The Guilt

There’s a war going on in the midst of the mothering world—breastfeeding versus formula feeding. I may be biased as a breastfeeder, but I feel that the formula feeders have more hate. When advocating for breastfeeding rights, I never say “oh, you should have tried harder” or “you’re an awful mom because you formula feed” (because it’s the system’s fault, not the moms), but it seems like no matter what I say it is taken that way. I blame this on The Guilt.

Recently, I tweeted about a study I found:

I basically just shortened the title and posted a link. Immediately afterwards, I had a “Twitter argument” with @madamemenu about correlation versus causation and the like which ultimately ended in a “agree to disagree” type of thing. It was not until a week or so ago that I found out I was prominently mentioned in this post by Fearless Formula Feeder. Once again, it was misinterpreted that I was trying to make causation when saying “more likely” directly equals correlation in my mind, but that isn’t the point. The point is this constant war between formula feeding and breastfeeding moms.

Breastfeeding moms who often struggle to get to the point they are at with breastfeeding and formula feeding moms who likely turned to formula because of the same struggles—it would make a perfect team. So why do we decide to hate each other rather than band together to fight the system? I blame The Guilt.

I realize most of the people who read my blog breastfeed, but play along with me here. As a lactivist, I always look at breastfeeding and pregnancy and think about all of the formula ads I saw, the cans of formula that were sent to my house, the bag of formula they gave me at the hospital, et cetera. Imagine you formula feed/fed your baby. From this perspective, rather than being bombarded with ads for formula, you’re instead bombarded with constant messages that breast is best—implying you’re not doing the best for your baby. No matter what your reasoning is for chosing to not breastfeed, being told you’re not doing the best for your child will make you feel The Guilt. No matter how true it is, you start to resent those ads and eventually even the women who do breastfeed. You feel judged. You feel angry. You feel The Guilt.

As many of you know, I co-sleep. I have thoroughly researched the benefits of co-sleeping and have done everything I can to eliminate the risks. I am entirely convinced this is the correct decision for my family and I quite often discuss the benefits of co-sleeping with others as well as how to eliminate risks. That said, I still occasionally feel The Guilt. The American Academy of Pediatrics (the same organization I quite often cite for their breastfeeding recommendations) says it’s not safe. So does the Consumer Product Safety Commission. No matter how convinced I am that this is the right decision for my family, being told that it isn’t the best or safest makes me feel that same guilt, feel that same judgment, and feel that same burning fury in my chest that wants to kill any person who dare claim I am endangering my child.

In my lactivism, I never try to make a formula feeding mom feel guilty. Every time before I write a post, tweet, or even comment on someone else’s blog I contemplate two things: 1. Do I sound accusitory to formula feeding moms? How will my statements be read from the other side? While at the same time walking the fine line of 2. Am I sugar coating it for formula feeding mom’s benefit? Am I in any way implying that formula feeding is just as good a breastfeeding? I don’t want to tip toe around The Guilt and give soon-to-be or one-day-to-be moms the impression that they don’t even need to try. I want them to understand that sometimes breastfeeding is really, really difficult in the beginning and some moms don’t get the proper support to get to that point where it’s easy breezy, but that just means they need to try to surround themselves with the support and do as much as they can to educate themselves before they’re in the middle of it all.

Lactivism is not meant to cause guilt, it’s meant to prevent it.

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26 thoughts on “The Guilt

  1. I like what you wrote about The Guilt! No matter your decision to nurse or not it should be considered the baby’s right to have the breast! The more we are talking about breastfeeding and how right it is the better I think. The lack of support and knowledge is still there over ALL these years and it’s sad when it is out there. It’s too easy for … See Moremoms to pick up a bottle and add some water and powder. It should be too easy to get the help they need and not get sent cans of fake milk in the mail to be there as an out when they fail. Formula can definitely save lives when there’s no other way to feed the baby but it should be not be given to the baby with the breast being available in the first place.

    • I agree that formula feeding should be the absolute last option (it’s considered the 4th option according to the WHO), but I just wish that we could bridge the gap between formula feeding and breastfeeding moms. It will be impossible for breastfeeding moms to get the support they really need when formula feeding moms feel such anger towards it.

  2. I think “the guilt” is totally necessary at times. So many moms don’t even try. I understand not being able to breastfeed because of illness or surgery, but it really surprises me how many low income women just opt to formula feed.

    • Even if you don’t try at all, it must be awful to be constantly told you’re not doing what’s best for your baby.

  3. The Guilt, it is strong. And, as you say, it is not limited to formula feeding. My firstborn is entering kindergarten in the fall and education is a whole other arena where guilt and personal choices come into play, and people end up feeling judged. Although, unlike breastfeeding, one educational style is not scientifically proven to be superior.

    As a breastfeeding advocate my goal is that every mom be satisfied with her breastfeeding experience, whatever that looks like. I don’t think we need to work hard to convince moms to try breastfeeding – the initiation rates where I live are over 90%. People get it, but they don’t have support and information. So, by providing support and information as best I can, I hope to empower moms to have the experience they want. For me, keeping this goal in mind, and even stating it, helps.

    Beyond that, there’s only so much you can do. Try as we might to build bridges and not cause offense, we will. We’re only human, after all. But that risk is worth it, if we can help even one mother.

    • I wish our initiation rates were 90%! I think ours are like 75% which is high, but I swear it’s not really that high. When I was leaving the hospital and had to go to some mandatory discharge class I think I was the only one planning on exclusively breastfeeding.

  4. I agree with you completely. I think it is very damaging to lactivism if the issue keeps being clouded in a “war” between breastfeeders and formula-feeders. The breastfeeding message gets lost when formula feeding moms are made to feel guilty or “less than” for how they feed their babies. The real targets in this “war’ should be those who purposefully divide mothers over this issue for their own gain, and those who purposefully place financial profits over maternal and child health.

  5. I just want to start by saying that I am definitely pro breastfeeding. I have an almost 2 year old and one on the way. I breast fed my son until he was 16 months and he decided he was ready to be done, and I plan on breastfeeding my soon to be baby, exclusively. However, there were 2 times in the first couple weeks with my son that I could not breast feed him. I was too sore, and even trying to pump to feed him made me bleed. Most of the time I just bit my lip and bawled the whole time I was feeding him, but there were 2 times I gave him a bottle with the formula that the hospital sent me home with. It kept him from starving. I fought through the couple wekks of soreness and LOVED being able to nurse him. I loved the bond we had, I loved knowing that I was providing him with all that he needed physically, and nutritionally. I was also happy that in those first couple weeks I had that formula. Only twice. I don’t feel I did anything wrong and I am glad they gave that to me. I think there need to be more pro breastfeeding ads, information, and help readily available. The formula ads and mailing samples should be cut down, however I don’t think it should all be taken away. Just my 2 cents.

    P.S. Do you have any tips on how to help minimize the pain the first little while?

    • The biggest thing I did to minimize pain while my body was still getting used to breastfeeding was apply lanolin cream after each and every feeding. If I were experiencing any horrible pain, I would have gone to a lactation consultant. When we got thrush I went to the pediatrician and my midwife and got creams. Ideally you wouldn’t have much pain because all of the support would be there for you to take care of any problems.

      It’s great that you were able to use the formula the hospital gave you for something good, but the problem is most of the time it makes quitting breastfeeding easy. If it’s 2am and the mom is in pain breastfeeding they’re more likely to give up breastfeeding in favor of the formula sitting on the table then call a lactation consultant.

  6. Great post.

    While I still see some misunderstanding of where formula feeders are coming from on this issue in your words, I appreciate your sensitivity to the subject.

    I think what you’re possibly missing is that for the most part, we DO support breastfeeding; we DO believe there should be more help and resources for breastfeeding women; we DO think that breastmilk is the better choice, all things being equal. But things are not always equal, and when that happens, we should not be made to feel guilty for opting for formula, because we believe that it is a perfectly good second choice. And for some of us, when we have tried breastfeeding and found it to be an awful experience for momma, baby, or both (and yes, that does happen, for a whole slew of reasons), and then see our babies thriving fantastically on formula… well, then, I think its easy to start seeing red when you see what you credit for saving your baby’s life being constantly lambasted.

    My husband always laughs when I tell him people accuse me of being funded by the formula industry, because as he says, “They saved our son’s life. So I guess they did reward us in some way.”

    If I could print out what Baj4life said and frame it, I would. That about sums it up.

    • I admit that I not only have a bias towards breastfeeders, but one against formula feeders. It’s hard to not feel upset with someone who tells me that my breastfeeding in public is disgusting, indecent, or even incest. I also believe that someone who has breastfed (or have had someone around them who breastfeeds) can not be truly against breastfeeding in public, so by default they must formula feed or be around people who formula feed. I’ll admit my bias and I can even see it in my own words. This is what we need to change!

      • Huh. That is really interesting, and I appreciate your honesty- that takes a lot of courage and self-awareness to admit something like that. Kudos.

        I think what is so sad is that the real “war” seems to be going on between breastfeeding activists and people who wanted to breastfeed, but couldn’t. The latter group already feels so much guilt and has nothing but respect for breastfeeders, but starts feeling anger and resentment when the former group lumps them in with the people you just mentioned. I don’t know anyone IRL or who visits my blog (well, I guess that’s not really fair, b/c all I can go by is the comments, there may be people visiting who have horrible opinions like that, but they’ve never expressed them, I don’t think) who thinks that breastfeeding is anything but wonderful IF it works for you and IF you don’t have the specific problems/issues they have dealt with.

        It saddens me, because I am 100% incensed when I hear anyone making disparaging remarks towards breastfeeding women. I was one myself for one short month, but I was expecting to be one for my whole life, so I spent a good many years identifying with the plight of lactivists. There are numerous aspects of lactivism that I wholeheartedly agree with. I’m just an idealist I guess, but I want a world where everyone can feed their baby in the most healthful way that is possible for them in their given situation. I want research to continue so that formula can improve, and formula feeders have the support that they need to ensure their babies stay healthy. But I also want the fight for pumping rights, insurance coverage for lactation consultants, the right to NIP, etc, to continue raging. Women need all the help they can get.

      • That’s the thing that confuses me the most about this war. None of what I say is directed towards moms who didn’t or couldn’t breastfeed. When I give stats about the benefits of breastfeeding, I am trying to convince future moms to try it. When I talk about the horrible things formula companies do, I’m aiming towards regulation of their practices and more support for those future moms. When I complain about the ignorance of people who hate breastfeeding, it’s to normalize breastfeeding and get protection for the moms who nurse in public. I am never trying to judge you or your choices.

      • … there are a LOT of breastfeeders (or spouses of breastfeeders) who disapprove of NIP. It’s definitely erroneous to assume that breastfeeders are pro-NIP.

      • Unless you constantly stay at home, a breastfeeding mother will inevitibly have to nurse while out in the public. I’m not talking about covers or no covers. Being a breastfeeding mom or knowing a breastfeeding mom, to be told that breastfeeding is lewd or disgusting in any situation has to press buttons.

    • I am totally with you on this. I tried to breastfeed my son with very little help even though I asked for it. It left me depressed, with severe mastitis, feeling like a failure, and knowing if I carried on like I was I’d end up with depression.
      I made the decision to use formula which was the right decision for me at the time. Looking back, yes, I am still upset I was never able to breastfeed but when I see my gorgeous 9 month old son now whos happy, healthy and perfect to me, it was the right decision to make.
      I totally agree that breast is best, but there should be no guilt if you do try and its just not working out. An unhappy mum means an unhappy baby too.

      • The biggest thing I’m trying to fix in my lactivism is that lack of support you had in the beginning. If you had that support you likely would have been able to continue breastfeeding and therefore you wouldn’t feel any guilt.

  7. you have to admit though that a twitter statement like that is going to piss of some people….it is totally inflammatory and will ruffle the feathers of formula feeders out there.

    I think the wars need to stop. We need to understand that there are no blanket stereotypes or types of either bf’ers or formula users.

    The negativity has to end on both sides.
    The bashing has to end on both sides.

    • I agree that the tweet left much need for explanation, but isn’t that the thing about Twitter? You can’t really thoroughly explain when you mean in under 140 characters. If you think about it headlines in newspapers are the same way.

  8. As a breastfeeding supporter and nursing mother, I talk about breastfeeding A LOT. I belong to a breastfeeding support group. I blog about it. I tweet about it. My baby has a onesie that says “Made with 100% mama’s milk”. So my formula feeding friends and acquaintances (one of whom is @madamemenu, by sheer coincidence) are reluctant to talk with me about anything regarding baby nutrition. But as I’ve explained to them, it’s not women who have already made their decision I’m interested in. My focus as lactivist is to educate and inform soon to be moms or help new moms who are struggling but want to continue. I want women to give it a try, to know the benefits, to succeed in meeting their breastfeeding goals. If a mom decides, for whatever reason, it’s not for her then I’m done offering help and we can be friends who feed our babies differently.

    I think sometimes lactivists don’t know where the line is between offering “advice” and being pushy and condescending is drawn. I also think a lot of moms don’t get the support they want when facing breastfeeding problems. It’s a balance I hope we can all work on without fighting.

    • My best friend from high school formula fed her daughter and it’s a total non-issue when we’re together. Sometimes I wonder if people thing I go around yelling at formula feeding moms in malls or something. I never try to make moms feel guilty, I just want to help future moms make informed decisions–no matter what that decision ends up being.

  9. Wow, great discussion! So glad FFF chimed in- she seems cool! I don’t love some of her angry blog posts, but I understand her anger, and hey, blogging is about opinions. She is clearly an open-minded woman and I’m glad that we are all on the same page. Hey, I need to go add her to me reader.

    I don’t understand this line: “I also believe that someone who has breastfed (or have had someone around them who breastfeeds) can not be truly against breastfeeding in public, so by default they must formula feed or be around people who formula feed.”

    I don’t get what you are saying, can you clarify?

    • If you’re consistently exposed to breastfeeding, it’s impossible to think of it as lewd.

  10. I have read your blog lots of time and enjoy it for most part. However seeing your post about WIC and how sad the formula fed children were going to be and how formula kills I got upset.

    I ended up formula feeding due to multiple problems and a very poor lactation consultant that shooed me out of the office after saying things looked fine. She was the only one available at the time too.

    In some ways it was a relief to finally have a baby that wasn’t screaming out of hunger and not tear up every time I was feeding him. We were finally able to bond and I felt like a much better mother because I wasn’t stressed over the feedings anymore.

    While I do acknowledge that breastfeeding is by far the best option and support all those that do and encourage those who aren’t sure to do it, I feel that formula feeding shouldn’t condemned. Not all mothers who formula feed are dooming their children to emotional problems in the future or screwing them over health wise. I understand that formula companies aren’t always doing the best thing for those who want to and are easily discouraged, but if it weren’t for formula my son would have starved.

    As for guilt, I feel it sometimes. Some days are better, but other days it’s hard. Especially after reading posts about how my son is doomed and that I’m killing him. Personally he seems very healthy to me. We have a great bond. I am determined to make it work next time, but if the same health problems cause complications and I have to supplement or go completely towards formula it’s not the end of the world to me.

    • I try to not make the moms who formula feed (for whatever reason) not feel guilty, but it is inevitable. Just know that the messages I put out there like how formula feeding kills and breast is best are meant for future moms that think breastfeeding and formula feeding are the same thing.

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