valid reason for not breastfeeding. Many of them struggled a great deal to try to breastfeed. They were given bad advice, wrong information. They had to deal with painful complications that resulted from lack of support such as thrush, cracked nipples, low supply, etc. Some needed to return to work too soon, or had to go on medications to maintain their own health and welfare. Some didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of breastfeeding. And in this hypersexualized society, I can’t really place the blame for that on any individual woman. Some women were alcoholics or drug addicts. Sure, they shouldn’t be, but that was their reality and they were doing what they could with what they had at the time.
Sure, as a breastfeeding advocate and someone who has spent countless hours educating myself about breastfeeding I could see ways these women could have done something differently to be able to continue breastfeeding. But that’s my reality, not theirs. When I first became a breastfeeding mother, I nearly ended up formula feeding for some of these reasons. If not for the support of friends and family around me, I would have given up on breastfeeding. I was lucky to have that support; to have grandmothers who knew how to breastfeed, to have grown up seeing my aunts do it, to have a patient husband who helped out 100%, a mother and father in law who were so encouraging, and to have the energy and dedication to stick with it no matter what. If I knew then what I knew now I would not have had half the problems I had in the beginning.
This is the issue. There is a cultural knowledge deficit when it comes to breastfeeding. Sure, it’s natural, but it’s not an instinct. Nursing is a learned skill that takes time, patience and experience to learn. That’s right, it takes experience to learn how to breastfeed. That experience is garnered through seeing other women breastfeed. Talking to other women who breastfeed. If you grew up your whole life seeing other women feed their babies from their breast and listening to them talk to each other about it, you’d likely know everything you needed to know by the time you had your own. Not to mention, you’d have some of those women around you to help you. But we don’t have that. We don’t live in communal societies anymore, and we certainly don’t see much breastfeeding in our day-to-day lives. You don’t think about it very much before you yourself become pregnant, and if you’re lucky, you had the idea to start going to La Leche League meetings while you were still pregnant. But mostly, women are isolated from breastfeeding.
This lack of cultural knowledge places a very heavy burden on women. There is no doubt that breastfeeding your baby is superior to any other form of artificial nutrition you can provide for your child. That is the fact. The other important fact is that in our society, it has become the mother alone who bears the brunt of trying to figure out how to breastfeed, become a mother, live without sleep, and overcome social stigma all at the same time, and all at the same time as their life’s role has drastically just changed. How fair is that?
I don’t like this article. Instead of helping to rectify the situation it just perpetuates it. The author has the right to her opinion, and her experience, but in writing an article like this, it doesn’t do anything to help the problem. In fact, it only makes it even more difficult for other women to breastfeed. Instead of providing any constructive advice for making breastfeeding easier or allowing for avenues of support, it shuts down breastfeeding. It diminishes its importance and does nothing but seek to alleviate the guilt most mothers who use formula feel. That guilt is unfair, but addressing it in a way that only seeks to address the guilt itself, it does nothing to address the real issue. And that is that breastfeeding in our society is difficult because of many barriers. Women need and deserve support when it comes to breastfeeding. Mothers should never feel guilty for giving their babies formula. It is society that is failing, not the mothers.