As a new mom I felt constantly judged, and there wasn't a single parenting choice more contentious than how I fed my baby. I've breastfed, formula-fed, and combo-fed, pumped at work, and used bottles and a supplemental nursing system to feed my babies formula and breast milk... and I’ve been shamed for every single one of those choices. So I have absolutely no patience for people — even my friends — who shame moms for breastfeeding their babies. Of course, I don't have any patience for people who shame formula-feeding moms, either. In the end, I'm tired of the mommy wars entirely, no matter which side you fall on.
For nine years I felt ashamed about how I fed my babies, and now, I am finally ridding myself of that shame and the stigma that perpetuates it. I had planned and initially wanted to breastfeed exclusively, but it wasn't possible for me and that realization was heartbreaking. Eventually, however, I found joy and comfort in combo-feeding all three of my babies to various degrees, even if it meant facing questions, critiques, and shame from other parents who didn't agree with my "choice." So I know what it's like to redefine your breastfeeding goals, and I know what it's like to have others criticize you for it.
But helping others moms navigate their baby-feeding journey has also helped me get over that breastfeeding shame and guilt, which is one of the many reasons why I’ve become somewhat of a cheerleader for all types of infant feeding. Yes, I'm the person who comments on just about every feeding post I see with a "good job!" or "way to go!" and no matter how that mom feeds her baby. I want to be a source of positive support, especially for moms who might not be getting that support in other areas of their lives.
Unfortunately, being a constant cheerleader for all types of infant feeding means, more often than not, coming toe-to-toe with mom-shamers who believe there's only one right, very specific way to feed a child. And a few weeks ago, that included a friend I had known for years.
She wasn't interested in learning from someone else's experience, or trying to understand where another mom might be coming from.
It all started when another friend of mine posted a selfie with her breastfeeding baby. The caption spoke to me on a personal level, and I'm sure other moms can absolutely relate. "Even though I don’t make enough milk, I love our nursing time."
My heart melted, I was so happy for my friend, and I quickly clicked on the comments section, so I could tell her how proud I was of her. And that's when I saw that a mutual friend of ours had already commented. "Why don’t you just switch to formula?" the comment read. "That seems like a lot of work."
The question might seem innocent enough, but no one is entitled to ask someone else about their parenting choices or their reasons behind them. And on a post that was celebrating the nursing time shared between a mom and her baby, a passive-aggressive comment about formula seemed nothing if not disingenuous. Did she really want to talk about the mom's feeding decisions, or did she want to shame the mom for making a very specific choice? Because if she was genuinely interested in the amount of effort someone has to put into breastfeeding versus bottle-feeding, she could have sent a private message.
Supporting a mom who breastfeeds doesn't mean you're automatically vilifying a mom who uses formula, just like talking about the real benefits of formula-feeding isn't shaming breastfeeding moms.
My friend was devastated. She immediately tried to defend her decision to breastfeed with a paragraph of text explaining her journey and her own personal reasons for continuing to breastfeed. The mom-shamer responded with, "If that's what you want to do," and added a shoulder shrug emoji, demonstrating a level of passive-aggressiveness usually only seen in mother-in-laws. She wasn't interested in learning from someone else's experience, or trying to understand where another mom might be coming from. She was only interested in making a mom feel like you-know-what.
I couldn't stop myself from speaking up. I commented on the photo, telling my breastfeeding friend she was a rockstar, and then responded to the mom-shamer directly. "Could you not?" I wrote. "Your comment is really shaming and unnecessary. She's doing great."
As you might imagine, conflict ensued, and she laughably said that by defending another mom's right to breastfeed I was formula-shaming. But I've used formula, too. I love formula. In fact, formula saved my baby's life, my sanity, and my breastfeeding relationship. Supporting a mom who breastfeeds doesn't mean you're automatically vilifying a mom who uses formula, just like talking about the real benefits of formula-feeding isn't shaming breastfeeding moms. We can, and should, support all moms regardless of how they feed their babies and regardless of the personal parenting decisions we have made ourselves.
You don't have to breastfeeding a certain way or for a certain amount of time in order for that nursing experience to be valid.
Combo-feeding, while the best of both worlds (in my opinion), has placed me smack dab in the middle of the mommy-wars. The shaming comes from both sides: formula-feeding moms wonder why I didn't just switch to formula full-time, and breastfeeding moms wonder if I "tried hard enough" to breastfeed exclusively.
It doesn't have to be that way, though. We should be able to support breastfeeding, formula-feeding, pumping, and any combination of those feeding choices 100 percent and without feeling as though we're letting a specific group of moms down.
For some moms any amount of breastfeeding is worth the effort. You don't have to breastfeeding a certain way or for a certain amount of time in order for that nursing experience to be valid. No one has the right to invalidate your situation or life experiences simply because they don't mirror their own. And no one has the right to suggest they somehow know what's best for your baby simply because they have a baby of their own.
So when I see mom-shaming on the internet I'm going to confront it head-on. I'm going to let the other moms who will come across those comment know that I see them, I support them, and they're not alone. And then I'm going to cut the negativity out of my life by unfollowing, unfriending, and even blocking people who are hellbent on making moms feel guilty for doing what's best for them and their families.