One of the most difficult things I've ever done as a mother, by far, is attempt to breastfeed. When I was pregnant I knew I wanted to breastfeed, dreamed about how successful it would be, and planned my entire postpartum life around it. When it came time to actually do it, though, I experienced complications that prevented me from being as successful as I'd hoped, and ultimately, I had to stop. So believe me when I say I'm familiar with the basic rules for talking to someone who gave up breastfeeding, and absolutely believe that everyone should know then and abide by them. You know, for sensitivity's sake.
The decision to breastfeed is a deeply personal one. Whether you choose to give it a shot or to go straight to the bottle, every mom deserves those around her to respect whatever works for her, her baby, and her family. When I initially chose to breastfeed I weighed all the options, decided it was the best choice for my baby, and really gave it all I had. In the end, though, I couldn't anticipate my milk not coming in, or my daughter's inability to latch properly, or the pain, or the anxiety the entire process would cause. While I wish walking away from breastfeeding entirely wasn't a necessity, I felt such relief when we went to the bottle. It allowed me and my new baby the chance to finally bond — something we hadn't done during our breastfeeding woes.
As the result of my personal experience with breastfeeding, I learned that a lot of people don't know how to broach the subject of breastfeeding itself, or the choice to bottle feed for whatever reason. It's OK, because not everyone is perfect, but if you're unsure of what to say, or how to say it, think before you speak. Then take into consideration some of the following, very basic rules for talking to someone who gave up on breastfeeding, so you make sure you don't unintentionally judge someone for making the best possible decisions they could.
Think Before You Speak
Most people mean well, but at times the words don't come out as sympathetic as intended. We're all guilty of it, to be sure, myself included.
When a woman chooses to forgo breastfeeding, or tries it on for size and ultimately decides it's either not for her or too difficult to endure, I get the curiosity that comes with wanting to know why. However, as someone endured far too many painful and horrific experiences when trying to breastfeed, all while my anxiety increased, there isn't an easy answer to the seemingly simple question of "Why?"
So please, before all the words fly out, think them through, first.
Regardless of anyone's stance on breastfeeding, a major rule in talking to someone who gave it up is to practice empathy.
Unless you know me, I'd actually rather not personally discuss the circumstances that led to my split from breastfeeding. It was a painful period I was lucky to get through, and I'm still filled with regret. So, if you must talk about it, be sensitive.
Don't Automatically Assume You Know Why
Some might think I stopped breastfeeding because it was too hard, while others may assume I quit because I didn't care enough about my baby.
I totally agree that "breast is best" in certain circumstances, sure, but the added pressure of proving why I had to give it up is just too much. The decision to go to the bottle was one I thought about for a long time. I fought through my anxiety and postpartum depression. I spent a significant amount of time with lactation consultants and supportive people and, even still, it wasn't for me and my baby. It caused far more problems than it solved and if I hadn't quit, I'd probably have let my depression consume me entirely. Assuming you know what a new mom is going through will never end well.
Don't Judge Or Criticize
More often than not, when anyone asks about my experience breastfeeding their inquiry is dripping in judgment. It's as if people can't help themselves when it comes to feeling superior. If you truly want to have a conversation about why I chose to give up breastfeeding, leave your jabs and insinuations at home.
Offer Support & Encouragement
When I gave up my dream of breastfeeding, I took it really hard. I felt like such a failure that, for a period of time, I didn't feel like I deserved to even look at my daughter.
During that difficult time period I really didn't need anyone questioning my decision, or trying and convince me to keep at it. By then the damage had been done, breastfeeding was ruining the relationship I had with my newborn, and continuing to try was contributing to my increasingly darker views on life. All I really wanted, and needed, was a hug.
Try Not To Compare
Yes, I know my incredible neighbor (mother of eight) breastfed all her kids. I know she had hard times and powered through and I'm envious she managed to get through it all. I'm also aware of other mothers I know who've struggled and continued breastfeeding. I'm not them, though. Comparison solves nothing, other than making me feel worse for moving to the bottle.
If You Can't Be Nice, Don't Say Anything
The best thing you can do when talking to a mom about her choice to give up breastfeeding is to practice the old rule "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."
The truth is, you don't know what we've gone through to end up in the position of bottle-feeding. So rather than making a mom like me feel worse about an already difficult decision, use a little common decency. It goes farther than you might think.