In honor of National Breastfeeding Month, a shameful confession: I used to judge formula feeding moms. Oh yes, I was one of THOSE MOMS, the smug, first-timers who privately deride the mothers at baby yoga class cracking formula bottles instead of hanging a boob. We’d all force a sympathetic smile at mom’s group when other women shared their painful stories of how breastfeeding didn’t work out for them, knowing deep down that we were tougher than them, better mothers than them.
WHY GOD WHY was I being such an insufferable sanctimommy?
Because misery loves company. Even for women who take to breastfeeding easily, it’s REALLY hard work. Like, don’t believe those lying liars at La Leche League because breastfeeding hurts at first. Your boobs are suddenly massive and unwieldy. You’re perpetually springing leaks. (Embarrassing times a million.) Mastitis is the actual WORST. You’re attached to your infant 24/7 unless you pump. Oh, and it establishes a massive disparity in parenting roles from the very beginning because your partner doesn’t have the boobs and your baby knows it.
Breastfeeding is a sacrifice, and what kept me committed despite the many inconveniences was (and we’ve all heard it) “Breast is best!” I HAD to believe this, cling to it, because if breastfeeding wasn’t magic (and scientists are starting to wonder…) then why the f**k was I doing it, exactly?
“Breastfeeding Privilege” is a thing.
Women like me for whom breastfeeding comes easily are totally oblivious to their Breastfeeding Privilege. Consider how perfectly the stars have to align for breastfeeding to work: a healthy, term infant with no NICU stay or palate issues; a mother whose body produces sufficient milk and is well enough for feedings; sufficient breastfeeding education and support; and a schedule where the mother can be with her baby constantly for on-demand feedings. (Like, uh, some people have to go back to work right away.) And what if the baby is adopted or was born via surrogate?
That’s a TON of variables. If they all work out in your favor? Right on! But if they don’t, you’ve still got to feed your baby somehow.
What changed everything.
I’d like to say I figured this out on my own, but in reality, it took a long walk with a close friend who I value for her frankness. She listened to fretting about my breastmilk supply (which had begun to plummet when my daughter started solids), and then she laid it out plainly:
“What’s your problem with formula?”
Pause. This was a friend who both breastfed and bottle-fed her baby, so I was wary of hurting her feelings with my candor. (Because apparently I am okay with judging you behind your back but not actually to your face. Yuck.)
“Formula feels like I’m feeding my baby…poison.”
The ugly truth revealed itself: I had been so thoroughly brainwashed by the breastfeeding messaging assaulting new mothers that I believed, not just that breast was best, but that formula was bad. I was declining to give my baby the extra nourishment she needed because I thought formula was worse for her than going hungry. (I know.)
I give my friend credit: she listened calmly and then shared all the reasons formula wasn’t poison. (And is more highly regulated than the garbage that goes into your breastmilk when you eat sushi and drink Diet Coke.) But more than information, what that conversation gave me was permission: permission to feed my baby however worked best for my family without fear or shame.
And so, a sincere apology.
Dear formula feeding moms: Sorry for being a grade-A jerk about how YOU feed YOUR baby. It’s really none of my business. You’re totally crushing it at parenthood and your baby gives zero f**ks whether the milk comes from a can or a boob.
Please don’t misunderstand me: breastfeeding has a lot to recommend it. It’s free, it’s at times convenient (you never leave home without it!), there are some measurable health benefits, and it’s super-duper snuggly. I breastfed both my babies and am grateful to have had that experience.
But it doesn’t work for every family, and self-styled “breastfeeding advocates” (and smug breastfeeding moms) forcing the “breast is best” message isn’t helpful. So again, my apologies. From here on out I’ll be saving my judgment for people who really deserve it, like the aging hippies who steal my parking spots at Whole Foods and anyone who doesn’t like nacho cheese sauce. Clearly, I’ve got much bigger fish to fry.