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It's not about picking on moms, it's about breaking down societal barriers

I'm getting tired of hearing the same old thing over and over again. Every time a study comes out that talks about the benefits of breastfeeding, whether it is the benefits to the child, the benefits to the mom, or the benefits to society in general, people get their noses out of joint. They say things like "don't make moms feel guilty for formula feeding" or "quit picking on moms who don't breast-feed". In fact that second statement is the title of a post published today on creators.com by Lenore Skenazy, the author of Free Range Kids.

In her post, which is in response to the study The Burden of Suboptimal Breastfeeding in the United States: A Pediatric Cost Analysis, which I wrote about a few days ago,  Lenore says:
Why are we so eager to terrify mothers who don't breast-feed? Why don't we terrify the moms AND dads who put their children in cars? Every day, five or six children die in car crashes, even kids in car seats. Yet we don't run national stories that say, "IRRESPONSIBLE PARENTS CONTINUE TO DRIVE THEIR CHILDREN," or, "COUNTRY COULD SAVE BILLIONS IF PARENTS QUIT TRANSPORTING KIDS IN CARS." That's because driving is too important. Everyone understands that if we couldn't drive our kids around, we couldn't do anything. Walk them everywhere? It's impractical. It's impossible. The benefits don't outweigh the costs.

But when it comes to a mother's time, who cares? It's hard to breast-feed? So what. It hurts? So what. It's exceedingly difficult to go back to work and pump and schlep and get up for all the nighttime feedings and still function during the day? What are you, lady, some kind of baby killer?

I think she (and many others) missed the point of the study altogether. The intent of the study is not to pick on moms or to make them feel guilty. The point of the study is to achieve greater societal, political, and institutional support for breastfeeding.

To borrow from Lenore's analogy, I think it would be more pertinent to compare support for breastfeeding with support for public transportation. We all know that travel by car is more expensive, more dangerous, and worse for the environment than using public transportation. However, when a study talks about the ills of car travel and points to the need for greater support and investment in public transportation, no one starts whining about car drivers being picked on (okay, maybe not no one....but those who do certainly come out looking like idiots).

It is time that we accept the facts. When compared with breastfeeding, formula has risks. That doesn't mean that every mom who doesn't breastfeed is "some kind of baby killer." What it does mean is that every mom who does want to breastfeed deserves a fighting chance to be able to do so. She deserves knowledgeable health care providers. She deserves a supportive family. She deserves a supportive work environment. She deserves access to maternity leave. She deserves to be able to breastfeed in public without being harassed. She deserves to not have unsolicited free formula showing up on her doorstep.

I'm with you on this Lenore - it is time to quit picking on moms who don't breast-feed, but it isn't time to quit talking about the importance of breastfeeding and the risks of formula. At least not until most moms who want to breastfeed are able to do so.

Read more:

Image credit: JAWarren on flickr
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Reader Comments (84)

This was great! I also get more than a little miffed when women of privilege talk about how formula is just fine. You know, it may work out all right under the most perfect of conditions, where both parents and caregivers are smart enough to always prepare the formula correctly, there is always plenty of money to buy it with, always clean water to mix it with, always a means to sanitize the bottles and nipples and good insurance and doctors nearby for when the baby gets sick. BUT that's not the case the majority of the time. When black babies are dying at 8x the rate of white babies, when breast milk is literally saving the lives of babies in the NICU across this country every day, I find it more than a little irresponsible for wealthy, educated folks to talk about how formula couldn't possibly be linked to deaths. Just because "everyone I know is fine!" doesn't make it so across the board.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElita @ Blacktating

Yes! Amen!

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy

Thank you. This is correct. Being mean has no place in breastfeeding awareness, and that report was not cruel. It simply stated facts. Why do people get upset over facts, research? They don't about other scientific studies, why this?

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLauralee

I think you hit the nail on the head here Annie. I wanted to breastfeed because I learned how important it was to my child's health. I learned this information before she was born, before the coupons showed up, and before I had sore nipples. Having the solid facts on the importance of breastfeeding was part of what helped to motivate me through the difficult early times, and it motivated me seek help with my latch issues and support from other moms who had successfully breast-fed their babies.

I didn't breastfeed to make other moms feel bad. I breast-fed because studies like this one helped me understand the cost of making a decision to feed formula instead. And studies like this one helped me see how some doctors know about feeding babies: when my pediatrician told me my breastmilk wasn't nutritious enough to sustain my (17 pound) 4 month-old and I should begin solids and consider supplementing with formula I was able to debunk him and get a new doctor. No wonder so many women have trouble!

I was lucky- I discussed breastfeeding with my male boss before my leave (and again at a short meeting before returning from maternity leave) and told him how important it was to me, and outlined some benefits to the company that I found at the Business Case for Breastfeeding (http://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/programs/business-case/). My company had a lactation room and I was allowed to take extra breaks (unpaid) to pump at work. We chose a daycare close to my office so I could nurse my daughter at lunch. I feel like studies like these can open the eyes of moms and employers to work together to make breastfeeding possible for even more women. Until breastfeeding becomes a health priority and the dangers of formula are understood, there is no reason for employers or others (especially in the US) to do anything to help women establish and maintain a breastfeeding relationship with their babies.

As far as guilting other moms: my decision to breastfeed, to pump at work, take my daily lunches at the daycare (because I couldn't pump enough for all feeds), were not about anybody else. And if my dedication to my baby is offensive or makes you feel guilty, ask yourself why. I made the choices I did because they were right for us and I made the commitment because my children's health is important and I was educated about the connection.

When moms don't have the accurate information they need to make important decisions, when doctors and "baby experts" perpetuate myths and barriers to normal feeding (in exchange for "donations" or out of ignorance), and when moms are not supported to breastfeed by family, friends or strangers at the mall, choosing formula looks like no big deal (one label reads: "closest to breastmilk"), or formula looks like it's easier. After all: "It’s exceedingly difficult to go back to work and pump and schlep and get up for all the nighttime feedings and still function during the day".

But when women learn it IS a big deal and they have been duped into risking their child's health by questionable marketing tactics, they get angry. Let's focus this energy and anger where it belongs: on the misinformation perpetuated by companies that make money by encouraging breastfeeding moms and formula feeding moms to think they are on opposite teams. When we sit on the same team bench, we hear the truth: "I wanted to breastfeed but..."
And studies like these can get us all fired up to work creatively together to eliminate those barriers.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

I am so with you on this. Why is it that we can *never* talk about the benefits of breastfeeding without being accused of being intensive or mean. You see this over and over again and it makes me crazy. Women who are passionate about breastfeeding and promote breastfeeding by talking about the *facts* are constantly under attack.

When are mothers going to stop fighting with each other? When are people going to stop making all kinds of false accusations and start thinking about what really matters -- the health and welfare of our children and ultimately our population.

For crying out loud, people need to get their priorities straight.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFamilyNature

Such a thoughtful, well-written post on a sensitive subject! Thank you for speaking up in a way that is not defensive or obnoxious (which can unfortunately be the case on both sides of the "feeding debate"). I absolutely agree. We're always so afraid to say that something is "best." And wanting to encourage women to find support so they can work through something that is challenging and demanding and do what is best is not a bad thing.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMindy

Great post I totally agree!!!

Elita, You rock...RIGHT ON!!!

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEmilee

I think it's unfortunate that still in TWO THOUSAND TEN there is such a lack of breastfeeding knowledge and support. So many Moms make so many choices from word of mouth sources- a mom from church, a co-worker, sister-in-law, mom in the playgroup. And unless one of those Moms is helpful with positive breastfeeding experience and info, I've found that many new moms will struggle on their own. Talk about the benefits of breastfeeding should be widespread without others feeling condemnation. If only to let Moms know the option is there. I just met my new neighbor across the street and street and she's having her first baby next week. I told her I'm available for anything she might need, including breastfeeding help and she perked up. She said she had a goal of 3 weeks, but didn't know much about breastfeeding!

I also told her that personally, I love breastfeeding my children and do think it is best for them, but don't let anyone guilt you either way. :)

I do also think many people CHOOSE to be offended by the push for breastfeeding and often they choose to feel like people are saying formula feeders are doing something wrong. In all my years of breastfeeding I've never been around anyone that has been offensive and hurtful about promoting breastfeeding. Above all, we're Moms and we've got that secret handshake, we (should) support no matter what our breasts do or don't do. :)



The thing is, breast vs formula *isn't* driving a car. It's about feeding your child. And for many people, the decision to feed your child formula is an intensely personal one, often arrived at after days or weeks of pain and frustration and guilt. And every time another study comes out that says, basically, "you aren't doing the best thing you can for your child" and people start blogging about it, it hurts you in an already sore spot. And it sucks. This is why I hate analogies sometimes, because we just aren't talking about a car. We're talking about babies and bodies and pain and frustration and trying to do the best you can.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterzchamu


You're right. It is very personal. There is no perfect analogy.

But it is also ESSENTIAL that women be supported in their efforts to breastfeed. If we don't continue to talk about how important it is, then it will not be made a priority.

So how do we get people to stop reading the study as saying "you aren't doing the best thing you can for your child" and instead get them to read it as "we need to invest in greater support for breastfeeding moms"?

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

zchamu, I agree w/ you 100%; I think the analogy is insensitive and dismissive. It's not the same, but it's easy to draw analogies that dismiss the intensely emotional struggle to breastfeed and then say, "see, it's nothing personal!" It IS personal. The decision to breastfeed or to formula feed will always be personal. Pretending it's not just adds insult to injury to those moms who struggled to breastfeed and for whatever reason, had to (or, as some would asset, chose to) switch to formula feeding the person they love most in this world.

I breastfed and I get all of health reasons why it is a benefit for both mother and child. And I agree that there needs to be more education for women who don't have all the information, and breastfeeding needs to be supported more in the work place for those women who do breastfeed, and there need to be more laws (and more enforcement of those laws) that protect a breastfeeding baby's right to eat whenever and wherever they are hungry.

But I do think that more sensitivity needs to be afforded to those women who, for whatever reason, formula feed. Pretending that you can say, "hey, it's really not personal. I'm not picking on you, but...." and then not have any concern for another mother's feelings just doesn't work for me.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersarah

Stop addressing articles about it as though talking to mothers, and start doing it talking only to midwives, obstetricians, family doctors, employers, and Outraged Of Tunbridge Wells in the letters to the editor page. None of those groups are routinely told "ur doin it rong" and at the same time refused the information and resources to do it right.

That and [REDACTED] formula companies, especially their marketing departments. Follow-on milk. Gah.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAilbhe


I think when we say "it's nothing personal", it isn't because we are pretending the feeding decision isn't personal. It is because the data is not being presented in order to attack an individual's personal decision. The data is being presented in order to beg for institutional and societal support for breastfeeding.

I have a lot of concern for other mothers feelings. That is why I wish SO MUCH that we could find a way for FEWER moms to feel bad about breastfeeding not working out. The best way to do that is to ensure that they have all the support in the world.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

As a mom who formula fed my child, I just want to say that I don't think all of us feel that breastfeeding is not best. Actually, I agree that breastfeeding IS best. We are not jealous or envious (as someone stated above). But from personal experience, it does get rather annoying when people make a reference to "Why are you giving your child that?" or "Why didn't you breastfeed?" as you feed your child a bottle of formula. Or, my favorite, when they give you a look like you just whipped open a bottle of vodka and fed it to your child.

Fact is, breastfeeding needs to be made more "available" to new moms. After giving birth in a hospital, i found the nurses VERY impatient. My child didn't latch on quickly and it was deemed that, well, I just couldn't breastfeed. I also had a very extreme let down sensation which I wish I had more info on at the time to help me cope. Granted, i still pumped for about 3 months after (and gave him formula as well) because I felt some breastmilk was better than no breastmilk.

I have to say that coming from a place of sensitivity and understanding, and PATIENCE, is definitely effective in getting the point across to breastfeed. I tried, I really did, and I only wish I had a little more support than I did. it would have made a huge difference. But all I mainly got were the looks and comments, which coupled in with some post partum depression, made me even unhappier as a new mom.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersammie

"So how do we get people to stop reading the study as saying “you aren’t doing the best thing you can for your child..”"

Honestly? You can't. When the conclusion of the study basically states that "if 90% of new mothers were able to follow guidelines for six months of exclusive breastfeeding, an estimated 911 deaths could be prevented and $13 billion could be saved", that strikes right to the core of every mother who started breastfeeding and stopped, unable to "follow guidelines". This isn't a shot by any means at your wording; it's just the reality.

I do absolutely agree with you that the problem isn't us women and mothers. It's breastfeeding support at large. I am still working on a letter (9 months later) to the Civic hospital shredding their nursing staff over their breastfeeding "support". I squarely blame one nurse 100% for the fact that my daughter's latch got screwed. And I'm not big on blame as a rule.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterzchamu

Thank you for this. I recently wrote a long note about my feelings regarding breastfeeding (I'm a nurse). The topic of guilt and judgement came up throughout the course of the ensuing discussion but I just could not convey my feelings the way you so eloquently have. My goal is never, ever to make someone feel guilty. I am not a mean person. My goal is to educate and support. Breastfeeding support is severely lacking, despite the increasing number of people becoming more educated about the topic. I simply try to undo so many myths that float around out there, such as "formula is just as good" or "it hasn't affected my child at all". How do women know that it hasn't affected their child when they have nothing to compare it to? It is frustrating as well that state insurance will pay for drugs and formula but will not pay for lactation support, which could save them thousands in the future. Thank you for sharing this.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

zchamu: If you need another signature on that letter, let me know. I never heard back from the one I sent to the General.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Ailbhe: I think a lot of it is the media spin, not the studies themselves. I completely agree that talking to/blaming mothers (in this instance in particular and in many more) is the wrong thing to do. The blame belong somewhere else.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

With all the push to combat childhood obesity/diabetes, you don't see anyone worrying about "picking on "moms/dads who feed their kids crap! But when anyone encourages breastfeeding, out come the whines and bullhorns. Breastfeeding is THE way to feed your baby and people need the REAL facts about how bad formula really is.
Ask Jeanie Stolzer, Ph.D.!!! After you have heard her talk, you wouldn't come close to formula!

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeb

This is a great piece. I am so tired of being made to feel censored about breastfeeding. I feel like I can't talk about the benefits of breastfeeding without someone taking it wrong. I shouldn't have to be ashamed of breastfeeding, much less extended breastfeeding in this day and age.

When I got pregnant, I didn't know anyone who had breastfed. My mom didn't, my aunts didn't, none of my friends did. I breastfed (and still am at 15 months) because human babies should drink human milk. Of course breastfeeding is best...to me it was a no-brainer. Isn't that what breasts are for?

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth C.

Yes, it's the articles about it, not the studies themselves. There are lots of studies, but one thing breastfeeding doesn't have is a profit margin.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAilbhe

Yes, a million times yes. I think too often moms who want to breastfeed feel alone and without the support and help them need to successful over come the obstacles. There needs to be more information, education and support made available to women who make the choose to breastfeed.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

I hesitate to even weigh in on these kinds of discussions because they always manage to devolve into something that's not really helpful. But, I'm a glutton for punishment, I guess.

I take exception with the car analogy - we're not talking here about where a modern convenience is necessary or optional. Babies are biologically programmed to be breastfed - just in the same way as they are biologically meant to be gestated by a human, they are meant to be by a human after birth.

Modern science means that when nature fails (whether in pregnancy or in lactation) we can often save those babies. But no one would argue that delivering babies routinely at 35 weeks so mom could get this whole pregnancy thing over with and back to her normal self is a wise or ethical choice. Neither should we be arguing that routinely sabotaging breastfeeding is a wise or ethical choice.

Turning into a choice or freedom issue absolves too many institutions and decision-makers of blame for the harm they're doing to mothers and their babies by making this impossible (which includes providing mothers with false information about the risks of their decision).

Michelle... I concur 100% and I'm glad you were outspoken today. As a nurse (and lactivist) this is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. I work in a profession that routinely sabotages breastfeeding for mothers and infants. Let me explain... on the surface we say we are pro breastfeeding. On the surface we are allowed to say things like, "Breast is best" and we have dismal lactation support. (I work in a small, community hospital and we have a lactation consultant available M-F in the mornings only. Tell me how that is helpful for women who need support in the afternoons or weekends?)

It's all surface. Beyond that, we are really not very supportive. We hand out "free" formula ("free" in that it doesn't cost the mother any money, but there are more far reaching costs) and we are not allowed to go much beyond small talk about immunities in colostrum and breast is best. When you start going ANY deeper than that, you are accused of being a "breastfeeding nazi" (not my term) and making mothers feel guilty. It is a no win situation of vast proportions. It is not helpful that we have old school pediatricians whose education on lactation is either outdated or nonexistent. Mothers believe their pediatricians, even when what they tell them is categorically false, and once that happens, there is nothing I as a nurse can say to change their minds or make them feel differently.

As a nurse I am required to discuss the risks and side effects of everything else... surgery, medications, consequences for not following medical advice, etc. But it all goes out the window when it comes to breastfeeding... all in the name of not making mothers feel guilty. We live in a highly litigious society and I believe that soon will come the day when we will be sued left and right for NOT being more supportive of breastfeeding... for NOT telling mothers the real risks, both short- and long-term of their choice to give formula.

As always, I believe in informed consent and I don't believe mothers are being truly informed about the risks. If they have been educated and understand the risks and still opt to give formula, then I'm supportive. I am not a mean nurse. But I believe in education and truly INFORMED consent.

Thanks for your thoughts... you really hit the nail on the head!

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

I think one of the roots of the noses-out-of-joint issue where moms feel like they're being singled out comes from the rising vitriol in the blogging and lactivist communities when it comes to moms who do formula feed. If I had a dollar for every time someone jumped to a conclusion about why my children were formula fed and said something cruel and hurtful about it, I would have a very fat rainy day fund, indeed! In my experience, it's not elitist part-time privileged mothers getting bent out of shape, it's mothers who are fully aware of the implications of formula feeding over breast feeding, and are shell shocked from the abuse they've taken at the hands of strangers.

Your post is an excellent example of how to foster understanding without cruelty. Instead of making blanket assumptions, there is a tone of tolerance while still urging the main point: Education for the masses to induce societal change.

Thank you for so clearly putting into words the sentiments of many of us who, while we may not be able to partake of the end result, so desperately desire the support that is necessary to foster a positive and natural breastfeeding environment in our society.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAccidentallyMommy

Thank you for this response. Studies like this really point up the lack of societal support for breastfeeding. It has always been amazing to me that there are so many OBs, pediatricians and nurses with such incorrect information on so important a topic. Get them supporting moms in breastfeeding and one very important step in the right direction has been taken. Yes, they can and some do go too far, and really guilt moms who use formula, but it would be nice to see accurate information consistently given out.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

I had the same experience as you - I tried and tried with my first and had so little milk that my baby would scream for milk while latched. I tried with a formula tube, I tried pumping, I tried hand massage, I never got an amount that would feed a human child - a hamster, perhaps... So out came the bottles - I'd latch whenever she'd allow it, pump whenever I could and give her the drops of pumped milk, but mostly, she ate formula. When the pumping got in the way of my being able to care for my child, I gave it up - around 2.5 months. People said mean things to me a lot about how really I should try and there's no such thing as not having enough milk. I cried almost daily for months.

With my second, I nursed exclusively for a while, but he didn't gain weight adequately and never stopped screaming. As soon as I started giving him formula - just 1-2 bottles a day, he started gaining weight properly and screaming less. I did both for about 8 months, and then he just quit nursing on me. With him, it was easier, because whenever someone would say something, I'd say - oh yeah, I mostly nurse, he just has a bottle sometimes, and people would accept that.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLeahGG

I read that post by Lenore as well and agree that the REAL problem is bottle feeding culture, not Moms! A mother's environment determines her breastfeeding success more than any other factor, and please don't tell me one more story about milk supply! We have a body that responds directly to thoughts & feelings. When the collective mind believes Mom doesn't have enough milk and that there are plenty of mothers that don't have enough milk, well, so be it!

Now that we have finally officially, undeniably established the importance of breastfeeding once and for all, we can start to shift the collective mind in this direction, which will infact, start miraculously producing mother's with more milk!!!! Mark my words. We ARE making huge progress!!!! Chapter 3 in my book has a great tool: "10 Ways Every Adult Can Support a Breastfeeding Mother." Here is one of my blogposts with this material to pass on to friends, fathers, mothers, mother-in-laws, doctors, pediatricians, etc. Changing this collective mind will take education from all angles! http://grannypantsspeaks.wordpress.com/2009/10/22/excerpt-from-the-new-physics-of-childhood/

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGrannyPants

I thought the public transportation analogy was a spot-on response to that writer.
Just from reading the comments here, it seems like part of the problem is that formula feeding mothers feel especially picked on when they get negative comments about their choices. It's like they assume that if they were breastfeeding, no one would ever say anything mean to them and everyone would just be supportive all the time. Those of us who breastfeed know that to be a far cry from the truth. There are insensitive people on all sides of the conversation, and that should not be a reason to avoid saying facts that could really help people.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChanna

Excellent article and add my vote to the opinion that the car analogy is ridiculous. It reminds me of when people equate breastfeeding in public to men being allowed to urinate in public. UGH.

This sentence sums it up for me:
"What it does mean is that every mom who does want to breastfeed deserves a fighting chance to be able to do so."

It's not about making moms feel guilty, it's about making sure they have adequate support from all angles. I ran into difficulties in the beginning too and sought help from LLL because it was important to me to breastfeed and I was determined to make it work. I'm sure there are many moms like me who had difficulties but didn't think or didn't know who or how to ask for help. Our society in the US in general is just not conducive to breastfeeding.

I hope these studies speak to the new moms who are indifferent - who don't know much about breastfeeding but would be open to it if they did know, or who might think breastfeeding vs formula is a simple decision like 'what do I feel like today? hair up or hair down?' as I've seen before. It's about providing the education and support to make a decision and get help.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

Agreed. I got a few random "good for you!" comments but I got a lot more "your baby is doing so well for a breastfed baby" type comments. Luckily for me, rather than discourage me from breastfeeding, all it did was drive me to find out more facts about breastfeeding so I was armed with benefits for any naysayers.

Then I got all the sleeping-better-with-formula comments. And I'm sure a lot of us who are still breastfeeding into the 2nd or 3rd or more year get the questions about when we'll start cow's milk.

Everybody's gotta judge something! ;)

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

I don't think anyone is saying that we need to avoid stating facts, and you're right - breastfeeders get flack and cruelty, too. The world is generally an insensitive place. My kids have been FF, but I breastfed as well, and I'm well aware that being a breastfeeding mother isn't all roses and "Here, let me get you a cookie!" That said, I've not encountered a breastfeeding mom who has ever been called a negligent mother and told that her child should be taken by the state because she's breastfeeding.

By NO MEANS, IMO, should we back off on putting the studies and the facts out there and planting the seeds of social change. What we SHOULD do, though, is recognize that (like someone above said) feeding one's child is a deeply personal choice. We need to remember that we can respectfully educate as many women as possible about the benefits and drawbacks but in the end, it's their decision.

We also need to remember that these seeds of social change - be it the topic at hand (bringing breastfeeding back to the normal majority with overwhelming support and proper information,) or be it sowing tolerance instead of hatred - start with us individually.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAccidentallyMommy

[...] It’s not about picking on moms, it’s about breaking down societal barriers I’m getting tired of hearing the same old thing over and over again. Every time a study comes out that talks about the benefits of breastfeeding, whether it is the benefits to the child, the benefits to the mom, or the benefits to society in general, people get their noses out of joint. They say things like “don’t make moms feel guilty for formula feeding” or “quit picking on moms who don’t breast-feed“. var addthis_language = 'en'; Cancel reply [...]

Perhaps if breastfeeding or not breastfeeding was a simple as choosing between driving and public transportation, then there wouldn't be room for "misinterpretation" and feelings to be hurt. But the truth is that the "choice" to breastfeed is not always a choice. Women like myself who are medically unable to breastfeed and make the "choice" to formula feed do feel accused and guilty that maybe we have done something wrong when a study or article says that we are not doing our best for our children.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGwen

Another analogy might be what happened when car seats were introduced and parents were encouraged to use them. No one would say that we shouldn't have introduced car seats because parents who hadn't used them would feel guilty. We did it for the good of our babies, just the same as we should in this case. Yes breastfeeding is sometimes difficult and inconvenient but so is parenting in general. I think if women knew the truth about formula vs. breastfeeding no one would be saying they can't because it inconveniences them. It is your baby's life, pure and simple. That being said there are so many other factors beyond whether a woman chooses to breastfeed or not. What kind of birth she had, if she was seperated from her baby after birth, if she received proper education about breastfeeding, if she had support to breastfeed from her family and friends, if she has support from her pediatrician, if she has someone to call for help if she has problems breastfeeding, if her employer understands her need to pump, or if she understands that she might not want to work after she's had her baby because she will be so attached. The list goes on and on. The only answer I see is education. First and foremost would be education on WHY breastfeeding sometimes doesn't work. Talk about blaming it on women. When your baby is a month old and you are recovering from a cesarean that you also got an infection from and you have thrush and your milk supply is nil and you have postpartum depression or post traumatic stress from your birth, it doesn't seem right to blame mom for trying to make just one thing in her life predictable and supposedly easy to manage. Letting her know that breastfeeding is not supposed to be that difficult and that the reasons why it was that hard to do were probably out of her control, that changes the picture. Education about breastfeeding is general is still very necessary. It seems like a broken record to me "Breast is best" but still afluent, highly educated people walk into my childbirth class and assume that formula is "nearly as good" or that breast is "barely better" or even that formula is better because it contains vitamins and minerals that aren't found in most women's breastmilk. Not to mention all the chemicals...

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJessica

As a breastfeeding mom who is on state funding, it REALLY ticks me off to see how little support BF moms get versus formula feeders. I've been at the WIC office, for the mandatory 'breastfeeding' class. What a joke! They pretty much stated that if you breastfeed, you'll get extra tuna and carrots. Wow. But hey, formula moms, you'll get all the formula you need! Nothing about how they wanted to help you, how there would be assistance in the hospital, how you could talk to this person or this group if you needed help with a latch or getting a pump - nothing.

I heard from a totally different source that the medicaid program I'm on would provide nursing bras to nursing moms. Great! They're giving out crazy expensive cans of formula to moms who aren't nursing, what a splendid idea to help the breastfeeders. Nursing bras are NOT cheap and make a serious difference in how easy nursing is. So I go for my appointment, I get my bra fitting, and... nothing. Nope, no bras. No free pump rental. No lactation consultant phone number, no locations of support groups. Medicaid here just basically said "you're on your own, have fun! Oh by the way, don't forget about that formula from the WIC office if you have trouble..."

I'm not begrudging the lack of free stuff so much as how totally biased it is. Had I not already done this once before, I can pretty much guarantee that another mom, a first timer less educated than myself about the benefits would not even bother when presented with these hurdles.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGwynne

I'm grateful for this comment. My sister is among the educated, upper-middle class who plays the 'everyone I know is fine' card. In fact, just last week in response to a conversation about this very study, she said "All I know is that formula-fed babies are just as healthy and intelligent as breastfed babies. 'Nuf said." She is exactly the person I wish would read posts like this and comments like yours.


I can't use public transportation, so it isn't a simple choice for me. Should I feel guilty about making the "choice" to use a car? Because I don't feel guilty. I know that I'm making the best choice given my life circumstances and that I make up for the ills of driving a car in other ways. I also wholly support initiatives to increase access to and affordability of public transportation, even if it won't directly benefit me (although it would be wonderful if it did).

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I haven't read through all your other comments so I may be repeating things already said, but i completely agree that the point is being missed when mothers feel they are being personally attacked for formula feeding. Nobody is saying that there is not, on occasion, justified reasons for formula feeding and nobody feels you should no have the right to choose between breastfeeding and formula feeding. The fact is, though, that these studies are facts- put out there to educate us about the two. If we truly don't know the benefits and risks to both formula and breastfeeding, how could we really make an educated choice between the two?
If studies on the benefits of breastfeeding are putting down parents who use formula than aren't all studies that show benefits of one thing over another putting down someone who uses the other? So, do we never put out studies on anything that educate us, as not to offend anyone? We can stop putting out studies on the benefits of exercise, as not to offend those who do not exercise. Stop putting studies out about the benefits of drinking water daily, so that those who dont drink enough water dont get upset. No more studies that compare any two things so that the people who do the one that does not come out in better light- dont feel bad. Then we end up with an uneducated, ignorant society.

Breastfeeding is so important to educate new mothers/expecting mothers on. They deserve the chance to know about and understand the risks and the benefits. If we dont ever give them that knowledge than are they really choosing to do the thing they would have done if they understood it? Maybe they will... but many wouldnt (and dont). It's about educating and giving every mother who desires it, the chance to make an educated choice about how they will mother their child and as much access to info as possible to make her able to follow the lifestyle she choice.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBess /MumtoEve

You know what bothers me about the "everyone is just fine" comments? I'm not sure it's true! I sure feel fine, and smart and healthy. My mom formula fed us all from birth. It is still possible I'm at a higher risk for something because of that (or that she is as well). Had she known then what we know now, maybe she would have made a different choice. That is, if she hadn't had children at a time when women were looked down upon in hospital for even trying to breastfeed, and the rest were given a shot to dry up their milk.

Sure, breastfeeding can be hard, it can hurt, it can be exhausting, it can even suck (ha!) sometimes. So can parenting!

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

Get over yourself!!! You are extremely judgemental. Worry about yourself and not other moms out there. You've obviously got your own issues, and will probably pass those onto your children too.
And to compare formula fed babies to those involved in car crashes is just ridiculous. Get your head read! No wonder so many women suffer from PND with people like you making those comments!

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMumma

I'm really interested in all of the people who seem to read a study as taking away choice. Not only does publishing a study not "pick on" any group--last time I checked, the study simply reported facts and figures, but it doesn't take away formula. It's still readily available and the formula companies just today sent me another free can for my exclusively breastfed 11 month old.

Personally, we choose to try and avoid trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, etc, but we still sometimes make choices to not eat the absolute healthiest food. There are studies about the dangers of those things. Sometimes its a matter of convenience or availability or other priorities, but saying that the news shouldn't report on the calorie/fat/sodium content of fast food because I don't want to feel guilty doesn't make sense.

I don't doubt that there are women who are harassed for formula feeding, but I can't say that I have ever seen a woman glared at for buying a can of formula or giving a bottle in public. I have seen myself and others harassed for breastfeeding in public. To say society picks on moms who don't breastfeed seems like a large leap. American society may say that all women should breastfeed, but what they really mean is all women should breastfeed but not in public, not where they can see it, and only a very tiny infant.

Educating people about risks/benefits does not take away choice. What takes away choice is 1 single option being blindly presented and we have a long way to go before anyone can convince me that society really supports breastfeeding as the only possible feeding method.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDon't Pat the Belly

I 100% agree that there needs to be societal changes and better support for breastfeeding. And I can understand that, from the perspective of needing to build enough political will to change things and make sure mom's can get that support, that these types of studies may be necessary and can be valuable.

However, I do think we need to recognize that these studies place a lot of pressure and stress on Mom's to be successful at breastfeeding. They place the stakes incredibly high to say, not just that breastfeeding is better choice, but that formula feeding is a very risky choice. I can't help but feel that some Mom's attempts to breastfeed are being negatively impacted by all the stress they feel to make sure it works, or else.... In retrospect I feel that the stress I felt to breastfeed had a negative impact on my ability to produce enough milk. It wasn't the whole reason I struggled to breastfeed, but I believe it was part of it. It also meant that I continued to breastfeed despite my child gaining no weight between her second and third month. By the time I 'gave up' breastfeeding my child at 3 1/2 months I was very emotionally exhausted, stressed and depressed and my daughter was not thriving. Even then I fought the decision tooth and nail. Since I have engaged with the online Mom community I have met many, many other Mom's who feel that their breastfeeding relationship was also negatively impacted by all the pressure.

I just think this perspective needs to be considered. It is not just the guilt after the 'choice' is made. It is also the negative impact of the pressure on establishing breastfeeding relationships.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKathleen

Um...I can't figure out if this comment is intended to be sarcastic or not.

In the event that it isn't:

1) I didn't compare formula fed babies to those involved in car crashes.

2) I do worry about myself AND I worry about other moms out there. I don't worry about policing their choice when it comes to infant feeding, but I do worry about ensuring they have the support necessary to breastfeed if they want to. If giving my time to support other moms makes me judgmental and means that I have issues, well then so be it.

Guess I'd better go work on "getting over myself" now.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting


Thoughtful post as always.

I started typing a response and then just thought it would add fuel to the fire. I completely see your point; I was one of those who reacted out of anger, and struck out blindly at the study b/c, frankly, it pissed me off. However, while I can now see that there could be some real power in this study to help with breastfeeding initiatives, the problem still remains that public perception of formula feeding - and therefore formula feeders - has been affected. And that is going to make formula feeders - especially those who wanted to BF and failed - feel like crap. Doesn't mean it should stop anyone from publishing a study, but it isn't fun being on the other side. I think all we are asking for is a little understanding.

Again, I wish that we could reframe this battle as "rights for women to breastfeed b/c for most women it is the best choice" rather than "formula feeding is sub-par and gross and formula fed kids will turn out horribly". But I'm probably dreaming, so I'll just shut up now.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFearless Formula Feeder

You make a very good point! We have a lot of work to do to get to the point where breastfeeding becomes a normal and relaxed occurrence in our country so Moms will not feel that pressure to succeed. The pressure to bottle feed or pressure to breastfeed are symptoms of a larger problem.

We have lost our instincts as mothers due to overload & conflicting information from everyone but our own babies. When babies are born, many people try to help Mom by taking baby away so she can get caught up on her rest, or they overwhelm her with information. This very act of removing a baby from its mother prevents a mother from learning her own natural rhythyms with her child. Then, when a mother is separated from her baby and her inner voice, she starts to doubt.

Perhaps we can get back to that place where like animals, a mother-infant bonding becomes the primary focus after childbirth. Where people remember that interferring with this can interfere with maternal instincts. Then mothers can get back to the art of mothering before all of the information, advice, interference, and overload of the world complicated things.

Pressure creates stress; stress inhibits the flow of milk.

Our baby's gentle signals give us the best information there is; direct from the source.

Here's to a new day!

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGrannyPants

I'm game for working with you to turn that dream into a reality...if only we could get the millions of others on board who need to be too!

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Have any of you seen the article in RedBook called "No, you don't HAVE to breastfeed!" ? I would love it if PhDinParenting would reply to this...

She made me furious.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

You're bang on. When I talk about breastfeeding, I'm talking about overcoming societal barriers, not about what any individual mom should or shouldn't do. Your choices are your business. The choices of multi-national corporations and large public health authorities are a different story.

I am also highly annoyed when we fail to recognize that the choice between working and breastfeeding is a false dichotomy. And not only because people can combine the two, but also because we, as a society, can provide better choices to families. Choices like quality maternity leave, on-site daycare, and flexible work arrangements. In her quote Lenore talks about the issues in pumping and night nursing, but I think that progressive policies could go a long way to overcoming that. THAT is why studies like this need to be publicized, so that we can argue our case for family-friendly initiatives.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

Oh I'm pretty sure you hit the nail on the head: she missed the point of the study big time. Because the point of the study was to deliver facts revealed by scientific research. To me, this is an extension of this whole PC/censorship cultural disease that seems to have invaded so much public discourse. It's one thing to shut up if your opinion might offend. It's another thing to advocate that scientific facts not be discussed because it will make someone feel bad about a decision they made.

I will willingly admit that I take a calculated risk with my kids' (and my) lives every time I put them in the car to drive somewhere. I don't plan to stop driving anytime soon. But I won't take it personally when the government publishes the odds of us getting killed in a car accident either. What a ridiculously juvenile comparison.

We all make our choices. Those of us who make choices we don't feel 100% good about have no right to silence those trying to educate moms on infant nutrition.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLauren

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