It’s Not About the Brelfie

For obvious reasons, I 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 directly 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 know 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 difficult 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 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 (“brelfies” – for the love of god, who though of that term) 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 6 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 by medical professionals, websites, fellow moms, lactation consultants, mommy-and-me group leaders, and the media.

 

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, 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.

 

While mom-to-mom cruelty is certainly a part of the problem, we know that there’s a much larger battle to fight – the battle of scientific illiteracy and paternalistic advocate-physician/researchers who are blinded by a religious belief in breastfeeding. If the bullies didn’t have certain unnamed, infamous physicians leading their charge – people who encourage the shaming and ridiculing of formula feeding parents – they wouldn’t have so much power. If society had a better understanding of the reality of infant feeding research, and could acknowledge that correlation and causation are two different animals, it would take away the fear and guilt, on ALL sides.

We just want to be equal with you. Not better. We’re not even asking you to think that formula and breastmilk are equal – that’s a question of science, of risk/benefit analysis, and individual circumstance. 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 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.

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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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5 thoughts on “It’s Not About the Brelfie

  1. I cannot breastfeed because I have breast cancer. I wanted to, but I had to restart chemo when my baby was 3 weeks old (yes, I took chemo while I was pregnant). In the hospital, nurses would not drop the bfeeding thing- even with my bald, cancer head and all my IVs going into my mediport! I said, I have cancer, I still have chemo in my body, I cannot breastfeedi! And they would not drop it. Made me even sadder and made me feel bad about the situation. Clearly this is one situation where breastfeeding is not best for the child and they still would not let it go!

    • I had a bilateral mastectomy and still spent 9 months with midwives, nurses, WIC, and everyone shoving “breast is best” down my throat even though I was clearly incapable of producing anything. I’ve seen some people liken breastfeeding to a religion- it really is. People are so wrapped up in BREAST IS BEST that they’re unable to contemplate the idea that sometimes it’s dangerous or impossible.

      I hope that you’re doing better now.

  2. “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”

    I have to say, I’m glad to note I have never had that problem. In the hospital and after at doctor visits, doctors/nurses have always been quick to help me with any formula issues I may have, and not once was I ever told by them that I shouldn’t formula feed. They asked what I planned to do and gave me formula to take home and the subject never came up again. If you find that you are getting that pressure from your own doctors, maybe it’s time to find a new one.

    • Not all areas are good for that. I’ve also heard people report that their doctor was formula friendly, but swore them to secrecy because if it got out that they’d encouraged formula feeding- they would’ve lost a lot of patients or faced flack from their hospital/colleagues. Sometimes the problem isn’t the doctor, it’s the environment, and not everyone has the luxury of moving to a more supportive area.

  3. It is sad that the real and necessary promotion of breastfeeding has not been accompanied by investment in training enough people to help and support mothers who are having difficulties with breastfeeding their babies. Research has shown that most mothers give up sooner than they would have liked to because there was no one to help them overcome their real and often very painful difficulties. The system has failed these mothers twice over: by encouraging them to want to breastfeed but not helping them to do so they are made to feel frustrated, guilty and justifiably angry. It is cruel to encourage and persuade mothers to do something while not providing them with the help and support that many will need in order to achieve their goal. It is even sadder when these mothers vent their feelings against other mothers who are breastfeeding successfully instead of against the system which has failed them so lamentably.
    Instead of attacking each other, mothers need to unite to demand more help with breastfeeding for the many who find it is not as easy in practice as they had anticipated.

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