Breast is Best, Right?

Well, in a word….yes.

So is not feeding solids until 6 months of age, no TV until at least age two, having babies sleep only on their backs and avoiding fast food like the plague. Out of all of those parenting choices, the only guideline I was able to follow was breastfeeding for at least a year.

Breastfeeding has the same level of impassioned folks on both sides at birth choice.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a big breastfeeding supporter. I loved doing it and I think it’s important that as many babies as possible receive the benefits of being breastfed. It was very meaningful to me personally and even though I struggled at times with it, I found it rewarding; plus the smell of formula makes me want to gag. (Although I guess at one time in my life I thought it was fantastic.) I am never more satisfied at work than when I can help a mom who is struggling to nurse and give her the support and guidance she needs to make it through the rough patches and have a successful nursing relationship, and I feel badly for myself and every other woman who wants (or wanted) to breastfeed, but doesn’t have anyone in their family or circle of friends who has BTDT and can support them through the (sometimes) rough early days.

To me, radical breastfeeding advocates, or “lactivists“, are kind of like evangelical Christians. They mean well and think they have your best interest at heart (or at least your baby’s) but then they go too far with it all. Clearly it’s the same psychology. They’ve found something amazing and life changing and they want to make sure that all of the poor lost folks who don’t know what they’re missing get a clue before it’s too late.

There is a difference between education and condemnation though, and that is where overzealousness and mother guilt collide with disastrous consequences. If you google “breast vs. bottle debate” (which I’m not suggesting you do) you can find page after page, blog after blog and message board after message board where  women hurl the most ridiculous insults at each other and condemn each other’s choices.

I think I speak for most pro-breastfeeding moms when I say that, for the most part, any frustration we feel in this regard is not directed at bottle feeding moms but at the system which still doesn’t know how to teach and help new moms learn how to nurse or how to overcome nursing problems. I frequently hear stories from moms who are really committed to breastfeeding, but who are actively discouraged or given poor advice by friends, family and even our pediatricians. Our moms and grandmothers were told that bottle feeding was the healthier choice by all of their doctors, and by the formula companies, so for the most part, they all bottle fed thus breaking an important link between the generations when it came to breastfeeding.

So those of us who do want to nurse are feeling a little adrift. We deal with the dirty looks when we try to nurse in public. We deal with trying to figure out things on our own, and we feel proud when we manage to overcome the current culture and breastfeed our babies for more than a few weeks. Sometimes, that pride looks more like an accusation to moms who couldn’t or didn’t want to breastfeed, and that’s a shame for both sides, because once again, instead of helping and encouraging each other, we moms turn into “mean girls”.

So, bottle feeding moms, I think you’re great. I know you’re bonded to your babies and that you made whatever choices you made after careful thought and after assessing your own personal situation. If any breastfeeding mom calls you names or says anything disparaging about your parenting skills because you bottle feed you have my permission to throw them the finger.

Breastfeeding moms, I think you’re great too. I know you’ve probably endured some sore nipples and you’ve postponed getting your body back to yourself because you’re trying to give your baby the best start you can. If anyone tries to tell you breastfeeding is gross and makes you feel bad for nursing in public you have my permission to throw them the finger.

Can we just remember that we are all trying to do the best we can with the information and circumstances we have? Trying to educate and encourage a dialog is one thing; assumptions and judgmental statements are something else altogether. Be kind to one another. Being a mom is hard enough and we need all the support we can get.

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