It’s a tough world out there for a breastfeeding mom. OK, it’s a tough world out there for all moms, but today I’m talking about breastfeeding moms and the unique challenges we come across in our daily lives. As with just about everything having to do with women’s bodies, the general, judgmental public seems to have a really, profoundly messed up relationship with breastfeeding. On the one hand, the mantra “breast is best” is repeated over and over in any discussion regarding the feeding and nurturing of babies; In certain circles, formula shaming is real and it is awful. On the other hand, women who wish to breastfeed — which, keep in mind, they are told is the only “right” way to feed their child, lest they be considered selfish monsters who choose their own ease and comfort over their child’s nutrition — are met with stigma, a lack of resources, piss-poor maternity policies that hinder their ability to establish a breastfeeding relationship in the first place, and some very weird, ass-backwards ideas from people who have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. You’re hit hard with ill-informed guilt if you choose not to breastfeed, and then if you do, you’re hit even harder with the pervasive fear of women’s bodies that radiates to every corner of our society. There’s kinda no winning.
It is a rare mother indeed who does not have some breastfeeding horror story. You’d think that’s something as “natural” as breastfeeding would come… naturally. But the truth of the matter is that breastfeeding is hard as sh*t, primarily for two reasons:
- For the last few generations, women have not been intimately exposed to other women breastfeeding (as they would have been for the proceeding millennia of human history), so we don’t really know how to go about it ourselves. By forcing breastfeeding women to hide and cover up, future mothers are not able to literally see how it’s done.
- Babies are, in and of themselves, pretty stupid at breastfeeding. That’s OK, don’t feel bad, babies. You’re pretty stupid at everything when you’re first born. That’s par for the course for you. You can’t do anything on your own. While infants have innate instincts to help them nurse, they still need their mother’s guidance. Certainly we have some instincts of our own, but a lot of what we need to know on our end to make this whole nursing thing work is learned, which brings us back to the first point.
Despite these challenges, breastfeeding is on the rise in the U.S., which is great news. Less great is the fact that even after we’ve gotten through all the physical challenges, we still have to confront challenging people.
To avoid being one of those challenging (aka, incredibly annoying) people, here is a list of things you should never say to a nursing mother.
“Cover Up! No One Wants To See That!”
Really? Because dude-boobs are out and about all the damn time (guys bathing suits don’t even come with a component to cover their nipples) and, somehow, they remain immune to such criticism. Look, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you have it so ingrained in your head that breasts are exclusively for the enjoyment of the male gaze that the sight of a breast (or, heaven forbid, areola or nipple!) sends you into scandalized shock. But I’m only sorry for you. I’m not sorry for doing what I’m doing and I’m not going to stop. If you can’t wrap your head around this, maybe invest in a blindfold. I’d imagine you can get them at a sex shop, but beware: You might see boobs in there.
“I Don’t Care If It’s Natural! So Is Pooping And I Don’t Do That In Public!”
Ah yes. Remember back in Medieval times when all those European cities had huge outbreaks of diseases because their sewers were overflowing with filthy, dangerous breast milk that got mixed in with the drinking water? *eyeroll* I really can’t believe I have to explain that breast milk and poop are not at all comparable, but here we go: Milk is hygienic, poop is not. Milk is food, poop is not. Nursing in public does not affect you in the slightest whereas popping a squat in public would leave a stinky mess behind you. Milk is going directly into the baby’s mouth. It’s not going to accidentally or on purpose drench you when you least suspect it, because breast milk is not the green slime from ‘80s and ‘90s Nickelodeon shows.
“That Baby Is Too Old To Be Breastfeeding.”
Despite the fact that fewer than 40% of babies 6 months and younger are exclusively breastfed, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the following
Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.
According to the latest CDC data, in the U.S., only 18.8% of babies are exclusively breastfed past 6 months. Fewer still hit the recommended 2-year mark set forth by WHO. OK, so I get it: You’re not used to seeing an 18-month-old breastfeed and as such, it makes you uncomfortable. It’s time to get over it. Just because you haven’t seen people nurse a toddler doesn’t mean it’s not completely natural to do so.
“You Can’t Do That Here.”
Actually, I can, so check yourself. 49 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands have laws that protect a woman’s right to nurse in any public or private location. Most of those states specifically exempt said mothers from bumping up against public indecency laws. (In other words, she doesn’t have to cover up no matter how uncomfortable you are.) Feel free to print out a copy of your state’s breastfeeding laws to carry with you to wave in the faces of meddling prudes. Or rest assured that the law is on your side when you’re nursing and when someone asks you not to do that there just start screaming “I AM ABOVE THE LAW!” to mess with them.
“They’re Not Getting Enough Milk.”
The only exception to this rule would be if you are the baby’s pediatrician or the mother’s lactation consultant. Otherwise, go home, you’re drunk. Seriously, this breastfeeding business can be hard enough to get the hang of without naysayers and Negative Nancys swarming about sowing seeds of doubt in a mom’s sleep deprived, already stressed out, hormone filled brain.
“You’re Going To Ruin Your Boobs.”
What a completely repugnant thing to say. First of all, breasts are breasts. They can’t be ruined because they don’t exist to give someone a boner. Second of all, sagging breasts are not a foregone conclusion. Some women’s breasts droop a bit after they have babies, and some don’t. It’s all about genetics. Third, it’s not breastfeeding in and of itself that can cause sagging, it’s the process of pregnancy and birth that often causes your breasts to expand, then shrink back down, and then, maybe, sag. The point is, my boobs are really not here to look a certain way for your viewing pleasure, and also, no matter how they look, it’s likely not because I’m feeding my child with them.
“Whatever. I Was Formula Fed And I Turned Out Just Fine.”
You mean aside from being a jerk who needs everyone to know their opinion? Look, I know this may come as a shock, but me breastfeeding my kid isn’t about you. Statistically speaking, the mom you are talking to probably was also formula fed and turned out fine. So she knows that. Moreover, it’s not like she hasn’t heard of formula or is aware that formula is an option before your pithy and undermining point was made. (And chances are pretty good she has or will at some point give it to her baby.) Formula is an excellent option and has created a lot of fat, smart, thriving, happy babies and content parents. But she has decided to breastfeed, and there are lots of very good reasons that may be motivating that decision.
“Oh, You Only Breastfed For [Insert Period Of Time Here]?”
For a mom who planned to nurse a baby, was able to do so and then chose to stop, any amount of time is a victory. A year, 6 months, 8 weeks, 1 week, or 1 day. Her reasons for stopping are never something she has to justify or defend. I weaned my son at 17 months because I was done. I didn’t hit the 24 months recommended by WHO and I am completely fine with that. Some women stop at 4 months, because they find pumping milk at work too physically challenging. Some women try to make it work for a few weeks, but do not have the resources to establish a working breastfeeding relationship. Other women try it a few times and think, “Eh, you know what? Not for me.” Every single one of those scenarios (and many more) is completely acceptable. Your smug and judgemental concern-trolling is not welcome: Keep it to yourself. In fact, that’s a pretty excellent go-to rule anytime you find yourself compelled to share your opinion with a breastfeeding mother.
Image: Nicolas Michaud/Flickr; Giphy(10)