You don’t need to know why I don’t breastfeed, because it shouldn’t matter.

This past week, Emily Wax-Thibodeux’s excellent essay, “Why I don’t breastfeed, if you must know”, went viral. As it should have. It’s a cutting, heartfelt expose of just how ridiculous the pressure to breastfeed has become, made all the more powerful by the author’s recounting of her double mastectomy.

Unfortunately, even breast cancer didn’t stop the haters from hating.

“95% of the time people don’t breastfeed for reasons other than terminal illness. This is a red herring argument. She shouldn’t feel bad for having a legitimate reason for not breastfeeding and if she does then its really a personal problem,” said one comment on a Today.com thread.

“We all understand should and can are different. A mother who cannot breast feed is different than a mother who can but chooses not to…Breast milk is better for an infant than formula, I don’t think there is a doctor, nurse or midwife who would say that formula is better…Shame people would criticize this mother who CANNOT breastfeed like it was her choice,” wrote another (who happened to be male).

And then there was the woman who insisted that “(t)here is absolutely zero systematic or general judgment against infant formula or bottle feeding. It is the absolute expected norm by the majority of adults and parents in our culture. No one cares if you feed your baby infant formula or use a bottle…Most children start on the breast. Most children are weaned. Most children are given formula and fed with bottles. There is no public backlash against infant formula or bottle feeding. But here’s an article that pretends “infant formula shaming” is some actual thing. No. It isn’t. Not in the real world of critical thought and evidence. The data doesn’t support this notion at all.”

In the FFF community, there was tremendous support for Wax-Gibodeux’s piece, but an underlying concern about the title – because why must we know why she isn’t breastfeeding? Is shaming more acceptable for some mothers than others? What is the litmus test that rewards us with a breastfeeding “pass”? If a double mastectomy doesn’t quite cut it, I don’t know what will.

So maybe we should stop giving reasons altogether.

For those who fear formula as a product, no reason in the world is sufficient for a baby to be given anything other human milk. It doesn’t matter if the baby has to be wet nursed by someone with an unknown medical history – that is still better than formula.

For those who like to shame mothers – because that’s what it really is about, enjoying the act of shaming, of making yourself feel superior, or feel better about your choices by questioning those of others – no reason in the world will make a mother above reproach. She could always have done more – after all, breastfeeding is 90% determination and only 10% milk production, as a recent meme proudly stated. Best case scenario, she might get pity – but pity carries its own heavy scent, similar to the sour stench of shame.

Giving a reason for why you didn’t breastfeed is pointless.

That doesn’t mean telling your story isn’t important, because our narratives matter; they help those floundering in their own messy journeys make sense of what’s happening and find community with those who’ve been there. But there’s a difference between telling your story and owning it, and telling it to defend yourself. One gives you power, the other takes it away. 

We are at a turning point, I hope. Jessica Martin-Weber of The Leaky Boob has taken a stand against romanticizing the reality of breastfeeding, and is helping those in the breastfeeding community feel comfortable with bottle (and formula) use. When one of the leading voices in breastfeeding advocacy speaks out against a culture of fear and rigidity, that means something. Wax-Thibodeux’s piece has brought many powerful voices out of the woodwork, allowing women who’ve swallowed their shame to regurgitate it, and make the uninitiated understand just how sour it tastes.

Now is the time to draw a line in the sand. This conversation has moved beyond breastfeeding and formula feeding and whether one party is more marginalized than the other, or how superior one product is nutritionally to the other. We’ve been there, done that, and nothing has really changed. We’re all still hurting. We’re all still feeling unsupported, unseen, and resentful, like a 3-year-old with a colicky new sibling. Now, we need to stand up, collectively, and say it doesn’t matter why I am feeding the way I am. It is not up to anyone else to deem my reason appropriate or “understandable”. I’m going to stand up for anyone who has felt shamed about how she’s feeding, instead of just people who’ve had identical experiences to me, or those who I feel tried hard enough. 

A breastfeeding advocate shouldn’t be afraid to admit she questions aspects of the WHO Code. A breast cancer survivor shouldn’t have to have awkward conversations about why she’s bottle feeding. A woman who chooses not to breastfeed for her own personal reasons should not have to lay those reasons out in front of a jury of her peers.

This Tower of (breastfeeding) Babble has reached a fever pitch. It’s time for it to come down. Pick up your axe and start chopping. And next time someone asks, simply tell them, “You don’t need to know why I don’t breastfeed. Because it shouldn’t matter.”

 

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.


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7 thoughts on “You don’t need to know why I don’t breastfeed, because it shouldn’t matter.

  1. Thanks for this one! As a formula feeder by choice rather than necessity, it’s good to see someone has my back. I obviously support women who wanted to breast feed but couldn’t. But I could, and don’t have a “reason” why I eventually decided not to.

  2. Once again, you say it perfectly Suzanne! I’m amazed how many people spend so much of their time bringing people down for such a personal decision that in no way affects them. I am lucky to have never experienced that. My heart goes out to women who feel shamed rather than supported for EITHER feeding decision.

  3. Thank you for this. When I read it last week I immediately thought “oh, my reason for not BFing isn’t good enough- I don’t/didn’t have cancer.” It really is no one’s business and damn, if they had walked the PPD journey I walked with my first, they would know why I came to the decision I did this time around. But do I owe that to anyone (besides, maybe, my child if he ever asks)?

  4. I could not agree more. I read her essay because someone posted it on a breastfeeding support group page and I was taken aback by the response. The author’s words were criticized as being anti breastfeeding because of certain semantics and it really made me feel disappointed in the women who were making those negative comments. I nurse my son, but there was a significant period of time when I wasn’t sure we would make it. That is when I found this site and I am still here reading every week. I really find it discouraging that so many women have stories that include other women judging them for their parenting choices. I wish we could just be supportive of each other and understand not everyone has to follow one set of “rules.” We are our own worst enemies in so many ways. Parenting is hard enough. Thank you for the awareness you bring and the stories that are shared here.

  5. Breastfed two babies here… and totally agree with you. Nobody learns business, and really, doesn’t make any difference to the outcome of the kiddos.

  6. I love this and thank you! I am pregnant and will be formula feeding for my own personal reasons, and I already dread the shaming I will get from it. Family members have already made nasty comments about formula feeding and they do not even know of our decision yet, so I know it is coming. I just don’t understand why it is anyone’s business and why a person feels the need to make a mother feel bad for her decision, regardless of the decision. I don’t care how they feed their kids, so why does anyone care how I feed mine?

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