THE BLOG

It's Not About the Brelfie

05/29/2015 06:20 pm ET | Updated May 29, 2016

Considering I run a community called The Fearless Formula Feeder, I obviously get excited whenever the media takes notice of how formula-feeding parents are feeling.

That's what happened yesterday, when the media (and my email, Twitter and Facebook feed) exploded with the news of a new campaign meant to fight back against breastfeeding pressure, using the hashtag "#bressure." When I first read the articles about the movement, I noticed the positive (attention to the experience of "failing" to meet breastfeeding recommendations) and ignored the references to the "brelfies," breastfeeding photos which apparently spurred the campaign in the first place. I even sent a letter to the creators, praising them and asking if the FFF community could contribute in some way.

But as the day wore on, red flags started popping up. First, a fellow blogger alerted me to the fact that the survey conducted by the Bressure movement alluded to breastfeeding selfies as "sexualized." Then, every single article I read focused on how these (apparently sexualized) "brelfies" were intentionally causing pain and suffering to bottle feeders. Instead of talking about the systemic issues that create a cycle of guilt, fear and competition, we were once again dragging the conversation down into the mommy-war gutter, pitting woman against woman, and continuing the seemingly endless divide between breastfeeding and formula-feeding moms.

This is not progress.

I've run a modestly large international community of formula-feeding parents for the past six years, and I have learned several truths:

1. Formula-feeders are a diverse group, just as breastfeeders are a diverse group. There are militant, intolerant formula-feeding parents who truly do believe that women shouldn't breastfeed in public, just as there are militant, intolerant breastfeeding mothers who believe formula-feeders are selfish, ignorant and useless. I wish we could vote them all off the island, but alas, such is life. The problem is that we're letting these factions monopolize the conversation. This is EXACTLY why we started #ISupportYou, to which there was a rather vocal backlash from the intolerant/militant faction -- on both sides.

2. The media loves drama. It is so much more fun to blame "brelfies" for the pain we formula-feeders endure, because then the extremists come out of the woodwork and create mile-long comment sections, boosting your traffic for the next few days. It is also easier to get inflammatory quotes when nuance is ignored. Nuance doesn't get web traffic or media attention. Trust me on that one. I speak from experience.

3. Seeing breastfeeding photos is undeniably triggering for those of us who wanted to breastfeed and couldn't, or feel conflicted about our choices. When we're feeling vulnerable and judged, it can definitely feel like that model/celeb/Facebook friend's breastfeeding selfie is intentionally meant to twist the knife a little deeper. But that shouldn't stop a mom from posting a breastfeeding photo, any more than you should refrain from posting a shot of your newborn when your second cousin is struggling with fertility issues. Both of you have the right to your feelings -- your pride, her grief. (That said, there's the social media era problem with all of us comparing ourselves to others, posting things we'd never say to someone's face and basically acting like insensitive jerks every time we hit "post.")

4. The breastfeeding selfies themselves are not the problem, but the "#breastisbest #breastfeedingmomsrule #whatsyoursuperpower hashtags can be construed by some as an attack on formula-feeding moms. That's not me telling you to stop doing them, just explaining why the photos might hurt your best friend who switched to formula three weeks ago. That is not me telling you that the cause of normalizing breastfeeding isn't important, just explaining why there might be better ways to achieve the same goals without adding to the conflict. Just like this latest "bressure" video series could have had a hugely positive impact -- if the impetus behind it didn't sound like bitterness and jealousy and a who-has-it-worse competition.

5. There's enough anger, misunderstanding and generalization on both sides of this debate to fill several football stadiums. When the media chooses to focus on something trivial (for the love of god, who though of the term 'brelfies') instead of the real issues, we all lose. Personally, it makes me feel like I might as well jump in my DeLorean and head back to 2008, because what the hell have I wasted the past six years of my life on?

6. The top reasons that formula-feeders are angry, based on my totally unscientific, not-peer-reviewed, but at least peer-collected research, are the following:

  • We are made to feel like inferior mothers
  • We get no guidance or education on bottle-feeding from professionals, and when we seek it out, we get conflicting info peppered with constant reminders of why we really should be breastfeeding, so why even bother attempting to find the best type of formula, since they're all crap, anyway?
  • The reasons that breastfeeding advocates and the media give for us "failing" to meet their recommendations are so far from our lived realities -- inability to latch, financial concerns, whatever they may be -- it's hard to believe we exist in the same dimension.
  • Everything having to do with babies these days -- from conferences to books to radio shows -- focuses on breastfeeding. If bottle-feeding is mentioned, it's typically in the context of Things To Avoid At All Costs Unless You Really Have to Go Back to Work In Which Case You Should Just Pump or At Absolute Worst Use Donor Milk.
  • Yes, there are many breastfeeding advocates who come to troll on our pages and provoke our anger. And yes, there are formula-feeders who will do the same on breastfeeding pages. Ignore these people. They do not matter. There are more of us middle-ground, moderate folks than there are of them.
  • All we are asking is that we do not equate the type of liquid going into our children's bellies with how much we love them, or how bonded we are with them or how strong/capable/dedicated we are as parents.

This is not about photos. This is not about who has it worse. This is not even about breastfeeding and formula-feeding anymore. It's about how we view motherhood as a competition, how the powers that be monopolize on this competition and how the media loves to encourage it. Instead of focusing on brelfies or bressure, let's tell the people with power and responsibility to tell mothers the truth, and demand that they listen instead of preach. And let's get the hell off Instagram and start making an impact in our own communities, with our own friends and fellow parents. Ignore the hype, and focus on the help.

A picture tells a thousand words. But they don't have to be negative ones.