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Is shame a barrier to social change?

I've had a lot of interesting conversations over the past few days about shame, guilt, and social change. Without going into excruciating detail, I heard a lot of people say that calls for formula marketing to be restricted makes formula feeding moms feel shamed because if formula marketing needs to be restricted, then that means that formula is bad, which means that formula feeding moms are doing something wrong.

Some people believe that if you feel shame or guilt that it is your own fault because no one can make you feel guilty except you. While I do think a lot of guilt comes from within, I also know that societal norms and expectations are contributors to feelings of guilt and shame.

We want the world to change. We need the world to change. That means, sometimes, criticizing the way that things are done now and advocating for a better way of doing them. Is that possible though, without making people feel guilt and shame?

  • If we advocate for more support for breastfeeding mothers, does that equate to shaming every mother who used formula?

  • If we advocate for more midwives and other conditions that will increase the natural birth rate, does that equate to shaming every mother who had a c-section?

  • If we advocate for easier and more affordable access to healthy foods, does that equate to shaming every person who ever indulges in junk food or fast food?

  • If we advocate for improved public transportation, does that equate to shaming people who drive their cars to work?

  • If we say that chocolate bars should not be available for purchase in schools, does that amount to shaming every parent who every put a piece of chocolate in their child's lunch?

  • If we advocate for an end to wars, does that equate to shaming everyone who has ever served in the armed forces?

  • If we advocate for better treatment of animals, does that equate to shaming everyone who ever ate factory farmed meat?

  • If we advocate for improved educational opportunities, does that equate to shaming everyone who didn't graduate from high school?

  • If we advocate for better maternity leave, does that equate to judging every woman who went back to work?

  • If we advocate for better prevention of teen pregnancy, does that equate to shaming everyone who did get pregnant as a teenager?

We live in an imperfect world. We all make choices, on a daily basis, with imperfect information and in imperfect conditions. Every single day, I make choices that I wish I didn't have to make. Every single day, I try to make better choices. It is a balancing act between progress and reality. No one is perfect. No one should be expected to be perfect. No one needs to feel guilt or shame for being imperfect.

Ultimately, at the end of a conversation that I was finding very frustrating, one in which I raised many of the examples that I listed above, I concluded:

Because, really, any time we argue for better societal conditions, it means that we are saying HOW MUCH WE ALL SUCK. Let's judge ourselves.

Is that really the world we want to live in? One where we are afraid to advocate for change because it makes us feel guilt and shame?

Ultimately, on the breastfeeding issue, I think the problem at the moment is that there is too much pressure to breastfeed and not enough support for breastfeeding. Moms are told that they must breastfeed. More than 90% of moms in Canada initiate breastfeeding (either because they wanted to or because they felt forced into it). But most of them do not meet their own breastfeeding goals. I think there are enough messages out there telling moms how important it is to breastfeed. Perhaps even too many. However, there is too little real breastfeeding support. Women who want to breastfeed are still undermined every day by the many societal barriers to breastfeeding or the "booby traps".

But how do we get there? How do we get to a place where we can ask the world to change without making the people who live in that world feel shame?

Image credit: ToastyKen on flickr

« Trials and Tribulations of Toddlers | Main | Breastfeeding...just because »

Reader Comments (164)

Great article :)
I find the most difficult area for me to bring myself to advocate in is genital integrity for this reason - the feeling of shaming those who made the decision without reading or learning about the consequences. I don't know if I'll ever have the balls to post info or bring it up in conversation... But then *I* feel shame because of how many people (and babies) I know that could have been positively affected by a discussion or article on the topic.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

This is an insightful piece. I think that it is not only shame we deal with but anger and pain too. I remember when I could not get into the elevator in the community center to take my stroller up to pick up my older child when I had a newborn because the elevator was stuffed with kids riding it for one floor. The next year they made a rule that the elevator was for strollers and people with mobility issues only. Did I rejoice? No- surprisingly I was bitter and resentful- I would tell my story to all the new people I saw so then would know how good they had it now and how hard it had been for me. ( I had to use this story as I had no problems nursing my kids- even though I had to work and pump with my oldest.)

If a woman couldn't breastfeed because of lack of support or lack of maternity leave or social pressure and used formula and made her peace with it and moved on , then hears about a campaign to provide others with what she did not have, I think there is some pain ( that she didn't have it) and anger ( why should they get it when I didn't) that is a legitimate reaction that needs to be addressed before moving on. I think this is true of a lot of progressive changes (as in why should students be accommodated on tests-I suffered through the tests and I had the same problem you have).

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAurora

I am a now and then reader who has not before commented. I sort of get what you are trying to say here, but I am struck by the almost pathological tendency of some women to be hurt or offended by A, B or C and the sense that we have to coddle people. It is what it is. It does suck if you can't/won't breastfeed and you didn't give it your all. It does suck to put an infant in daycare and shouldn't you try to think of this and figure it out BEFORE you have the baby. Lots of things people do suck. I have made mistakes in my parenting and I suck. Own it, try to do better and move on. All this worry about offending people and wallowing in shame are just so many excuses. That said, I am of the mind that breastfeeding, caring for one's own child and other matters of family and home are for the most part the responsibility of individual families and do not really require all this "support" many call for. Just do it!

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrsRochester

see, it is stuff that that stroller bit (just to use an example)...would it have killed you to just carry the infant up the stairs? or to wait for the next elevator? or to use your damn voice and say "excuse me, I need to get on the elevator, would a few of you mind letting me in, please?"

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrsRochester

if people would act assertively and be responsible for themselves we don't need millions of rules and official interventions (sorry my comment got cut off before)...I for one like to use my own personal power to make changes I need for myself rather than to rely on some outside source

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrsRochester

"Ultimately, on the breastfeeding issue, I think the problem at the moment is that there is too much pressure to breastfeed and not enough support for breastfeeding. "

Yes, yes, YES! These are my thoughts exactly.

I'm trying to come up with an analogy to illustrate how ridiculous it is to give women the message that they must breastfeed without supporting them, but I can't. There aren't that many issues so wrapped up in complex emotions and basic human drive as caring for your child.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCaroline

Sorry for the double-post, but I wanted to respond to your final question, Annie, on how do we avoid making people feel shame.

I think we need to foster more community (and this kind of relates to my thoughts on support). I suspect people feel so much guilt and shame because all of the burden of parenting (from decision-making to action) is on their shoulders alone. If parents had more people to turn to in order to help make decisions (relying on others' experience, expertise and yes, opinions) and these people could also be counted upon to help when decisions/thoughts turn to action... well, I think everyone would be better off and there would be less bad feelings, guilt and shame.

You can't shame or guilt someone whose decision you helped shape, after all ;)

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCaroline

Wonderful post, Annie. I think you are bang on about breasfeeding pressure vs breastfeeding support. (And I still breastfeed. But in my case the stubbornness it took at first bordered mental illness. It sure didn't need to be that way.)

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter'Away from your crazy mom'

While I agree that there is not enough support for breastfeeding, I have to disagree that there are too many messages and too much pressure to breastfeed. The only person that ever even slightly pressured me to breastfeed was--me (well, and my babies). Yes, yes, I had heard breast was best, but I didn't know the half of it and I was part of the bottlefeeding culture (I expected to use formula and bottles, because that's what everyone does, isn't it?) Nurses, doctors, they didn't know enough about breastfeeding so there was no pressure from them when I had trouble, or support or education (I'm not saying they *should* pressure women, but having some expertise in the matter and some faith in women's bodies would help moms succeed!) I didn't even know why I felt so bad about considering giving up, because everyone, even medical experts, was telling me my baby would be fine if I didn't breastfeed, and I personally had nothing against formula at all (again, I fully expected to wean to it eventually, probably around the six month mark). If I had listened to anyone else, I would have given up.
So I just don't get the "too much pressure to breastfeed" when all around me are images of bottles, ads for formula telling me a happy feeding makes a happy mom, bottlefeeding moms, moms and doctors and nurses telling new moms that formula is "just as good" and "not to feel guilty", women getting "the look" for nursing in public, or feeling weird about doing it (I sure did)--to me, any pressure out there is NOT to breastfeed, or do it as little as possible (not if it's not immediately easy or you don't love every minute, not past 6 mos, not in public, not around male relatives and friends, not around children, not if you ever want to go out alone sometime...)

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea


This is a such a great article. For some reason, you rarely hear about people feeling shamed about public transportation or wars or treatment of animals, but you almost always hear it when it comes to parenting issues. If I had a quarter for everytime someone said "I know I'm I bad mom because...", I would be VERY rich.

I am one of those people who really believes that we allow ourselves to feel shame, but I do agree that there is societal pressure and expectations that probably bring about those feelings. I work hard at picking and choosing my battles and trying to figure out what upsets me and why. If someone says "My child never watches TV", I often feel that ... shame or guilt... come to me. Sometimes it's because I think I let my kids watch too much TV, other times it's because I think I would maybe be a better parent if my kids watched no TV. Then I stop and think- maybe they ARE watching too much TV and this is a wake up. Or, TV is fine in moderation. I like TV! Some random person making an innocuous comment on their blog, twitter, at a playgroup, whatever about their kids tv consumption or lack thereof is not meant as a dig at me or any other person. If I take it that way - why? I hope this very train of thought blather makes some sense!

With respect to breastfeeding and support, I agree completely. You're so right, we are told YOU MUST BREASTFEED, but support is so limited that it is HARD. I have previously mentioned about my son born small at 37 weeks. In the hospital is that poster about liquid gold, but the second my son showed even a modicum of distress (low glucose levels) I was told that formula is essential. How are people expected to succeed if at the first sign of any trouble at all, formula is always the answer? How are women who are told that they must breastfeed and it is best for their child ever supposed to "win" in this kind of a climate?

I would LOVE to see prenatal classes on breastfeeding that discuss all aspects including difficulties. I would love to see more IBCLC in hospitals and doctors offices. I would love it if all doctors and nurses were required to take lacation management courses and be knowledgeable. (If a baby "requires" supplementaion in the beginning, most doctors are not aware of when to give the supplement vs. when to breastfeed, or even other modes of supplementation beyond bottles). I would love follow up visits at home beyond the first week. There are issues that arise in that first year that people need answers to and because baby is older, there is a lack of available help.

I could go on!

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenn (twitter - @JennAbitbol

I have to wonder, why do women take criticism of formula ads and bad advice, and decide that the shame and guilty was meant for them. I have very rarely met a women who started out from her 1st pregnancy to not breastfeed. Most women breastfed upon birth of their baby, to 'try' it. And few women, are still exclusively breastfeeding 1 month later, 3 months later, 6 months later. Why is the shame not being directed to everyone and every company responsible instead. When are we going to start getting mad? Women are getting mad about the way we are/were treated in pregnancy and birth, and demanding change, when are we going to going to get mad at well meaning family members that sabotage our plans to breastfeed by criticizing our purchase of breastpumps and nursing bras becasue we probably won't be able to breastfeed because it's hard and we'll be tied down, that it's not fair that grandma can't feed the baby, that dad won't be able to participate. When are we going to get mad at doctors and nurses for telling us that it's normal for breastfeeding to be painful, that baby is not getting enough without telling us how we can increase our supply, that tell us that if we have a blocked duct or mastitis that we need to stop breastfeeding. When are we going to getting mad at the companies that set out to sabotage our efforts, by buying our personal information from maternity and baby stores and sending us free formula and coupons, that buy ad space from every baby, pregnancy and parenting website, that sell cans of their formula for $20+ and contain less than 25 cents worth of ingredients and for selling formula contaminated with bug parts. Put the guilt and shame where it belongs and we'll start to see change.

Mamas, we've misunderstood, the guilt and shame was NEVER meant for us, it was meant for every person and company that company that disrespected you and your baby. We're so used to Shake off the guilt, and realize that you did the best you could with the resources you had, and start shaming these companies.

We also need to start owning our decisions. No one makes you stop breastfeeding your baby. But you can recognize that poor support, and little available education, little sleep and frustration influenced your decision. Recognize that instead of spending your money on bottles, formula and a sterilizer, that money can be used on a IBCLC visit, put the money on someone that is supportive of your decisions.

We need to toss those cans of formula, return gifts of bottles etc. Under what other circumstances would we accept a gift that given in an effort to sabotage wanting the best for our babies?

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBeth

Same here. I was actually invited to become a La Leche League leader, but I've been hesitant to complete the training. Why? Because I see so much backlash against breastfeeding advocacy. I'm so afraid of speaking positively about breastfeeding because of the almost inevitable negative reactions.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

Erm, breastfeeding and child daycare are not the same thing. Reality shows that many, many mothers need to work for a variety of reasons. Also, not all child daycare is created equal so some facilities may "suck", but not all.*

*My 2.5 yr old LOVES her "school". And I am happy everyday sending her to a place where she is loved, cared for and given creative opportunities and fun.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

I agree with the sentiment that there is a lot of pressure to breastfeed but not a lot of support thereafter. The problem though - at least as I see it - is that a lot of the support that is out there is of the "you must breastfeed at all costs" variety. Women don't seek out the support that is there because they're afraid that if they ultimately decide to formula-feed they will be made to feel guilty about not trying harder.

The reality is that if women truly want to breastfeed they will find a way to make it work.
And for all the well-meaning strangers in the world, if you don't have family or partner support, whatever choice you make will be difficult.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErin

I see this as an issue of corporate accountability. Let's be honest...women do not need to be bombarded with formula advertising to know that it exists. Just like people don't need to be bombarded with alcohol ads to know that it exists (I am not comparing formula to alcohol as a drink but rather their extensive and expensive marketing campaigns). In some ways, women who believe that marketing of formula should exist just demonstrates the powerful ways in which companies get us to believe we need them to tell us what to buy. It's scary!

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStephanieMZ

Great post and you make an insanely important point: all the "should's" in the world do not create change. Making life changes as an individual or creating systems change can't be made by willpower or merely telling each other what to do. We must create systems and provide supports that support our life change (individually and as a larger community). So, for example, just saying we should breastfeed or read to you child -whatever - is not enough. Also, I'd like to encourage everyone to check out Brene' Brown, a professor of social work and shame researcher (seriously). I was fortunate enough to take several classes with her as a grad student. She is fantastic and speaks to the idea of guilt, shame, vulnerability change, etc.: www.brenebrown.com & here's a TED talk here:http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLauren S.

As someone who has both nursed and bottle-fed in public, I can tell you that the looks you get for pulling out a bottle are way more judgemental than when you pull out the boob. The only look I ever got for nursing in public was at a Dairy Queen in Stettler AB by an elderly woman who likely thought I was being indecent for nursing in the booth. I just figured if it was a good enough place for everyone else to eat, it was good enough for my daughter ;-)

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErin

I am almost always quiet about my convictions because in the age of the internet, there is so much retaliation against those who stand up for what they believe in . I just don't have the energy to defend my beliefs every day, and in order to be an effective advocate today, voices of any given cause seem to be treading eggshells almost constantly. In a culture where the best, most articulate, well-intentioned advocate is accused of shaming there is positively no room for clumsy, strong-feeling me.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVioletsouffle


My prenatal instructor was an LC. It was amazing. My hospital had an ambulatory lactation clinic - meaning women who needed help didn't gave to pay for it! It has made such a difference.

I have met so many women who moved to formula due to lack of support or lack of education. They move to formula after they sabbotage their supply by not realizing how much you have to pump if your baby is under the lights. They move to formula because they don't understand that a baby eating every two hours is normal. They move to formula because "the baby wouldn't latch" but they didn't receive assistance. They move to formula because they have a baby who doesn't eat for the magic amount of time their doctor says they should. And so on and so on.

Yes, no woman should feel shame for using formula, but you are right that we do not support mothers enough. And I truly believe that formula marketing makes it far too easy for women to switch to formula and for doctors and nurses to recommend formula all while remaining ignorant of the truths of newborn and baby feeding.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoyce

It is so sad to me that a mother can feel so much guilt about this. It is so deep into a mother's heart that it is hard for her to separate herself from the situation.

I really loved Natasha's (Natural Urban Mama's) post about this, http://blog.naturalurbanmamas.com/?p=1998 , because she calls attention to the fact that women are feeling so guilty and ashamed about their parenting choices that they are projecting it onto this issue when it is so obviously not about that.

Ladies, this issue is not about whether you breastfed or not. This is about ethics and social change. How we became a society that allows huge corporations to do whatever they want and advertise however they can - because Hey! All the other corporations can do it! - is beyond me. Corporations do not and will never have your best interest in mind. They have money in mind.

And it is not only beyond okay to stand up and ask for change, it is necessary. I just hope that mothers everywhere can separate their own emotions from the issue and understand that vulnerable people everywhere do need protection from deceptive advertising. And I consider ALL new mothers to be vulnerable in one way or another. Parenting is hard stuff, especially when you are fresh.

I think it is really sad that so many women feel a shame this deep that they are projecting it onto this issue. I feel badly for those mothers, I don't think that they deserve to feel this way and I really wish I knew how to make it better for them. But not talking about this? Ignoring the issue and letting devious corporations do whatever they please? That isn't the way.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFarren Square

Yes yes yes!!!! I wrote a blogpost on formula about six months ago, and the backlash I got was extreme. I received hatemail for months afterwards, and many many negative responses. Just as oddly, I got just as many "right on sister! Formula feeders are ." comments. Neither sets of comments were responses I was looking to achieve. The article was just meant to be straight myth-busting information. In response to these comments, I wrote another post called "Guilt as a Chimera" (http://thebabeandbreast.blogspot.com/2011/07/why-guilt-doesnt-fly-with-me-aka-guilt.html). This one everyone responded to, everyone could relate. Why is guilt/shame such a terrible thing? Why is it blown so out of proportion? Your post here is exactly what every woman needs to hear. Letting guilt or shame stand in the way of information and change is ridiculous and harmful. The point of information is not to create shame, it's just to spread information. How we react to it is just that, our reaction, our emotional response. It has no bearing on the actual quality of the information.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTheBabeAndBreast

It unquestionably "sucks" to put an infant (read, under 1 YO) in daycare...sorry.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrsRochester

Unfortunately, when we advocate for a better way of doing things it does tarnish what we have long thought to be okay and some people will feel guilt and others will enjoy making them feel this way. It is the human way at least it seems to be. That does not say that we should not work towards a more perfect way of doing things.
There are so many areas where we can improve and we do not have to swing the pendulum to the fanatical side...we should be aiming to create a balance so that we can live with others choices which may not be perfect but are not blatantly wrong.
It is also important to differentiate between ethical issues which challenge one's moral compass and non-ethical issues which may indeed be important but may have more room for personal choice.
Some people will always feel guilt no matter what...we must continue to advocate but not be judgmental which does nothing to further a good cause.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLorette Lavine

How so?

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStephanieMZ

See this is where "I" language is important. It evidently sucks for you, in your situation, but that is not universally true for every parent.

In keeping with Annie's post, instead of making a blanket statement that it just "sucks" we should be advocating for longer maternity/paternity leaves (paid) and better childcare options like on-site care at larger companies. Meanwhile, no parent should feel shame or guilt for working and placing their child in daycare, whether it's because it's necessary to put food on the table or because of a job she/he loves.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

I fed my oldest bottles of EBM in public when he was small and never noticed any looks (only when nursing in public), but naturally I can't really speak from the experience of a full-time bottlefeeding mom. But considering when out and about I see way, way more babies getting bottles than being nursed, and the stats that show the majority of moms use bottles and formula at some point, I have to wonder, WHO is giving the judgmental looks to bottlefeeding moms??? The tiny minority who manage to exclusively breastfeed? At any rate, I have yet to hear about mothers being asked to leave a public place for bottlefeeding, which suggests it is much more socially acceptable.
I have to wonder if part of it is perception and personal feeling -- I was very shy about nursing in public, particularly with my first, maybe I was looking for the stares? Possibly even imagining them? And a mother who feels self-conscious about giving bottles, maybe she's the same? Hmm, I wonder.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

Great post. I can really relate to the support of breastfeeding moms, the only reason I had huge issues breastfeeding my first and the only reason I continued after the first few days was that our public health services operate a free breastfeeding clinic only minutes for my house, I must have gone 6 times in the first two weeks with my first and another 3 times with my second. Had professional help not be so easily accessible, I would have given up.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

It sucks for the infant. Nobody wants to face that. Infants belong cradled in their mothers arms the vast majority of their days when they're not exploring in their own homes. All these progressives push for infant daycare and it just loses me. And, what's wrong with a couple planning for their baby, setting aside money and having mother stay home for at least that first year. People do not want to take responsibility and do right by their children.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrsRochester

Wow, in a post about advocacy and not shaming people you have taken the prize for missing the point.

First, I did say we should advocate for better maternity leave. So, if it "sucks" for a baby to be away from it's mother the first year, then let's have a year of leave. Secondly, having one parent stay at home for a year, in our current society with no paid maternity leave, is not at all a viable option for many people. Hello? Single mother's? Also, any family that lives below or just above poverty? Mom and Dad both work minimum wage jobs that barely make the bills, how the hell are they going to save enough money to allow mom to stay home for a year.

Maybe it does suck to have to take a baby to daycare, but there are ways we can make it better. Telling individuals they just aren't "taking responsibility" is not going to help. Ranting about how every person just needs to take care of themselves and not receive any help is how our country (U.S.) has gotten to the mess we are in with poverty rates rising. We need to help each other. Advocating for the things I state above as well as better wages/job opportunities for all will.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

"Ranting about how every person just needs to take care of themselves and not receive any help is how our country (U.S.) has gotten to the mess we are in with poverty rates rising."
I respectfully disagree. What I do know is that I can control my life to a greater extent than I can control outside powers. I can't control if the government is going to give me leave, pay for it, and on and on. I can control if I have a baby out of wedlock (abortion is still legal in the U.S. and birth control is readily available). I can control my spending. I can choose who I will marry and have the baby with. These are all examples of things people can control in their own lives, right now. If they chose to take that control many of the problems would be eliminated.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrsRochester

I had the exact opposite experience you did. All I had was pressure to breastfeed, but no support. My oldest was a preemie and when she was in the hospital I was told to breastfeed all the time because that's what's best especially for a preemie, but when I had problems with it (I produced as much milk per day that she was eating every three hours) there was no support. Nurses just said to put her to breast more, but then when it came feeding time they wouldn't let me because they needed to know how much she ate. And after the hospital I went to a lactation consultant who walked in the room and just started yelling at me for feeding her formula.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersarah

I want to applaud this reply.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersarah

to make it clear, Olivia's reply.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersarah

" I can’t control if the government is going to give me leave, pay for it, and on and on. "

Advocate for change. I don't know why you keep missing that point. No, we can't control it now, but if we worked together we can at least try to change it. It works in other countries so why not the U.S.?

"I can control if I have a baby out of wedlock (abortion is still legal in the U.S. and birth control is readily available)."

Okay, and the woman who is widowed? Or the woman who is raped, but doesn't want an abortion? Or the woman whose partner decides to up and leave?

"I can control my spending."

And what of the expenses that are out of our control? Healthcare, natural disaster, house burns down, funeral expenses. Not to mention that for many people, even when they control what they spend carefully, it still won't be enough for a parent to stay home because, I don't know, the economy and shitty wages?

"I can choose who I will marry and have the baby with."

So, you've never heard of abusive relationships and how that can often manifest itself in men forcing women thru physical force or birth control manipulation into getting pregnant?

It must be nice living your your bubble. Maybe I'll take a vacay there some time.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

That's fine. All of you keep living as victims--or potential victims. That may be what you're comfortable with, and it does absolve you of actually making tough decisions or taking care of your own business. I am more comfortable with exerting control over the things that I can, recognizing that sometimes things may not go my way, but working to set up a safety net for when they do. I am not against communities helping people in need, churches, families and the like. But arguing that some big-scale, government project is going to say us all (or anybody), I think, is counterproductive.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrsRochester

and, worrying about if some weak-spirited person is going to feel shame because they are subject to hearing true, science-based information about breastfeeding (or daycare! but the feminists have successfully made the detrimental affects of daycare a taboo and mum topic)...worrying about making someone feel bad is not on my radar in the least...people need a good dose of reality

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrsRochester

When it comes to parents working outside of the home, the decision is not made in a vacuum. Sure, from the baby's perspective, he/she wants to be held by mom all day. That is ideal. But from the whole family's perspective? Well, the family needs money to afford a place to live (hopefully in a safe area), food, clothing, education, and even recreational activities together. The whole family unit may function better with Mom working. And sometimes the mother IS the breadwinner and/or is doing work that is very important to society as a whole. Putting away a whole year's salary? Even if they plan for years, who can do that unless her salary is small to begin with? It's not so simple.

I don't find staying at home analogous to breastfeeding, which most women can do and which has health benefits for everyone involved.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKatie

I didn't say they were analogous, equal, or anything, just picking 2 items from the laundry list of examples of things some would require social services for in the original blog post. Incidentally, these two items are more in the realm of what an individual can control than, say, public transportation, ending wars, ending teen pregnancy, etc. These are things people can really do for themselves.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrsRochester

I think this is one of the best posts you've ever written on the difficulty surrounding this issue. As a mom who didn't have the option to breastfeed exclusively due to a pre-existing condition that left me with low supply, it can be extremely emotional to read some of the comments that are posted on marketing formulas. I only heard about the issue for the first time when you posted your open letter to the Nestle Family bloggers.

It is clear to me that YOU are supportive of moms. It is clear to me that YOU want formula companies to adhere to the WHO code. It is clear to me that for YOU, this is about advertising principles.

This issue gets emotional when I read sensationalistic comments from other self-proclaimed "lactivists" who ARE judgmental, narrow and condemning in their views. If the "lactivists" who share the evils of formula were out of the equation, this issue would have a lot less controversy around it.

Because I have no problem with the message. I do have a problem with the way *some* deliver the message. It took a while for me to realize this very subtle difference. But I got there. So would other FF moms. It isn't a battle of who is a better mom. It's just trying to put the dissemination of information in the right hands - and that is *not* formula companies who stand to profit from formula sales.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Sarah, that's exactly my experience. This, despite telling them that I probably had actual supply issues because of breast surgery that removed some ducts. To quote one lactation consultant: "You just go home and breastfeed your brains out." And I nearly, quite literally did. I tried everything under the sun to build up my supply, but it wasn't until my daughter was still jaundiced at one month and admitted to hospital - again - did I admit defeat. I nursed and supplemented her with formula until she was nearly a year old, when we switched to whole milk.

Why can't we all just accept that we may make different choices for how to feed our children? You make the choice that works for you and your child and your family and that's all. Period.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErin

I think the problem at the moment is that there is too much pressure to breastfeed and not enough support for breastfeeding.

Yes, yes, yes!

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersharah

Of the many things that I adore about this post (and there are MANY), one that specifically stands out to me is this: when we identify the problem externally and not internally--when we make the issue about systematic and institutional and cultural barriers to breastfeeding and not individual decisions not to breastfeed--then we help to focus the problem away from moms vs. moms. The message should be about supporting women--not pressuring them or pitting them against each other.

And I think that you do a marvelous job of that.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKristen

Yes!!! You nailed it right here: "I think the problem at the moment is that there is too much pressure to breastfeed and not enough support for breastfeeding." Wow, you are so absolutely right!

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTamara Watson

I totally agree with you. I firmly believe that any mom feeding a baby should not be given looks, have nasty comments made to them, or asked to leave. I don't understand why people aren't just happy that the baby's being given food.

I think this article was really well written and not shameful to anyone. I just brought up my story to show the other side. I might have continued longer if I'd been given support instead of just a you figure it out but don't give formula kind of attitude.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersarah

I love this post Annie. love it.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDevan @ Accustomed Chaos

But how do we get there? How do we get to a place where we can ask the world to change without making the people who live in that world feel shame?

The real issue is that this shame has very little to do with breastfeeding. It's about support, period -- and how little structural, long-term support is given to mothers at all. All the messages about what one "ought" to do for their children, be it breastfeeding, staying at home, enrolling in the optimal preschool, attachment parenting, whatever, are typically only available to people with a certain amount of social capital. Those of us who do not have the social capital to make the current optimal parenting experience happen for our children (that is to say, MOST OF US) feel shame that we LACK the capital to do what is best for our children. We lack, thus we are bad parents, thus we risk making our children lack as well. And in our society, that means we get a lot of "your bed, you lie in it" and "should of thought about that before you got pregnant."

This is a terrible quandary to be in -- and the wonderment about why it makes people shameful and sad really shouldn't be rocket science. The shame is related to attaching moral imperatives on our relationships with our children, one of the most primary and important relationships we will ever have, on circumstances that are largely out of our control. We all make compromised decisions in a kyriarchal world. When a woman says breastfeeding, or whatever, isn't possible for her, you need to trust her as a reliable narrator and work on the circumstances that she is naming.

So, why are "certain populations" "vulnerable" to formula marketing? Because it isn't about breastfeeding. Because it's about lacking parenting support for anyone who doesn't fit a certain profile of people who are "acceptable" to have children in our society. Who in our culture lacks good healthcare? Lacks full time work? Lacks insurance? Lacks trusted medical providers? Lacks paid maternity leave? Lacks safe living circumstances? Is more likely to be a victim of sexual assault? Is more likely to lack good mental healthcare? Is more likely to lack familial support? Is not one of the "acceptable" breeding populations in our culture? Are you black, Latina, single, too young, too old, immigrant, depressed, disabled, poor, fat, all of the above? The further you move away from a healthy, white, married nuclear family with a male head of household, etc etc, the more "vulnerable" you become to using formula. Why is this? And why does the lactivist community seem so dismissive of this? From the outside looking in, this is a white, middle-class movement trying to educate other populations about what is good for them while ignoring the structural inequalities that make breastfeeding a pipe dream or a total impossibility for less privileged families. "Bottle or breast?" is only one of many, many issues that a parent has to prioritize, and the higher questions about your ability to keep food on the table or a roof over your head or your mental health stable are on your priority list, the more "breast or bottle?" looks like a rhetorical weapon for wealthy, white moms to beat each other over the head with.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLauren

I think your comment is too general and is in fact judgmental. Not all of us have a choice but would still like to have children. I have found that having an au pair for my child has in fact been a VERY POSITIVE and not sucky experience and exposes her to a whole other point of view and teaching that my husband and I cannot. In a perfect world everyone would have a choice but in this economy and the way our laws are ordered it is a fact of life and it does not "suck" at all times. Does it hurt to leave my child... yes but that doesn't mean she is being hurt by it.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

I think this specific issue is tricky. I understand why a breastfeeding advocate, someone who makes their living trying to change things and trying to educate and support mothers, would not want to (or should not want to, whichever word you want to use) work for a site/company or take money from a site/company that uses formula advertisements.

But I also acknowledge that breastfeeding is just not everyone's issue. I find myself becoming far less of a lactivist the older my kids get (7 and almost 5 and long weaned) because they present me with far more pressing issues as they get older. Frankly put, you can't tell by looking at them or at any of their classmates, which children were fed formula and which were breastfed and for how long. I'm far more concerned about the drug addicted babies born in my city or the incredible amount of gun violence and the lack of access to decent childcare for low income families. I don't work for Babble, but I might if it was a way to support my family. Expecting everyone to not work for them or take money from them because of their formula advertising seems a bit like censorship.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

"But how do we get there? How do we get to a place where we can ask the world to change without making the people who live in that world feel shame?"

Well, I start by trying as hard as possible to not shame my children. It's tempting to use shame as a parenting tool (ie, "Look how dirty you are! Yucky!" "I can't believe you....") but I do try to recognize it and avoid it and apologize if I do use it. Maybe if we can raise children without shame, they won't feel shame as they grow up? Maybe? I hope so.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTopHat

You, Beth, are a rock star. This is a great piece, very thoughtful, unfortunately followed by the types of replies that make me avoid blog comment sections in general. Thanks again Beth for being a beacon in the smog.

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterM

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