While there are plenty of women who have experienced judgement for openly and unapologetically breastfeeding their kids, there are just as many (eh, arguably even more) women who have been judged and shamed for formula feeding their kids. It seems that, even in this year and at this point where it feels like we all know we're supposed to respect everyone's right to make different-but-equally-valid choices, if you're a mother feeding her baby by any means at all, you're doing something wrong.
Mothers who formula feed their babies are all-too-often shunned by other mothers who feel like if you don't feed your baby from your body, you're a selfish quitter. Even though a woman should never apologize for formula feeding her baby, numerous women are made to feel like they have to explain themselves and the parenting choices they make. Formula feeding moms are made to feel guilty because they didn't make a choice that other mothers have proudly made; a dangerous consequence of all parents just wanting to feel validated and supported in their personal parenting decisions. Moms who formula feed hear horrific, rude and honestly, untrue, things about formula and their choice to feed it to their kids. Everything from "you're poisoning your baby" to "you can't bond with your child," and for what? So mothers can continue to beat themselves up and feel guilty and become ostracized from a community that would benefit them, if it was just more inclusive?
Well, enough is enough. The truth is, there are multiple ways to feed a baby, and there are multiple reasons why a mother might choose to use formula instead of breast milk. All of these choices are valid, and all of these choices are something to stop and think about, before anyone even contemplates shaming a woman for not breastfeeding.
So with that in mind, here are nine reasons why you should never judge a woman for formula feeding her kid.
While self-weaning generally doesn't occur before a baby is a year old, there are multiple reasons why a baby may choose to stop breastfeeding. If a baby is being offered other sources of nutrients (food, a bottle, milk, etc.), they may like those tastes better and refuse to breastfeed. Babies also start to be aware of their surroundings, so if a mother inadvertently yells or is shocked when a teething baby bites down during breastfeeding, the baby can take it as an indication that he or she is doing something wrong, and not want to do it anymore.
Many mothers also confuse a nursing strike for self-weaning, which can lead the mom to believe that she needs to stop breastfeeding and provide alternative methods of feeding.
There are numerous health complications that could keep a woman from being able to successfully breastfeed. Whether a woman is suffering from a long-term disease (either HIV, or HTLV-1 - a virus that can be contracted through breast milk) or has had breast augmentation, a breast reduction and/or has battled breast cancer, it's impossible to assess someone's health (and honestly, you don't need to; it's not your job) by simply looking at them. You have no idea what a woman is battling with — health or otherwise — that could keep her body from breastfeeding.
There are numerous breastfeeding complications that can not only cause a woman extreme pain, but can cause a woman to stop breastfeeding. Everything from clogged milk ducts to fungal infections to Mastitis (a breast infection) to sore nipples, can create problems for any breastfeeding mother. While these complications are considered "common," it doesn't make them any less painful. If a woman want's to save herself from months of pain, she should be able to without question or judgement.
Many premature babies are unable to breastfeed, and won't be able to until they gain weight and/or are released from the hospital. While many hospitals try to keep the ability to breastfeed on the table — by asking the mom to pump and feeding the baby breast milk through a tube and/or bottle — many babies become accustomed to a bottle, and won't take their mother's breast when they're finally able to.
This, as you can imagine, is devastating for many mothers who had planned to breastfeed and were looking forward to breastfeeding, but couldn't because their baby or babies came early.
There are numerous studies on the impact sexual assault has on parenting, especially motherhood and the postpartum decisions a mother might make. Many trauma survivors do not feel comfortable breastfeeding, and forcing a woman to breastfeed when it triggers past horrific memories, is nothing more than another form of sexual assault. Of course, there are many women who have survived sexual assault, and can still breastfeed and/or choose to breastfeed (and in some cases, were aided in dealing with their trauma via breastfeeding) but others do not, and forcing any woman to do anything with her body that she doesn't want to do or feel safe doing, is just wrong.
Some women are unable to produce enough milk for their babies. There are numerous contributing factors, such as an insufficient glandular tissue or hormonal abnormalities or a previous breast surgery, that can keep a mom from giving her baby everything he or she needs, on her own. In these instances, when a mother simply cannot sustain her child on her own, it would be nothing short of cruel to not turn to formula.
If a woman adopted her baby, then she didn't go through the stages of pregnancy that prepared the body for breastfeeding. Simply put, for most women (although, not all) breastfeeding after adoption isn't really an option.
Breastfeeding requires support, especially when mothers are living in a culture that condones breastfeeding in public. If a mother has been raised in an environment (or is currently living in one) that shames women for breastfeeding, or shames their bodies in general, she might not feel comfortable or supported in her decision to breastfeed. If she can't afford a pump to keep her milk supply up, or to give her baby breast milk while she is at work, then formula might be her only option. There are multiple factors — emotional, physical and financial — that would make breastfeeding almost impossible.
Her body, her choice. That's literally it. If a woman chooses not to breastfeed, then she chooses not to breastfeed, and she has the right to do so without another person's judgement. She really doesn't even need a reason, and no matter what her reasons might be, she isn't obligated to share them or justify them to anyone. No woman, mother or not, should be shamed for the choices she makes with her body. Women deserve ownership over their person and, make no mistake, that includes a woman's choice to breastfeed or not.