They should feel guilty for not breastfeeding!

by LeaningLactivist on April 28, 2010

in Lactivism

Well, They should!

If you think this, or more importantly if you’ve said this, my post is addressed to you. I suppose I ought to warn you that I’m more than a little peeved with what you are doing because no matter your thought process, no matter what your intentions are, when you say this you make my job as an advocate harder! You create an environment where good people need to spend time thinking and writing about words and their power in reaction to words you used (the words of someone who is supposedly on their side). You create situations where other women write that these words are harmful and that they make us all look bad. You force me to spend extra time focused on my choice of words so I can, hopefully, avert a misunderstanding with a mother on the message board community where I moderate. You contribute to an environment where women feel attacked by ME when I share accurate breastfeeding information with them in an attempt to support them.

I do not thank you for that.

When you take aim and fire off “Well, they should feel guilty for not breastfeeding!” you might think you’re simply voicing your opinion about those “lazy, selfish moms that can’t be bothered to put their wants aside to meet their child’s needs.” You know, the ones you feel completely comfortable musing about out loud in public message board forums because you wonder “Why did they even bother to have kids if they can’t be bothered to put in the energy to actually care for them?” Yes, those mothers whom I have to assume, based on your words, you feel superior to. Unfortunately that’s not how I see things.

Messages from the fringe

Saying “Well, They should feel guilty for not breastfeeding!” on a blog like PhD in Parenting, on the KellyMom Facebook fan page or somewhere else where breastfeeding advocacy is taking place forces Annie, Kelly and others like them to divert attention from advocacy to damage control. They have to address conversations that they didn’t start and that negatively impact their goals. It’s either that or run the risk, a very real one based on some of the comments left on the KellyMom Facebook fan page, that people will believe that they endorse the sentiments of the commenter. Silence is assumed to be equivalent to assent. Ignoring these comments carries consequences.

Very few breastfeeding advocates want to stake out the ground on the outer fringes of breastfeeding advocacy which is exactly where you stand when you say “Well, they should feel guilty…”. You force advocates with a moderated voice, who are seriously searching for the words that best connect with the maximum number of women, to divert their time and energy to dealing with words that will distance and hurt the very people they are working to connect with and help.

Attempts to shame aren’t helpful

Shaming someone is not a useful tool for lasting change. Rather than swaying the person to your side you make them feel attacked and defensive. They are hardly likely to be open to other things you have to say when you are busy judging them as lacking and deserving of guilt. Instead they raise their mental draw bridge and get ready for a siege by those awful, pushy, rude, nasty breastfeeding monsters. So, you have just managed a double play. You’ve alienated someone whom you might have helped as well as reinforcing a fabulous (not) stereotype of breastfeeding supporters. ¡Go Team!

When you open your mouth and let loose these words meant for some demonized idea of a mother who decided she’d rather put her selfish wants first and to heck with the needs and best interest of her child you don’t hit the target. That woman, if she exists, could give a rat’s ass less about what some stranger on the internet thinks about her and her decisions. However, you do end up hitting a lot of other women who are more vulnerable to your message. I meet up with them within the safe space of my breastfeeding support community.

They are -

  • Women who wanted desperately to breastfeed, who understand that formula is suboptimal and that their children are being exposed to all the risks associated with formula feeding.
  • Women who are deeply mourning the loss of their breastfeeding relationship and whose undeserved feelings of guilt are magnified by your words.
  • Women who were not supported when their child was born, who had multiple interventions that eventually impacted their breastfeeding relationship, and who were unable to access the support they needed to work their way through those problems.
  • Women who have to return to work and cannot find a way to balance working and pumping and are forced to combination feed or switch to formula completely (don’t even begin to think about taking your privilege out for show-and-tell because I will not entertain ANY discussion that seeks to cast doubt on what is a fact for many women).
  • Women who not only weren’t supported but had experts and close family and friends actively undermining their breastfeeding relationships.
  • Women who are adoptive mothers who love their child with all their heart but cannot breastfeed them.
  • Women who are struggling with serious health issues or the aftermath of those health issues and the impact that it has on their ability to breastfeed.
  • Women who are sexual abuse survivors and who are triggered by the act of breastfeeding.
  • Women who didn’t understand until they were in the thick of breastfeeding troubles that breastfeeding being natural didn’t mean it would come easy.
  • Women who, if one more thing goes wrong, will quit breastfeeding.

But I don’t mean those women!

Your intent is irrelevant with regard to this statement. Your actions are hurtful. You are hearing this from all corners of the breastfeeding advocacy community if you are paying even the slightest bit of attention. Your words are hurting people and you need to acknowledge that and own your responsibility for the damage your words are causing. Your words are not a surgical airstrike that hits only the specific target you are aiming at. They are the verbal equivalent of buckshot and they hit much more than your intended target. In addition, Your voice is disproportionately loud. Just a whisper of “You should feel guilty…” overshadows and undoes the good of the caring and concerned voices of the rest of us. Our words are not remembered nearly as clearly as the pain of yours. “Well, they should feel guilty about not breastfeeding!” is the equivalent of ‘Two steps back.’ and there are many of us who do not wish to take those step with you or because of you.

My advice

Know the goals of the space in which you are spending time. Kelly at has stated clearly and repeatedly that she is actively searching for ways to bring breastfeeding support to as many mothers as she can by meeting them where they are at and helping them with the goals they have defined for themselves. Her blog, Facebook fan page and forum are not the places to spit out a version of “Well, they should feel guilty for not breastfeeding!” because Kelly doesn’t feel this way. (Yes, Kelly knows I wrote that) You can reapply this advice to other blogs, internet communities and real life breastfeeding support groups.

Take a few moments to ponder some of the lessons you’ve learned about polite behavior. A lot of the damage done by the term “Well, They should feel guilty for not breastfeeding.” arises from it’s use in public areas (public internet forums, blogs, breastfeeding support groups and the like). If you really feel the need to say something like this take it to e-mail or private message or call up a friend and say it privately. The harm you do is immediate and personal for the person hearing your judgment of them in a breastfeeding support group. On message boards people encounter these conversations day and years after they occur. This is often a boon when the information is helpful but that ability to benefit someone is balanced by an equal opportunity to harm when the words are “Well, They should feel guilty..”.

Do. Not. Ever. say these words to someone who is a stranger to you. Talking drive-by smack to another woman who you don’t know and don’t have any type of relationship speaks VOLUMES. Those volumes? They are all about YOU and what they are saying isn’t pretty.

Sorta Crunchy – An Open Letter to My Fellow Breastfeeding Advocates

Accustomed to Chaos – Why We Should Be Mindful Of Our Language

PhD in Parenting – It’s not about picking on moms, it’s about breaking down societal barriers

KellyMom Facebook Fan Page discussion

By the way…

Moms who are feeling guilt about not meeting your breastfeeding goals – I’m going to encourage you release that monkey back into the wild. Embrace the fact that you did the best it was possible for you to do and know that being a mother is about so many more things than breastmilk. This one decision amongst thousands does not define you. Kelly has a post up at the KellyMom blog with lots of great links talking about guilt and Melissa Bartick wrote an interesting and important piece about breastfeeding that was published at HuffPo that will most likely speak to your heart.

ETA 4.27.10: two more examples of mothers I encounter as an advocate.


Renee April 28, 2010 at 12:37 am

Agreed. I have been intimidated by those very words and almost didn’t seek the support I needed in fear of them. Thanks for addressing this.

Alison April 28, 2010 at 12:43 am

I just wanted to stop by and thank you for this article. I was unfortunately unable to nurse my son as I had planned. This was not a decision that I got to make, this choice was ripped from my hands. Due to my son’s health problems it was best for him to be on specialized formulas. While I know in my head I did what I had to do, my heart still aches for that special bond with my son. I have also been a victim of hearing those dreadful words. And then as I pull out a bottle for my son they get that look on their face like, You are one of THOSE women, when they don’t know the whole story. I know that when they say that, it isn’t aimed at me or my situation, but it doesn’t make it hurt any less.
Mom’s carry enough guilt, they don’t need the judgment of other moms too.

Margie April 28, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Love conquers all!
Love your sweet baby!
Love yourself!
Do the best you can and leave the rest to your creator!
Take care, huggs and kisses to you and your baby, Grandma!

Jenny April 28, 2010 at 1:10 am

Beautifully written! I am fortunate to work in public health so I felt like I had a great deal of support in pumping three times a day with my trusty Medela when I returned to work. I was fortunate to breastfeed my beautiful daughter for 17 months. I am a huge breastfeeding advocate! However, not all women breastfeed for numerous reasons, some of which are described above. Instead of judging these women and making comments that “punch them in the gut,” increasing guilt (and don’t we have enough of that just being a mom?), let’s instead be supportive of each other for what we are all able to do and for the fact that we all love our children if we breastfeed or not. You never know . . . this acceptance and love toward all moms might lead to discussion and questions about breastfeeding and it may lead to pregnant women and moms asking for support/help with breastfeeding because they feel they can bring up the topic without being judged. And isn’t this ultimately the direction in which we want to go? It’s high time we all support each other instead of judging and making nasty comments. Important topic and beautifully written!! Kudos!

Janis April 28, 2010 at 1:19 am

I find it highly ironic that you are attacking women for attacking other women. You are using the same divisive language that you bemoan only aiming it at a different set of women. To quote you, “Mom’s carry enough guilt, they don’t need the judgment of other moms too.” Unless you are judging the judging moms, in which case it is apparently fine to judge.

LeaningLactivist April 28, 2010 at 2:16 am

Janis – are you directing your comments to Alison (whom you quoted) or me?

In case you are talking to me. My goal is not to attack anyone. It certainly is to let people know I do not appreciate the difficulties this specific behavior causes me as a breastfeeding advocate and message board moderator. I am, as clearly as I possibly can, saying that when you say “They should feel guilty for not breastfeeding!” the intended audience of “selfish” moms who didn’t try hard enough (in your opinion) to make breastfeeding work are not usually struck down with guilt. They get angry – at you. They think you are a mean person. They feel defensive and they stop listening.

The women who do hear these words and are impacted are a completely different demographic. They are women who are already feeling or working their way through guilt and regret. They are where you want them to be already without the helping hand of “They should feel guilty for not breastfeeding.” I find it less than useful to advocate non-breastfeeding mom self-blame when, especially for US society, we are woefully inadequate at supporting parents and helping them be successful.

Alison April 28, 2010 at 2:41 am

I read and re-read my post and really did not think that it was hurtful or judgmental of anyone. I was just telling my experience. I am sorry if you took offense to my experience.

Elodie April 28, 2010 at 1:30 am

Thanks for this wonderful post! I went through a lot when I first started breastfeeding and i felt so guilty that I had to supplement for a while… I couldn’t stand the looks of some women who did not have issues when I had to pull out a bottle or my suplemental nursing system… I managed to get over those hurdles thanks to the support and help of wonderful women who were genuinely kind and interested in helping me out on my journey. Today, breastfeeding is great but I can relate to a lot of those women who have looked down on despite their efforts to make it work. Thank you, thank you!!!

Sara April 28, 2010 at 1:38 am

Thanks for this brilliant, compassionate, and beautifully written article! I’m another one of those moms who couldn’t exclusively breastfeed despite extraordinary measures. I have shared your article with the amazing folks at MOBI Motherhood Intl., who share your mission of bringing breastfeeding support to as many women as possible — and helping them heal when breastfeeding has not gone as planned and hoped. Thanks again!

K April 28, 2010 at 1:44 am

Thank you for this post. I pumped and bottle fed for months while my baby and I got the hang of things, and even that had a certain lactivist in my life making snide comments at every opportunity and trying to make me feel guilty for my decision. Heaven forbid she ever found out that we supplemented with formula while we were in the hospital, since my baby lost so much weight right out of the gate!

WellBegun May 1, 2010 at 1:13 am

As a mom who has nursed three babies for a cumulative total of 4.5 years (and countring), and who has pumped while WFTOH for about 1.5 years (until I was blessed to make a change to that situation), I strongly feel that pumping takes a LOT more dedication than nursing at the breast. I would never criticize a woman for EPing, whether she was trying to get baby to breast or planning to EP as long as she could. Yes, it is true that EPing is “suboptimal” in a couple of ways, but at least a few of those (e.g. bonding, visual development, germ transfer) can be achieved in other ways by a loving, attached mom. I’m so happy for you that you (by the sound of your post) were able to work things out to your satisfaction!

quazydellasue April 28, 2010 at 2:08 am

This is an excellent, excellent post. It really helped me to see the other side of this issue, and I think it will change the way I think about things. As someone who is still nursing a 2 yr old – and who went through hell to make that happen – I do sometimes feel frustrated and annoyed when I hear about women who don’t even try. But it’s NOT OKAY for me to judge other women, and PARTICULARLY not okay for me to let my frustration at our nation’s low breastfeeding rates inadvertently hurt women who are already hurting. It’s hard enough to be a parent without all the guilt, and I never want to contribute to that. So thanks.

Ordanik April 26, 2011 at 9:09 am

Though you get frustrated at the women who ‘don’t even try’, is it really anyone’s place to feel anything at ‘these women’?! Each woman has a choice to feed her child in any way she sees fit. I feel like part of the judgement that formula feeding Mums cop is that it is wrong. Whether she chooses to FF, regardless of having a ‘justified’ reason or not, it’s still her choice. We need to stop worrying about what other mothers are doing and just worry about our own affairs. I am glad that you were able to overcome the obstacles of BF though, it must feel like a great achievement =)

marne April 28, 2010 at 2:41 am

Thank you.

Jessica April 28, 2010 at 6:14 am

Thank you for this reminder to remain a supporter of moms, and not the judge, jury, or executioner. We all experience “parenting police”, and should remember to do unto others as we would have done to ourselves. I don’t think I’ve said these words, but this will help me remember not to. Even when I think I know the whole story. Even in private.

Kristin April 28, 2010 at 6:40 am

If I were feeling eloquent and clear, and if I were feeling supportive and generous to the women (and I truly believe it’s only a few compared to most nursing moms, of whom I am one) who do think and say what your post title and subtitle say, I still couldn’t come close to expressing what you said so well.

Thank you for making life a little easier for those who chose not to or couldn’t nurse. Thank you for helping those of us who chose to and could nurse be supportive of ALL moms, not just the ones most like us. And as an adoptee (who is pretty darn healthy and well-adjusted — I think), thank you for included adoptive moms on the list.

LeaningLactivist April 28, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Kristin, I believe they are a minority as well.

Krista April 28, 2010 at 8:39 am

As a mom who 2x WANTED to bf and was unable to, thank you! I felt enough guilt and remorse all by myself.

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama April 28, 2010 at 8:54 am

Wonderfully said. I’ve been thinking about this same subject lately, because I’ve had several people ask me “why are you so *gentle* on your site? Why aren’t you more *in your face* with information about lactivism/intactivism?”
This is exactly it: the target audience I am trying to reach needs to be swayed, not bullied. Educated, not crucified.

Rebekah C April 28, 2010 at 9:13 am



Sarah April 28, 2010 at 9:21 am

Thanks for the article. Breastfeeding didn’t come easy for me but I worked at and suffered through some very sore nipples and made it out the other side and am still bf-ing my 18 month old. Sticking with it even when I didn’t think I could was one of the best things I ever did so I will admit that when I hear from woman that they didn’t even try it makes me skeptical of all non-bf-ing moms. But I know that we moms have enough things to feel insecure about and guilty about with out some one like me making them feel bad for not bf-ing. I will think of your wordg when I’m out and see a mom bottle feeding.

Jennie April 28, 2010 at 9:43 am

My husband and I had a discussion about this yesterday. Advocacy for any cause suffers from the beliefs of the fringe. Unfortunately, those voices are the loudest because they are the most offensive. I agree with you wholeheartedly and thank you from the bottom of my heart for your eloquent words. As a fellow lactivist, I cringe to hear the phrase “They should feel guilty”, and I hope that no one ever feels judged by my beliefs.

Devan @ Accustomed Chaos April 28, 2010 at 9:59 am

Great post and great continuation of a very important discussion!

LeaningLactivist April 28, 2010 at 11:07 pm

Thanks Devan! :)

Amy West April 28, 2010 at 10:01 am

This is exactly what we’re working to change! It’s what Best for Babes is all about:

Our Mission: To help moms beat the “Booby Traps“–the cultural & institutional barriers that prevent moms from achieving their personal breastfeeding goals. To inspire, prepare & empower™ moms. To give breastfeeding a makeover and give moms the solutions they need to make it work!

Our Credo: ALL moms deserve to make an informed feeding decision, and to be cheered on, coached and celebrated without pressure, judgment or guilt, whether they breastfeed for 2 days, 2 months 2 years, or not at all. ALL breastfeeding moms deserve to succeed and have a positive breastfeeding experience without being “booby trapped”!

LeaningLactivist April 28, 2010 at 11:09 pm

Amy, I believe Best for Babes is definitely one of the organizations that is going to make a difference in this next “wave” of breastfeeding advocacy!

Susan April 28, 2010 at 10:09 am

Thank you so much for this article. I breastfed my son for the entire 6 weeks that I had off work and when I went back to work I tried my hardest to keep at it but I did not have the time or even a place at work other than the bathroom to pump!! I felt horrible for my decision to go to formula but he ended up being just fine on formula and I would never judge another women who decides the same for her. I hate how everyone has to tell you what you are doing wrong as a mother, if that is the worst thing I have done so far than I feel pretty darm good about how I am raising my child!!

Her Bad Mother April 28, 2010 at 10:10 am

I would add to your list of women who are shamed by that kind of talk: women struggling with post-partum depression, who give up or want to give up or had to give up breastfeeding in order to take certain medications or to end a cycle of frustration that is worsening their depression or to get sleep or do any number of things to ease their struggle with depression. These are women, too, who often don’t want to admit *why* they’re not nursing, or why they quit nursing, because of shame around mental illness.

I wrote about it here:

Judy @ MommyNewsBlog April 28, 2010 at 10:14 am

This is such an awesome article! Thank you so much for writing it. It is so easy to “judge” others and we have to remember that “we don’t know the whole story” and more importantly “we have no right to judge”. Here is a great story on my blog of a mom who desperately wanted to breastfeed and couldn’t – it is truly a heartwarming story:

The Verve Path April 28, 2010 at 10:18 am

This is a great post and SOO well written. I am glad that this is a hot topic! I personally wrote about this a year ago on my blog after some things came up with my postings on Facebook. It was because of this mentality you speak of that these women didn’t see what my goal and purpose was and I had to justify myself too.

I think I was a bit ahead of my time. :)

Julia April 28, 2010 at 10:23 am

(Please Feel free to delete this comment if this feels to much of a “hijack” – I was interested in contributing to this important post – but of course see there is a line)
When my client, Bravado Designs and I set out to give birth to a new way of communicating around breastfeeding we spent months evaluating the media coverage around this most important topic – breastfeeding. When we looked at the existing coverage – what we found was a lot of anger, hostility and judgment . And where that left women seemed painful and obvious. Our intent was to shift the media conversation – and thus change the bigger conversation. We formed the Bravado Breastfeeding Information Council or BBIC with the understanding that the current dialog was missing the mark. We believed (and still do!) that all women need support not drama, clarity not confusion and most of all kindness. Our goal is to direct influencers toward the non-biased, non-judgmental and frankly honest bottom line of the breastfeeding story. We connect via our statistics (80,000 women, 18 years – that’s a lot of data), anecdote and of course analysis to help move influencers and journos towards a better way to continue the conversation. We bring in the best brains in breastfeeding (a list that continues to grow) to help the facts gel into stories are fair and again, kind. We are not done yet – stay tuned of course!

Jodee April 28, 2010 at 10:39 am

This was an interesting article. My experience has been the opposite though. I am a nursing mother and I got the looks and the comments why are you still doing that? I don’t even tell people anymore that I still nurse my 2 year old they thinks it’s weird or gross. I envied moms who bottle fed. It would of been so much easier to do that, my husband could of gotten up some in the middle of the night. But my baby would not take a bottle of any kind. And I struggled to nurse her she would not eat very much and I had soo much milk. I had to pump after feeding her just to get some relief.

I think there are harsh judgments on both sides of the fence. I think there needs to be more tolerance from both sides.

Beth April 28, 2010 at 10:51 am

From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

I’m one of the people who gets this comment — a lot. I’m one of the people that some of your other readers would feel “skeptical” about because, to look at me, you wouldn’t realize that there are significant reasons why my daughter was not breastfed.

I came very close to bleeding out post-delivery. I was in an ICU for several days. I didn’t see my daughter for almost 36 hours because I was on a ventilator. I had nine units of blood transfused, one of which infiltrated leaving my left arm useless. I was on thirteen different drugs when I left the hospital (in addition to my usual collection of asthma medications). She was fed formula in the hospital to keep her alive. She continued to be fed formula to keep me alive. Every doctor I had, plus the absolutely fabulous lactation consultant, all convinced me that, in this situation, breast was not best.

All of this is to say, thank you. I believe in breastfeeding. I believe it’s important, but I don’t believe it’s necessary to shame me for “choosing” to live rather than choosing to breastfeed.

New Mummy April 28, 2010 at 11:03 am

What a great post, I struggled to breastfeed for a number of reasons which I won’t go into now, I have written about it before and am now at peace with the fact that I didn’t. I found my self having to defend my self every time someone asked how I was feeding my baby, and the looks I got when I pulled out a bottle of formula for her. As if being a new mum wasn’t hard enough without people judging you.

Sarah @ April 28, 2010 at 11:41 am


I almost didn’t continue breastfeeding because of a comment a lactivist left on my blog shortly after I gave birth. I was trying so hard and having a tough go of it. I felt guilty giving formula to my daughter, but I felt like I couldn’t keep going if she didn’t have something extra to help me out. We went to this lactation consultant who told me that supplementing could hurt the breastfeeding relationship IF we let it, but that if we kept it minimal while I toughened up, plenty of women used formula to ease into nursing and wound up breastfeeding successfully for as long as they and their babies wanted. She said that formula wouldn’t kill our baby and that breastmilk wouldn’t make her fly.

I wrote a series of three or four posts about those early days, and in one of the posts, a couple pregnant women commented saying they were worried about breastfeeding and hoped they could learn from my experiences, etc. And a lactivist responded to them in the comments by saying (in a nutshell) “yes, beginning breastfeeding can be tough, but it’s a difficulty that some of us are willing to power through because we know it’s best and we love our babies.”

When I read that comment, I took it to mean that because I supplemented (one bottle a day for the first week), she thought I didn’t love my baby. I was soooo furious, SO FURIOUS, that even now it ticks me off. I wrote private e-mails to the pregnant women asking them to overlook the lactivist’s comment, that breastfeeding was tough for me, but not for everyone and that I hoped they were successful if they wanted to breastfeed, etc.

But anyway, point being, that comment happened on the worst day of my breastfeeding first week and I almost gave up because of it, because what did it matter if somebody already thought I hated my child?

So thank you for writing this. I appreciate it.

LeaningLactivist April 28, 2010 at 11:50 pm

Sarah, I’m very sorry to hear that you hear such an off-key message on the safe space of your blog. I definitely understand your anger.

Dana H. April 28, 2010 at 11:52 am

It’s so true that judgment and admonishment is alienating – esp. when you want to encourage someone to understand your cause.

I did not breastfeed out of choice, neither was I breastfed. I am educated and accepting of all choices. There are mothers who breastfeed who later feed their children truly awful food (maybe due to lack of education) and vice versa. Breastfeeding does not necessarily beget a good mother.

Neither my son (19yo) nor I ever had any allergies, ailments, etc. I’m happy and blessed that he has never had to go to a doctor (except for check-ups) or therapist, in his life! While I know that scientifically breastfeeding provides relatively better nutrition than formula, in my personal experience it was not substantial enough to impact mine or his health or relationship- as I know so many breastfed babies who have allergies, asthma, are always ill, have to go to therapy (at such young ages – 3 & 4) for cognitive/emotional problems. So many things breastfeeding purports to prevent or at least curb. Again, I’m not ANTI breastfeeding at all. Many times, I think it’s a way for the mother to bond with the baby and not the other way around. Bonding comes with time, love, care – not necessarily (and certainly not exclusively) with breastfeeding. I have a great relationship with my son and my mother.

We must celebrate all mothers and their healthy choices for their families. But it’s absurd when women revolve so much of the bond and duty of motherhood around breastfeeding. Even an abusive, negligent, idiot mother can breastfeed after all – but it takes a kind, patient, loving, sympathetic and selfless soul to nurture.

Thank you for allowing me to express my opinion and share my happy, joyful and fulfilling “non-breastfeeding” story on your site! With love and respect.

LeaningLactivist April 29, 2010 at 12:30 am

Dana, Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your story.

Bettina and Amy have a great page at Best for Babes that talks about that disconnect that can sometimes appear when comparing individuals with data collected from (hopefully) large populations to form scientific conclusions.

Jaylene April 28, 2010 at 12:12 pm

THANK YOU!!!!!!!

almost made me cry.

Erin Michaud April 28, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Forgive me but I’m not going to be high-fiving you for this piece.

Obviously people shouldn’t pick on individual mothers. Who knows where they’re really coming from or what their struggles have been. I agree on that point as does every lactivist and breastfeeding supporter I have ever met in my real life or online. Are there some miserable weirdos out there who make rude thoughtless comments? Yes. On this and on every other subject imaginable.

A piece like this makes it seem like there’s a lynch mob of breastfeeding advocates waiting in every doorstep ready to browbeat and personally insult mothers who feed formula (as the majority do, by the way.) Nonsense. I’ve never seen such a thing. Neither in real life nor online.

What I **have** seen, however, is mothers who feel burned by their own experiences and choices jumping on advocates and essentially telling us that we shouldn’t be passing on the truth because they find it hurtful and it makes them feel guilty. I have seen mothers telling each other that formula is just as good and hey look their children turned out “fine.” I have seen mothers telling each other that if they decide to formula feed from day one they shouldn’t have to feel bad about that choice. Even though we know now that this is a path that regularly leads to illness and death.

Do all mothers deserve support and understanding? Yest. Should a mother feel perfectly comfortable making a voluntary decision that has the potential to cause serious harm to her baby? No. I don’t think so. And hey guess what– I’m entitled to my opinion.

LeaningLactivist April 28, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Hi Erin –

I agree that this type of bad behavior is not restricted to breastfeeding advocates. Rudeness knows no borders unfortunately. I’m very glad that you have not experienced this personally in your everyday life. I’m going to share several quotes from the KM Facebook conversation on my post. These are the ones that weren’t deleted outright (I was watching the comments come and go for a while last night). They are not unique. Variations of this end up finding there way to many of the breastfeeding forums, blogs and communities. An hour and your mouse will land you multiple examples of this and it will not be a difficult search.

While I have never uttered those words aloud, and never will I do think that some moms should feel guilty for not breastfeeding. I don’t mean the women who have struggled beyond their means (whatever those means are) should feel guilty, I mean the ones who could hardly be bothered by ” I have to quit drinking or smoking during pregnancy I’m not going to inconvenience myself with breastfeeding” moms. Why can we guilt moms with not drinking or smoking but breastfeeding is off limits.

I dont have a problem with moms that CANT breastfeed for medical reasons for example, or if their milk never comes in ( like a friend of mine) I have an issue with women that JUST DONT WANT TO

Without judging or attacking anyone: With everything said and done- breastfeeding is, in my eyes, a mindset, a mother’s will and determination…Perserverence and dedication….commitment…..some moms have it….Some don’t.

(I included this because the underlying assumption is that a mom who isn’t successful breastfeeding or chooses not to lacks determination perseverance, dedication and commitment)

Struggling breastfeeding moms who don’t treat advocates as well as we would hope they would is a whole ‘nother post so I’m going to ask that we focus the conversation here on the topic of my post. These concerns regarding the rudeness (and it’s impact on mothers) of saying “You should feel guilty for not breastfeeding!” to the women your are talking about – because everyone is out there reading those same public comments – isn’t canceled out or knocked down the pecking order of discussion by another situation that can be framed as bad behavior directed at the breastfeeding advocates rather than by breastfeeding advocates.

I have seen mothers telling each other that if they decide to formula feed from day one they shouldn’t have to feel bad about that choice. Even though we know now that this is a path that regularly leads to illness and death.

My point isn’t that someone has the right to expect that they shouldn’t feel bad about a decision they make. It isn’t that breastfeeding advocates shouldn’t share accurate, data-based breastfeeding information (because someone might feel guilty). My point is that I feel this statement is incompatible with effective breastfeeding advocacy, it’s unnecessarily hurtful, and that when someone says – on a public website or in a group setting where the people you are talking about *will* see the sentiment – that “They should feel guilty for…” that it says much more about you than the person you are talking about.

Erin April 28, 2010 at 11:16 pm

I have thought very hard before responding to this, and Erin you are entitled to your opinion. But no mother should be chastised or ridiculed for their choices in feeding not matter what the reason.

“I have seen mothers telling each other that if they decide to formula feed from day one they shouldn’t have to feel bad about that choice. Even though we know now that this is a path that regularly leads to illness and death.”

Here is where the problem lies. Saying that, no matter what you believe or what the research says, is still telling everyone that formula is the root of all health problems and causes death and disease and it is detrimental to the health of the baby no matter what the reason for formula feeding. It doesn’t, it’s not poison. It is a viable way to feed a baby. AND without formula both of my boys would not have survived. I am THANKFUL I had that option that my boys got nourishment not only from formula but what little milk I did produce.

Until you walk a mile in another Mothers shoes you shouldn’t judge. And as Mothers we judge more than we really should, we all make choices based on what is right for us and our families and to judge others for their decision no matter what the reason is judgmental.

One day, you will make a decision that you feel is right for you/your family and find others sitting back judging and wondering about your motives she selfish? is she educated about the “better” option? does she understand what she is doing is not the “norm”??

Erin Michaud April 29, 2010 at 8:11 am

Have you ever seen this study?

No, again, it’s not nice to say directly to someone “You personally (insert name) should feel guilty for not breastfeeding.” That’s not cool. Those quotes you pulled out though? They aren’t directed at individuals. They’re general opinions. And that last one, which seemed to shock you the most, is at least partially supported by current scientific literature (see above link.)

Angry formula-feeding mothers interacting with breastfeeding advocates constitutes one issue. Not two. You chose to ignore one side that definitely has bearing on the other so I brought it up. Too many people can’t tell the difference between a general opinion about a parenting subject and a personal insult or direct criticism.

I work with women in real life. Not just online. Don’t think for one moment that I’m in any way green or naive about the realities of breastfeeding. Some women can’t do it. Period. Also some women are just not capable of bucking the considerable pressures and encouragements from society to bottle-feed (be that milk or artificial milk in the bottle.) That’s not their fault. Lots of mothers are doing the best they can and I applaud all their efforts and help them along as best I can. But it is a fact, like it or not, that not everyone tries. There is a long meandering continuum from not breastfeeding at all through making a token attempt through a halfway attempt through a serious attempt through a heroic attempt. Who can judges someone else’s individual path? No one else; only what the mother thinks really matters to her. But from a public health perspective it’s all relevant and needs to be hashed out. And I think most mothers aren’t stupid or blind– they’ve seen their friends and loved ones giving it various levels of effort with often predictable results. All of this has a meaning that we can and should reflect on NOT to lash others but to figure out the best strategies for moving forward and educating the moms who are about to take their turn.

Some mothers do things like smoke during pregnancy, turn their child’s carseat for convenience long before they are supposed to, and formula feed from day one for convenience. No intelligent person needs to pretend that those are good and honorable practices. Individuals have their rights and freedoms but the fact that culture has such a strong bearing on infant feeding practices cannot be ignored and it extends beyond doctors and caregivers. Everyone sets the tone for what is socially acceptable and what is not. Currently 1 in 4 mothers doesn’t breastfeed at all and most have stopped by the 4 month point. We are far from being a culture that is intolerant of formula use.

Some seem to try to make the case that showing a general disapproval of voluntary formula feeding from day one or token breastfeeding will hurt breastfeeding advocacy. I say show me the study that says negative societal attitudes about formula feeding hurt breastfeeding rates. There are none right now (quite the opposite actually) and there never will be. Have you read “Watch Your Language” by Diane Weissinger? It’s a classic.

The first thing you should notice about this writing, which altered the breastfeeding movement and continues to inform our stance and our path, is that the first concern is not sparing people’s feelings. Although insulting individual mothers is **never** okay (**duh**) that doesn’t mean we have to reinvent reality and it doesn’t mean that tough statements don’t have to be made. The real question, turning things around, should be why anyone would insist that people avoid criticizing a practice that harms babies to spare the feelings of certain adults.

Erin Michaud April 29, 2010 at 8:27 am

To the other anonymous poster:

As I said I don’t agree with ridiculing or insulting individual mothers.

I never said formula was the root of all health problems. I never said it was poison. Please don’t put words in my mouth. That is unacceptable and whether or not you realize it making accusations like that lowers the discourse and helps no one. Formula *does* cause serious health problems across the board. Some children tolerate the artificial diet better than others. That’s probably a mixture of genetics, environment, and luck.

I am constantly amazed when mothers thank formula for the lives of their children. Knowing what we know now, where is the anger that this is the best the medical system could offer you? Where is the rage that breastfeeding issues are only beginning to be studied? The disgust that donor milk isn’t available to those who need it? The system has to change. And it’s not going to change until people stop thinking that formula is a great answer for breastfeeding problems.

You don’t know me or what shoes I have walked in. Please don’t assume.

Everyone can (and should) judge parenting practices. Children are important. Parenting is important.

People judge my decisions all the time. I take it like an adult. If they’re wrong then they’re wrong and I politely ignore them. But if it turns out that they’re right I’m even more thankful for the information.

LeaningLactivist April 29, 2010 at 12:01 pm

@Erin Michaud,

There is PLENTY of time to address different sides of issues with strong connections. Angry formula-feeding mothers interacting with breastfeeding advocates is not what I chose to address this time. Flat-out rude behavior on the part of breastfeeding supporters that makes it harder and more energy intensive for me, and others, to give a helping hand to other mothers is.

I feel like we are talking at one another rather than with one another if you are taking away from this post and the comments that my goal was anything other than to say it’s rude to say “They should feel guilty…”, and makes people who aren’t your intended target feel attacked, makes my life as an advocate more difficult, and I wish you would stop saying this publicly right now.

As I said elsewhere in the thread – Those comments – directed at “nobody” (but in reality said publicly where the judged mothers will be reading them) are a serious issue for me. It has real consequences for me as I am interacting with moms. It appears that I’ve struck a chord with others by sharing that thought based on comments here and elsewhere. Not everyone, obviously, but a fair few. This kind of comment makes us look judgmental, mean-spirited and holier-than-thou. It does not reinforce us up on the high ground. Instead, it gives us a black eye and turns off a significant number of the women we are trying to connect with and talk to about breastfeeding.

Those comments I shared are the equivalent of going into a breastfeeding support group and shooting off your mouth sharing your opinion without knowing the other meeting members or their stories. The fact that they are not said directly to that mother “who should be feeling guilty” while looking her dead in the eye does not mean they are without power and impact. Talking to someone without addressing them under the guise of talking to other people interested in breastfeeding has consequences. I’m not going to pretend that a statement made behind ones hand at a volume guaranteed to be overheard is OK.

But it is a fact, like it or not, that not everyone tries. Who can judges someone else’s individual path? No one else; only what the mother thinks really matters to her. But from a public health perspective it’s all relevant and needs to be hashed out.

How do you reconcile publicly made judgmental statements about people, justified because a minority of women didn’t even try (hard enough – from someone else’s perspective) with discourse meant to understand breastfeeding from a public health perspective? How are those statements effective to reaching understanding? What is the benefit of those statements to the goal of getting more women to breastfeed for longer periods of time? How are they relevant or helpful when many of us understand that much of western society is not currently set up to support parents and in some instances is actually antagonistic to parents (it sets them up to fail)?

It’s my opinion that comments like “They should feel guilty for not breastfeeding.” have no place in the public discourse related to breastfeeding and breastfeeding advocacy. If you believe that saying something like this – in front of the women in question – is useful or appropriate we are going to agree to disagree. If our goal is to nurture mothers and a confident commitment to breastfeeding (from your link which I was aware of but thank you for sharing) then watching our language in public spaces so that mothers lacking confidence will feel safe with us seems to me to be a no-brainer. It is just a reapplication of Diane’s stellar premise.

Erin Michaud April 29, 2010 at 11:10 pm

I agree that we are talking at each other not having a real conversation. I also do agree with some of what you’re saying but the sticking point is this: it is not within your right, nor anyone else’s, to censor disapproval of a practices that are (at least often) voluntary and that harm mothers and children. That is what you tried to do when you said it’s not okay to even *think* that a mother who voluntarily feeds formula should feel badly about that decision. Do you think they shouldn’t? Really? Would you feel bad making a decision out of sheer convenience that had the potential to seriously harm or kill your baby?

I will fight all day long to defend moms who have been screwed over by the system and ended up using formula by necessity, or who were physically capable but didn’t have the necessary information and support. But for you to imply that no mother who formula feeds by choice is doing wrong or that that choice should be immune from criticism– this is harmful to breastfeeding advocacy. Make no mistake. The position might earn you friends but it does no good for breastfeeding. We should be building a society that sees formula as a last resort (or actually something that is foisted on us by a medical community apathetic to breastfeeding) not a culture that says don’t you dare have an idea about how babies should be fed. Don’t you dare notice that some mothers try harder than others and the results usually follow. Not always– but usually.

The internet is definitely buckshot not a laser beam. That’s the nature of the beast. I see that as a positive thing– the message reaches a broader base. I also think that opinions that can initially piss people off can be turning points and lead to progress and personal gain. I remember being very annoyed by comments that later spurred me on and caused me to try harder and search wider for an answer to my difficulties.

As women I think we are often going to try to go for the path that makes people feel good and happy and supported. In practice, however, for changing the culture that might not be how it has to go. The setup is such that feelings are going to get hurt regardless. It’s pretty unavoidable. There’s no polite way to explain that generations have been damaging babies with an unnatural diet. There is no way to relate studies about morbidity and mortality without making some people feel like shit. There’s really no way to get the message out to all those pregnant mamas waiting for their turn at bat without hurtful information going to mothers who had bad experiences. I wish the setup was otherwise but that’s how it is.

I assume the quotes you gave are the worst examples you can find. I will end this by saying that I think they make valid points. I’d be interested in hearing how you think the points they make are specifically wrong. Please elaborate.

LeaningLactivist April 30, 2010 at 2:51 am

@Erin Michaud, You are not hearing me.

I did not say that “it’s not okay to even *think* that a mother who voluntarily feeds formula should feel badly about that decision” and it’s extremely frustrating to see that particular spin placed on what I did say. I’m discussing actions here not thoughts.

But for you to imply that no mother who formula feeds by choice is doing wrong or that that choice should be immune from criticism– this is harmful to breastfeeding advocacy.

No. I. Do. Not. I don’t say ANYTHING about that because my personal feelings about moms who don’t breastfeed and instead bottle feed are beside the point. What I do say is that when someone says “They should feel guilty for not breastfeeding.” out loud within the hearing of the women they are judging that they create another hurdle for me to get over as an advocate and that the extra effort that is then required is frustrating for me. That public statements like these inform peoples opinions of breastfeeding advocates and that they do nothing to foster a positive opinion.

Attacking mothers is not, in my opinion, a effective way to further breastfeeding advocacy.

I assume the quotes you gave are the worst examples you can find. I will end this by saying that I think they make valid points. I’d be interested in hearing how you think the points they make are specifically wrong. Please elaborate.

Why would you assume that? Comments can be moderated on facebook fan pages. The options are just limited to leaving them as the commenter wrote them, reporting the commenter to Facebook or deleting them. Do you know whether the comment thread has been moderated or not?

I’d really like to understand your thoughts on the questions I asked before.

How do you reconcile publicly made judgmental statements about people, justified because a minority of women didn’t even try (hard enough – from someone else’s perspective) with discourse meant to understand breastfeeding from a public health perspective?

How are those statements effective to reaching understanding?

What is the benefit of those statements to the goal of getting more women to breastfeed for longer periods of time?

How are they relevant or helpful when many of us understand that much of western society is not currently set up to support parents and in some instances is actually antagonistic to parents (it sets them up to fail)?

Erin Michaud April 30, 2010 at 8:07 am

I didn’t answer your question because it doesn’t make any sense to me. So let me clarify my original point instead of trying to answer. Not only is it okay to notice that some mothers put in much more effort than others this is valuable information that needs to be explored in more detail.

We agree that insulting and criticizing individual mothers isn’t productive or nice. All mothers deserve support. One decision doesn’t make someone a bad mother or a good mother. I am as sick of the side arguments and misunderstandings as the next person. But instead of taking genuine reasonable **general** opinions and knocking them we should be pointing out what actually **is** a personal insult or slight and what falls into the realm of fair expression.

I am well aware of the barriers to breastfeeding. However I am growing concerned that we are allotting too little power to mothers and encouraging some women to view themselves as victims of the system rather than active participants.

StorkStories April 28, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Wonderful Post!! Thanks so much. I was initially unsure of your message until I read further. I wrote about guilt last May when there was a flurry of mommy war type drama going on. “Breastfeeding, Bottle Feeding and Somewhere In-between…Why the Guilt?”
As a professional CLC, OB- Neonatal Nurse, I must give ACCURATE and COMPLETE information to all the mother’s in my care so that they can make an educated informed choice or decision. The lack of breastfeeding in our society IS a public health issue. We DO need to increase our efforts towards better education, normalizing breastfeeding and increasing bfing rates. I have a PI (Process Improvement) project in the works now to help educate the STAFF.
I feel there are so many moms who DO NOT get accurate or complete information. Even so–> they make a decision based on what they DO know and what they feel is best for them. “Support the mother” is my motto. All of us need to be conscious of what we say & HOW it is said.
A larger scale of culture change is the goal but each baby step forward is progress.

LeaningLactivist April 28, 2010 at 4:00 pm

All of us need to be conscious of what we say & HOW it is said.
*nods head vigorously*
Exactly! And in addition we, as breastfeeding advocates, need to be conscious of WHERE we are saying things because people ARE listening.

Don't Pat the Belly April 28, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Thank you for this. I think there is a huge difference between educating and supporting and the “they should feel guilty for…” In my mind this kind of statement is neither educational nor supportive. It doesn’t give new moms information/data/etc that helps them make informed decisions. And it surely is not supportive. Guilt is not the right reason to breastfeed.

I also think that there is a huge difference between privately wondering why a mom wouldn’t consider breastfeeding and publicly attacking/shaming her. I will admit have been guilty of privately wondering about/questioning another mom’s decision, but I would never dream of telling her publically that she should feel guilty about it. Unfortunately, the internet allows people to “say” things that most of them would never say to someone’s face.

LeaningLactivist April 28, 2010 at 3:51 pm

And the disconnect of a computer monitor makes it all too easy for a person to get tunnel vision and say things out loud without taking the time to think that a public message board post or a blog comment is basically like sitting down with some people on stage in front of a microphone and having a private conversation.

Best for Babes April 28, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this wonderful post and for standing up for moms everywhere. As you know this exact sentiment is the underpinning for our Credo. We are very proud to count you as a friend of Best for Babes and commend you on the work you are doing to ease the suffering of moms, and heal the divide that is keeping women whether formula-feeding or breastfeeding from working together to advocate for better choices and quality of life for all moms, families and babies!


LeaningLactivist April 29, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Thanks Bettina!

Sally April 28, 2010 at 1:12 pm

I have not read all of these comments but I do have to say *BRAVO* those of us that are/have been in successful breastfeeding relationships with our children should not look down our noses at those who are formula feeding their children, most like the post has said more than likely have had some sort of problems with breastfeeding, I myself have formula fed my first from 6 months, and my second from about 2 weeks (lack of support) my third from about 6 months also (again lack of support) the last 3 all nursed over 12 months and I am still nursing my 15 month old son…. I love giving advice to new moms, regarding breastfeeding I have learned a lot over the course of 6 children, and think that its important to at least try, and no one can deny that!

Erin April 28, 2010 at 1:34 pm

THANK YOU so much for this. As a Mom of 2 wonderful boys that are healthy and happy I know NOW that my breastfeeding issues and problems didn’t make me a bad mother. I tortured myself with my oldest son, but thankfully I had a better experience with my second son but still had to bottle feed him formula.

A friend of mine was having some health issues and it was complicating breastfeeding. I had told her to take care of herself, that she had enough stored up to feed her little one for a long while and it was OK to have to feed him some formula if she had to. Her reply was that she wasn’t giving her baby that poison, it was ok for me to do that but not her. And here I was feeding my baby formula with what little breast milk I could pump.

I just don’t understand why people feel the need to hurt others through a journey of motherhood instead we all should be sharing and supporting each other. It is so easy to say mean things on the internet when you don’t have to look at the person in the eye and do so anonymously and so many people hide their meanness behind a computer screen.

Breastfeeding is important, but not to the point that you alienate and hurt others by activism and I thank you again for saying all of these things.

Anne April 28, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Thank you so much for this – it is exactly what I feel and have struggled to articulate on a forum where critcism of formula feeding mothers (disguised as criticism of formula itself) is unfortunately not uncommon.

Fearless Formula Feeder April 28, 2010 at 2:04 pm

I really appreciate what you are trying to do with this thoughtful and heartfelt post.

I think the more we communicate openly about these issues, and the feelings surrounding infant feeding choices, the closer we will come to truly supporting ALL women, including those who want to breastfeed.

I hesitate to bring something up, then, b/c I believe you are doing such a wonderful service by taking this type of stand. But I also think you seem like the kind of open minded and truly compassionate person who would like to understand where some of us formula feeding moms are coming from, so that you can help us breastfeed future kids if we do desire. So here goes…

Sometimes, the “obvious” anti-formula feeder sentiments are in fact easier to stomach than the well-meaning but insulting implications that our kids are somehow being “punished” for being formula fed. I understand that my readings of many of the breastfeeding studies are colored by a staunch belief that there are inherent flaws in these studies; I do admit that there are many wonderful benefits of breastfeeding, and OF COURSE it is the optimal way to feed a baby- but I do not believe that we are harming our children by feeding them formula. However, I accept that you do feel this way – and it’s okay with me. I just want to let you know that it turns some women off of breastfeeding who have either been forced to formula feed (as you so wisely outlined above) or have chosen to formula fed from the get-go, but who would possibly consider breastfeeding future kids if the right sort of breastfeeding advocacy came into play.

The problem is that we are already formula feeding; we are seeing our kids thrive (and in some of our cases, where there were serious medical or emotional issues involved, formula was lifesaving – and our kids were suffering while we tried to nurse… it does happen) and we know that they are as perfect and wonderful as they could possibly be. Implying that our decision to formula feed makes them somehow “less than” because they have not received the “optimal feeding experience” will often induce feelings of resentment and guilt. Which makes some women associate these negative feelings with lactivism, and when they encounter issue the next time around, they will understandably shy away from places like Kellymom (which has a myriad of articles which ARE very insulting and condescending to formula feeding, in my opinion – I was turned off by that site even when I was a breastfeeding mom, looking for help) or LCs, even though these people/places have the ability to help these women succeed.

I don’t mean to imply that breastfeeding advocates should lie or hold back in their opinions – I’m all for taking a strong stand. But if the goal is to increase breastfeeding rates, I really believe that rethinking how you approach women who have formula fed in the past might help the cause. I hope you will take this for what it is and not as an attack on your beautiful post, which I honestly appreciate!

Rebekah C April 28, 2010 at 11:08 pm

This is such a thought-provoking response and I thank you for bringing this up.

I breastfed my first child for 3.5 yrs, my second is still clinging to that last snuzzle at bedtime at 3yrs and my 3rd, my 8mo old son, has been formula fed since 3mo, exclusively from 4mo.

Breastfeeding has always been easy for me. I have good technique, had lots of support, have a great supply, etc etc. The most serious issue I have had until my son’s birth was thrush (which is my arch-nemesis!!!).

But my beautiful son, my surprise baby, was born with a very severe tongue tie. We thought we had fixed it when his frenelum was clipped but he just would. not. grow. At 12wks old, he was hospitalized for failure to thrive as in all of that time he’d gained less than 6oz. Basically he got plenty to eat until those first few days of gushing milk were over and then, when he was required to latch properly, he just got fore-milk and little of that.

We tried *everything* before having him hospitalized to check for metabolic disorders. His doctors were stumped as, despite being a skeleton baby, he was seemingly healthy (other than obviously starving). The day before admittance we started giving him bottles of formula after feedings and the immediate change in his behavior was SO shocking that I cried. My little man was starving. I had a IBCL as a nurse and she watched me and helped me and found that, in fact, it definitely wasn’t a latch problem and I obviously wasn’t inept at feeding my son. She asked about a tongue tie, I told her we had it fixed. She watched him latch perfectly and push the nipple out after a couple of sucks for 10 minutes before she asked me to please, let her see MY tongue. “MmmHmm!” she said. She then took a peak in my son’s mouth while he was crying in fury about his meal not working as he would like and then she shook her head, sat back and sighed.

She told me that there is a rare tongue tie that seems to be genetic that my son has…just like me. The webbing under his tongue extends all the way to the back in such copious amounts that clipping the front does very little to correct his latch. In fact, because he is unable to lift the back of his tongue properly, he literally cannot maintain a latch at all. We realized, through a series of simple tests, that he was barely transferring any milk at all.

In other words, it was formula or nothing for this one. Sure, I pumped. I pumped nad fed him for 8hrs a day and was STILL supplementing his feedings! I have 2 other children, this wasn’t working and my supply just kept dropping (my boobles don’t like pumps). In the end I put my pump away and accepted the fact that my son was going to be a formula fed baby.

I’m telling you all of this so you know that I really do know where you are coming from. My son would have starved to death in another time or place. So I am grateful indeed for formula as my son is now, as you would say, thriving and as perfect as perfect can be….or is he?

Yes, he’s growing. In fact, unlike my other children, who are small and petite, my son is fat. I mean, he’s FAT. He’s adorable and most ff moms probably wouldn’t notice a difference but I do. I can’t believe that a child made from the same genetics as my other two would grow so vastly differently without some kind of outside influence. He’s huge! (and I love his chubblies) That said I DO worry. My son was the first babe of mine to get sick before a year old. My daughters never had so much as a runny nose until they were well into solids. My son also has severe GERD. My first daughter had reflux as well but because she was exclusively breastfed, her disease was far, far more manageable and as I was able to tweak my milk by what I ate, she outgrew her need for her meds by 8mo old. My son reached 7mo old and had his prescription dose doubled because his reflux is awful. His doctor told me that he sees this difference a lot. Human babies just weren’t designed to digest soy/dairy proteins! He said that of course, modern science has made it possible for babies to thrive off of a substitute milk but there are still problems and one of them is that the formula is hard to digest.

I could go on but my point is just that yes, I look at my son and I see a boy who is growing very quickly, who’s generally healthy and is, of course, the most perfect little baby boy a mother could ask for. But I see the differences and I’m concerned! I know what the research says and I’ve seen the differences with my own eyes. Am I harming him by feeding him formula? I sincerely hope not but I can accept the possibility that maybe, yes, I am. I have no choice, though, trying to breastfeed him was killing him.

Allow me to posit an analogy: Your child is sick, feverish, in pain. You give him Tylenol. What a lot of people don’t realize is that acetaminophen, while routinely offered in controlled dosages, IS HARMFUL to people who take it. Those of us who realize that accept that the risk of damage which the body will recover from, usually without notice or incident, is worth the immediate relief of the symptoms. I think of feeding my son formula the same way. Not giving it to him would have led to his death. Giving it to him may, in fact, open up pathways to problems down the road, too.

I guess what I’m saying is that it’s possible to shamelessly feed our children something we know is not THE ideal. I don’t think recognizing the risks and choosing to feed formula are mutually exclusive at all. I think it’s all in what you’re looking for in terms of “perfectly healthy”.

Fearless Formula Feeder April 29, 2010 at 1:18 am


I totally understand why you would feel like there could be a link between your son’s differences from your other kids and the fact that you fed him formula. That makes sense to me, it really does.

All I can tell you is that I’ve also read the research, and I’ve seen evidence in my daily life that both supports and negates it. Of all his friends (all the same age, living in the same town, same socio-economic group, all SAHMs, etc etc), my formula fed son has been sick the least, and never as severe as the illnesses his breastfed friends have endured. He’s been exposed to the same germs, but he has the immune system of a Greek God. It’s kind of ridiculous. Do I credit formula for this? Of course not! It’s probably a combo of genetics and luck (my husband never gets sick either). He’s also the most advanced of his group of peers in many ways, and falls in the 50th percentile for weight and 60th for height.

I just tell you this to show that it’s difficult to say for sure whether formula has treated him any worse than breastmilk would have. While he was on breastmilk, he was sickly and overweight (he was comfort feeding due to his stomach distress, and since he couldn’t latch, he was drinking breastmilk in a bottle) per the pediatrician (he skyrocketed from the 5th to the 75th in the first few weeks of his life, and his height didn’t change at all). I don’t blame that on breastmilk either – just that he was allergic to the proteins in my milk. For any other kid, I’m sure my milk would’ve done just fine.

And then there’s my peer group. Most of my friends were formula fed. We are all slim, healthy, well educated, and generally healthy.

Of the 2 people I know who were breastfed exclusively the longest in my peer group, both have MAJOR health issues (allergies, MS, etc).

Again, not evidence of anything but genetics and (luck).

All I can go on is what I’ve witnessed in my life, and I’ve yet to see anything that makes me think formula is detrimental to a child’s long-term health.

That said, I do agree that formula can be tough on some baby’s stomachs. I’m a big fan of the elemental formulas for that reason, which unfortunately are cost-prohibitive. My hope is that in the future, we will have more options for formula, including vegan options (as a strict vegetarian and former vegan myself, I am no fan of any animal products, esp. cow’s milk). Also, it IS easier for a child to grow chunkier when they are bottle fed, but this is true whether there is breastmilk or formula in the bottle – so it’s an issue for all working moms or EP’ers too. The issue, obviously, is that bottle-fed babies can’t really engage in non-nutritive sucking (unless pacifier use is encouraged) and they don’t have the advantage of the mom’s breast regulating the amount of milk being distributed. However… the biggest baby in our group? Breastfed. And she’s so big it affected her ability to crawl.

I just haven’t seen much rhyme or reason in real life. That doesn’t mean studies haven’t shown links to certain problems, but nothing has made me legitmately nervous about feeding him formula – except for the fact that our milk supply is has hormones and crap running rampant. But that affects all children who consume dairy post-weaning too…

Science is your friend April 30, 2010 at 9:45 pm

Fearless Formula Feeder: as much as the “you should feel guilty” comments are unhelpful, yours are too. Choosing formula is a decision that should be taken seriously, based on all available SCIENTIFIC information. Based on that, formula is inferior for infants. That is not a guilt trip or an accusation. It’s just a fact, and your personal observations do not trump it. Blithely posting your surmise that formula is just as good because of your observations could well be the result of confirmation bias, or rationalization post facto. It’s certainly NOT a basis for a mother making this important decision, as it is not based in sound data.

Ashley April 28, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Thank You!!!! :o )

crazylady April 28, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Thank you. As someone who breastfed my 1st 2 children without a problem, and then had a child who was truly allergic to my breastmilk, I was SHOCKED by the comments I receive when feeding my son formula in public. Yes, I have everything available to me to nurse my son. Except it would eventually kill him. I’m amazed by the number of judgmental mothers out there that don’t believe this — that tell me to my face it’s an excuse. I was dealt a hard blow to not be able to breastfeed him, and it was amazingly emotional to stop nursing. I didn’t need anyone else making me feel like an inadequate mother. I was doing a pretty good job if it myself.

So, thank you. Thank you for understanding that it’s not always as simple as “lazy, selfish moms that can’t be bothered to put their wants aside to meet their child’s needs.”

Nancy S. April 28, 2010 at 7:38 pm

The more I live this life, the more trials I walk through, the more compassion and understanding I realize I lack. Your post hit the spot.

Kat Stremlau April 28, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Very well written. I’ll be saving this link for sure!

I find it amazing what people will write under the thin veil of the Internet.

Keep up the good work!

Summer April 28, 2010 at 8:01 pm

You should never judge, specially if you don’t know that persons story. It’s people like that who judge on women who don’t breast feed that had me sitting in my room crying my eyes out the evening we brought our first son home. As like every mother I was planning on breastfeeding. Until when I got home feeding was so difficult and found out it was because my milk never came in.

Ruby April 28, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Thank you specifically for this: “Women who have to return to work and cannot find a way to balance working and pumping and are forced to combination feed or switch to formula completely (don’t even begin to think about taking your privilege out for show-and-tell because I will not entertain ANY discussion that seeks to cast doubt on what is a fact for many women).”

Women who do not work outside the home are very judgmental about those of us who have to go back to work due to financial necessity. I have seen comments on KellyMom’s Facebook page about how we “choose” to go back, and that we would rather work than stay home, because staying home all day with your baby is harder work. All untrue, and hurtful to hear, considering how leaving my baby with another woman causes me pain every. single. day. that I have to do it.

It is *so much* harder to BF when you’re working. I went through hell with pumping, an unsupportive day care provider, mastitis, etc., when I went back to work. If I weren’t so stubborn, I would have given up. I have infinite compassion for other working women who become overwhelmed and FF. Stay at home moms *are* privileged, and I envy them. I do not judge their choices, so I wish they would stop judging mine.

LeaningLactivist April 29, 2010 at 12:37 am

Ruby, I’m glad to have connected with you. I also want to let you know that there *are* SAHMs out there who are not judging you. Hold onto that thought when you are feeling as though the people you are meeting are earning the generalization that all SAHM are judging the WOHMs. It absolutely is harder to breastfeed when managing a paid job that takes you away from your family for hours at a time. It’s my hope that we’ll be able to create a more supportive corporate environment in the future that better meets the needs of parents!

Ruby April 29, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Of course not all SAHMs are judging WOHMs! Several of my friends are SAHMs… but they always ask the question, “Can’t you find a way to stay home?” Well, don’t you think I would if I could? The implication being that I haven’t thought hard enough, or that I’m not prioritizing my baby over money and material possessions. I’ve seen comments on the Internet, specifically KellyMom, that have been downright cruel towards WOHMs, stating that working moms who fail at breastfeeding weren’t putting their babies first. That is just another version of “They should feel guilty!”, esp. coming from women who don’t face the challenges of the working world when trying to breastfeed.

I wish the cultural of moms wasn’t so quick to judge. Everyone seems to want to feel superior to someone. My decisions and life path are not anyone’s business. If I go on KellyMom to get support about the challenges of juggling work and baby, it’s very discouraging to be told that I’ve made bad choices, so it’s my fault. There are many wonderful voices on KellyMom, but a few nasty comments can turn you off the whole thing.

Let’s give each other a break and be kind. Life is hard enough.

Kristal April 28, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Thank You!!! I always felt guilty, and also felt I had to defend my decsion. I wish I could of BF.

Iba April 28, 2010 at 10:59 pm

Thank you for these words! I tried to breastfeed both of my children and only lasted a few months with each of them. I had to stop because the postpartum depressions were getting out of control and with my son, I burned my torso badly in an accident at home. It was painful to breastfeed.

Everytime I read a comment like that, a new wound was carved in my heart. These people have no idea what I went through.

Elizabeth April 29, 2010 at 12:24 am

Thanks for this post and the conversation it has sparked! I think the most important point is that it’s not about how formula feeding mothers should or should not feel – it’s about how WE behave. It’s about treating people with respect. And it’s about catching more flies with honey. Those who continue to argue that moms *should* feel guilty are missing the point.

Nicole April 29, 2010 at 12:41 am

It is not anyone’s position to say ANYTHING to anyone about whether or not they breastfeed, just as it wouldn’t be my place to judge someone for how they raise their kid. It is no ones business but my own whether or not I breastfeed my child, and I think its BS that some people feel the need to pass judgment. I do not feel guilty for giving my daughter formula. I breastfed for as long as I could before I went back to work and knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up with pumping. Same scenario with my son, and he is healthy and very smart!!! Formula is not going to damage your child. People who say this are also speaking from their holier than thou point of view…

Science is your friend May 6, 2010 at 7:27 pm

Comments like this drive me crazy for several reasons:

1. There is more to this issue than women in private conversation directly denigrating other women for not breastfeeding. Any time you post anything lactivist, whether on a blog, Facebook, etc., or make a general comment about the inferiority of formula or merits of breastmilk, inevitably, someone like you pipes up to say there’s no difference, it’s nobody’s business, yadda yadda. Well, if you’re a doula, midwife, nurse, doctor, LLL leader, it *IS* quite literally your business. You should be talking about this issue. It should always have a positive spin, and should not be accusatory or judgmental, but it’s impossible not to say negative things about formula in these discussions.

2. If you’re a mother or health care professional and you want to post something about the merits of BF, you should not feel like you have to tiptoe around the issue b/c some FF mom might have residual feelings of guilt or inferiority. You made your choice, that’s cool for you. Don’t try to censor people talking about SCIENTIFIC FACTS. Which brings me to…

3. Formula CAN and DOES damage children. It may not have damaged yours, but it has damaged others. Again, this is FACT, not opinion, not lactivism, not judgment. It’s just reality. Please accept that and don’t make it personal. I’m glad your children handled the formula well, but many do not.

4. Plenty of FF mothers are just as judgmental as BF mothers. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard derisive comments about BFing a child older than 1, or BFing in public, or been told I’m just making life hard for myself, why bother? So it cuts both ways, and it’s BS both ways. However, BF advocates have to be able to get the data out there about the benefits of BFing, because that’s NOT judgment, it’s education. There’s a difference.

Nicole July 5, 2010 at 2:25 pm

While all of your statements are true about breastfeeding, and I agree that it is the best for your baby, it still does not give someone the right to sit there and say that they should feel guilty. You don’t know the specifics as to why a person is FF their infant. So therefore I don’t think anyone has the right to really say anything unless you walked a mile in every womans shoes. Yes, it is their technical business, that’s what they do for a living but I was just trying to say that I felt like some people can take it too far.

Rebecca April 29, 2010 at 9:10 am

Thank you so much for this post and continuing the discussion! Unfortunately, it still seems to be falling on deaf ears. You’ve added some of the continuing judgemental comments above… and yet they continue on many of the new posts on the KellyMom facebook page. It saddens me that people fail to realize that judging and shaming ARE NOT HELPFUL! While everyone is entitled to their opinions regarding women who chose not to breastfeed or to stop breastfeeding early, vocalizing or writing those opinions where those looking for breastfeeding information or support may hear or read them, is damaging and does not help the overall cause of promoting breastfeeding. Hopefully those moms and lactivists will realize this and turn their energy toward addressing the social and cultural barriers to breastfeeding, rather than attacking (whether actively or passive agressively) those women who make a choice based on their social/cultural beliefs and values, their personal situation and the amount of information, resources and support they have. Shaming and judging is not the same as providing factual information and support, or promoting breastfeeding. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

Erin April 29, 2010 at 9:31 am


You bet I am frustrated and angry at the medical system that couldn’t address my issues. I saw MANY LC’s, IBCLC’s and Dr’s during my stints with breastfeeding my boys. The one thing all of them said the most important thing is to feed your baby. Now what would’ve I have done without formula? Donor milk, good idea but what bothers me is the possibility of passing on diseases and truthfully I don’t trust anyone that much to put my child in possible danger. It takes time for the system to change but until that happens formula is necessary.

Formula is better now than it was 20 years ago, but before formula what did mothers do?? They made a concoction with dry milk/evaporated milk at home. Now I’m sure that was wonderful for the digestive system and completely nutritious. Nobody is saying that breast milk isn’t the best option available for many people, but it is not the only option that will help a baby grow up health and develop normally.

As for health issues, some kids can’t tolerate formula, but yet so many thrive on it, grow up healthy, smart and well adjusted. Your right about genetics, but I have seen many children that were breastfed but yet have more health problems than those who were strictly formula fed. We know so little about genetics and how they play in the role of our growth, aging and immune system. Is is it really formula/breast milk that leads to good/poor health? Combination of genetics/environment…..nature vs nurture. A fight that nobody can really win because there are too many variables to say which is the real cause.

Safety and welfare of our children is very important, more important than many things. But when it comes down to formula v breast milk ALL that really matters is that the baby is fed and well taken care of, loved and is safe. That is where judgement should end. When it comes to right or wrong, most of that is assumptions based on opinion.

LeaningLactivist April 29, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Erin – I can share some links to information on breastmilk donation so that you can get a clear handle on the risks of the fluid borne diseases if you’d like. The WHO has a feeding hierarchy that looks like this –

1. breastmilk from mother.
2. pumped breastmilk from mother.
3. breastmilk from donor mother.
4. formula

I understand your concern regarding possible disease transmission and know of resources that can help spell out what they are and how you can mitigate them. Breastmilk donation is a topic that sometimes gets little attention until you are knee-deep in the weeds and making decisions while under time constraints. It’s hard to cut through all the rhetoric to figure out what the risk of donor milk really is to be able to weigh it appropriately against other options in individual cases.

I’m getting the feeling you are feeling attacked and I’m sorry to see that since it is not my intention to have anyone feel attacked here. I am going to need to be clear that I believe that the research is clear about the risks and consequences of formula use. I do believe that the current body of scientific research shows what many of the risks are. This blog is not going to be a place where the meme of “Does formula really have risks?” finds fertile soil.

The thing I always try to remind moms is that you weight the risks and make your decisions based on all the factors applicable to your situation. Sometimes the risks associated with formula are less than those of another option.

Erin Michaud April 29, 2010 at 11:21 pm

[quote]This blog is not going to be a place where the meme of “Does formula really have risks?” finds fertile soil.[/quote]

It already is. I rest my case.

Tracy April 30, 2010 at 6:06 pm

@ Erin M.

I’d like to thank you for pounding in LL’s point. You are the prime example of those she is speaking. It’s hard enough for us to advocate without barriers that negativity creates. You sound like you really care, but when you question why advocates shouldn’t make statements such as this in public places, you are hurtful to those like me who just plain didn’t have the information needed. It should amaze me that there are people out there who think they have the right to judge whether I tried hard enough to breastfeed since my children have been formula fed. I’ve been around for a while though and it doesn’t.

Why is it not ok to say that stuff in a place like KM or KM FB or LL? … because the variables of women who post on there probably all KNOW breastmilk is normal, but not all are able to provide it in the fashion that you are expecting EVERY woman to do so. You can’t justify your position with shitty comments to mothers on public forums when you don’t know the audience at all. It’s no better when you are talking to people about other people where those being discussed are likely to see or hear a conversation about themselves. LL didn’t say to never think it and never ever say it if that’s your thing. She said if you must, do it privately. Your stance is harmful to the advocacy cause.

WellBegun May 1, 2010 at 2:04 am

I agree wholeheartedly with everything that you are saying here (and the other bloggers who have written on the same issue). Unfortunately, I have yet to see anyone who takes the next logical step: what do you say to moms who genuinely, knowing all the information, decide that breastfeeding is a lifestyle choice rather than a health issue, and choose not to breastfeed for reasons of convenience/ flip a coin/ what have you? If a mom in that situation (and yes, they do exist, I have known quite a few, actually) turns around and says “get your research, your education, your [gentle!] advocacy out of my face, you’re insulting me and making me feel guilty!” how *do* you feel? What *do* you say? I think BF advocates in every strata are being subtly intimidated into being complicit in these choices, and it really hurts them (us?). I will never judge a woman whose situation I don’t know intimately, but I have no problem expressing the “general opinion” that I have no problem with mothers who, knowing all the information and not having any sort of difficulties (or, sometimes, even attempts!), choose not to breastfeed as a lifestyle choice, feeling guilty when BF research and advocacy is presented in the public domain. I will also (tactfully!) present that research and advocacy to women with whose situation I am intimately familiar who are making that “lifestyle choice.” I will (and do, on a daily basis!) support women who have difficulties – whether they be physical, mental, emotional, logistical, cultural, socioeconomic, whatever – and meet women where they are. (I say this as a CBE, doula, LLL leader, and most importantly, a mother who supports all motherhood.)

I think some moms who are trying to speak their truth – to express a genuine feeling – are being unfairly maligned here (and by “here” I mean in discussions on this topic). I think that every story of “look what I went through, and I wound up partially breastfeeding/not breastfeeding/not breastfeeding for three years, etc” totally misses the point from the other direction. I think that many “they should feel guilty” moms, ham-handed as their expressions might be, are not remotely targeting these moms, and that perhaps these moms are a bit hypersensitive because a) they have experienced judgment from ignorant lactivists in the past and/or b) they have their own feelings of guilt from their experience (which, while that is unfortunate, is normal, and I work to support many moms who feel this way and help them re-frame their experiences in terms of necessity and how much they are doing for their babies, whom they LOVE). I think there’s a responsibility on the part of the receiver to filter such comments. Where are the moms saying, “yeah, I get what they’re saying, it doesn’t apply to me, moving on?” It is important to remember that every communication has both a transmitter and a receiver (as well as any filters in between). Am I advocating shaming women as an effective breastfeeding advocacy technique (or even an acceptable means of human interaction)? Not at all – I just think there’s more to the discussion than is being put out there.

Science is your friend May 6, 2010 at 7:32 pm

Bravo! Well said. There is some onus on the listener to filter comments. If you feel good about your decision to FF, and you know that you did the best you could, why would discussions of FF affect you at all? No one can “make you” feel guilty. What I see is BF advocates of all stripes tiptoeing around when trying to get the message out about the positive aspects of BFing b/c they are afraid that a FF mom might feel an implicit judgment in her words. The pendulum has swung too far the other way. You should be able to say “Breast milk is the best food for your baby, here’s why” without blowback.

Grateful May 7, 2010 at 12:13 am

To be honest, I’m not sure it’s any of our business if an educated woman of sound mind makes a decision not to breastfeed her child. If you’ve done the best you could to deliver all the information in a respectful manner and she still makes the decision not to breastfeed, well that’s a shame but I agree with the OP – I’m simply not sure how attacking her and making her feel guilty is going to deliver a positive outcome for anyone.

A woman’s body is her own. We have no right to tell her what to do with it.

Regarding how people feel when they hear/read factual information delivered in a respecful manner, I think lactivists can equally feel that the readers response to that information is not their responsibility. People need to own their feelings.

If however the information delivered is personal or speculatative “you SHOULD feel guilty” and (for the regretful formula feeder) “Formula feeders just didn’t try hard enough” then you can’t just walk away and say “well they’re just words on a page. Own your feelings”. We’re grown ups and we know the difference between an insult and a misunderstanding.

LeaningLactivist May 7, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Thank you for your thoughtful comment Grateful. I was busy lining up my thoughts and then I read your message. Now I can agree with you and just add a small additional thought.

We have two situations that are getting conflated in peoples minds that I think might be making it hard to sort this for some.

Situation A) Public statements being made by breastfeeding supporters that someone else SHOULD be feeling guilty about a choice they made that create problems when they are received by another (non-target) segment of the population.

Situation B) Public statements of fact (supported by data and scientific research) being made by breastfeeding advocates that are met with resistance because the person hearing it interprets it a an attempt to guilt them.

In Situation A I think the message senders bear a greater burden to change their behavior than in Situation B. In Situation B I do believe that the right response is to push back and share with those hearing the message that support is not always warm fuzzies and hugs and that sometimes the best support we can give is to make sure a mom has *correct* information.

StorkStories May 7, 2010 at 9:26 pm

@Grateful. Well said, very well said

Kathy May 1, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Wow! Wonderful article. Thank you:-)

Annie @ PhD in Parenting May 1, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Lactivist Leanings said: “What I do say is that when someone says “They should feel guilty for not breastfeeding.” out loud within the hearing of the women they are judging that they create another hurdle for me to get over as an advocate and that the extra effort that is then required is frustrating for me.”


This is the key point for me.

This isn’t about whether someone’s viewpoints on moms who choose to formula feed is relevant or appropriate or not. That is probably a different post for a different time. This post was underlining the fact that regardless of whether that is a relevant opinion to hold, saying out out loud in a public forum makes breastfeeding advocacy more difficult and is what makes people call lactivists all sorts of names that I won’t repeat here.

Science is your friend May 1, 2010 at 7:57 pm

It’s a fine line between “you should feel guilty” and “formula is inferior,” though, isn’t it? Some women hear an implicit judgment in the latter, when it’s just a statement of scientific fact. If you are OK with your decision to give formula, then it shouldn’t bother you if someone mentions this fact. No one knows your life and it’s between you and yourself. However, if you have some residual feelings of guilt or regret, whether they are justified or not, you might get a twinge anytime anyone highlights the inferiority of formula. This is the grey area that has the potential to create misunderstanding. It’s not possible to be a breastfeeding advocate and NOT discuss the drawbacks of formula, but such discussions often cause discomfort or anger in a person who feels defensive about her decision.

Perhaps this is why it’s best not to throw guilt trips on other women. If the guilt trips weren’t happening, maybe women would be more receptive to hearing the negatives of formula without taking it personally.

Annie @ PhD in Parenting May 2, 2010 at 2:49 am

I didn’t say we shouldn’t discuss the drawbacks of formula. I just said we should avoid making negative statements about formula feeding moms.

Science is your friend May 2, 2010 at 11:25 am

I didn’t say you said we shouldn’t discuss the drawbacks of FF. What I said is that sometimes women feel like discussions of the inferiority of formula are an implicit accusation towards them. Then they go into rationalizations like Fearless Formula Feeder, or engage in confirmation bias. If you made an informed choice to FF, and you feel good about it, then you should be able to accept discussions about the drawbacks of formula without defensiveness or attempts to self-justify. However, as we’ve seen, this is not the case, in part because of the guilt tripping, and in part because women don’t always choose formula because it’s medically necessary, and they know it. It’s not for anyone else to judge, but sometimes the defensiveness does come from the knowledge that one has perhaps not made the more difficult, but healthier, choice for one’s baby.

Annie @ PhD in Parenting May 2, 2010 at 2:43 pm

“What I said is that sometimes women feel like discussions of the inferiority of formula are an implicit accusation towards them. ”

If they do, then I think as lactivists our hands are clean and the onus is back on them to deal with how them feel. I think the problem comes in when we are having a rational discussion about the drawbacks of formula and someone jumps into the conversation with an accusation against formula feeding moms (i.e. “they didn’t try hard enough” or “they should feel guilty”), which effectively derails the conversation.

StorkStories May 2, 2010 at 3:39 pm

I agree Annie

LeaningLactivist May 7, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Me too.

Lisa C May 4, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Good article. Back when I was a new mom and struggled tremendously to breastfeed (nothing was going to stop me!), I found myself in a group of women talking smack about breastfeeding. Maybe I was just feeling sensitive, but hearing them laugh about not breastfeeding and making fun of breastfeeding past a certain age made me feel so alienated from them. The next day I wrote on my blog something to the effect of “I don’t understand why someone wouldn’t want to breastfeed their baby…” and was told that it was a hurtful statement, so I removed the post. I didn’t mean to offend anyone by wondering, but it just goes to show how sensitive these women are. Since then I have been seeking to find the answer to that question, and when I discover that a mom isn’t breastfeeding, if I can, I tactfully ask why and allow her to tell her story. Every story is unique and every mother did what she felt was best for her baby. No, they do not need to feel guilty. I still can’t get over my own guilt for unwittingly saying something that sounded judgmental.

Grateful May 6, 2010 at 6:30 am

Thanks for this piece! I’m (very) newly pregnant with my first and to be honest breastfeeding scares the crap out of me (everything scares the crap out of me. If you have a blog on when the Huggies commercial calm will kick in please let me know!). Most of my friends have some regrets when it comes to their breastfeeding experiences. My own mother did not breastfeed any of her 5 (she was genuinely one of those Mum’s who couldn’t be bothered, but equally, she started very young had nobody around to tell her how important and potentially rewarding it was) so I have no real personal experience with breastfeeding. I really, really, really want to listen to the lactivists. They are the ones who will teach me the lessons and give me the tips and tricks I’ll need to overcome any breastfeeding issues, if I’m unlucky enough to have them. I often feel so outraged by the insensitivity of the sorts of comments you describe (which are becoming more and more common) that I often switch off. I skim right past the posts of the women I know to be militant on forums because I don’t want to be subjected to the negativity. I’ve always been a lover of the underdog, and the regretful non-breastfeeders of the world are the underdog in this instance. It’s really easy to be judgemental about the visible tangibles in motherhood (nappies, discipline, breastfeeding) that quite often the powerful intangibles are forgotten.

Thank you so much. I’ll now be a regular reader of your blog. Hopefully, I’ll have my own positive stories to share (in approximately 7.5 months time!)

LeaningLactivist May 6, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Hi All! I made an important trip out of town over the week-end and early part of the week and decided to trust the comments here while I was gone. I have several comments sitting in moderation that will be turned loose this afternoon when I have a chance to read them. :)

Mommy2b May 23, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Thank you for this article. I’ve been made to feel guilty by my decision not to breastfeed (even by my OB) but I’ve thought long and hard about it and I have my reasons. Unfortunately, along with the guilt, I get a lot of personal and uncomfortable questions. My baby is due in 2 months and when I realized I was pregnant, I stopped taking the anti-depressants I was on (this decision was made with my physicians and a lot of research). They are “safe” to take during pregnancy but I don’t want my baby loaded up with atificial mood enhancers. I’ve done fine without them these past months and I’ve been closely monitored. I’ve always said that should I start to feel as if I’m sliding back into the depression, I would resume taking them. I’m fearful of post-pardum depression so, after consultation with my physicians, I’ve decided to start taking them again as soon as the baby is born (as a precaution). Now, I know that they are safe to take while breastfeeding but, again, I don’t want the baby subjected to the chemicals. Everyone tells me that it’s safe…but can they be sure that when he’s 50 years old he won’t have depression issues related to the chemicals he received as a baby? No. So I won’t do it.

So everyone asks me (inapprorpriately) if I plan to breastfeed. I say “no” and then the guilt, pressure, and questions start. Because I don’t want co-workers and friends to know the details of my depression, I tell them it’s my choice and I feel good about it (without giving more explanation). The looks and I comments I get are UNBELIEVABLE!!

I ask that anyone who feels comfortable asking another woman about it, know that there may be other factors. As the article says, some women have been sexually abused….do they really need to tell you about it for you to stop with the guilt and pressure? Is it any of your business? Be an activist…give valid information and support to those who ask for but don’t impose your views and opinions on others. What might be right for you, may not be right for all.


LeaningLactivist May 27, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Hi Mommy2b. I’m all about informed decision-making and it sounds like that is what you are striving toward. I have a question for you because I’d really like to understand how you are reconciling this statement in your thoughts.

Now, I know that they are safe to take while breastfeeding but, again, I don’t want the baby subjected to the chemicals. Everyone tells me that it’s safe…but can they be sure that when he’s 50 years old he won’t have depression issues related to the chemicals he received as a baby? No. So I won’t do it.

Babies are subjected to the same environmental chemicals that we all are. You cannot avoid having baby ingest chemicals be they natural or manufactured by not breastfeeding. You are simply trading one set of risks (and benefits in the case of breastfeeding) for another set of risks.

Right now I see you making the decision to feed your baby formula and taking on the known risks associated with formula use in an effort to avoid unknown potential risks of exposure to minimal amounts of the drugs you are taking. Have you been able to take the time to investigate those risks fully so that you are comfortable accepting them in lieu of the risks your medication might present for your baby?

Kathleen June 22, 2010 at 5:28 am

Thank you…My little boy (who’s now 14 mths) lost 21% of his birthweight after my milk didn’t come in. After a lot of hard work we managed to breastfeed for eight months, but did always have to top up with formula as I just couldn’t make enough for him. I can’t even count the number of times I felt guilty and useless for not being able to do the most natural thing for my baby.

The people who make comments about being horrified that anyone would ever give their baby formula obviously haven’t had to choose between a formula fed baby & one who is, literally, starving to death. I had to watch them put formula into my little guy down a naso-gastric tube. That’s not something I would wish on anybody.

I really appreciate you writing this – I’m a huge advocate for breastfeeding, and will work my backside off to do it more successfully next time – but would never, ever judge anyone for doing what they have to do.

Thank you :)

Amy July 4, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Thank you so much for writing this! I am a new mom who fully intended to breastfeed, but yet find my baby on formula. I understand the benefits of breastmilk and wanted those benefits for my daughter. I took a breastfeeding class prior to her birth and read everything I could get my hands on.

Then she was born 5 weeks early and it was 7 days before I saw the first drop of milk. When my milk finally came, my supply was horrendously low. Due to my daughter spending time in the NICU, I was forced to pump a good amount of the time and then use pre/post weights when I tried to feed her on the breast. I made anywhere from 10 mL (total for both breasts) to 1 ounce (total for both breasts). My daughter is now 6 weeks old and I’m still yet to produce more than 1 ounce at a time. I took supplements and saw lactation consultants and tried everything that was suggested to me. No matter how determined I’ve been, I’ve had to finally accept that this is all the milk I will make. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pumped for 15-20 minutes and then combined both containers to see the 10-15 mL I produced total. It’s disheartening.

Every time I hear comments about how horrible formula feeding moms are, it hits me in the gut and makes me feel guilty all over again. I don’t feel guilty because I think I made bad decisions for my daughter. I feel guilty because I feel like it somehow must be my fault that I was not able to produce enough milk for her. I feel like I must have messed up with something in my diet or something I’m not doing…yet I know that’s not true because I read things from people who never intended to breastfeed who still got a full supply of milk and had to actively do things to get it to dry up. My milk just never came.

I wish that those who criticize and judge would realize that their comments hurt people like myself who would do anything to be able to exclusively breastfeed. We already feel bad enough because of all the information saying that breast milk is best. By judging some one like me, it just rubs salt in the wound.

Mrs. P. July 5, 2010 at 8:48 am

I can’t begin to thank you enough for including sexual assault survivors in your post! As a survivor of long term childhood incest, I can say that those of you who have not had your body and very spirit violated can’t fathom what we go through when we become mothers. DS1 was FF from the get go. No one thought twice of it. DS2 I attempted to BF, not knowing just how bad it would be. I cried each time he latched on. I felt actual physical repulsion, and wanted to throw him across the room. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was assaulting him by shoving my boob in his mouth, which wasn’t helped at all by my MIL shouting that BF was disgusting and perverted.
I am actually grateful for my experience with BF. It was the catalyst that put me in intensive therapy for nearly 5 years. Now I am 6 months along with our 3rd child and so plan to at least try to BF. I am more prepared this time, but if like last time I am too freaked out, I’ll still know I gave it my best shot.
Thank you for trying to make people aware of the impact their words have.

Jessica July 30, 2010 at 2:12 am

When my son was 5 weeks old i noticed a red spot in his urine diaper. After having to catheter him for a urine sample and get ultra sounds of his kidneys and liver which came out negative, the doc came to the conclusion that he was dehydrated. I guess the many consultations with Le Leche and Lactation Consultants never brought up my milk supply. I did everything they told me to do. I pumped all hours of the day and night, took herbs, dranks lots of water, ate well and prayed hard! I so deeply wanted to breastfeed my son. It was all so heartbreaking and emotional. I felt like a failure. So, thank you so much for writing this article because many times I get upset with the constant notions that breastfeeding is the greatest thing ever. I get this. It is great for my baby. However, I can’t give him the milk that is the best for him. I don’t have a choice. We need more support for people like me who have felt like failures. We need people to tell us that our kids will be okay. Thanks again.

Heather August 25, 2010 at 3:27 am

Thanks for this wonderful post. I breast fed my son from birth through his first birthday, but it was a very rough start… he had trouble breathing at birth that led to real difficulty latching on. I worked with a wonderful lactation consultant but for the first few weeks the only way that I could enough milk in him was to try breast feeding/getting him to latch on (unsuccessfully most often) so I would pump and use a bottle make sure he ate properly. He didn’t start gaining weight for a couple of weeks and my pediatrician was only one more visit away from telling me I HAD to switch to formula, that maybe I had “skim milk.” If it wasn’t for incredible support from my lactation consultant, my mother, and my husband, I might not have made through the first 3 weeks. And when I was full time at work/school again if I hadn’t been given the keys to an empty and private room to pump in, I wouldn’t have made it past 5 months. And at 11 months he had to start getting a little formula at daycare because my supply decreased after a bad sinus infection.

I guess this is a long way of saying that even though I think that breast feeding is ideal, and that I loved it once it worked well for me, I will never judge a woman for not doing it. And some of my closest friends had to stop early… one at 1 month for breast abscess that put her in the hospital for a week and another with twins who stopped at 3 months because she had such difficulties with her milk supply that she literally was either nursing or pumping 23 hours a day and couldn’t get enough. Because of them I will never look down on a woman feeding her baby formula, but I hope I would have been wise enough to feel the same way anyway.

I also want to thank anyone who is a kind advocate for breast feeding. My lactation consultant was amazing and every friend and family member who encouraged me to keep up the breast feeding in a gentle way made a real difference.

Sarah November 29, 2010 at 2:57 am

I just came across this article while visiting the Best for Babes site. Thank You! My son is 4 months old now and I’m almost exclusively breastfeeding. It was a struggle to get to where we are now. After a lot of hard work and patience, I’ve managed to decrease my reliance on formula. During this process I found out how self-righteous some breastfeeding mom’s can be. So many take their ability to breastfeed for granted. This was never more clear than during the recent Similac recall. A Facebook discussion among a group of “friends” included immediate comments such as “that’s why breast is best” and “breast milk never gets recalled.” Such comments are extremely judgmental and make unfair assumptions about women who find themselves in a situation where they are forced to rely on formula.

It’s unfortunate that you have to address such nonsense, but just the same, I’m glad you have. Hopefully, these women will rethink their stance and become more positive ans supportive. Hopefully, they’ll appreciate their ability to BF and be grateful that it comes so easily for them.

Maria February 16, 2011 at 5:10 am

Thank you so much for posting this! I have felt guilty for not being able to breastfeed my little one by everyone at the hospital and by family! I wish I was able to breastfeed, I had planned to since knowing I was pregnant, but with no breastfeeding classes or support, I also gave birth in a very old fashioned way of thinking where my baby was not with me at all, whether this impacted her lack of latching on I have no idea. Hopefully if we have another baby, things will be different.

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