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Breastfeeding, bottle feeding, pumping, formula, a little of both... Whatever your feeding method, there are challenges. An emotionally charged conversation, many mothers carry grief over how their feeding journeys played out and the everyday struggles that come along with feeding our babies.
As a breastfeeding counselor, lactation educator and IBCLC candidate I have worked with mothers that have felt both ashamed and embarrassed for feeding their babies how they choose. This includes nursing, pumping, bottle feeding and formula feeding. There is judgement being placed on all sides.
To make something become “normal,” it must be seen, experienced, and exposed frequently. The goal of being normalized would be to get to a place where it's not necessarily noticeable, it's just considered to be “normal.”
This is a hot topic, I know. Stay with me.
When you buy a baby doll for your child, what does it usually come with? A baby bottle
Our young children hold these dolls on their lap, feed them with a bottle, and unless these kids are part of a breastfeeding family, bottle feeding becomes the norm for them.
What arrives at a pregnant mother doorstep before she's given birth? Formula coupons and samples.
When you do a simple google image search, “infant feeding”, 90% of the images show a baby being bottle fed.
What emojis or clip art images are associated with a new baby? Bottles.
My point is nobody bats at an eye at a baby bottle. Formula samples and coupons are given out at an almost predatory rate to new mothers. The $40 billion formula industry is not suffering for profit. They spend millions of dollars each year to make sure their message gets across. Paying doctors and hospitals from all over the world to offer their product, sponsoring educational conventions, giving out branded pens, lanyards, marketing aids to health professionals. Then these professionals are walking around with branded objects in front of patients, subliminally influencing those around them with the subjective messages that they probably don't even realize are taking place.
Does the bottle-feeding mom still receive judgement? Sure. But statistically speaking, bottle feeding is being widely normalized from a young age, without us even realizing it.
I will never condone shame. Or judgement. Or picking apart a mother for how she chooses to feed her baby. But I cannot get on board with the argument to normalize something that has already been normalized.
A bottle-feeding mother will never be told to “cover up” or “disgusting, go do that in the bathroom” or “you're ruining your body” or “my family is here, go do that somewhere else!”
A woman's breasts were created to produce milk to feed her baby. It is biologically the most normal way to feed. But society sees it differently.
And because we live in an imperfect and broken world, many mothers that plan to, are not able to breastfeed their baby. As a result, they either must rely on donor breastmilk or formula to feed their baby. Without proper support through the grief around their feeding expectations and experiences, mothers are often left feeling angry and bitter. Thus, further spurring on the separation between breastfeeding and bottle feeding.
I cannot tell you how many times my educational videos and posts have been flagged as sexually explicit content by social media platforms, even resulting in a temporary ban of my account, without even showing skin. Yet there are videos of women and even young girls dancing provocatively, showing much more cleavage and skin, and these aren't removed
We live in a world where we're fighting to normalize the most normal thing. And bottom line, mothers on all sides are receiving judgement. Bottle and breast.
Nursing mothers are often made to feel “dirty”, as if somehow nursing your baby from your breast is something inappropriate and should be done in private. Pumping mothers are often made to feel like they somehow aren't doing enough, because they aren't directly nursing their babies. They get burnt out with the schedule, time away from baby, and washing of endless pump parts.Bottle feeding, whether breastmilk or formula, are sometimes judged by onlookers, assuming the mother is feeding her baby formula, which is somehow “lazy” or “selfish” since she isn't breastfeeding.
I created a survey on my Instagram stories from the Mother Made community made up of over 21,000 mothers, and the response was strikingly similar. BOTH nursing and bottle-feeding mothers have felt ashamed over how they feed their baby, and have felt the need to hide from others when feeding. Actively avoiding feeding their baby in public, to avoid negative comments from strangers.
These are not everyone's experiences, but for every method of feeding, mom guilt is happening. This is largely due to cultural and societal factors that make moms feel inadequate, no matter their choices.
This must change. Mothers need... No. Mothers deserve support.
We can make this change, one person at a time. Next time you see a mother feeding her baby, breast or bottle, tell her she's doing a good job. Buy her a coffee. Smile. Offer her a place to sit.
We are all doing our best with the circumstances we were given. It's time to stop judging, and instead start encouraging. Accepting that you DONT know someone's journey, and you don't know what they've been through to get where they are now.
We are all in this together. No matter how our babies are fed.
Breastfeeding Counselor & IBCLC candidate
Mother Made Lactation
For unbiased support and evidence based breastfeeding education, join the Mother Made Lactation community over on Instagram by searching @mothermadelactation.
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