I Support You: The Conversation We Should Be Having About Breastfeeding And Formula
“When I was a Formula Mom, I used to pour formula into Medela bottles, so that the other moms at playgroup thought that it was pumped breastmilk. I felt their eyes on me. I felt shame, and embarrassment. I was different.
Now I am a Breastfeeding Mom, and I get funny looks and nasty stares when I nurse in public. I feel everyone’s eyes on me. I feel shame, and embarrassment. I am different.”
Kim Simon has been on both sides of the breastfeeding divide, first as the mother whose breasts simply did not produce milk and now as a mother who breastfeeds exclusively. The words above are hers, a description of the way women who have made one choice too easily judge those who made a different one. And she is sharing them today — the first day of World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month — because she hopes to end the judgement and close the gap.
The purpose of this week and month, of course, is to celebrate a mother’s role as her newborn’s source of nutrition, and to declare that no woman should be ashamed to nurse whenever or wherever a child is hungry. But, Simon warns, too often the message that mothers need to be supported in their decision to breastfeed can obscure the equally important message that ALL mothers need to be supported in whatever ways they choose to feed their child.
So as this month begins, and sites like HuffPost Parents fill with discussions of breastfeeding, three bloggers have joined together under the banner “I Support You.” The three cover the whole of the nurse-or-not spectrum: Simon, who has written about her different paths with each of her children here on HuffPost and on her blog Mama by the Bay; Suzanne Barston, who blogs at Fearless Formula Feeder and is the author of “Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn’t”; and Jamie-Lynne Grumet, who you probably saw on the much discussed cover of Time Magazine last year nursing her 4-year-old son, and who blogs at I Am Not The Babysitter.
The I Support You team has started collecting messages from mothers to each other, photos that say we might lead different lives but we share wanting the best for our children in common.
“We all feed our children differently, but we are all feeding with love, and in ways that work for our individual circumstances and family dynamics,” they explain in a mission statement running simultaneously today on all three sites. “I Support You is the first step in helping formula-feeding, breast-feeding, and combo-feeding parents to come together and lift each other up with kindness and understanding.”
I read their posts and exhaled. It has been nearly two decades since I last nursed an infant and yet the feelings from back then — that I was always doing something wrong — are surprisingly close to my surface. The early months and years of motherhood made me feel as though I was in a play and everyone else had the script but me. They knew their lines, they had the answers, I was making it up as I went along.
I breastfed my first son for a year, because that’s what good mothers do, but I almost never did so in front of anyone but my husband, which meant I spent a lot of time hiding in bathroom stalls and the cramped back seats of cars. With my second son I stopped nursing just short of three months, because a bout of mastitis walloped me with 103 fever and I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I have never admitted that in print until just now, because wouldn’t a more committed mother have soldiered through?
Why do we do that to each other, Simon, Barston and Grumet ask — why do we push each other down when we should lift each other up? Why do we force mothers to hide, or feel shame or pour formula into Medela bags? It is unkind and unhelpful — and takes energy that we could be spending educating and embracing each other.
We are standing together, and we’re asking you to stand up with us. You, at the La Leche League meeting. You, in the lactation consultant’s office, perfecting your newborn’s latch. You, in the Nordstrom’s dressing room, nursing quietly on the couch. You, at your older son’s baseball game, nursing openly in the bleachers. You, who have cried rivers of tears over your feeding choices, and you, who chose without fear.
I support you.
You, in your hospital gown, asking the nurses for formula. You, shaking a bottle with one arm while your baby snuggles close in the other. You, who have researched the healthiest, most tummy-friendly formulas. You, who pump and mix and combo-feed. You, who have cried rivers of tears over your feeding choices, and you, who chose without fear.
I support you.
You, with your partner, as you feed the baby that you are hoping to adopt. You, who had a mastectomy and are locking eyes with new life. You, who chose your mental health, or your physical health, or your freedom, or your lack of freedom, so that you could feed your baby in a way that protected both of you. You, the Daddy who is finger-feeding your infant. You, the Mommy who lovingly pours formula into a G-Tube. You, at the NICU, pumping your breasts by the light of the machines that are keeping your baby alive. You, with the foster child who you are loving back to health. We see you. You are a part of this conversation too.
We support you.
For Barston, the message is important because it sets the tone for a lifetime of parenting. She writes:
There’s a lot of research out there about imprinting, and how first experiences affect infants. But isn’t new motherhood a sort of infancy, itself? Here you are, reborn into mother, your skin and organs and thoughts raw and foreign. Everything is new. Everything is a first, postpartum — your first shower, the first time you have sex, the first time you take the baby for a walk, the first time you feel confident in your new role. Is it surprising, then, that your first social interactions as a mother don’t imprint on you in the same way a new food imprints on an infant’s taste buds?
For Grumet, in turn, the message is important because it frees us from unproductive guilt and allows us to focus on what really matters:
After the Time cover came out, comments about child-led weaning (ranging from the ignorant to the ridiculous) made me realize how lost we were as a society. Here we are arguing about multiple healthy options to nourish, love, and parent our children, when in reality we are wasting our energy worrying about nothing when there are legitimate concerns about nutrition in our own country and globally. There are many mothers who have no options.
I plan for my message to say: „To all those mothers who’ve learned the difference between the mother you think you will be and the one you actually are — I Support You.“
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