An every day event triggered the inspiration for me to write this article.
Something that you have probably seen many times over as I have, but this time, it randomly triggered a deeper thought.
I’ll tell you what that was later in this article…
One of the most disheartening things for me as both a mother and birth worker is having my eyes opened to how judgmental and unsupportive some mothers – our sisters – are towards other mothers.
It's like a vicious epidemic. There’s always someone right there to judge or attack you for each and every little (or big) choice you make, when most mothers are simply craving and yearning for connection, nurturing, love and validation.
I see many mothers not being able to relax into their soft, feminine, nurturing role of a goddess mama… instead they become hardened, in their masculine and on the ready and defensive.
When someone attacks, the instinctive reaction for most of us is to attack back and defend – it's the beginning of a war. As Byron Katie says: “Defense is the first act of war.” This was very profound for me the first time I heard it – because it's true. There is only war when someone returns the attack, rather than just ending it by ignoring such behaviour. But when our confidence and self esteem is tied into what other people think, it's a disaster waiting to happen.
Throw in sleep deprivation, hormones, stress and even depression or underlying guilt or sadness about their feeding journey, and some mothers majorly struggle to be able to ignore such hurtful comments. Sadness becomes anger, which eventually becomes sadness again then anger… its a vicious cycle people get stuck in which Anthony Robbins calls the ‘crazy 8’. The low of the sadness gets too much, so the anger comes roaring out to feel more in control. But then you remember you feel sad again and the low hits you again, and so on.
How do we break the vicious cycle? How can we appreciate our sisters so much more? Through understanding.
Here’s 13 reasons why you shouldn’t judge a mother who is feeding her baby with formula… and if you can think of any others, please add them into the comments section at the end of the article. Lets see if we can practise what we’re about to read in those comments… and choose kindness and understanding – both ways.
#1: Previous Sexual Abuse
Wow, this is a big one huh? That's why I thought I would put it first. This thought may not have even occurred to many women. Say you go off on a rant (or even make a judgmental comment) to a formula feeding mother about how she’s giving her baby an inferior option by formula feeding, then later you found out that she’d been sexually abused (which is highly unlikely that you’d be privy to such information).
How do you think she would feel hearing you berate her knowing she can’t even possibly explain why? How would you feel knowing that you’ve likely now dredged up her past all over again, as well as lots of difficult feelings for a woman who has been through one of the most emotionally and physically damaging things a human being could go through?
Its likely that she’s not going to tell you why she’s using formula or she may tell you some other reason – but, guess what…. it’s not your business.
Check out this clip about research into breastfeeding after sexual abuse – and the fact that you just cannot force women to breastfeed. Its just plain WRONG.
#2: She Fell Pregnant
Many breastfeeding mothers find that their breastmilk supply drops in the second trimester (due to hormones), or their baby suddenly weans because of a change in the taste of the breastmilk. This is not true for everyone of course, some women do tandem feed without any issues. But for other women, they may find that their baby no longer wants to breastfeed and becomes disinterested.
It can be an emotionally difficult time for some mothers because while they may be very excited to be pregnant, mothers may still feel guilty for the pregnancy cutting short a valued breastfeeding relationship. No matter how hard they may try to boost their milk, eventually it can become exhausting without any positive gains.
#3: The Baby Just Choose To Wean
Sometimes babies just choose to wean, and you can’t pick when that day is going to be.
For some babies, weaning comes early on, and other babies don’t want to wean until their first, second or third or more year.
Especially when it is very early on in the breastfeeding relationship and it is completely unexplained, it can come with so much sadness for mothers, especially when its sooner than expected. Don’t give her a reason to feel even sadder. She misses the breastfeeding relationship just like you will when your baby weans.
#4: The Baby Wouldn’t Go Back To The Breast After A Bottle
This is an unfortunate occurrence – a mother introduces a bottle to her baby and then the baby refuses to go back to the breast. Again, this can be very upsetting, especially when the mother introduced the bottle thinking that it would help her partner or other family members bond with the baby, or she’d be able to get more rest or go back to work by giving baby a bottle. But some babies don’t want to go back, and it doesn’t make it any less upsetting. While she might have done it differently next time, she may not have known this could happen. That doesn’t make her stupid.
#5: She Was Given Really Bad Advice
I’ve heard many stories of really bad, outdated and crazy advice from friends, family and even health professionals. This includes telling mothers they can’t breastfeed on antidepressants or saying that they need to give their baby soy formula for a week due to an upset belly (suspected lactose intolerance, which is terribly misunderstood). Of course, her baby never wanted to go back on the boob again after a week on the bottle.
You need to choose health professionals you can trust that are aligned with your goals and philosophies, which means doing your research. If someone gives you advice to start introducing formula, always seek a second opinion – unless it's an urgent medical issue of course. Unfortunately, unless they're also an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant), a medical professional gets very little breastfeeding education in their undergraduate degree. We're talking a few hours as being generous. So while a mother may be getting her advice from a highly trained and skilled medical practitioner, they usually have very little breastfeeding knowledge, let alone in-depth, up-to-date information. Hearing advice from medical professionals is enough for some women to think that it is the ONLY solution.
So, some mothers think they are doing what was medically advised or necessary at the time, and then sometimes they later find out that it was just bad advice. They may feel bad enough that they were robbed of a breastfeeding relationship, or even upset with themselves for just believing what they were told. Being attacked can just make them feel worse or more angry.
Discovering the truth for themselves (in more appropriate ways) tends to result in women becoming more proactive about supporting others to get good information, rather than feel bitter and taken as an idiot, which they are not. I know, because I was one of them. My local maternal and child health nurse suggested giving my first born formula for not putting on enough weight, after she had been distressed during a mother and baby unit stay. While at the unit, she started throwing up feeds out of distress – it was the worst time of my life as a new mother! But thankfully, she refused the bottle. Considering she was putting some weight on, we continued on to breastfeed until I fell pregnant at around 18 months – then my milk was gone and she happily weaned herself.
Information is power, and you’re better off being able to compare, just as you would if you were getting a quote for something you’d buy. Don’t go for the first opinion if it's a big decision. Because it is a big decision for many women, especially when they don’t want to give it up.
#6: She Doesn’t Have Any Support
This is a big one. In fact, in a recent Australian study published in 2015, it was discovered that only 50% of babies were being exclusively breastfed at two months of age. The biggest reason cited? Lack of support/difference of opinion with their partner. This is not the first time this reason has been found to be the cause of women giving up sooner than later.
No matter if you’re formula feeding or breastfeeding, you would know that support is terribly hard to come by the majority of the time, especially GOOD support. Our health system isn’t set up well for the best outcomes for new mothers – for those that give birth in hospital you will be all too familiar with the feeling of being turfed out and left to fend on your own.
#7: She Didn’t Think She Had Enough Milk
This can be a really nerve racking situation for new mothers and I hear it so frequently – for whatever reason, mothers panic and think they don’t have enough milk, so dash out to buy formula. Worse still, formula marketing companies will push the envelope because like any other product, they hire the best marketing people they can find – and what do marketers do? Make people feel like they need to use their products. They find clever ways to increase their profit margin and reach, because sales people have targets and shareholders need to be kept happy.
Unfortunately there are several incorrect assumptions made about low milk supply and no professional advice is sought.
#8: Conflicting Advice Got The Better Of Her
Advice you receive from professionals can be so terribly conflicting and confusing.
One of the biggest complaints I have heard from brand new mothers since 2003 (when BellyBelly was created) is the conflicting feeding advice after they have a baby. They either end up with postnatal ward midwives drumming in breast is best (which is what we're all told, but without adequate training, you can only help so much) else a mish mash of advice that doesn't feel like a clear answer.
#9: She Tried So Hard To Breastfeed That It Became Exhausting
Some women really do put all of their waking (and sleep-waking!) hours into trying to get their milk supply sufficient for their baby. This can be from a range of problems, which may have been solvable or not, but were complicated with being incredibly stressed, tired, not eating well or at all, having no support, depression, relationship problems, a baby being in NICU (newborn intensive care unit)… until they just can’t give any more. If a mother is struggling and can’t even nourish her own body, she is going to get even more run down. Some women put SO much effort into feeding their babies that they fall into a heap… we all have our limits. Hers aren’t yours and yours aren’t hers. You can never possibly know what its like for someone until you’ve walked in their shoes. You never know if a relative has just passed away, if they’ve been separated from their partner, if her inlaws are giving her hell, if she’s the biggest breastfeeding advocate out there and has done everything humanly possible, including beating herself up over it – you just never know.
#10: She Tried So Hard To Breastfeed That It Caused Painful Health Problems
I’ve heard stories of mothers trying so hard to breastfeed that they have physically damaged their breasts to the point of bleeding, blistered and cracked – and of course tears every time they feed. Mothers who get pumping so intensively that they harm their own bodies. Thankfully upon counselling with a great lactation consultant and lots of talking and soul searching, sometimes these women come to the decision to switch to formula. It was her decision to make. She gave it everything she had. Sometimes, we have to heal our bodies before we can use them for nurturing others.
#11: She Had A Medical Condition
Yes, it's not common, but some women struggle to feed when mother or baby has underlying medical conditions like hypoplasia (insufficient glandular tissue) or are taking medications not compatible with breastfeeding.
Some women may be able to continue to breastfeed with their diagnosed condition, but that's assuming she’s got up-to-date, evidence based support from a professional who can accurately diagnose and treat it. Let alone supportive family and friends. There's so much misinformation about breastfeeding problems that she may just hear that its impossible for her to feed, so she gives up.
#12: Her Baby Is Adopted
Yep. Children get adopted. This is more common in some countries than others, but it happens around the world. Nothing shocking about that at all.
#13: She Just Doesn’t Want To Breastfeed
Some women just don’t want to breastfeed. Just not interested. And while this may be hard to grasp for some women, you only stand to create negative energy for both yourself and the mother by spouting your beliefs. It feeds the sisterhood divide. Instead, revel in the fact that you love how you fed your baby and so does she. That baby is clothed, fed, protected, loved and nurtured, which is a luxury for many babies around the world. I once heard that Mother Teresa refused to go to anti-war rallies, but said she’d go to pro-peace rallies. Notice the difference? What you focus on, you give energy to – powerful energy.
Before You Judge
Remember, this is HERS and HER BABY’S journey only, not YOURS. Some of the biggest breastfeeding and natural birth advocates have come from people who have had experiences with formula, caesareans and all the intervention under the sun. They may not be that person now, they may not be that person ever, but you need to trust that their journey is for a reason and let them walk their path. Getting a berating from you certainly wont draw them towards you and what you believe – they will form an opinion of you and what you stand for – lets be frank, they are going to think you are a nasty piece of work, not someone who they could possibly go to in order to open up about how they feel, the real reasons they formula feed and how they can get back on track – or do differently next time. Be the care, love and nurturing they crave. Make her day. Heck, make her life, you may just be the person to heal her hurt.
When we take care of the mother, she can take better care of her baby.
So, What Was The Every Day Event?
As I dropped my kids off at school one morning (usually I drop them off at the bus stop to go to school), I noticed a mother, standing motionless at the corner of her street – just a block away from the school. She was staring into the distance and I watched her, watching her children set off for school. Not once did she break visual contact from her children from the moment I noticed her until I drove past her. She was making absolutely sure that her children had arrived safely into the school grounds.
This was a mother who may have breastfed or formula fed them; who was I to know. I didn’t even know who she was, all I did know was that she was a mother, a great mother who cared deeply for her children, and would not take her eyes off them until they were safe. When kids can have a mother like that, a devoted mamma bear who would fight to the death to protect her cubs and keep them safe (wouldn’t we all), then what the hell are we all beating each other up for?
Breastfeeding mothers and formula feeding mothers: I support you. And when I do post breastfeeding articles on BellyBelly, its only to try and help more mothers avoid the heartbreak that many of you have been through after experiencing the things mentioned in this article. Not because I think it is better.
Struggling With Breastfeeding?
If you’re having problems with breastfeeding:
- Check out our article on low milk supply.
- If you’ve stopped breastfeeding but want to try again, did you know re-lactation is possible? Read about it here.
- Have you called the Australian Breastfeeding Association or La Leche League (US)?
- Have you thought about hiring an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant)?
- If you’re struggling with difficult feelings, it can be very beneficial to see a counsellor or psychologist who specialises in the postnatal period.