Being a new mom is difficult, to say the least. You're tired, overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, and then, when you're at your most vulnerable and out in public with your baby, people will shame you. Everything from picking up antidepressants at the pharmacy to breastfeeding your baby at the zoo is cause for faux outrage, apparently. And sadly, for me, being shamed for bottle-feeding in public was the most demoralizing experience; an experience I never should have been forced to endure as an exhausted parent.
I felt so much pressure to breastfeed, and when I couldn't exclusively breastfeed I felt so much shame. So when people asked me why I wasn't breastfeeding I immediately wanted to explain that I had tried to breastfeed, then give them a play-by-play of my numerous attempts. I wanted to explain my entire medical history, in detail, just so they would understand. I didn't, and couldn't, though, so when people said things like "you're hurting your baby" I believed them. Eventually, I started feeding my baby in public bathrooms to avoid shaming.
I've heard similar stories when talking to other bottle-feeding parents. Some of us felt so much shame for bottle-feeding that we never left the house. Some of us had crippling postpartum depression (PPD) or anxiety. Some of us refused to supplement with formula when our babies needed it. Some of us felt guilty for feeding our babies a certain way. All of us deserved a damn break. Shaming bottle-feeding moms is hurting new moms and their newborns. Like, who doesn't want hungry babies to be fed?
If you are a proud public breastfeeding mom, that's awesome. I support you and your right to nurse anytime, anywhere. Same goes for the pumping moms, tube-feeding moms, and combo-feeding moms. I say let's feed all the babies all the ways. I just think it's time for people to mind their own business and recognize that they literally don't know anything about someone else's life, especially when they shame them for bottle-feeding a baby in public. And if the following stories don't highlight how detrimental judging other parents can be, I don't know what will:
"I was in a mother's group. The nurse leading the group watched me prepare formula, and then proceeded to tell the group how 'breast is best' and breastfeeding is super important for bonding, while staring at me pointedly. I was already suffering from PPD, partially because of the same medical issues that prevented me from breastfeeding. It felt like a kick in the guts."
"I was called lazy, and sneered at, by a breastfeeding mother who was feeding her baby next to me at a baby expo."
"I chose not to try breastfeeding. I suffer from general anxiety and have extremely inverted, flat nipples. I knew that breastfeeding was going to extremely difficult, if not nearly impossible. I chose not to put my family through the trauma of me failing to breastfeed and what that would do to me. When I was pregnant with my second, my cousin asked, 'Why would you choose to have another child if you already know you aren't able to give then what is best for them?'"
"I had at least four different instances where I was feeding my twin boys in public and someone would lecture me on how 'breast was best' and 'formula had 'toxins' or bottles were for lazy parents. I'm pretty tough and told people to STFU, but it was still upsetting. The boys still take bottles at 16 months, at naps and for night feeds, and that information evokes tons of shaming from people, even though it's for medical reasons. As a mom who breastfed, pumped, and then transitioned to formula, I received so much more shaming for bottle-feeding and using formula than when I breastfed in public."
"I had to go for my postpartum appointment at two weeks because I had an infection. I was sitting downstairs in the lounge area to feed my baby. An elderly lady told me my baby was adorable, and then asked if he was adopted because I was bottle-feeding."
"I went to Bradley Birth classes and we had a reunion. They push breastfeeding big time, but that plan didn't work out with my little guy. We were welcomed at the party, and everything was fine, until I pulled out a bottle to feed him. People stared, whispered, and gawked. I was asked in this 'pro-breastfeeding in public' group if I wanted a private space to feed my baby. No one spoke to me after that. I was completely shunned. I left the party in tears."
"My youngest was a micro-preemie and never learned how to latch directly to the breast. I exclusively pumped for him. Of course that means needing bottles. Shortly after he came home from the NICU, I had to go grocery shopping. I had nobody to stay with the kids, so I was at the store with a 3 year old, a 17 month old, and a very tiny 6 month old with an NG tube, supplemental oxygen, and cardiac and respiratory monitors, which were all at least partially visible.
The baby got hungry, so I parked my cart and sat down to feed him. Some random woman approached me with a disgusted look and told me it was clear I did not love my children, since I couldn't be bothered to breastfeed, and I should have them taken from me and given to somebody who actually cared about their wellbeing."
"My first shaming was typical, passive-aggressive — talking directly to my 6-week-old and saying: 'Mom's giving you formula? How convenient for her.' Thanks, random Grandma at the mall."
"As I sat at a table outside a friend's home, my friend's mom came outside to have a smoke. She said, 'Oh, you'd rather your child ingest poison than do things the right way, but I guess whatever is easier for you.'"
"I met up with some mom friends. One of their friends literally told me it was equivalent to feeding my son McDonald’s everyday. I left and cried, feeling like a failure."
"Someone saw me bottle-feeding my baby and said it was a shame I didn't try harder to breastfeed, because it's better for the baby. I told them, 'I tried for weeks and weeks but it never seemed to work! I guess it could have something to do with him being adopted.'
"I was bottle-feeding my son at the mall. A man stopped in his tracks, shook his head and tut-tuted me. I left in tears and didn't leave my house for several weeks unless my husband was with me."
"I had HELLP syndrome, as well as a severe postpartum hemorrhage, after delivering my twins, and was placed in the ICU. When I was finally able to see the babies in the NICU, I was eager to feed them once they were able to take a bottle. The nutritionist said to me, 'Well, typically it’s only important for the mother to be the one feeding them when she’s nursing. The baby can’t tell who is feeding them via bottle.'"
"I got shamed in line at Target when buying the ridiculously expensive liquid formula our son needed because of his allergies. Like, first I can’t breastfeed my kid, which would have been a far cheaper option. Then to be lectured by a total stranger on top of it? The ultimate in random rudeness."
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.