Remember when the big question was “What’s your sign?” Well, once baby’s born, the big question may well be “Breast or bottle?” To the people who ask, I suggest you respond with, “Were you breastfed?”
I write this not to get into the breastfeeding vs. formula debate. We all know that breast is best. And I should state for the record that I am an advocate for breastfeeding. However, I am not a fan of the methods of certain breastfeeding bullies, otherwise known as “lactivists.” You know, the ones who want your baby hanging on to your boob 24/7 until she’s ready for elementary school. These folks are skilled at throwing a monumental guilt trip your way if you (or your baby) have other plans.
We’re all well aware of the health benefits of breastfeeding. But what about the mental health of the mother? A woman should not be made to feel guilty or inadequate because she’s not nursing. For example, what about someone who simply can’t do it? What if the baby won’t latch on, the mom has cracked, inverted, or sore nipples or postpartum depression, is red-eyed and exhausted, or she simply doesn’t want to? I wonder if the breastfeeding bullies have ever had a sever case of mastitis? I haven’t, but I have worked with women who have, and they’ve told me the pain is unbearable. And apparently the hurt is nothing compared to the disappointment and guilt they felt at sometimes not being able to breastfeed effectively afterward. (Let me just say for the record that, of course, it is always best to nurse through mastitis, if possible.)
I recently worked with a mom whose milk started to slow down due to stress. Well, if the boob police had anything to do with it, they would want her to try harder and add more stress to her life. To me, it’s unrealistic and extremely unfair to add fuel to the fire by pushing her to continue “for the sake of the baby.”
In my opinion, the only thing a new mom should do for the sake of the baby is stay as healthy, happy, and stress-free as possible. She should focus on enjoying that baby instead of being guilt-ridden and feeling like a failure.
What a new mom needs is care and support, and she needs to be empowered to know that she is the expert of her baby. She has to decide in the grand scheme of things—career and family and recovery from childbirth—if she has the constitution to see it through. Because, let’s face it, exclusively breastfeeding is a huge commitment. For those who do it, I commend you; and for those who don’t, I commend you, too.
A mom’s job is to meet the needs of her baby, not the wants of breastfeeding fanatics. If you want to know how to handle those bullies, simply smile and tell them that you appreciate and respect their passion for breastfeeding, and that you hope they can appreciate and respect your passion for creating a happy, healthy environment for your child. If that doesn’t suffice, remind them that breastfeeding is a choice, in this case your choice. If all else fails, tell them to mind their own “breastness.”