Wednesday, August 17, 2011

If You Don't Breastfeed, I Won't Judge You

When I was pregnant with Emma, I went to childbirth classes, La Leche League meetings, and Attachment Parenting groups.  I knew what kind of a Mom I would be.  I would be a drug-free, intervention-free birther, a child led weaning breastfeeder, and would never yell at my kids.  I was going to be the best Mom ever, no doubt about it.

When Emma was born though, it was a different story.  She was footling breech, so I needed the expertise of a good Doctor to deliver her via C-Section.  She was a sleepy baby, so I came thisclose to using the formula the hospital gave me.  She didn't live long enough for me to lose my temper with her, but I am sure I would have.

In the last 9 years, my parenting has shifted, changed, and adapted to what is best for my children and my family.

I have always been blessed with an abundance of breastmilk.  Actually, I am blessed with an over abundance of breastmilk, which can be a problem in and of its self.

I am going to be brutally honest and tell you something.  When Emma and Seth were babies, I looked down my nose at those who were bottle feeding.  I thought to myself, "They just didn't try hard enough." or  "they are lazy and don't love their baby as much as I love mine, because I am giving my child the best" or "They just didn't have the right education or support because SURELY if they did, they would be breastfeeding".

While I am ashamed to admit it now, that was my attitude until Amelia was a baby.  I was at a La Leche League meeting when a Mom came in and was feeding her baby with a bottle.  I was a bit taken aback and was shocked that she would bring artificial nipples and BOTTLES into LLL.  Then, I looked at her baby.  Her baby had a cleft palate and couldn't nurse.  She pumped all the time to still give her baby breastmilk, it was just in a bottle.

My attitude started to shift.  I began to see Mamas giving their babies bottles a little differently.  I realized that just like no one knows my struggles and my story, I don't know theirs.  A bit of tolerance was born.

In the last 5 years, I have met MANY Mamas who try and try and try to breastfeed and for one reason or another, they just can't.  Either they don't have a great supply, they have to go back to work and can't afford a good pump, or they have health issues that keep them from breastfeeding.

When I got pregnant with Seth, I hated when people assumed that he was my first.  I hated that they assumed I knew nothing about having a baby.  I hated that people thought that Seth was the oldest...I still do actually.  But, that experience taught me to never judge by what I see on the outside.

There are Women who struggle with their decision to breastfeed or not.  But here is the thing, it is their decision, not ours.  It is not anyone's place to judge what someone else chooses for their family.  As long as it is not putting their children and family at risk, who are we to judge?

The breast vs. bottle debate is a big one and it has been going on for decades.  There have been Moms in both camps saying they are right and the other is wrong.  I feel that now, we are starting to actually listen to each other, and that we are learning that what is right for one person, might not be right for someone else.  We are listening and learning and growing together.

While I believe that unequivocally breast is best...I also believe that sometimes it isn't enough.  I know that I am very blessed to be able to nurse my babies and have them be healthy, happy, and thriving.  But, I am also not so naive as to believe that is the case for everyone. I know that there are women who try, and just can't. I know that there are women who don't even want to try and while I *cough* still have a hard time with that, I respect them and their choices they make for their families.  See, I can not agree with something you do, and still respect you and your choices.  Just like I would hope you would do for me.

No one likes to be judged. No one like assumptions to be made about them.  We will not make any headway in educating people about breastfeeding by being militant, close minded, and down right rude. Annie, from PhD in Parenting, just wrote an amazing post about this very issue.  Until we can stop yelling and stop judging, we won't get anywhere.

So, let's stop for a minute and listen.  We may be amazed what we will hear in the quiet.


Morgan -Ing said...

Yup. I'm a doula and have learned through all my experiences with women from every walk of life imaginable, I know basically nothing. What I think is true and right is only true and right for ME when it comes to parenting. Someone else's parenting dance is too different to judge.

denise said...

Thanks for this post. I am slowly learning the lesson (everyone has a story) and learning how not to judge, especiallynsince I don't like to be judged. Thanks again.

Adventures In Babywearing said...

Yes yes!


Life After Piggie Smalls said...

I'm a first time mom and I've started thinking about this a lot lately. My baby is only 6 months old but for the first 4 months, I got really caught up in these mommy wars that are always going on. Partly because everyone is always trying to tell me what's best since I'm a new mom, and also because I just feel that "my way" is OBVIOUSLY better, (duh).

You are completely right, we can't ASSUME why another mother is doing what she's doing. We all have a story and reasons for why we're choosing the options that we are for our children. It *is* a very tough thing to do, especially with certain issues, but like you said, we can still respect one another without agreeing.

Tina E. said...

This post brings me to 30 weeks pregnant. I want to breastfeed so badly. I hope I can. The other children that I tried with, left me a catatonic depressed woman. I hope that doesn't happen. But when breastfeeding started to interfere with my bonding with Marissa (I was begging people not to touch her, because she might wake up and need feeding, and in between I would lay in my bed staring up at the ceiling with out acknowledging the world...pretty much how it's gone with them all) bottle feeding just worked. It was the right choice, even though it was a hard one. She would have been a great nurser, I just wasn't able to emotionally tackle it. Maybe this time it will be different. I sure hope so =( 10 weeks and we'll see I guess.

Kim said...

See Tina? This is exactly what I am talking about. No one knows how hard it is for you, and we don't wear badges saying what our struggles are. We do what is best for our kids and PRAY that everything works out just fine.
I hope that it works for you this time, but if it doesn't, I hope even more that you won't beat yourself up about it.

Unknown said...

I'm not sure I will be able to not beat myself up about it. I know this baby will be our last, and so it's the 'last chance' for alot of things. They wanted me to start taking low dose depression meds before I have him (so far that's been the only advice I've got)...I wasn't up to doing that. Interestingly enough, unlike all my other pregnancies I haven't even started producing anything yet. I'm not sure what to think of that either. I'm trying to think of it as a good sign (it will be there when needed, no need to get all the hormones I can't handle apparently working quite yet)

My two friends (well 3 if I count you!) who had babies in June and were going to be my breast feeding advocates and help moved 2 weeks ago out of the valley. I guess if I find myself staring up at the ceiling after the baby is born, I'll text one of them instead =)

Unknown said...

Hmm the above comment is from Tina E, some reason I'm now 'unknown' lol

Holly said...

Love your post and added it to my "Cool Reads" list on my blog. I have breastfed one boy or another for almost five years straight, but I don't judge moms who bottle feed. Everyone has to do what she feels is right.

Suzi said...


Over here in the UK I've been happily greeted by numerous groups and meetings since having my baby 8 weeks ago including breastfeeding groups, breastfeeding picnics etc etc. This is great and the support that these types of things offer is invaluable, however, I wonder what support is out there for Mums that make that (often hard and guilt ridden) decision to formula feed? Where do they go to offer hints and tips to one another on types of bottle/formula/method etc etc. Plus give each other support over the reasons that decision was taken?
I'm pro feeding - I'm lucky that I've been able to breastfeed this time - but if I'm not so lucky next time then I'd be a duck out of water knowing what formula and how to do it!
Maybe to ease some of the prejudice, guilt and exclusion that some of these Mums experience instead of 'breastfeeding groups' and 'breastfeeding picnics' we have 'baby feeding' groups and picnics instead? Somewhere all Mums can go and get informed advice about what is healthiest and best for your baby- no matter what that may be, without feeling added and unneeded pressure.

Mary said...

With my first pregnancy I bought the Bradley Method book, went to classes... My pregnancy progressed and the list of complications grew. He was also footling breech born c-section. My second pregnancy was VBAC but preemie and I cried for joy at hospital and medical interventions that allowed me to bring 2 amazing children in the world when I knew women with half the complications I had who were never able to get pregnant. With both I tried with all the support in the world to nurse. Our insurance covered the best pump available, and I pumped and pumped and still didn't have enough milk. The mommy guilt was horrible, but when I finally put that bottle in my son's mouth and he stopped crying of hunger, I was at peace. We've also adopted children since then... Our path to our family isn't one I pictured going down but we're blessed to know the incredible beings we call our children, and are thankful for the ever unwinding path we travel.

Heather Guymon said...

Great post Kim. I am glad you won't judge me hahaha. Listen, I am ALL for breast feeding. I admire women who do it for years and years and years...that's so selfless and wonderful. I tried with my first, who screamed her head off. I was a first time mom, nervous wreck, with a nurse and my mother trying to play with my nipple and tell me how to hold her, where to put my nipple, and why I wasn't doing it right. I screamed at them both to get away from me, and then barked at the nurse to just bring me a bottle or take the baby. It was awful. With my second, I wanted to nurse so so badly...but for all the wrong reasons. I didn't think we could afford for me not to. I tried it, and he latched on! I was so excited...I was one step ahead than where I was with Hannah...I felt accomplished. Everything went OK in the hospital, as far as him sorda latching on and all that, but...I won't lie when I say...I was not a fan of having him sucking on my boob. I kept going. I made it 24 hours before getting home and breaking down to my husband. It wasn't for me...I couldn't stand having the sole responsibility to feed this child, and my husband actually agreed. He had been aching to hold and feed his son, and though he wanted to support me in breastfeeding if that's what I wanted, he was pretty much happy I wanted to go back to bottles with our second. I borrowed my friends awesome Medela pump and still wanted to pump my milk if I could. I got about 4 ounces the first go round and though, this is awesome, I can TOTALLY do this...and then it just went completely dry on me (my boobs that is) and I had to opt for the formula. Here I am on baby #3, and I won't lie, his pregnancy from the get go left me angry, resentful, and downright ungrateful for his even existing. I was depressed throughout the entire pregnancy, suffering from high blood pressure, and then to make matters worse almost died a week after he was born when I got eclampsia and had a seizure while sitting in the drivers seat of my car at Sonic. To this day I still struggle with feelings of anger, because I wasn't ready for a third child, and most days I am floundering about barely keeping my head above water. Financially we are screwed as I had no insurance during the pregnancy, and again no insurance when the ambulance ride and hospitalization for the eclampsia happened. My point is...I didn't even try to nurse Jack, because I just didn't want to. It took me almost the entire pregnancy to even acknowledge his existence and though I had a few moments after his birth (epidural wore off) where I was overwhelmed and humbled that he was finally there in my arms, I literally fight daily, almost hourly, to stay sane for my three beautiful blessings and not go off the deep end.

Breastfeeding wasn't for me. I am OK with that, and whether people judge me or not for that choice, I don't really care. My kids are all healthy and have done great, but I stand by my conviction that breast is best and absolutely selfless and amazing.

OK. That's my 10 cents lol.

Elaine A. said...

Oh a really personal note, it makes me feel really good reading YOUR words here. Knowing you as I do, I would never think that you were judging me but when I see a mother who flawlessly nurses all her babies, and that was just NOT the case for me, I tend to think that some of them DO think I didn't try hard enough. That's part of the reason I never went to any LLL meetings because I always felt like I was going to be judged. No lie.

I will ALWAYS wish that all of my babies were exclusively nursed because that is what I wanted for them. But alas, Gavin was the only one that would comply. ;)

Thank you for writing this. For many reasons... xoxo

Tom and Juli said...

It's funny how opinions and judgements can change. I went from having my first with an epidural and thinking natural birth and home birth were nutty. Had my second in a hospital naturally but swore I would never do it at home... Now I'm pregnant with my third and planning on a home birth.

I think the more I learn and grow the more open minded I am to things and the less judgmental I am. I have no idea what's going on in someone else's life that makes them make the decisions they do... I have no idea why a mom is formula feeding so I choose to respect her decision and know that she is going to choose what her and her family needs.

Justamum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Justamum said...

Hi my name is Priscilla and I have been reading your blog for awhile and love it!

The thing I hate most about this whole issue is the guilt that you feel when it doesn't workout. I have always aimed to feed my babies (I have 4)until at least 12 months. I have stopped a little early with my first three for various reasons but was happy with my effort. How ever with my fourth she feed beautifully for two months but then I started to not have enough milk. I fought to keep feeding until she was six months and which point I put her on the bottle. Since then she has been so happy and thriving. My point is the guilt i felt was unbearable! I couldn't sleep at night for about a month! even now (She is nine months) I still have days where I am crippled with guilt! The judgement you feel is awful and everything you read about bottle feeding is doom and gloom! I know that breast milk is the best and I believe that, but formula isn't the absolute worst thing you could do your baby!

Thank you for your post!

moosh in indy. said...

It's unsettling to hear how many women (even friends) who judged bottle feeding moms. But at the same time it's been amazing to be able to hear "I will never look at a bottle feeding mom the same" because of something I wrote.
Hopefully this will do the same for those who still look down upon those who try so hard but don't get the chance.
Thanks darling.

Kym said...

I'm a mommy who desperately wanted to and tried to nurse but it just didn't happen for us. I tried for weeks and my milk just never came in. I even had a lactation consultant, tried pumping, everything. My mom was the same way. She was never able to nurse any of us either.

Alicia Stucky said...

Parenthood is nothing if not humbling, lol. I love that first comment. I feel that way too. You definitely learn a lot about how much you DON’T know, that you used to think you did. I can’t wait to read that PhD in Parenting post, but I had to applaud you on this first. This was SO well said.

dawn richter said...

With my first child, I tried to breastfeed but had a really hard time with it. My milk wasn't coming in and meanwhile my son was losing weight. I had enough of painful feedings, pumping (also painful) with no results, and La Leche pulling on my nipples telling me "there is no reason you shouldn't be able to nurse; you have good nipples". So, these reasons along with the lack of sleep from my son nursing every hour (because he was hungry 24/7) was enough for me to give him a bottle. And then he and I were both much better. There are pros and cons to both, but you have to do what is best for you and baby.

Lisa said...

LONG comment to follow! I might divide it into two or three comments.:)

I have three children who were adopted as newborns. I am very into attachment parenting and therefore breastfeeding is extremely important to me. I attempted to induce lactation with all three children. In all cases I've produced almost no milk, even with my current baby I took domperidone and worked with an IBCLC. I made only around 5 oz a day.

Baby #1 had what I now am positive was undiagnosed reflux. He was an extremely fussy nurser, and having to nurse using a supplementer is an unbelievable extra challenge to begin with. We made it to about four months old, and it was very evident that things were not working. I started bottlefeeding but continued to nurse him several times day. At six months he wouldn't take the breast at all. I was sad and cried many tears, but also had great hope that the next baby would be different.

Baby #2 I nursed for a year making almost no milk and using the Lact-aid nursing supplementer. Success, right? Actually, not so much. My motivations were all wrong: my primary reason for continuing to nurse even though it was incredibly stressful was my deep-seated belief that breastfeeding moms were better moms, that "real" moms nursed, and that nursing = mothering. That breastfeeding experience did a number on my self-esteem. Even though I WAS breastfeeding, I still felt like a failure and a fake, like I was just pretending to breastfeed. I honestly think my daughter would have been perfectly fine to just be bottlefed, and I probably would have bonded with her more easily because I would not have been so stressed out all the time. My narrow focus on achieving the identity of "nursing mother" really hindered my ability to be an effective adoptive mother and to find joy in the unique experience of adoption.

Lisa said...

continued from above:

I spent three years stewing about whether to nurse adopted baby #3. I spent alot of time over those years processing my feelings about nursing my second child and being prepared for the possibility of not nursing again. In the end, I knew I had to try one more time. I knew I would always wonder "what if". I decided to give it everything in terms of money and energy and experience to make it work. I probably spent close to $500 on medications, herbs, equipment and lactation consultation. I even worked with the IBCLC to get through my baby's tongue tie. Things were going pretty well, even though I had some concerns about my son's weight gain.

Then it became apparent that my baby had a milk allergy. Since he was necessarily being supplemented heavily with formula, we first tried putting him on hypoallergenic formula, hoping that the teeny amount of dairy he'd be getting through my milk would not bother him. But it still did. So I was then faced with the idea of having to remove all dairy from my diet. Not just main sources of dairy, but hidden dairy as well.

I took a week to consider and came to the conclusion that it simply was not worth it for only 5 oz of milk a day. I was also a new homeschooling mom and trying to deal with that too. It was a hard decision while I was making it, and I cried over it. But now, seven months later, I am completely at peace with that choice. And I know I would not have been able to maintain nursing with a supplementer. I still feel pangs when I think about what it might have been like to breastfeed, but I have absolutely no guilt whatsoever about my decision. My son is happy and healthy, and I feel very connected to him. Even bottlefeeding has its special moments for both mother and child! I have had many moments of gazing into his eyes or feeling his little hands clutch my shirt or my arm, and thought that this is really special too. I definitely have bonded with him more easily than my daughter who I nursed the longest.

With my other kids, I worried about people judging me for buying formula. I don't worry about that anymore when I go to the grocery store. I don't really care what people think, because I know that I have a clear conscience and that I did everything reasonably possible.

But what hurts is the not fitting into the crunchy community. I have avoided going to attachment parenting related support groups and socials because I don't want looks of pity and because I fear that nobody will have anything to talk to me about. (And that has actually happened---nothing like sitting around listening to a bunch of women talk about pregnancy and birth and breastfeeding while you sit there and twiddle your thumbs and pretend like you fit in.) I wish we could keep the focus on these wonderful activities which are so needed in the world, but yet also focus on the things that connect ALL mothers. I fear sometimes that we in the AP/NFL community focus so exclusively on pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding that we forget that there are even more transcendent things that belong to motherhood. Having all those things denied to me has taught me that motherhood is so much more!

Somebody previous mentioned having support groups for formula-feeding moms. Well, what about moms who in many respects have more in common with the women at La Leche League... but would be so embarrassed to be there and pull out a bottle? I don't need bottlefeeding tips or formula-mixing tips, but I need connection with parents whose attitudes toward babies are similar to mine.

I hate being identified as a "formula-feeding" mom or a "bottlefeeding mom". No--I am just a MOTHER. How my babies eat is irrelevant to my motherhood identity.

Kelli Dixon said...

What a great post! I just wrote something very similar on my humble little blog... about how we need to work together as women/mothers, and support everyone, not bring others down because of their differences. Thanks for writing!

Nancy Nina said...

Well said. I love hearing from wise, eloquent women. I am a very blessed and privileged mama of 2 boys that took us over 13 years to get. They are my world. My everything. I didn't breastfeed for a few reasons and I really appreciate that you shared insight of what you have come to learn and believe. Thank you!

Mandy B said...

I have friends who are very adamant and opinionated and very vocal about the breast feeding issue. As for me... I tried and tried, twice, and for reason beyond my control (moving into a new house, construction guys just walking in, 100+ degree no air conditioning, not enough information, surgery, etc) my choice was either to let my children starve to death because my first, that is literally what I was doing for the first 2 weeks of his life, or supplement with formula. I'll admit it, I was lazy, I couldn't stand taking the time to feed for 15 minutes on each side, then go to a bottle, and then burp them, and then start all over again and after 3 months-6 months went exclusively formula. I hated that I didn't produce enough for my kids and that I wasn't patient enough to try to up my supply or that I couldn't pump with a toddler around (he wouldn't stop pushing the buttons and who wants to hold the bag on their head while standing up to pump?). I'm hoping that this time around things will work better. I have no gallbladder that has to come out emergent and I don't care if construction men see me nurse because I don't care anymore. I also have learned a lot during the last two attempts. But, if needs be, I will formula feed because I'd rather feed my children something than let them starve. I love reading your posts about your experiences. They are very insightful, enjoyable, and educational to me. Keep on Momma.