Unless you have been living under a rock for the past several years, even if you are not a new mom, you have read and read and read once again how breastfeeding protects an infant from a myriad of illnesses and how important a bonding experience it is. I have seen people in lobbies and restaurants shake their heads disapprovingly at a mom who is bottle feeding. I have heard whispering and degrading comments from members of families about those related to them who "have denied their newborn their breast." I have heard the same disparaging comments from people about their supposed friends.
The years bring perspective: When I was a young mom in the mid sixties, disparaging comments and judgements were often "whispered" (not quietly) about those who chose to nurse. At that time I heard terms like "disgusting," used to describe women who "dared" to feed their babies their way. I also heard things like, "What a turnoff to a husband," and "What a step backward this is for women's liberation."
I wish those who pass judgement today could be a fly on the wall of my office and hear the shame, discomfort, and lack of confidence unkind, thoughtless judgements and comments bring to women who bottle feed. Following are some examples that I hope will make people think before they open their mouths in cruel judgement or give disdainful looks:
Mary, age 33, yearned for her baby. Her healthy child was born on time after an easy and very enjoyable pregnancy. Then, as Mary explains, "utterly out of the blue, cancer knocked me down when my baby was 3 months old." A "horrific cocktail" of cancer drugs was necessary, drugs that would have made continued breast feeding dangerous to her child. Again, Mary's words: "I had to deal with both cancer and the awful degrading looks of people when they saw me bottle feeding my child. They have no idea how their judgements sting."
The first time Doris consulted me she could not control her tears. Doris breastfed her twin boys and their older sister easily and successfully. However, when her newborn was 2 months old she developed mastitis, and the high fever, and bloody, pussy nipples that accompanied it. "I was told that I could nurse through this," she explained, "but feared the impact of antibiotics on the baby; and I was just too tired with two many responsibilities to continue nursing." Doris continued, "My mother-in-law has done nothing but demean me, doing all she can to make my husband think I am hurting our child. Even my close friends act like I am a horrible mom, rather than one who has weighed all of the options and, with my husband's full support, decided what is best for my baby, me, and my whole family."
In both of the above cases, individual and couple counseling promoted a close bond between couples who individually and together let all family members and those in their friendship circles know that their decisions were a personal decision, that their child was just fine, and that it was no one's business.
In Emily's experience, an unanticipated C-section and necessary anesthesia brought her milk in so slowly that her anxiety level and exhaustion took away her strong initial desire to breastfeed, a decision made with great care that both her husband and doctor respected. But Emily's mother did not; nor did her two sisters. Again, with counseling all judgements of others stopped being upsetting, and those Emily cared for were told firmly by both Emily and her husband "to zip their lips and give up their frowns and negativity."
Cynthia consulted me because of a divorce she did not want which had been decided on unilaterally by her husband. The shock caused her milk to dry up, and she decided to handle all of the stress she felt by bottle feeding her newborn. One day, as Cynthia was leaving the hospital with some expressed milk in a container that she was carrying for a friend whose room had been changed, two strangers in her elevator gave her a "thumbs up" sign, and told her she was doing the right thing for her infant. Cynthia came to her appointment with me certain that she had failed both her husband and her baby.
Fran and Ethel's decision were from entirely different perspectives. Fran had been sexually abused by a father who was obsessed with her breasts, and Ethel just was not interested in nursing. Each consulted me feeling guilty that they were hurting their babies, as well as angry that others were judging their personal choices, which both women knew "are no one else's business." A few sessions and the guilt was gone for each.
As important, how very right they and others with the same awareness are: To nurse or to bottle feed is a personal decision based on personal, private factors. And the decision and factors are truly, definitely no one else's business!