For every person out there who reads things carefully and takes a small moment of consideration before hitting “share” on their Social Media platform of choice there are approximately 995,781 others who are all “Cool headline! OMG Obama! Boo GOP! The children, think of the children!” and click share a few million times.
The latter are the people who make me kinda stabby. Without them, we’d be able to tell the difference between our friends who are intentional assclowns and our friends who are accidental assclowns. Intentional assclowns get the big ole’ heave-ho from my tribe. But the accidental ones? Those are my peeps. My kindred spirits my… you get the point. I care enough about them to say something. Because if no one says something, then they’ll just go on accidentally assclowning and being unintentionally insensitive. Friends don’t let friends be accidental assclowns. (Yeah. I know. That’s wucking brilliant, right? I’ll have some t-shirts made.)
So, in the spirit of ending all of these unintentional and accidental feels, let’s talk about World Breastfeeding Week! (Or as I like to call it Let’s All Guilt Parents for Making Feeding Choices Which Differ from Ours Week!) You know, because: Social Media.
For those who aren’t part of the mom-o-sphere, dad-o-sphere, or general care-giver-to-an-infant-o-sphere, you probably have no idea what I am talking about. Quick history: In 1990, the United Nations, in Partnership with the World Health Organization… ((WHO) What!?!? No. WHO. What’s on second. If you don’t think that joke was funny, blame WTFather, he MADE me do it.) …and UNICEF got together and decided that in order for the world to be a better place, all of us should really get our schmit together and start taking care of each other. They set 8 really huge goals they’re trying to reach by 2015. These 8 goals are:
- Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger
- Achieve Universal Primary Education
- Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women
- Reduce Child Mortality
- Improve Maternal Health
- Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and other diseases
- Ensure Environmental Sustainability
- Develop a Global Partnership for Development
Pretty awesome, right? We can all get behind that! Who doesn’t want healthy kiddos and moms? No one, that’s WHO. (See what I did there? I’m funnier than WTFather thinks he is.)
In 1992, The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action was formed, in no small part to provide support for these goals. They are an international organization committed to supporting and educating people about the really great stuff that happens when women choose to breastfeed. They provide women in developing countries lots of nutritional and medical support, help combat social stigmas that exist (things like breast feeding is only for poor people, babies should be given water/tea/something that’s not food before being given food/etc.) Again all good things.
Through them came World Breasfeeding Week. A week to celebrate and educate motherhood and breastfeeding. Yup. Still good.
But like many good things that support moms and dads and babies and education and all sorts of other really great stuff, World Breastfeeding Week has become a battle in the mommy wars.
Now I’m a mostly grown-up. I’m pretty hard to offend. I understand that your success is not my failure and that my failure is not your success. BUT, if you’re posting a link that celebrates WBW and your comment on that post is “Holla! 2 years and going strong! Not a single drop of the devil-dust crossed MY precious snowflake’s lips,” I’m going to want to give you a solid punch to the lady-bits chance to redeem yourself. Why? You’re just celebrating your incredibly amazing achievement, right? Wrong.
You’re mommy-shaming. HOPEFULLY, it’s accidentally. It never occurred to you that it might be hurtful. Or judgy. Or, clutch your pearls, perfect mommies, worthy of a Sanctimommy Said What? post. (Um, if you haven’t found that group on Facebook yet, do yourself a favor and do it right after you read and comment on every post here. And like my Facebook page. And click on a few unrelated sponsored ads. Because college is expensive and WTFather somehow talked someone into paying us for ads.)
I am not diminishing your achievement. Committing to and achieving a successful run of exclusively breastfeeding your child is something to be seriously proud of. Go you! You’re amazing. I’m really, REALLY proud of you. I’m also incredibly happy for you that a segment of the motherhood experience you hoped for went unaltered. I support you! You’re an awesome mom!
BUT we can all agree that there are a lot of things about being a mom/dad/caregiver that don’t quite go the way we planned. We all have that ONE THING that we weight disproportionately on the scale we use to judge ourselves as parents. I know women who have amazing careers who feel guilty for not wanting to be at home. I know women who are angry at their bodies because they were committed to a med-free birth experience and ended up with a C-section. I know men who wanted to stay home but have no choice but to work. For every parent, there is a guilt. But in my experience, by far, there is no battle in the who-does-it-better schmit-show of parenting competitions quite so full of guilt and shame and mean girls and total ridiculousness than how to feed a baby.
So, here’s a quick guide on how to not be an assclown:
“I’m so excited to be a part of WBW. I’m really proud of the 2 years of EBFing little Zoey and I have.” Good.
“Breastfeeding is nature’s only perfect food. I’m so blessed to have never had to feed formula to my baby.” Bad
“Zoey is weaning and I’m sad to see our special time end. But we’ve given it our all and I’m happy she’s thriving and healthy!” Good
“Zoey is weaning. I’m devastated. Formula babies stink!” Bad.
“I support all moms, dads, and caregivers. I know that no responsible parent takes the care and health of his child lightly.” Good
“The ‘I Support You’ campaign is propaganda manufactured by big pharma to normalize formula-feeding.” Really, REALLY bad. I’m looking at you, Valerie McClain, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Grrrr.
Do you see a pattern here? Your success is not someone else’s failure. Never in the history of parenting PSAs has there ever been a PR team quite so effective as the Breast is Best public relations machine. And while their message is important, and supportive and great for the overall health of our moms and babies, they forgot to add the disclaimer.
Breast is Best WHEN IT’S BEST FOR YOU AND YOUR BABY.
Because what’s really important is that you feed your baby. And that you feed your baby food that is made for babies. And that feeding your baby is the most simple, natural, organic form of showing love that exists between a parent and infant.
It’s not supposed to be stressful. It’s not supposed to be guilt-inducing. It’s NEVER supposed to be a reason you judge yourself as a failure.
Wanted to nurse but are not producing enough milk for your baby to be healthy? Breast may not be best.
Need to take medication that is dangerous for infants? Breast may not be best.
Struggling with depression or other mental illness which makes it absolutely imperative that someone else takes night-feedings? Breast may not be best.
Your baby spent time in NICU and never learned to latch? Breast may not be best.
Never considered breastfeeding an option and planned to formula feed from the get-go? Breast may not be best.
You find yourself in tears at every pumping session because you feel your body is failing your baby? Breast may not be best.
There seems to be a fear amongst some in the breastfeeding advocacy community that if even an inch is given toward the acceptance of other feeding methods, breastfeeding will somehow lose respect and support. I get it. I know that it has been a long, hard journey toward universal acceptance. There is still a long, long way to go. I won’t get on a soap box and preach to the choir. (I’ll save that for a later post, when I have more time to angry-type my feelings about maternity leave, the sexualization of motherhood, woefully inadequate protections for nursing mothers, etc. etc.)
But to pretend that breastfeeding is the ONLY perfect way to feed your baby is misguided and dishonest. (And can we all stop pretending that nearly every woman out there throwing shade at the bottle-feeding mom doesn’t have a bottle or two of formula hidden in the back of a cabinet? Don’t act shocked, I know it’s right there beside a 5 year old pack of cigarettes and a bottle of vodka.)
Formula-feeders, hybrid-feeders, etc., don’t think you’re off the hook. Protect and advocate for breastfeeding. Support all of your fellow parents. If you wanted to nurse and were unable to, share that experience with other parents. If you never felt the desire to nurse, it’s okay to share that too. The more we talk about our experiences, the more normal they become. For the love of Sophie the Giraffe, don’t say things like, “My breasts are sexual, not maternal.” or “Ewww, that’s so gross!” or “Why can’t you cover up?” Because that makes you sound like an insipid twit. And finally, never, EVER shame a parent for breastfeeding. Never. If I hear about it, I will personally kick you out of the tribe.
Bottle or breast, human milk or formula, by shield, dropper, pump, hand or other contraption, just feed your baby. Support other parents. Don’t mommy-shame. And if you are ever in a position to wonder if you’re doing it right, here’s a chart: