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My breastfeeding story doesn't always get the response I'm looking for

Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer whose work places a feminist lens on a variety of topics, including motherhood, maternal health, gender, and reproductive rights. Her work has been featured in Bitch magazine, Cosmopolitan.com,...

Just because I breastfed for 3 years doesn't mean you have to

One of the oldest battles when it comes to the dreaded "Mommy Wars" centers on how we feed our babies. There is shame, guilt and judgment surrounding both breastfeeding and formula-feeding, and yet instead of trying to work together to dismantle the pressure, it just seems to grow. Is there a way we can talk about feeding our babies (and even promoting breastfeeding) without lapsing into this war?

When I talk about breastfeeding, I don't normally bring up how long I nursed my son for (unless asked directly). I find that when someone finds out that I breastfed him until he was 3, a few reactions tend to happen. The first is that the person I'm speaking with — usually a new mom — immediately clams up, either because she is shocked and disgusted by this revelation or because she feels bad because she either didn't breastfeed at all or did so for only a short amount of time.

More: Moms' raw breastfeeding photo series is anything but glamorous

However, when I share this tidbit about my parenting, to me it's no more informative than saying my son walked at 10 months but didn't cut his first tooth until well past a year old. It is just another milestone for us, and it certainly doesn't make me any worse or any better than the next mother. (And trust me when I say that now, at 9, you can't look at my son and know how long he was breastfed for.)

We've attached so much importance to how we feed our children that mothers on both sides of the aisle (and those who straddle it!) continuously find themselves feeling shamed or judged for their choices.

Of course feeding our children is important — I don't mean to come off flippant in that regard. But the importance of how we feed them has gotten out of hand. And I say this as someone who is well aware of the multitude of benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby, agrees that breast is best when it works for the family and yes, as someone who breastfed her child until age 3.

I wish I could talk about my breastfeeding experience without the worry of offending someone or inadvertently making someone feel guilty. I wish I could talk about the idea of milk banks and how we should make them more prevalent, accessible and affordable, without someone feeling shamed because they didn't want to use one. I wish we could talk about issues that impact low breastfeeding rates without someone thinking I'm making a personal dig. Just like with other hot mothering topics (that is, C-sections and birth), there has to be a way to discuss this topic without people feeling personally attacked.

More: Moms keep getting the C-section conversation all wrong

But what way is that? Because it is so personal, and everyone's experience is different. Breastfeeding has to do with our children and their nutrition, sure. But it also has to do with our bodies and choices surrounding that. In an ideal world, new mothers would be able to be well informed about the benefits of breastfeeding, feel supported in every way possible (from education to paid maternity leave to access to lactation consultants and providers who are well-versed in current research and information regarding breastfeeding) and then make a decision based on that. Ideally it would lead to less judgment and guilt.

We're not there yet, unfortunately. And anytime there's an initiative to promote breastfeeding, there is always some pushback against it because bottle-feeding moms feel attacked. So, can we promise one another something? When I talk about breastfeeding and its benefits, it's not an attack against you if you didn't breastfeed (for whatever reason!), and when you talk about formula use, I won't jump down your throat, telling you all the things you could have done that won't help after the fact. And maybe, just maybe, if we start on the micro-level between friends, we can grow this understanding to the point where this "debate" puts itself to sleep.

More: Breastfeeding mom shares special moment with orangutan

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