Quite a while back a friend shared an article listing things not to say to a formula-feeding mom if you want to support her. It seemed fairly common sense. But I couldn’t help thinking, in a culture where women are STILL being asked to leave public places for nursing their children, and you have to actually look to find a “welcome baby” card, a baby shower gift bag, a big brother book, a baby doll, or a parenting article without an image of a bottle (go ahead, try this at home), breastfeeding mothers need a list like this too. Especially those breastfeeding beyond whatever age is considered “normal” (three months? six months? twelve months? Everyone seems to have their own personal standard that has nothing to do with current professional recommendations!) I finally got around to writing mine:
1. “You’ve never given a bottle?! So, you never…go out alone?!” [said with a look of shock on the face] Well, if the baby is a few weeks or months old, yes, it is entirely possible we haven’t gone out alone. We’re moms now, so life has changed (I suspect many a formula-feeding mom can relate to this too!) Sometimes breastfeeding means we don’t go out. Or that we take the baby. Or some of us pump and leave a cup of ebm. Or we time outings between feedings. Or, if the baby is older, and eats solid food, it is entirely possible we go out (even to work!) and baby nurses when we’re home, and it’s really no big deal.
2. “Why don’t you just pump and leave a bottle?” It’s not that easy. Not every breastfeeding mother can successfully pump. Not every breastfeeding baby will take a bottle. And some of us don’t choose to try for a variety of reasons that really shouldn’t matter to anyone who is not us.
3. “Can’t you just leave formula this one time?” Again, not so easy. Formula isn’t breastmilk and not every baby is easily fooled. And there may be reasons why we choose not to even offer formula. Those reasons don’t have anything to do with judging other mothers for their choices, but we also feel we shouldn’t be judged for ours. Or pressured to change them.
4. “You ARE going to wean him to bottles and formula eventually, right?” [also said with a look of shock] Perhaps that is what some plan to do. When and how and why are also not really anyone’s business. But some of us, perhaps after struggling to make breastfeeding work, are in no hurry to change things. If it’s not broke…And, it matters to you why?
5.”Would you like a blanket? Or do you want to go into the other room/bathroom?” [said when we’ve settled down to feed in a *gasp* public place, or even just someone’s home] No. Just don’t. If we wanted a blanket, we’d have asked for a blanket (but probably not–we have a lot of our own blankets, thanks). Or left the room. And some of us do because that is how we feel comfortable (or because we have nosy babies who have a hard time eating when there are people to look at!) You might feel like you are offering “discretion” for our comfort–instead you are making your own unease obvious. And drawing attention to something others probably wouldn’t haven’t even noticed if you hadn’t pointed it out (my sister likes to tell of a male friend going on about how he didn’t think women should breastfeed in front of others completely oblivious to the fact that she was nursing her newborn at that moment.)
6. “You’ve breastfed for HOW long?/How long ARE you going to breastfeed for?” [there’s that shocked tone and facial expression again] Did you know the average age of weaning for a human is between 2-4 years? No, of course you didn’t, or you wouldn’t give a flying fig how long other mothers and babies nurse for. Now you know.
7. “Oh I could just never do that.”What, exactly, are we supposed to say in response? “Sorry”? “Yes you could”? “No, you’re right, you probably couldn’t”? “Yeah, it is kind of weird”? “Way to make me feeding my baby all about you”? And really, that is what most of these comments do.
8. “I’m all for breastfeeding, but…” Stop. Just stop. If you have to add a but, and outline just exactly how any other woman who is not you should breastfeed, you are NOT “for” breastfeeding. You are part of the problem.
9. “You are only doing it for yourself.” I am not even sure what that means. It is true there are benefits for the nursing mother. And there are risks to not breastfeeding, so if you mean we’re doing what we can to minimize those for ourselves and our children, then…okay? Or if you mean it’s easier for us to continue breastfeeding than to wean a child who is not ready, well, yeah, busted! But if you mean we must get some weird pleasure out of it beyond seeing our child fed and comforted, and are forcing the child to continue against his will–LOL. You’ve clearly never nursed a toddler! Or HAD a toddler, and tried to “make” her do anything.
10. “You know, if you just stopped nursing, s/he’d sleep through the night.” Actually, there are no guarantees these things go hand in hand–trust me on this. My 8 year old just started sleeping through the night, and he weaned many years ago. I’m sure many bottlefeeding mothers will tell you they aren’t getting a solid 8 hours either. It may be entirely possible that we accept that caring for a baby or toddler, no matter how they are fed, often means getting up in the night, and will deal with it as long as we need to. And if we’re complaining, we may just want commiseration, not to be told what we’re doing “wrong”.
So if you’ve ever felt compelled to comment on how, where, how long, or why a mother breastfeeds, think before you speak. And then, probably just don’t. Unless it’s to say “way to go”, or talk about something completely different.