If you live in the U.S. or peruse social media used by anyone living within the U.S., you know it’s National Breastfeeding Month. How might you know this? Because there are boobs with babies attached to them. Here. There. Everywhere.
Full disclosure: I did not breastfeed my three babies for personal reasons—not because I wasn’t able to or because I failed miserably. I din’t breastfeed simply because breastfeeding was not for me. I don’t make any apologies for it, and I have nothing but admiration for women who do breastfeed their babies because damn. That’s a lot of physical and emotional stuff to deal with after a ten-month pregnancy and delivery. And it’s something I wasn’t physically or emotionally prepared to take on.
I will tell you one thing I don’t get, though, and it’s this: Why do we have an entire month devoted strictly to breastfeeding and its promotion on social media? Is this something we need to be raising awareness about? I’m seriously asking because I don’t think there’s anyone in the developed world who doesn’t know that breast is best for baby, which makes me wonder if this whole breastfeeding month isn’t more about “Hey, everybody, look! I’m breastfeeding! Tell me how wonderful that is!” and less about, “In case you didn’t know, mothers and mothers-to-be, the medical community agrees that breastfeeding is the best way to nourish your infant, and I’m here to educate you about its benefits.” Because unless she’s been living under a rock somewhere in the wild, there isn’t a U.S. mother out there who is shocked to learn this information. (And if she’s living under a rock somewhere in the wild, ya think she’s even seeing all this breastfeeding talk anyway?)
I realize breastfeeding mothers get a lot of flack for feeding their babies in public, which is so confusing to me. Why anybody would find that offensive is beyond my scope of understanding. But we live in a world full of a-holes, so I suppose it’s not surprising that somebody would take offense to a mother doing the most natural of things. It’s kind of like people who are offended by having to share oxygen with children in public.
“NO KIDS IN RESTAURANTS!”
“NO KIDS ON AIRPLANES!”
“NO FEEDING BABIES WITH BOOBS IN PUBLIC!”
They’re all the same sort of jerks. The ones who misinterpret “public” to mean “just me and the things I like and am tolerant of only.”
So, in that regard, I can see why normalizing breastfeeding by doing so openly and without shame is important. But to nationally dedicate an entire month to its recognition and promotion across social media and to not do the same for other healthy feeding choices? Why!? Breastfeeding mothers aren’t the only ones who need and deserve support. Trust me; I know this all too well.
It seems that National Breastfeeding Month—an initiative that started as a means of supporting women in need—has evolved to look a lot like an undercover shaming game, and not just one geared toward mothers who don’t breastfeed. It feels like a shaming game geared toward any mother who doesn’t “measure up” in this regard.
We put so much pressure on mothers to do everything right as it is. I don’t think an entire month filled with pictures of and stories about women who make breastfeeding look so simple and effortless is helping anyone. What about the mother who has been trying in vain to get her baby to latch—who has seen countless medical experts and sought hours of counseling and support? What about being made to feel like she is a failure is helping her?
Or what about the mother who can’t suffer through one more cracked and bleeding nipple? Do people really think she needs the breastfeeding brigade to swoop in and show her how badly she fails because it isn’t working out for her the way it is for them? How do we think this makes her feel?
And, of course, there are those of us who don’t breastfeed, either because we can’t or because we don’t want to. We know breast is best, thankyouverymuch. It’s been shoved down our throats ad nauseam, and as such, it’s pretty safe to assume that we have either made our decision intelligently or have had the decision made for us because of medical complications.
But what about the women living in poverty? you ask. Statistically speaking, they’re the ones least likely to breastfeed. We’re just trying to help them.
Really? Blasting pictures of babies on boobs across social media is helping to teach the woman who must rely on assistance to live—the one without internet or a decent meal of her own—that she should be breastfeeding? Please. Enlighten me on how that’s working. Because unless the vast majority is also physically going out there to offer her support or donating money to legitimate groups that are undertaking that endeavor, it’s not helping her.
In fact, has anyone bothered to ask her if she even wants to breastfeed? It’s her choice. Her body. If she’s not feeding her baby at all, then, yeah, I’d say we have a serious problem in need of remedying. But if she is? I don’t see this as a national crisis.
While not as nutritionally advantageous as breast milk, formula is an FDA-approved way to feed and nourish infants, and as far as I know, there is no mortality rate associated with its use. In fact, there are thousands upon thousands of bottle-fed babies-turned-adults walking around out there, the epitome of health and vitality.
Now, infant mortality due to lack of adequate nutrition? That’s a thing, and sadly one sometimes propagated by bottle-feeding shame. Because of all this pressure put on mothers to breastfeed, there are some women who would rather their children starve than supplement with formula. Can you believe that? Something is definitely not right here.
It’s not the core idea behind National Breastfeeding Month that is so troublesome. Who can argue with wanting to offer support to women in need? Rather, it’s the way we go about promoting breastfeeding that’s the problem. It’s the divisiveness that this well-intentioned program inevitably breeds—the pitting of breastfeeding mothers against bottle-feeding mothers or long-term breastfeeding mothers against breastfeeding mothers who couldn’t or didn’t want to hack it for an extended period—that needs to be rectified. It’s the barrage of unrealistically perfect breastfeeding selfies and articles about celebrities to whom mothers unfairly compare and judge themselves against that needs to stop already.
Breastfeeding support has somehow morphed into a game of one-upmanship; it carries with it underlying messages that scream, “Look at me! Tell me how wonderful I am for breastfeeding!” Comments supporting the movement that read, “I think everybody should at least try to breastfeed,” or “If you didn’t want to breastfeed, you shouldn’t have become a mother,” can make National Breastfeeding Month so disturbing to women like me.
Instead of marginalizing women for the choices they make when it comes to feeding their children by supporting one choice instead of another, we should support all the healthy choices available to mothers and their babies with something more encompassing of those options—a National I Feed My Baby Month, perhaps?
When we boil it all down, isn’t that what really matters? Healthy babies whose mothers feed them?
Well, if it’s not, it should be.