Why Can’t Mothers Be Pro-Breastfeeding Without Being Anti-Formula?

August 15, 2014  |  

In 2011, The United States Breastfeeding Committee (yes, this is a real group) made August National Breastfeeding Month. As a mom who has breastfed two children, I am excited about the month-long celebration of breastfeeding. And though online activism is one of the best ways to share information and be an active advocate, when I explore some social media sites and online forums, I notice that there are breastfeeding moms who shame formula feeding moms and call them “selfish” and “ignorant.” This unfortunate name-calling undermines the importance of promoting breastfeeding. Advocating for the benefits of breast milk can and should be done without bashing other mothers in the process.

It is not okay to attack formula feeding moms because some women have no choice but to use formula for various reasons. Some women use formula to some degree due to serious illness, medications, or unsolvable lactation issues. Other moms cut nursing short or supplement with formula because they are returning to a work environment that is not conducive to pumping milk. Assuming that everyone who uses formula is lazy and a failure makes advocates look uninformed. Breastfeeding supporters should spend time exploring reasons some moms can’t breastfeed. Becoming educated about barriers to breastfeeding can help advocates share information in a tactful way. Once an advocate is cognizant of other women’s struggles, blanket statements about formula usage should be replaced with compassionate language towards other mom’s struggles. Showing compassion to moms who were unable to fulfill their desire to breastfeed is an extension of the unconditional love and support that motherhood represents.

Conversely, there are women who do have a choice, but don’t know which choice to make. Many misinformed and undecided moms-to-be may need advice from mothers with breastfeeding experience. Or, an inexperienced nursing mom may need seasoned veterans to help with cluster-feeding issues and milk supply woes. When mommy experts waste time engaging in battles with “anti-breastfeeding” Internet trolls and lambaste women who are even considering formula, they can’t offer the help other women desperately need. Incessant online wars and nasty attitudes don’t belong in a space intended for camaraderie. If advocates want to draft new moms onto “Team Mommy’s Milk,” then they have to dedicate time toward reaching out to women with solid information.

Having an arsenal of great information is a powerful tool to help other moms. But, if a nursing activist has quality facts to share with another mommy, it won’t be well-received if the information is mixed in with callous statements about formula feeding moms. Think about how most people perceive PETA and their wayward campaigning. Although PETA often provides valuable information, they are more known for their inflammatory statements than their facts. Likewise, if a breastfeeding aficionado pushes an anti-formula agenda, then focus ends up being taken off of the pro-breastfeeding agenda and, the ultimate message (“Breastfeeding is awesome”) is lost. Pro-breastfeeding ladies should also avoid taking the “I nursed my kids, so I am a better mom than you” approach. Throwing in pretentious statements among information is not the way to encourage others to forgo formula. Instead, an advocate should stick to promoting the benefits of breast milk for both mommy and baby.

As August flies by and National Breastfeeding Month is recognized across the country, people who support the breast milk movement should focus on the many Twitter “hashtag” activities, chats, and events taking place. There will be detractors and skeptics, but this month is not about their agenda. It is about the pro-breastfeeding agenda! Providing advice, offering encouragement, answering questions with tact, and focusing on the beauty of nursing an infant are the best ways to champion for a wonderful cause without hurting others.

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