By Heather Jones of hmjoneswriter.com
“Breast is best.”
This was one of the few things I believed adamantly before I had children that I didn’t immediately go back on once my babies arrived and reality hit. I researched everything before I even got pregnant. I knew all of the benefits, I knew what a football hold was, I knew what latch meant, and I knew how to prevent nipple confusion. I knew it all.
I also clung to the statistic that 98% of women are capable of breastfeeding. I was never someone who believed that women who didn’t want to breastfeed should — I still believed it to be a choice that should be respected, but I absolutely believed it was the better choice in almost all situations.
I genuinely believed that if a woman really wanted to make it work, they usually could, and I always felt sad when women cited reasons like low supply or it being painful as reasons they couldn’t breastfeed. I was guilty of thinking, “You didn’t need to quit over that.” I didn’t feel judgmental of them for doing so; at least I didn’t think I was being judgmental. I just felt sad that they lacked the knowledge and support to continue like they said they wanted to. I didn’t see it for what it was – the feeling that they needed to justify themselves to me.
I breastfed both of mine until they were two, and it wasn’t always a walk in the park, but not doing it was not an option for me. It was what was best for them, full stop, and I was going to do it. I didn’t truly get at the time how other people could see it differently.
I still believe breast is best in static conditions, but my attitude towards it has changed dramatically. To everyone I wronged with my assumptions, please accept my apology.
Dear Moms Who Stopped Breastfeeding or Chose Not To,
I’m sorry that I looked at you as if you existed in a vacuum. I’m sorry that I took the 98% statistic literally and didn’t factor in the emotional toll that breastfeeding can take on women. I get why you put your overall well-being before breastfeeding. I think you made a good decision, and I was wrong for thinking otherwise. I’m sorry I didn’t realize that my concerns were a form of judgment.
I’m sorry if I unwittingly contributed to the pressure placed on you to breastfeed. When I had my first child, this was just starting and was occurring in response to the lack of support breastfeeding women were receiving. Women who genuinely wanted to breastfeed were being pressured to stop unnecessarily, and this was borne as a backlash against that pressure. At the time, empowering and educating new breastfeeding moms was important because the hills they faced were higher than those who formula fed.
It went too far. Empowerment and education morphed into pressure and hierarchy. “You can do this, moms!” turned to “You SHOULD do this, moms!” Pressuring a mother to feed her child in any manner is not okay. I didn’t think it was okay then, but I didn’t do enough to speak out against it when I saw it. And my militant pro-breastfeeding stance did not help.
I believe you are doing what is best for your baby. Breastfeeding may have slight advantages scientifically, but that doesn’t mean it is always best for an individual baby or family. I’m sorry I didn’t make that distinction clear enough. There are plenty of things that are objectively best for children that I don’t do. What is best for your baby is having a mom who is parenting the best way she can and is doing what is most comfortable and natural for her. A mom who is breastfeeding because she feels pressured to, and suffering the emotional effects of it, is not necessarily doing what is best for her baby. I’m proud of you for putting your well-being and your family above the pressure.
I’m sorry if you ever felt shame for bottle feeding around me. I never felt differently about you when you did, but I understand how I may have made you feel that way inadvertently.
Most of all, I’m sorry that in my quest to make sure every mom who wanted to breastfeed could, and my attempts to make the benefits of it known, I failed to hear the voices of the people saying it isn’t always the best choice, and it wasn’t the best thing for them. I wish I had listened harder. I’m listening now.
A former lactivist and present-day Do-What’s-Right-For-You advocate.
This post was originally published on The Baby Post.
About the Author
I am a freelance writer and mother of two young boys. I am a regular contributor to online parenting publications such as Yummy Mummy Club and the Savvymom group of sites. I’ve been a featured writer on the CBC, HuffPost, Ravishly, and others.