10 Wost/Best things BF Advocates should(n't) say
I'm not going to point fingers, but I see quite a few of our members in other groups, getting nasty and disrespectful (backwards of advocacy, imo), so I thought I'd share something I came across today. Enjoy! (and no hard feelings <3)
Gentle education and advocacy is key in making progress. :)
Top 10 Things Breastfeeding Advocates Should Stop Saying
1. “Everyone can breastfeed if they try hard enough.”
No, everyone can’t. Yes, the percentage of women who physically can’t is very small, but until there are no more Booby Traps – cultural and institutional barriers to breastfeeding- that entire line of thinking is off-limits. See also: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” and “If you want to badly enough, you can do it.”
2. “Formula is poison.”
How would you feel if someone called the food you feed your infant “poison” or “garbage”? Talk about the facts on formula? Yes. Use pejoratives? No. We can discuss the risks of using formula without simultaneously shaming and belittling the moms who use it.
3. ”Moms should be smart enough to see through formula marketing.”
Formula marketing is insanely effective. These companies wouldn’t spend bazillions of dollars on it if it didn’t work. And it doesn’t just work on the uneducated; it’s very savvy and appeals to moms of all backgrounds. It’s not a matter of being “smart enough”; it’s so pervasive that we can’t blame moms for not always seeing through it.
4. “Breast is best.”
No. Breast is normal. Breastfeeding is the biological norm. Anything less is inferior by default. “Best” conjurs a notion of something that only a select few can achieve and sets formula up as the norm; we want to talk about breastfeeding as something that’s achievable for almost all moms. See Diane Wiessinger’s game-changing post on why this language is so problematic, “Watch Your Language.”
5. “Formula-feeding moms are lazy.”
If we’re comparing using formula to directly breastfeeding the healthy, full-term infant, breastfeeding is a heck of a lot less work than formula-feeding. (Moms who pump a lot have more work than the direct breastfeeders, no doubt.) But preparing bottles, washing bottles, having to go buy formula: that’s more work than just putting baby to breast.
6. ”Moms who use formula don’t love/value their babies as much as moms who breastfeed.”
Seriously? Come on. By and large, all moms are trying to do right by their babies and love them in ways words can’t fully describe. Sure, there are bad apples; but they’re on both sides of the feeding debate. Breastfeeding ≠ good mom. Formula feeding ≠ bad mom. Parenting is so much more than how we feed our babies. Edited to add: See also, “Formula-feeding moms are selfish!”; how we feed our babies isn’t an automatic gauge of character. (Thanks Jessica from The Leaky Boob!)
7. “Take some fenugreek!”
Insert any number of other token pieces of breastfeeding advice here. It’s downright dangerous for moms to speak in prescriptive terms when it comes to breastfeeding problems. Most of the time, it’s not that simple, anyway. “Eliminate __[diary, gluten, etc-]___.”; “Buy Reglan/Domperidone online.”; “You have too much foremilk.”; “You only make skim milk.” Some of it is innocuous enough (albeit wrong) and some of it stands to be pretty damaging. Sharing stories peer-to-peer is one thing; discussing things a professional should be addressing is another.
8. “You could have breastfed if _____.”
Along the same lines as #7, Monday-morning quarterbacking a mom’s failed breastfeeding experience is a good way to rub salt in the wound. Unless she’s asking, and only if you have her whole history, it’s probably best to keep quiet with opinions – opinions! – on what might have saved her breastfeeding relationship.
9. “You’ll be able to breastfeed. It comes naturally, so don’t worry about it.”
This gem is usually one that expecting moms encounter. We lost a whole generation – if not more – of breastfeeders. We don’t know how to breastfeed anymore (in general) because most of us didn’t grow up seeing it. So today, moms do need to study up and prepare. That’s not to say they need to research every worst-case scenario, but some prep is likely necessary. Breastfeeding might be natural, but it definitely doesn’t always come naturally.
10. “Facts don’t hurt. You make yourself feel guilty.”
Really? A lot of moms use formula and they know the risks and the facts. They don’t feel good about them and they probably feel guilty. YES, we absolutely need to keep talking about the risks and the facts. But IGT, jobs without maternity leave, being misinformed by doctors: those things don’t discriminate. It could be any mom. Similarly, because one mom made it through X circumstance, doesn’t mean another mom should or will be able to.
Lactivists, advocates, breastfeeding supporters of all kinds (yes, including the ones who’ve used formula!): What do you think? Is it time to put an end to the phrases on this list? What would you add?
Now that we’ve covered those, check out the Top 10 Things Breastfeeding Advocates SHOULD Say!
Top 10 Things Breastfeeding Advocates SHOULD Say
Because of the overwhelming response to my post on The Top 10 Things Breastfeeding Advocates Should Stop Saying, here’s a companion post on the Top 10 Things Breastfeeding Advocates SHOULD Say.
1. “You can do it!”
I know, I know: isn’t this directly contradicting #1 from the things breastfeeding advocates should NOT say? Well, bear with me: while we shouldn’t assume every mom can breastfeed, being positive and encouraging with our fellow mamas is awesome. Support and positive affirmations can give a much-needed boost to an expecting mama’s confidence and that’s a great thing! We just need to be mindful that sometimes positive thoughts and will to succeed won’t enable a mom to nurse her baby.
2. ”Use a cover if that’s your personal preference for NIP (Nursing In Public).”
This is a very divisive issue in the “lactivist” community. On the one hand, using covers can send the message that breastfeeding is something that should be concealed. That adds stigma to nursing in public, no doubt, and can be a way to shame moms. Commitment to the idea that a nursing mom should not use a cover can’t interfere with actual breastfeeding, though. If a mom prefers to use a cover when she breastfeeds, she’s breastfeeding. Encouraging her no matter how she chooses to do it is really important.
3. ”You can have a drink or two and you probably don’t have to ‘pump & dump.’”
The facts on this one are clear: if a mom wants to have an alcoholic drink or two, that’s compatible with breastfeeding. If she’s not comfortable and doesn’t want to, that’s okay, too. Most of the time, it’s not necessary to “pump & dump,” either. Alcohol metabolizes out of breastmilk the same way it metabolizes out of blood, so as mom becomes sober, so does her milk. Milk expressed *while* mom is inebriated should be discarded and moms should pump if they’re missing nursing sessions while they’re away from baby.
4. “You need to supplement? These are the options.”
If a mom is saying she needs to supplement, giving her ALL the options are key; not just the ones we want her to use. That means discussing milk banks, milk sharing, maybe even wet-nursing, AND formula. Because as much as we want all moms to have access to breastmilk for their babies, not all of them will (or will want to). Accepting choices for supplementation that aren’t aligned with what we would personally do comes along with offering any advice in the first place. (And of course, if you suspect a mom might not need to supplement, you can always back into the conversation about her reasons for thinking she needs to — after you give her the info she asked for on supplementation.)
5. “Breastfeeding is natural, but it’s not always easy.”
Giving moms a realistic picture of the learning curve of breastfeeding is important. Because we’ve lost a generation of breastfeeding moms, we haven’t grown up seeing it. We don’t know how it works. So giving moms a realistic take on what it will be like is key, and it sets the expectation that they’ll need to prepare for breastfeeding (take a class, see a mom breastfeed in person, read a book, watch a movie -anything that prepares her to be successful at nursing her baby). She should know that there are Booby Traps out there before any of them are staring her in the face.
6. “You don’t want to breastfeed? That’s okay.”
I know some of you are cringing right now. But hear me out: meeting moms where they are means we’re going to meet a lot of them in that exact place. We live in a formula-dominated culture and a lot of moms expect to use it; they are uncomfortable with the idea of breastfeeding and they might not want to. (Ask me, I was one of them!) Bringing a mom who’s on the fence to a place where she actually wants to try breastfeeding means honestly accepting her thoughts and feelings on the subject – whatever they may be – and moving on from there.
7. “You want to breastfeed? Here are some resources.”
Encouragement will only take us so far and awesome resources need to pick up where that leaves off. When an expecting mom shares that she’s going to breastfeed, it’s good to have a few resources to offer: a great book or website on breastfeeding (like Best for Babes), the local La Leche League chapter info, etc-. Having the number of a local IBCLC is great, too!
8. “ANY amount of breastfeeding is fantastic!”
We aren’t doing ourselves any favors by setting the bar impossibly high. For some moms, exclusive breastfeeding is something that circumstances might not allow. In those instances, encouraging moms for the breastfeeding they are doing is key. Second-guessing them, judging them: these negative reactions are going to discourage mom. Could she be doing more to be exclusively nursing? Maybe, but tread lightly: answering “I breastfeed and supplement” with “Here’s how to breastfeed MORE!” leaves mom feeling like she’s not doing a good enough job. Instead, answering with encouragement and then giving her more info on how to nurse more if she wants it, is the way to go.
9. “You used formula? That’s okay.”
I can already see the fingers hitting the keyboard to tell me that’s most certainly not okay. Again, bear with me: If we can’t accept what a mom has already done, we’re not helping her. If she’s used formula, it’s done. Giving her the space to talk about that freely and without judgment is the biggest favor we can do for her. If a mom has used formula in the past and we slap her with a knee-jerk judgment at the word ‘formula,’ we close the door to any further conversation (like how she might breastfeed her next baby, if she’s interested in discussing it). We don’t necessarily have to condone it, but at least meeting sans judgment is a must.
10. “I am proud that I breastfed my child.”
Breastfeeding is an amazing thing! Mamas should own their successes and be proud of them. It’s an accomplishment and it’s okay to talk about it! Sharing our successes is one way to let moms who are on the fence know that this can be done. Like any other accomplishment, there are tactful and acceptable ways to brag on the wonderful thing we’ve done by breastfeeding. It’s a feather in the cap of motherhood; not a parenting trump card.