Let's Stop Shaming Mothers for Feeding Their Babies

03/23/2015 03:35 pm ET | Updated May 23, 2015
Jennifer Brenan

Obviously I am pro-breastfeeding, since I write a breastfeeding blog. Now, I admit that before I had kids, I didn't even think about how women fed their babies, how I would feed my baby or anything related to babies at all. I decided to breastfeed because I heard it was recommended as the best thing to do. Once I became a mother, I discovered I loved it and became very passionate about it.

My passion led me to discover something disturbing, though. A tendency to shame women for feeding their babies. I mostly noticed it as a breastfeeding mother. While I have not personally been shamed for breastfeeding in public, I have gotten my share of comments speculating about how long I might breastfeed, as well as opinions on breastfeeding a toddler and what is appropriate or inappropriate.

I also noticed this tendency to shame breastfeeding mothers in stories I read online, and stories overheard in some of my mom groups. And then I heard from formula-feeding moms, who feel shamed as well. How about we all stop shaming mothers for feeding their babies?

Shamed for formula-feeding

I never really thought about the formula-feeding mom's perspective until I saw a mother in my new baby group crying about giving up breastfeeding and using formula. She felt like she had failed and she felt like she had to explain herself to all of us.

Or, the mom who admitted to me that she uses a breastfeeding pump brand of bottle for her formula, so that people will assume it is pumped breastmilk.

And then there was the mother who had someone come up to her in the grocery store and ask her if she knew how much money she was wasting on "poison" while buying formula. This is a mom who had a preemie that she pumped breastmilk for tirelessly.

Shamed for breastfeeding

For the breastfeeding moms, know what we hear? Any time an article is published about breastfeeding, and especially if it mentions breastfeeding in public, you will undoubtedly see these comments:

Women who breastfeed in public do it for attention.

Breastfeeding in public is fine, but only if you use a cover and are discreet.

Breastfeeding is great, but it's an intimate thing between mom and baby and not for others to see. Do it at home before you go out.

That's what breast pumps are for -- so you can pump a bottle to bring in public.

Urinating or having sex are natural, but I don't do those in public.

I don't want my children to see it and have to explain what that is.

I support breastfeeding, I breastfed five children, but I was always discreet.

You chose to have children. Why should I be subjected to seeing it because of your choice?

It's OK to breastfeed an infant, but once they are old enough to ask for it, it's not.

How long are you going to breastfeed? It's OK when they are young, but I don't want to see a toddler breastfeeding.

I formula-fed because I couldn't handle being tied down that way.

And as breastfeeding mothers, sometimes we feel shamed for being proud of our accomplishments and meeting our goals. As if we are mentioning them to make other parents feel badly. This is rarely the case.

Shamed for pumping or combination feeding

Guess what? The shaming doesn't stop if you do bottle-feed your pumped milk in public. Or if you use some combination of formula and breastmilk.

A friend in my mom group overheard this at a restaurant as she fed her baby pumped milk: "Isn't it sad that so many moms don't breastfeed anymore."

Another friend chose to feed her child a combination of formula and pumped breastmilk. She was at an exercise class with a bottle, she doesn't remember what was in the bottle, but she does remember another mom staring at the bottle and mentioning that she never used a bottle.

And women who exclusively pump feel stigma from both sides. Judgment for pumping instead of breastfeeding, and judgment for spending their time and energy pumping instead of just formula-feeding.

How about we stop shaming all mothers?

How about when you see me breastfeeding, you don't stare or look disgusted? How about you just go about your business and not give it a second thought? How about you don't worry what your children will think? They will think it's normal if you don't make it an issue.

How about if you see a mother feeding a bottle, you don't give her a second look? How about not asking her why she is using a bottle or what is in the bottle?

It's extremely hard and discouraging to a new mother when she hears or reads any of the sentiments above. I am a huge breastfeeding advocate and believe we should educate ourselves while pregnant and be encouraged to breastfeed when our babies are born. But I feel no need to judge, shame or question another parent. She is the parent and she will do what she needs to for her family and herself. How about we just stop shaming mothers for feeding their babies?

This post originally appeared on Breastfeeding Needs. You can find Jennifer on Facebook and Twitter.