There is one memory from the earliest days of my motherhood that is burned into my brain — the day my mother's real estate agent asked me why I was giving my new baby a bottle of formula.
"Why aren't you breastfeeding?" she asked me, standing in my mom's kitchen in her impeccable suit and her high heels, blonde hair coiffed within an inch of its life. "Isn't that what's best?"
Exhausted and disheveled, I started babbling about how my milk never came in, my unexpected C-section and how my daughter had a sideways suck and my anatomy pointed in the wrong direction. It was only later that the rage and the shame came, when it dawned on me that a complete stranger felt entitled to chastise me for giving my baby a bottle instead of my boob.
That afternoon set a pattern for the rest of my daughter's infancy. I prepared bottles surreptitiously, hoping no one would see me with that shameful white powder. I preferred to feed my baby in private, not wanting to field the judging glare of others.
I know so many mothers like me, women who carry the memory of humiliation because of one very personal decision—how to feed their own children.
We've been indoctrinated for so long that breast is best and parents who give their babies formula are putting them at risk. Study after study, news article after news article, we're inundated with the message that the only way to raise a healthy child is to feed them directly from our bodies.
I don't dispute the benefits of breastfeeding, but I can point to my own children to show that giving a baby formula doesn't cause irreparable damage. Not too long ago, another breastfeeding study was released, one that resonated with me and so many of my friends — research on siblings shows that there is little to no difference between kids who are formula fed and kids who get the breast.
There are so many factors that go into how we raise our children. How we feed them is one of most fundamental choices we make as parents. You cannot know what factored into one parent's choice of bottle over breast. Maybe that mom is on chemo. Maybe that baby has an allergy. Maybe her milk never came in. You just don't know.
The next time you're tempted to ask someone why they aren't breastfeeding, first ask yourself if it's any of your business what color underpants they're wearing.
Just as you can safely assume the answer to that is personal, you can safely assume that the mom with the bottle is doing what's personally best for her and her family.
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