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How to be a breastfeeding advocate without being a jerk

Meredith Bland is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on, Brain, Mother, The Rumpus, Scary Mommy and Narratively, among others.

7 Things we need to stop saying to moms who use formula

One of the biggest decisions you can make regarding newborn care is also one of the first: how you will feed your child. Some women are devoted to the idea of breastfeeding and are committed to making it happen no matter what.

Others are either unable to breastfeed or have made the choice to go to formula for other reasons. But when people start arguing about which one is "better," sometimes they make statements that are not only unhelpful but also unfair.

Motherhood is hard enough as it is — if another mother's choices don't affect you or harm anyone else, then why get involved? In the words of the great Salt N' Pepa, "It's none of your business."

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Here are seven things breastfeeding advocates need to stop saying if they want to actually help moms: 

1. Any mom can breastfeed.

What about adoptive mothers? How do you think it makes them feel to be told that they are uncaring mothers because they aren't breastfeeding? And what about women who, for a variety of reasons, are physically unable to lactate or breastfeed? Some of them would probably love to breastfeed if they could, but they can't. That doesn't mean that they are lacking in any way, whatsoever. They are doing the very best they can, as most parents are. (That's going to be a recurring theme, by the way.)

2. Formula-fed babies aren't as smart as breastfed babies.

This is not true. Not only have numerous studies proven that wrong, but even the studies that claim it is true found that the difference was no more than a few points. Color me crazy, but I don't think being formula-fed is going to keep any kid out of Harvard. That lays a lot of responsibility on one small factor during the first year of life as opposed to many other, more important factors like socio-economic status, parental involvement and educational opportunities. It's not the formula, friends.

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3. Moms who don't breastfeed are selfish.

This is absolutely correct. Mothers who don't breastfeed have made a choice that benefits and works for them and, therefore, their children. They have decided to think about themselves, their needs and their abilities, and those are things we should applaud because mothers don't do that enough. How often do we tell women that they need to take care of themselves before they can take care of anybody else? If trying to force breastfeeding is only going make life unbearable for a new mother, why wouldn't it make sense for her to explore other options in order to keep herself above water so she can be there for her child? You don't need to be a martyr to be a good mother.

4. Women wouldn't choose formula if they were better informed.

Choosing formula does not mean that you haven't done all your research. Many, if not most, women make this choice with their eyes wide open, aware of all the arguments for and against. Saying that they just don't know any better is condescending; it's like telling someone that if they really understood Woody Allen's genius, then they would like his films. But no, some of us just don't like Woody Allen. Sorry.

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5. Every woman should try to breastfeed.

But why? Formula doesn't hurt babies, it doesn't hurt families, and other women's breastfeeding choices don't affect you one iota. If a woman decides she doesn't even want to try, and her reason is "just because," then why not shrug your shoulders and move on? At some point this becomes a moral judgment instead of one that is based on what you think is best for newborns.

6. Formula feeding is the easy way out.

Let's keep in mind how hard parenting is, even on the easiest of days. Does it benefit anyone to shame someone who, like the rest of us, loves her children and is just trying to get through the day? Save your outrage for things that make a difference in children's lives, like gun control or domestic violence. If they aren't your boobs, they aren't your business. Again, no one gets a medal for "most difficult life."

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7. Breast is best.

This is judgment packaged to sound like science. Best for whom and in what way? There's no science that says that formula-fed babies do any worse than breastfed babies, and shouldn't that be the only criteria? "Best" is a loaded word that makes a lot of moms who formula feed feel bad about themselves. I can't imagine that the goal of breastfeeding advocates is to shame other women into choosing to breastfeed. If making people feel like they're failing their children is your recruiting tactic, then you may want to rethink your approach.

What do you feel like we've heard way too much of from breastfeeding promoters?

Before you go, check out our slideshow below:

7 Things we need to stop saying to moms who use formula
Image: Marijke Thoen
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