I saw this video the other day, and instantly loved it.
And yet, as I was watching it, as much as I immediately wanted to share it across every online space I could, I also kept thinking, "Oh, but this will make some moms feel guilty..."
Ah, guilt. It goes hand-in-hand with motherhood, it seems. I'm sure fathers feel guilty as well, but it seems moms are the ones who get hit the hardest with guilt... possibly because it is an unsaid assumption of Truth that however a kid turns out, is a direct reflection of how well his or her mother raised them. And so not only do you have us newbie moms fretting over whether we're making the right decisions (fairly understandable, given that we have no idea what we're doing most of the time and no way to tell short-term how well it's really working out) but also mothers of full-grown adults who still feel guilt over whatever they did or did not do long ago. I've often heard both my own mom and my mother-in-law lamenting over their past mistakes (nevermind that all their kids have turned into healthy, happy, well-adjusted, and productive adults).
But while guilt presides heavily over most parenting decisions, for some reason the act of breastfeeding vs formula feeding hits the hardest of all. It's difficult these days to mention any benefit of breastfeeding without a public outcry of "Stop making moms feel bad!" Which means that while many of breastfeeding's benefits are well-known, many others are just not talked about, or certainly not to the extent they would be if the benefit came from any other act.
Unfortunately, part of this reaction is the result of a few misguided but very outspoken breastfeeding activists who use shame and ridicule to try to get mothers to breastfeed. Clearly, this is the wrong way to go. And for any of the formula-feeding mothers who've had to face this type of activists, I don't blame them for cringing anytime anyone says anything about breastfeeding to them since it triggers all those same feelings from being berated for your choice/outcome.
But we need to figure out some way to get out of this current stalemate. We can't keep not talking about breastfeeding for fear of angering mothers who didn't/couldn't breastfeed. We also can't keep harassing moms for the decisions we make.
The latest numbers I've seen are that, in the US, about 70% of mothers start out trying to breastfeed in the hospital, but only about 30-40% of moms are still exclusively breastfeeding at 3-6 months. Something is happening there, and we need to find out what. My guess is a lot of it is due to poor support for moms who really do want to breastfeed-- support in the hospital, support from friends and family (who themselves may have formula-fed and believe there's no difference or discourage breastfeeding because "boobs are for sex"), support from the public so moms can feel confident to nurse whenever and wherever they need to. It is for all of these reasons that we need to have open, honest conversations about breastfeeding and why it is so beneficial to both mothers and babies.
I have many friends who have breastfed their babies for 6 months and beyond. I also have several friends who tried to breastfeed, and for whatever reason had to stop. No one deserves to be ridiculed or shamed for the way they feed their baby. All mothers deserve understanding and support, whether our babies get breastmilk or formula. And while this is certainly much easier said than done, I think we mothers need to learn how to feel secure in our decisions and not allow others to make us feel bad about them.
--If you choose to give your baby formula instead of breastfeeding, that's your decision. I may not agree with it, but then again I don't have. It's your body, your baby, your decision.
--If you tried to breastfeed but had to stop before you wanted to for whatever reason, know that you did what you could and that's all anyone can ever ask of you. You don't have to answer to anyone else about why things went the way they did, and you don't have to apologize. If you plan to have more children you can do research to see if the obstacle(s) you faced could be avoided next time. But ultimately, it's up to you. Only you can know what your unique situation was.
--If you are a breastfeeding mother who is struggling, know there are so many great resources for you, so many people who will be understanding and try to help you as best as we can. Find a certified lactation consultant, talk to other breastfeeding moms, use online breastfeeding forums. Chances are good that you can find a solution and move past whatever roadblock you are facing.
Guilt is only useful when it motivates you to change something that is within your control. If it's out of your control, let go of the guilt. It is not doing you, nor anyone else, any good. Breastfeeding or giving your baby formula does not make you a good or bad, worse or better mother. It makes you a mother who breastfed or gave her baby formula. Hopefully if we can let go of that guilt, we can then talk about breastmilk versus formula without automatically going on the defensive or turning to attack one another.