One thing you can be sure of when you have a new baby is that everyone, literally everyone will have an opinion on how, when and where you feed your baby. Whether you breast or bottle feed or a combination of the two, breastfeed for ‘too long’ or ‘not long enough’, it appears that you can feel judged for your decisions from the minute you give birth, from family, friends and even total strangers. It can feel relentless and at times I have felt I have needed a pretty thick skin.
Having breastfed both my children, I have experienced more than my fair share of breastfeeding judgement, particularly in relation to extended breastfeeding or breastfeeding in public.
Here are my hints are tips for coping with breastfeeding judgement.
- First things first, remember that ultimately the only person whose opinions matters is yours and your partner’s. How you feed your baby is your decision. If you decide to feed your baby colostrum and nothing else, breastfeed for two weeks or for two years, the decision is ultimately the choice of the parent and what works best for you and your family. Your mental health and the health of the baby is the most important element here, so do not let anyone else’s opinions, comments or remarks impact your decision.
- If you are nervous about breastfeeding in public, seek out breastfeeding friendly locations, particularly during those early days with a newborn. If you are uncomfortable feeding in public, whilst you don’t need to cover up, you may want to consider a breastfeeding scarf or apron, which can help you to feed more discreetly and feel less anxious.
- Educate them – Many of the negative perceptions, about extended breastfeeding in particular, are based upon a lack of knowledge about breastfeeding. I will be the first to admit that before having children of my own, I found breastfeeding beyond 1 year a little ‘strange’. I never thought I would be a Mom that fed for longer than this, and yet here I am, having fed both my girls for over 2 years. I am now embarrassed for the negative assumptions that I made. I didn’t have a clue. Quite often, negative perceptions are based on a lack of information – so why not help them fill the blanks?
- Tell them how it makes you feel – if someone is really upsetting you with their comments – tell them, particularly if its someone who you have an otherwise good relationship with. In most cases at least, their comments are made with good intentions, and they may not realise the impact of their actions.
- Explain why it works for you – It can be easy for people to roll their eyes around the concept of “breast is best” and people can automatically assume you are anti formula simply because you have chosen to breastfeed. People can become quite defensive, assuming you look down on those who couldn’t feed or made the personal choice not to. I found the best way to answer this is to explain why breastfeeding works for you. Whether it’s the lack of sterilising bottles, the skin on skin contact or the scientific evidence about the benefits, be open about your choices, they’re nothing to be ashamed of.
- Laugh it off or change the subject – You shouldn’t have to avoid the issue but sometimes it is the easiest way, particularly when it is family members of people you care about. As a breastfeeding Mom to a toddler, I now tend to keep the subject of breastfeeding private – she feeds at bedtime only, therefore isn’t something I feel needs to be a topic of conversation.
Like many parts of parenting, everyone is different, and the parenting choices you make wont always be compatible with the choices of others. It’s far easier to concentrate on what works for you, and leave other parents to do the same!