By Suzanne Barston, a contributor to the Seleni Institute, a nonprofit mental health and wellness center for women and mothers in New York City.
In grade school, I was very good at soccer. But one afternoon when I tried to block a shot as goalie, I tripped, and the other team scored. My teammates yelled at me relentlessly, telling me I lost the game. But they didn't need to drill the point home because I already felt like a failure. The pit in my stomach was punishment enough.
During the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action's World Breastfeeding Week, I fear that many formula-feeding moms, innocently scrolling through Facebook, will feel that same pit in their stomach.
The goal of World Breastfeeding Week, which was launched more than two decades ago, is to "protect, promote, and support breastfeeding" worldwide as a "key intervention for improving child survival... improv[ing] newborn care, and reduc[ing] neonatal mortality," especially in developing nations where not breastfeeding can increase the risk of malnutrition and disease.
During this week, public health officials share the health benefits of breastfeeding and drive home the importance of societal acceptance and assistance for breastfeeding mothers.
It can be a wonderfully empowering, inspiring time for a breastfeeding mom -- a virtual high-five for all her hard work. But as I know from past years (and from personal experience), this week can trigger intense emotions for moms who formula feed.
This year's theme is "Breastfeeding: A Winning Goal," which might remind some women that they didn't meet their own goal or dream of breastfeeding. The terminology "goals" and "winning" might bring to mind loss, failure and disappointment, even if they are meant to be inspiring and motivating.
I don't believe the message should be diluted to spare the feelings of formula-feeding moms. Instead, as an advocate for formula-feeding families, I believe this week is the perfect time to spread our own message about the importance of self-care, individuality and confidence. With that in mind, I hope my formula-feeding sisters will remember the following:
It's not about you. You are not a statistic. You are you -- the mother of your child. No matter what some stranger on the Internet claims, only you know what is best for your family.
Breastfeeding is one part of a complex puzzle that makes up child health. Parenting entails 18+ years of risk/benefit analyses, and infant feeding is simply one of them. Public health messaging is about public heath, not individual health. What's best for the masses isn't always best for the individual.
Bonding doesn't require breasts. Or working ovaries. (Or ovaries at all, for that matter.) And I have proof: Just look at the love and support in these wonderful bottle-feeding images. (Please add yours!)
It's OK to disconnect. If you find that you're stressed out by the memes and articles going around this week, take a break from Facebook and online news outlets. Instead, connect with real life friends who empower you and respect your choices. Take a walk with your healthy, thriving formula-fed baby and feel good about the fact there's a product out there that nourishes him well.
And please remember that life is not a grade-school soccer game. You haven't failed anyone -- not your baby, not yourself -- by missing the goal. And if anyone makes you feel otherwise, you probably don't want to be on her team.
A version of this article was originally published on the Seleni Institute website. Seleni is a nonprofit mental health and wellness center providing clinical services, research funding, and online information and support for women and mothers. You can follow Suzanne Barston on Twitter at @formulafeeder.