The blog war over breastfeeding advocacy and the “guilt” it heaps onto formula feeders rages on…
I recently got on Twitter (I know, I’m like 10 years behind the times, but I’m a Gen X-er, we’re slackers) and found that if you search “breastfeeding”, you can find links to all sorts of interesting sites. I’ve been commenting on a lot of these, trying to offer another point of view. I’ve noticed that only people who agree with the blogger tend to comment on many blogs, which is why I am so happy when someone of an opposing opinion makes their way over here – what’s the good of a debate if we never hear the other side?
For example, in reading some of the recent blog posts about breastfeeding advocacy and how it makes formula feeders feel guilty, I’ve learned a lot. I never really thought about why lactivists got so incensed by the guilt argument. On my end, my anger came from this article on Kellymom.com by Jack Newman MD (I love this man. I really do. He inspires me to write like no other, because every time I read anything he writes, the feminist, factivist, and human sides of me get so fired up that the words come pouring out…),where I felt like he was essentially making my argument for me, even though his intent was the polar opposite.
Finally, who does feel guilty about breastfeeding? Not the women who make an informed choice to bottle feed. It is the woman who wanted to breastfeed, who tried, but was unable to breastfeed who feels guilty. In order to prevent women feeling guilty about not breastfeeding what is required is not avoiding promotion of breastfeeding, but promotion of breastfeeding coupled with good, knowledgeable and skillful support.
Notice the bold text. The woman who wanted to breastfeed, who tried…. she’s the one who feels guilty.
That is the crux of our argument, lactivists! We’re not mad that you are promoting breastfeeding- that is great. More power to you. Seriously. But if the only people who are feeling guilty are the ones who tried what you wanted them to try, and failed for whatever reason, then why the heck wouldn’t you care that those women feel guilty? They’re in your camp! They did what you thought- what they thought- was best. Mission accomplished. In some cases, better support might have helped; but in others, breastfeeding is filed under “things that weren’t meant to be”.
Encouraging breastfeeding does not have to make anyone feel guilty. You know what made me want so badly to breastfeed? The bonding benefits. The idea that I could be my child’s only food source. That sounded pretty darn awesome. If you believe in the inherent goodness and intelligence of womankind, then I think that stressing these things would work wonders. Using scare tactics is not the way to go. I recently talked to a fascinating woman who studied guilt appeals in advertising, and she explained to me that when you go too far in an ad, scaring or guilting someone into buying your product, there is a “boomerang” effect – the consumer gets angry. Not only will she avoid buying your product, but she also might boycott your company altogether. I think this is similar to what is happening with the breastfeeding “backlash”.
So guys- please listen. Here’s what does not make us feel guilty:
- Empowering women, encouraging them to breastfeed, or informing them, in a non-judgmental manner, of the facts (but with the caveat that these facts are really facts, not just hypotheses gleaned from one or two observational studies that show something you want them to show.
- Talking about how much you love nursing. I love watching my friends nurse, hearing how rewarding it’s been for them. It makes me happy as a friend and a woman. It’s amazing what our bodies can do.
- Proudly nursing in public. You should have this right, and I will gladly kick anyone in the shins who stares or makes you feel bad about it.
What does make us feel emotions like guilt, and anger, is:
- Telling us we are bad mothers for not breastfeeding.
- Preaching to us when we have already made our decision (or had it made for us, depending on the situation). We might feel 100% confident in our choices, but having to constantly defend those choices gets tiresome. Maybe guilt isn’t the result, maybe it’s anger. And maybe that anger makes us protective of other women who may be in our position in the future, thus making us sensitive to actions that might induce guilt in other moms.
- Overstating study results and then telling US that we are distorting the “facts”. Who does this help? It just makes you look desperate, rather than providing an intelligent, balanced argument for why we need better support for nursing mothers.
I also think “guilt” has been used as a blanket term, when maybe some other emotions are coming into play. Anger, like I just said. Fear, when we think that maybe breastfeeding could become a mandatory, government-controlled act. Or that our employers could have a say in how we feed our kids. Sometimes the actions you take, or the statements you make in your zeal, suggest that this is the world you want to live in. That sounds scary to some of us.
None of this means you should stop advocating for breastfeeding. But please, don’t lump us together as some weak, needy, guilty group. That’s not who we are. All we want is to be able to feel happy with our choices without you telling us that we have chosen wrongly. That’s all. I believe that as women, we are strong enough, smart enough, and sensitive enough to find a way to achieve our goals without putting each other down.
PS: I had to rewrite this entire post this morning, Lesson learned? Don’t ever blog past midnight when you’ve just spent 4 hours on a plane with a 10-month-old. Apparently, I write like a fifth grader under those circumstances. Yikes.