Why I Think the Breastfeeding Badges Can Send the Wrong Message

dave-clubb-427588-unsplashBreastfeeding is amazing. The amount of bonding and immune support a fragile infant can gain from his or her nursing mother is astounding. I think all motherhood victories should be celebrated because, as I have learned, many are hard fought with blood, sweat and tears. But here’s the thing, not everyone can breastfeed. Publicly displaying a trophy of your body’s ability may make other women in the throes of post-partum mood swings and new motherhood feel shamed and inadequate.

Now before I get too many members of La Leche League sending me hate mail, I will acknowledge that this is just my opinion and I fully support breastfeeding. I breastfed both of my babies through too many bouts of mastitis and a lot of post-partum anxiety. And then I switched to formula at eight months with both kids. I still often feel the need to defend this choice amongst breastfeeding advocates, which maybe says more about me than it does about them. However, the key word for me is choice. Many women, dear friends even, have not had the choice to breastfeed. Whether it be from medications needed for their mental or physical health, supply issues, or lack of support.

The Shame Game

Post-partum depression and anxiety awareness is thankfully increasing in our society, which is fantastic since it’s the numbers show how wide spread such conditions really are. One of the hallmarks of these disorders is shame. Far more often than is acceptable, mothers are told they are inadequate based on their choices, ability to “bounce back” to their pre-pregnant shapes (and personalities), etc. So this post is not a war on the celebration of breastfeeding achievement. I will be the first one to hug you when you’ve successfully breastfed your baby, but I will also bring you a can of formula and a glass of wine when you wean.

Babies need to eat.

I was a part of an online breastfeeding group that was advocating for some downright dangerous practices to avoid formula supplementation. In one instance, a woman’s pediatrician was pleading with her to supplement even so far as having to get DHS involved because she simply could not come to terms with the fact that her baby was malnourished to the point of needing hospitalization. Of course this is an extreme situation. I know there are many support group that do wonders for breastfeeding women. But the fact that this group had over 1,000 members, some of them healthcare workers, and not one member said anything along the lines of do what you need to do to help your baby. Social media has undoubtedly added to the guts of sanctimommies everywhere. People are telling complete strangers what terrible mothers they are in ways they never would in person.

Women are simply incredible.

We should not feel any less so if our bodies or our minds make a choice to feed our babies in whatever way works for us. Motherhood is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. The days are so long and the gratifications is often delayed. I completely understand the desire for social media credit for the tireless work breastfeeding requires. I just think it can hurt others struggling. If you breastfed for 18 months, I am so proud of you. If you breastfed for 18 hours and decided it was not for you, I am proud of you. Don’t let anyone’s need to feel validated for their parenting make you feel inadequate. Breast milk may be liquid gold, but your support about a woman’s choice is worth its weight in said gold.