Sanity optional

I’ve re-written my intro to this post approximately 97868 times. Not because I don’t know what to say but because I have so very much to say and at one point the intro was longer than the post and so technically no longer an intro, surely? 

I’n going to save my thoughts for a comment and simply hand you over to Vivienne, who has written a very bloody good (in my opinion) post about breastfeeding and how we,  as mothers and as women, treat each other. 

It’s a well known fact that as soon as you become pregnant, your body and the small person growing inside you become conversation fodder, regardless of how private you attempt to be. Every decision you make is open to scrutiny, and none more so than how you decide to feed your baby.

While I was pregnant, I was often asked whether I was going to breastfeed – ‘Yes’, I said. ‘Oh, well, but what if you don’t manage to?’ was usually the response. I told one stranger I planned to formula feed ‘Oh, but breast is best you know’.

Either way was met with negativity. In the end, I would joke he would be like his Dad and go straight on to the steak and chips diet just to deflect the question and the inevitable reply.

I breastfeed Toby – I had always planned to and 6 months in, it’s one of my favourite things. But I never shy away from telling people that is possibly the single hardest thing I have ever done. Sobbing in agony during an episode of nipple thrush, fighting off mastitis, suffering from the burning pain of vasospasm and soaking through countless tops while I endured three months of having All. The. Milk, it certainly wasn’t ‘fun’. There are too many times to mention where I contemplated giving him a bottle, just so I could have an hour where he wasn’t attached to my breasts, or so I could sleep instead of being sat up all night listening to my husband snore. One particular growth spurt made me think him more ‘gremlin’ than baby as he clawed and hit my chest for what seemed like 48 hours straight.  Despite all this, it’s also one of the best things I have ever done. It’s not worth losing your mind over though, and sometimes it can all just be too much. And that’s why we are lucky to have another option.

Recently, Save The Children launched a campaign to promote breastfeeding in developing countries. Receiving breast milk in the first 60 minutes life could save 95 babies an hour – an amazing and terrifying statistic. Women in the third world are subjected to aggressive marketing by formula companies, and lack the support and education needed to breastfeed.

Saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of babies couldn’t be a bad thing could it? Reading the UK media coverage after the launch, you would think so. Vitriolic phrases such as the ‘breastfeeding gestapo’ and ‘nazis’ were bandied about – accused of trying to make women who formula feed, by choice or necessity, guilty for not breastfeeding.

In the developed world, formula is a safe, viable and occasionally life saving option for mothers and babies and no women should be made to feel ashamed for using it. But in the likes of Africa, formula can be dangerous to the point of life threatening as they don’t have the equipment or water to prepare it safely.

But it served to prove the saying ‘you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t’ is at its most applicable when it comes to the breastfeeding vs formula feeding debate.

On asking other mums, it seems that no matter what your choice, you don’t feel able to talk about it. My lovely friend formula feeds her little boy and she says that she feels people are looking at her when she feeds her baby in public with a bottle, thinking her a bad mum. She feels guilt, embarrassment and shame that she wasn’t successful with breastfeeding, and no-one could judge her more than she judges herself.

Why should she feel like that? She is caring and nurturing a beautiful baby who is thriving on her love and attention and couldn’t care less how his tummy is filled. She didn’t get enough support from health professionals and was subjected to a lot of conflicting advice which only frustrated her and ultimately led to the end in her breastfeeding journey. Another friend chose to formula feed from the offset, but was bullied by health professionals to try breastfeeding when she didn’t really want to. How are we getting it so wrong where women who are dying for help and support don’t get it, while others who choose not to breastfeed are bullied and hounded in to trying?

I was lucky in that I had a baby who had a good idea of what he was doing from the outset, a husband who looked after me the first few weeks and the knowledge I gained as a doula to help me through. But I still had to google for answers or send desperate tweets at 3am for support, because it wasn’t forthcoming from the midwife or health visitor.  There are online and telephone resources that can be invaluable, but nothing compares to ‘hands on’ help (not literally – having your boobs manhandled by a stranger isn’t constructive in the slightest) or drop in groups – so if you are going to give breastfeeding a go, it’s definitely worth doing your research beforehand so you know where to turn if the going gets rough.

I felt desperately sad after tweeting about breastfeeding in the first few weeks after Toby’s birth and receiving tweets back from mums who had given it a go but chose or needed to go on to formula after a while, justifying their choices to me. By speaking about breastfeeding, they felt I was judging them. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.

I’m so wary now of what I say for fear of causing offence. And that’s hard, because I would love to give support and encouragement but it is too easily twisted in to seemingly being boastful. And it isn’t. Breastfeeding women aren’t doing it to upset anyone or to appear superior. We are just feeding our babies, something all mothers do. I know when I have to stop in a shopping centre to feed Toby, I’m not doing it to make a statement, I’m just saving everyone’s eardrums from the wrath of a hungry baby. We need to stop this guilt/shame cycle that we are all experiencing whatever we do because having a baby that is fed and loved is far more important than the how. We should be high fiving each other that we make it through the day with our children and homes relatively intact. Sanity optional.

I don’t care how you feed your baby, and we should stop giving ourselves, and each other, such a hard time.

Categories: Becoming a Mother
39 interesting thoughts on this

39 Comments

  1. Posted May 28, 2013 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Thanks so much for writing this, it is so much needed (and another of those nonsense “fights” amongst women…. why can’t we realize that we are all in the same journey even if for xyz reasons each of us may have different reasons to make whatever choice we make).

    “We need to stop this guilt/shame cycle that we are all experiencing whatever we do because having a baby that is fed and loved is far more important than the how. ” Amen to that!

    The campaigns in Africa and other developing countries that do not have access to potable, clean water make me super angry. There is the fact that the babies need the colostrum…. How can these companies “give” mothers a resource that they know will put their babies life in danger because there is no water sanitation. They also don’t inform them that if they stop breastfeeding they won’t produce milk anymore, thus making them dependant on a product that they will then proceed to sell to them. It is sick, twisted marketing.

  2. Posted May 28, 2013 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    What a great post V. I don’t understand why other woman especially those with kids judge other women on their choices or be defensive of their own choices. I can remember seeing some of the twitter conversations and I was appalled at how some people react.

    Feeding your baby is a necessity and whatever way you choose to do it you should be proud of the little person that you are providing for. Big well done you for persevering through the hard times to do what was best for you and Toby but also for not judging your friends who have made a different decision for whatever reason.
    I’m on the fence for my choice of feeding (when my time comes) but I already know that no matter what I choose I will be faced with difficulties and I hope at that point is when I will have the support of those who have been there and that we learn to support each other!

  3. Posted May 28, 2013 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    I have been so lucky to not yet see the judgement. I saw a bit of pressure when I struggled with feeding at the very start – the hospital midwife who told me as I wanted to leave that I couldn’t until I sorted this out.
    But, that wasn’t just the feeding, I was an emotional wreck, and the midwives who helped us out during that extra 24 hours in hospital were absolutely wonderful.
    In my coffee group, most of us are breastfeeding. But none of us have found it easy. Everyone had a problem of some sort through their first 6 weeks. One has decided not to keep fighting, and another two have twins and are counting down to when they can no longer produce enough.
    And we all support each other. We asked the formula feeder what had influenced her decision, and we all respect that that is what is best for her, her reasons were sound. And to be honest, deciding that thats just what you want to do, is a sound decision.

  4. ChirstyMac
    Posted May 28, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    What a fab piece. I grew up with a midwife mother who held NCT classes in our lounge and breastfeeding was always encouraged. I probably saw more breastfeeding mums in my younger years than many! But on the flip-side, there was never ANY failure in a choice or decision to bottle feed.

    For me you hit it on the head with “By speaking about breastfeeding, they felt I was judging them. And that couldn’t be further from the truth” – isn’t that so true? And the saddest thing. That any question at all about feeding choices has evolved to be one loaded with perceived accusation or assumed opinion, so often where there isn’t one, or at the very least certainly shouldn’t be.

    Bravo to all of you working your way through this mine-field, however you’re doing it. Like having a new baby isn’t hard enough?! You all have my absolute admiration and respect. X

  5. Fee
    Posted May 28, 2013 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    I don’t have personal experience in this but I wholeheartedly agree that women (and men for that matter) should be more supportive of each others choices. I don’t think anyone should have to explain their reasoning for what they choose to do, much less have people judge if their reasons are good enough.

    Much of my interaction with this topics through social media, so whilst I don’t want to turn this into a social media debate, much of what I have observed is in my twitter feed which has an awful lot of breastfeeding talk in it. As an observer rather than a participant, I see conversations go on, people discuss their experiences and whatever difficulties they’re having/choices they’ve made and shortly afterwards you see a ‘I’m so proud to be feeding my baby with my body’/'I’m proud I was brave enough to choose to formula feed’ comment that in that context does seem boastful/defensive. Be proud of your choices but sensitive to others is what I believe but that’s a whole social media issue!

    To me, this post highlights the bigger worldwide issues with the health of women and babies. Looking at that, who cares what the women at the next table is doing if it’s right for her?

    Great post x

    • Posted May 28, 2013 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      Fee, you’re exactly right. The Danone and Nestle scandals make my skin crawl – the irresponsibility and illegality of what those people did (and still do, I think we have to accept) blows my mind. We should be thankful that if we do choose to formula feed that we have clean water with which to make it and similarly, if we choose to breastfeed we need to recognise that we’re pretty bloody lucky to have a glass of clean water next to us whilst we do so.

  6. Posted May 28, 2013 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    I really like this post. I think motherhood seems to be a place where there is so much judgement of other women, but most women I know seem to be of the opinion that as long as you are doing your best with the situation and information you have then, you are doing your best.

    I see this kind of debate played out about breastfeeding, cosleeping, childcare, returning or not to work and on and on and on. Each person and situation is different and I know I can never know why people make the choices they do, like if and when my time comes no one will know why I’m making the choices I do, not from the outside.

    So I am so glad for posts like this, where more people can come out from the woodwork and say they don’t really care that much about other people’s choices as long as they work for them. We need more of that!

  7. Posted May 28, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Fab post. The breastfeeding experience is one of the toughest things I have had to deal with. Desperately wanted to be successful with it, but for several reasons it just didn’t work out.
    I still feel I have to justify why I am giving formula, and still feel guilt, when most of my generation was given formula milk to no detriment!
    Thankyou for writing this balanced, unbiased post and for identifying a huge issue faced by new mums!
    xx

  8. Lee-Anne
    Posted May 28, 2013 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    What a great post. It is scary to see how woman do judge each other on whether they breastfeed or not. I always said I wanted to try and breastfeed Chloe and was surprised when some of my friends told me not to bother and just give her a bottle. I managed to breastfeed for a week but Chloe wouldn’t feed for long and as I had no support I thought I was doing it wrong and moved on to expressing. Looking back I think she was just a lazy newborn and I should of tried a bit longer. We are hoping to add to our family soon and I hope to try breastfeeding again but this time will be looking out for all the support I can get.

  9. Posted May 28, 2013 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this post, V. Very timely for me and a few other new AOW mums.

    Breast feeding is by far the hardest thing I have ever done and I’m still very much in the just about getting through it phase that I hope will pass soon. I cannot count the number of times I’ve seriously considered going to formula but the only reason I haven’t is because I want to succeed and prove to myself that I can do it. However, I really hope that when the time comes to stop (whether that’s next week or in a year) I will feel happy with my choice.

    Having tried breast feeding and struggled I have no judgement what so ever for women who stop and use formula. I cannot know what they went through and in some ways I actually respect them more for choosing their sanity! I do think that all mothers should try it though and I wish there was more support

  10. Posted May 28, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Stupid phone! Continuing…

    Wish there was more support. I’ve had to make a real effort to find help by going to a support group quite far out of my way, pay for it and still push for help. My health visitor only helped me when my mum practically blocked her exit from the house until she watched me feed. Freddie has been putting on weight perfectly since day one so she just doesn’t have any concern about how it is for me. I get the impression that the help would only come if I looked like I was completely falling apart. Why should that be the case?

    Like Aisling said in the intro, I have so much more to say but I’m going to stop now.

    Great post, V.
    Xxx

  11. Posted May 28, 2013 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    This is such a great post. Thank you so much V!

    As someone who tried to breastfeed and when that didn’t work out, went onto expressing and finally for the sake of everyone involved ended up formula feeding I have to say that it is lovely to read a post that isn’t boastful, aimed at condemning bottle feeding mamas or has any form of judgement attached at all. I should add at this point that in terms of the online community here I haven’t ever had anything like this happen, in fact right at the beginning I had a wonderful twitter exchange with S&B Anna about this which boosted my morale about a million times! Sadly I can’t say that’s true for out here in the ‘real world’ though…

    I know someone who was devastated that she couldn’t breastfeed. She was in a complete state about it, but had an appointment at the HV to have her baby weighed. While there baby needed a feed, she pulled out a bottle of and fed her baby. For some reason another new mum decided that it was ok to go up to her and have a HUGE rant at her about how formula feeding mothers are a disgrace and shouldn’t shove it in the face of other women who are actually trying to do the best for their babies and are struggling to breastfeed because it’s the ‘right’ thing to do. As you can imagine that really helped her confidence when it was already at rock bottom.

    Another one that shows how warped attitudes can get is when someone I know had been exclusively breastfeeding for 6 months and started weaning. At that point her supply ran out, and because formula was perceived to be so bad, she mixed up baby rice, porridge etc with water (no nutritional value whatsoever) instead of exposing her baby to formula milk (with nutritional value). But the messages that we receive all the time as mum’s tell us how bad formula is – even when it isn’t obvious. At one point they even discussed cigarette style warnings on formula. Thanks for that one government. (See here http://ohyouprettythingsuk.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/why-we-dont-need-cigarette-style.html )

    I cannot abide the way that women’s judgement of each other increases by about ten trillion per cent when they have a baby. As if we’re not under enough pressure to just get through the day (and nights) already!! Partly I wonder if that’s because we spend so much time over-thinking and justifying all of our parenting decisions, that when somebody does something different we go back into justifying mode again and get on the defensive. Personally, I’m secure in the decisions that we, together, have made for our daughter and I know that what suits her as an individual and us as a family isn’t necessarily right for other people. That’s not to say that I think we’re perfect, just that we’re doing the best we can. And as far as I’m concerned that’s all that we can do.

    Having said all that, the other day I sent an email to Frankie and Esme about methods for increasing sleep. For some reason I still felt the need to almost apologise for the fact that Olive is formula fed – neither of these lovely ladies have given me any reason to do that, but I still find myself doing it. Likewise when people ask if I’m breastfeeding I admit that I’m not, but always explain that I tried, but she wouldn’t latch on. It’s like a verbal tic – for some reason I actually do give a shit that people might think I didn’t bother trying and gave into the ‘lazy’ option from the start.

    Anyway, the long and short of all my rambling is that whatever we choose to do so long as it’s right for us and our babies then that should be all that matters. As Vivienne says, just getting through the day deserves a freaking medal sometimes. And although I haven’t ever managed breastfeeding I totally and utterly respect every single one of you for managing it and keeping going through the pain and difficulties – all power to you ladies!

    • Posted May 28, 2013 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      Jesus, sorry that is an epic comment!

    • Posted May 28, 2013 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      Hollie, it’s so funny (in a very abstracts sense of the word!), I find myself apologising for breastfeeding in a similar way! If people ask am I breastfeeding, or how it’s going, I always follow up my initial ‘yes’ or ‘great, thanks’ with ‘but I’m so lucky that I’m able to, so lucky that Stella is good at it, so lucky that my suplly is god, so lucky so lucky so lucky…’ I find myself desperately not wanting to offend anyone – those who formula feed, those who are breastfeeding but struggling…it’s a minefield. And yet I think we make it a minefield for ourselves – you do not ever, ever, ever, need to apologise for feeding gorgeous Olive with formula, and I shouldn’t feel the need to apologise for Stella being breastfed. We all have super-cute, growing, developing babies who love us. The End. (And I love your super long comment.)

      • Posted May 28, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

        Exactly! When anyone has asked me about how I plan to feed my baby (errm hello, do I ask them what their diet is like?) I have said I hope to breastfeed. Because that’s all I can say, how do I know until I’m actually trying?! But also because all I care about is making sure my baby gets fed. And I also don’t want to set myself up for disappointment or guilt if it doesn’t work out.

      • Posted May 28, 2013 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

        Isn’t that mad? I feel the same when talking about Freddie’s birth. I find myself saying “I didn’t use any pain relief because I was really lucky, it was all down to the midwife etc.” Why should I be embarrassed when it’s just what happened?

  12. Louise
    Posted May 28, 2013 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Thank you for writing this. Until I became a mum 4 months ago I didn’t appreciate the judgement that comes with it, or opinion waving – about every. single. decision. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who’s felt guilt at a baby group when I whip out a bottle instead of breast, although a friend pointed out to me recently that the judgement is probably in my head…. She expresses into bottle as her little boy has never taken to breast, who’s to know what’s actually in a bottle – breast milk or formula? I wish I could stop feeling quite so uptight about every parenting decision, it’s baby steps but posts like this help – thank you!

  13. Posted May 28, 2013 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    You know it makes me so sad that people are this horribly judgemental, insensitive and badly informed. Well done all of you people who pushed a baby out of your vagina and are keeping it alive and well. Massive massive respect and love for that.

    Out of interest – does the judging and the comments and the telling you which way to do things still happen if you and baby are out with your partner? I read somewhere that when a man is with you people then assume he’s in control and won’t come up to you to tell you off for not breastfeeding etc… Is that true/noticeable?

    • Posted May 28, 2013 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      I’d never thought would the comments when you’re with a man thing, but you’re so right. Although it completely depends who it’s coming from. ‘Well meaning’ comments from friends and family will happen no matter what – whoever your with, however inappropriate, unwanted etc (although that may just be our experience…!).

      I get a lot less comments from random passers by if I’m with Bren. I’m lucky enough not to have had anything awful said to me by anybody and generally speaking you’d be amazed how much nicer people are to you once you have a baby – it’s a bit of nightmare trying to have a quiet coffee when I’m out with Olive as everybody wants to coo over her!

      To me it’s hilarious that people wouldn’t comment because they think the man is in charge of the situation. If only they knew…

  14. Posted May 28, 2013 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    I’m not a mother, but I’ve seen that the second a woman tells people their pregnant, the judgment seems to start. It’s as if that person, who is intelligent, able to read information, process it and make informed decisions, is suddenly unable to do this. I’ve seen wonderfully supportive people, and people who seem to think it’s up to them to tell the future mother what they’re doing wrong.

    And then it continues after the birth. I can’t imagine the pressure women are under to “do the right thing”, whatever the right thing should be. I know breastfeeding can be hard for both the mother and child. I’m a formula fed child (I refused to latch, I didn’t gain weight, my mother had to formula feed), my middle brother was breast fed for 6 months, and my youngest brother breast fed, then formula fed (due to him having severe reflux my mother needed to measure how much he was eating when he was fed, as well as put some kind of medication into his feeds). There seems to be a lack of support from some healthcare workers. But worse than that, there seems to be a lack of support sometimes from the wider community. It frustrates me on behalf of the mothers involved. What gives people a right to judge another, especially when the mother involved has a happy, healthy and well fed child? For sure, breast is, on paper, best for both the mother and the child. But in reality, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes a baby needs formula, whether it’s for the mothers sanity or because the baby just isn’t growing/is ill.

    Then, if you do breastfeed, and decide to do it in public, it seems the comments continue! It seems to be that you must breastfeed, but this must be done in secret, away from the public who may be offended that you’ve made it clear that you actually have breasts, and that these breasts can be used to feed a baby.

    I want to become a mother at some point in the future. I want to breastfeed. But if it doesn’t work for whatever reason, and after getting support and trying for a while, I’ll formula feed. After all, isn’t the most important thing the fact that your baby is fed, happy and healthy?

  15. Liz
    Posted May 28, 2013 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Thank you for writing this Vivienne! 7 months into breastfeeding, it’s tough and what’s tough about it changes dependant on the age of your baby. However, for me at least, I think as much as there is pressure and judgment from society I put a whole lot more on myself by imagining what people think and telling myself formula fed babies are better behaved. The reality I that I have been well supported with my feeding choices by family, friends, healthcare professionals and even old ladies congratulating me on feeding in public!
    I’ve almost been too well supported that now I’m at the point where I’m wondering how long to continue, for a range of reasons, I feel guilty about thinking of stopping! My mum breastfed for 12 months with both of us so she is very pro, the purpose of support groups is to promote breastfeeding, so where to go for unbiased advice?
    It just seems that feeding is viewed as all or nothing, you are pro breastfeeding or not, which I personally am finding hard.
    However, whatever I decide I won’t ever regret the fact that I made it this far as the small being crawling and smiling and getting into mischief makes me realise that it has been worthwhile! X

    • Posted May 28, 2013 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      Liz – I completely agree re the perception that you either have to be pro-breastfeeding or pro-formula, it makes me so cross. I breastfeed, with relative ease, so it stands to reason I am pro-breastfeeding for myself. Yet I would NEVER berate a woman choosing/needing to use formula and I am thoroughly in support of formula and the fact that it is available to those who need or want it.

      I think, unfortunately, that unbiased advice probably doesn’t exist. Whatever you decide though – don’t feel guilty. Never feel guilty. Do what’s right for you and your crawling, smiling baby.

      • Vivienne
        Posted May 28, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

        I long for a day when we can all just be pro-feeding!

  16. Posted May 28, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    I agree with 99.9% of everything Vivienne has said here, I loved the post when it was sent in and I love it now. I love you all for your stories and comments and I wonder why society as a whole can’t manage to be as fair and open-minded as you lot. But that’s probably another topic…

    I only want to add that I absolutely DO care how women feed their babies. Just not from a formula vs. breast point of view. I care that whatever way to choose to, or end up feeding your baby that you arrived at that choice happy and secure in the knowledge that it was the right choice for you. And only you. (And your baby, obviously. And partner. Gah – you get my drift). Nothing makes me more cross since having had Stella than when a new mother is given bad, or worse, no advice and left to struggle whilst their baby cries, their body struggles and their emotions go batshit-crazy. I wish that everyone had the kind of midwives and experience that I did and I want to help new mums as much as I can, hence the probably overwhelming Good Samaritan e-mails a lot of the new mums in the AOW community have had from me at one point or another!

    I’m waffling now, so to summarise – whilst women still feel guilt over their choices and decisions and overall feeding experiences, I will always be sad. But I will always keep trying to help. Not just to help women breastfeed but to help them NOT feel guilty, regardless of how they feed their child.

    • Fee
      Posted May 28, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      I think this is the key point – if everyone focused on ‘caring’ in the truest sense of the word rather than getting all up in everyone else’s business, everyone would probably be much happier. It scares me especially when health care providers don’t care in what is most supportive way for the individual.

      (P.s. I nearly said ‘up in everyone’s grill’ but I don’t think I’m street enough to pull it off.)

  17. Posted May 28, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    This is excellent, and I agree wholeheartedly.

    I think the problem with social media is partly that insecurity manifests itself through a desire to prove that you’re doing the right thing. By that I think I mean that people who are secretly unsure about their own decisions choose to bolster their own confidence by putting down the choices of others (I should say that I don’t believe anyone here does this). Social media is a real nightmare for this, and it’s especially bad for mothers who are stuck right in the middle of one of the most amazing but scary, new and different times of their lives. It’s so easy to put down others to make yourself feel better without even knowing you’ve done it. It’s so easy to be hurt or upset by someone’s thoughtless, defensive stance, when you’re scared and trying your best.

    I just want every mother to know that you don’t need to care what others think about the choices you make for your child out of love or necessity or anything else, other people have their own issues, their own baggage, they have no right to inflict their shit on you and your decision making. Tell them to shove it, you’re doing great.

    Actually, I want all people to know that, to be honest!

    K x

    • Posted May 28, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      Agh, I missed a paragraph out. I also meant to say that when someone judges you, remember that they might be frightened and insecure too, only they just don’t know how to say it. This doesn’t excuse them making you feel crap, that’s never cool, but the more everyone tries to understand everyone else, and empathise with them and their motives, especially on social media, the better!

      K x

    • Posted May 28, 2013 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      Hear hear!

  18. Go With The Flow
    Posted May 28, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    It’s so easy for women to get very black and white about breastfeeding and try and take ownership of how other mothers feed. It’s NOBODY ELSE’S damn business how I feed my kid, and I have no right to comment or judge on how you feed yours. It’s absolutely, 100% not my place to speculate, comment or bitch about how anyone else feeds their child! I have breast and bottle fed and it really is all about the love. If you project hateful feelings at anything they become charged. If you think formula milk is the devils substance you project negative energy towards it which becomes attached to that whole process. Which I think is mean! If you feed a child and cradle them in love and a feeling of bonding and togetherness while you do it, that’s the most important thing I think!

  19. Posted May 28, 2013 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    I think the perception of boasting/ backlash from non breast feeding mums comes down to the fact everyone knows that whilst not everyone chooses/ can breastfeed, parents who have looked into both options know breastmilk is better for babies than formula. I think that is what is causing the division amongst women, it sets us up to feel as if you are automatically siding with the gloating/ defensive category depending on what method you go for, which is just not fair. After all, babies have to get fed and a fed baby is better than a starving one and I don’t think the majority of people care how other parents in the western world feed their babies.

    I don’t think there is an answer except to make it clear on a one to one basis that, as you say, you don’t judge them on how they feed their babies and vice versa. One way of doing that might be for us not to wear breastfeeding as a kind of badge of honour, which I have seen on social media (and I don’t find offensive personally), but you’d be unlikely to see formula feeding referred to in the same way. Maybe if feeding went back to being a private rather than public matter we wouldn’t have these issues in the first place? I don’t mean to keep it quiet out of shame or political correctness, but just to take the feeding debate out of the equation as much as possible.

    • Fee
      Posted May 28, 2013 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      I think there is a real culture of a kind of defensive boasting on social media. I have seen people say ‘I may have had to have a c-section but I am feeding my baby myself’ which is an understandable thought but no defence is needed for a c-section – and it’s not just baby related, I see ‘I may be single but I have a great job’ or ‘I may not be stick thin but I have big boobs’ etc etc and it’s just crazy as its perpetuating this sense of competition.

      I have a post brewing on this.

  20. Steff
    Posted May 28, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Such an emotive topic V, well done you for tackling it so delicately and with such compassion.

    I wholeheartedly agree, whilst amazing, breastfeeding can be challenging. The 6 week growth spurt saw me chained to the sofa feeding from 6-10 for almost a week. It was at that point that we started to introduce a bottle of formula last thing at night and I don’t regret doing that for one second. I was shattered and H&C clearly weren’t getting what they needed. The formula filled them up, meant we knew they got what they need and meant I could rest. Combination feeding has been working for us but they’re now at a stage where their size (and wriggliness!) is making tandem feeding difficult so I’m thinking about weaning them entirely onto bottles now because, at the end of the day, it’s whatever is right for us at the time.

    The negativity is overwhelming at times. Although I had a generally positive experience, was blessed with 2 little stars and a body which was able to support them it never fails to surprise me how callous and thoughtless people can be with their comments. Comments on a subject they have absolutely no business commenting on.

  21. KateQ
    Posted May 28, 2013 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    There are so many things that are considered making decisions like this so I agree that it is really wrong to judge. I knew I wanted to breastfeed but it wasn’t particularly for the health benefits but mainly because I wanted to carry a smaller bag and not have to plan too much. It might seem a strange reason to some but I was really scared about losing my freedom so this was what was important to me. If my husband didn’t need to work long hours I think I might have gone down the formula route so we could share night feeds.

    I think a lot of the guilt is from there not being enough support to let mothers know they are in charge and can make the decisions. I was made to feel bad that I didn’t give formula to my 8 day old so it definitely goes both ways. It seems all of patenting stirs up these debates, weaning, sleep training, entertaining, there seems to be a “right” way rather than what is right for you

  22. Laura
    Posted May 28, 2013 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Vivienne’s post completely.

    The only thing that I would say is: I was desperate to breastfeed throughout my pregnancy, even before I was pregnant I knew I wanted to breastfeed. When the time came however, it was a whole other story. I was in hospital for 5 days after having my little man as I was in a bad way. During this time I had extensive help from midwives and midwifery assistants. I had staff hand expressing me, holding tiny syringes to my nipples, electric breast pumps, you name it I had the lot. Talk about dignity going down the pan, but I didn’t care. I was SO desperate to get it right. In the end the midwives had no other choice but to suggest that I topped my boy up with formula as he was literally starving and breastfeed ing was not working at all. I had to succumb to something that I really did not want to do as I’d been told over and over again how bad formula was for babies. I did manage to express a little bit too but it just wasn’t enough for full feeds.

    I felt like a failure and totally missed out on the mother/baby special bonding time. Of course we bonded with cuddles but it wasn’t the same as feeding. Even now I feel guilty and upset about it when i think about it. Some pro-breastfeeding women saying that all women can breastfeed, they’re just too lazy. This makes me rage. What doesn’t help matters is the fact that first milk isn’t condoned by the government and sellers aren’t allowed to promote it. That is RIDICULOUS. They make you feel like you’re giving your child crack and I hate it. I was devastated enough by not being able to feed myself, only to be made to feel like an absolute idiot when I asked in Boots, out of curiosity, why you don’t get points when buying formula. “Because the government don’t want women being rewarded for buying it.” I wanted to cry. DO THEY THINK I CHOSE TO USE IT?!

    When I was pregnant it never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed so it was such s blow when I couldn’t. I was and still am quick to defend why I had to use formula when I see people talking openly about breastfeeding but that comes from my own feeling like a failure.

  23. Vivienne
    Posted May 28, 2013 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    Thank you everyone so much for your comments – I was nervous about this post going up as it is such an emotive topic. But as usual, you guys are amazing and I’ve loved reading the response.

    I agree with Aisling and Fee that we need to care for our fellow women – not about the choices they make – but that they get the support and respect they deserve for those choices (because whatever way you go with parenting, it isn’t easy).

    Having seen too many friends struggle to get a health care professional pinned down to help them, and then be given inaccurate, misleading and sometimes harmful ‘advice’ when they do, I often find myself disappointed and angry. Sad that we live in a country with the most advanced technology but we can’t sort out a proper support network, accessible to all women, whether they choose to breast, bottle or combination feed. Something that should be a no-brainer, feeding your baby however you can, shouldn’t become the virtual war amongst women that it can appear to be online.

    I could go on. And on. And on. But I won’t. There will always be so much to say on this subject, but thank you for letting me say my piece here.

  24. Gemma N
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    A slightly belated comment, but I wanted to say it anyway…

    Thank you for writing this. And to everyone for commenting.

    I am still fairly early pregnancy days (17 weeks) and as yet haven’t encountered anyone asking or commenting on how we’re going to bring baby up/ feed etc. My own thoughts (with virtually no research done yet) is that I’ll try breastfeeding but if for any reason I can’t do it or it becomes too hard then I’ll express / use formula. No biggie. And I will want to do some expressing whatever as I want to share the feeding with my husband. Partly so I don’t have to every. single. feed. but also so he will be able to share the experience of feeding our baby. I thought this was our own business and no-one elses, although I suppose I have been aware through friends of the pressure / competitiveness that sometimes comes along with parenting (as with everything!).

    I can’t believe some of the comments here about how women have been treated for bottle feeding, or how little support some people seem to get. It seems though that there are lots of lovely women here who have been through the new baby thing fairly recently – I will certainly be looking back at this page (and will be bookmarking blogs / following on twitter!) so please forgive me if you get some random desperate woman tweeting for help in 6 months time!

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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