Written by Kelli Bottolfson-Brown
Although most people have heard by now that “breast is best,” it is unfortunately quite common for new moms to hear criticism about their decision to breastfeed from family, friends, and even strangers. Myths about breastfeeding are pervasive in our culture, which causes even well-intentioned folks to be misinformed about the importance of breastfeeding for the health of mom and baby. Perhaps a family member believes a new mom’s milk will turn sour if she exercises, that there is no nutritional value in breast milk once the baby is 3 months old, or that a mom’s breasts will sag to her knees if she breastfeeds.
And, it is important to remember that personal experience with breastfeeding (or formula feeding) will often shape a person’s beliefs about feeding options. For example, if your mother-in-law or best friend really wanted to breastfeed but didn’t succeed, her disappointment or feelings of failure might end up being directed at you in the form of critical or discouraging comments. Breastfeeding can also lead to family members feeling left out, which may cause them to criticize your commitment to nursing. For instance, your in-laws may have been dreaming of a weekend with their new grandbaby and were looking forward to feeding the baby as a special bonding time. When they are told “the baby needs mom” for each feeding, the feeling of being left out is understandable.
Also, new moms quickly find out that everyone seems to have an opinion about all aspects of parenting a newborn: how long to nurse, how a full baby acts, how long a baby should sleep at night, what a normal mother/baby relationship looks like, and why babies cry.
When family members voice their opinions and criticisms, it may cause you to feel discouraged, isolated and unsupported, which can ultimately lead you to alter your breastfeeding goals. You might decide to supplement with formula, pump exclusively, or even completely wean your baby. Unfortunately, this happens all to often: statistics show that nearly half of all new moms who start breastfeeding at birth give up within the first 6 weeks. Although many moms report that they discontinued nursing due to low breast milk production, it is quite rare that a mom cannot produce enough milk to exclusively breastfeed. While the reasons a mom chooses to discontinue breastfeeding are usually complicated, it is likely that the lack of confidence and feelings of isolation that stem from criticism from loved ones contributes to this decision.
One thing is certain: if you plan to breastfeed, you will receive some amount of criticism from somewhere. As a result, it is essential that your arm yourself with accurate information and that you seek support from organizations and friends that share your breastfeeding goals so that you have the confidence to counteract criticism with facts. Seeking support can counteract the negativity and reinforce your belief that you are providing the very best for her baby. Support groups such as La Leche League, breastfeeding classes at hospitals or clinics and many online forums like The Leaky Boob dedicated to breastfeeding moms can give you access to a group of like-minded women.
It is also important that you understand that there is no “right” way to breastfeed, or to parent for that matter. Every baby has his or her own schedule and needs. They are human beings, after all.
And, there is no need for loved ones to feel excluded simply because you are exclusively breastfeeding your baby. You can acknowledge family members’ desire to help by handing off diaper changing, burping, housekeeping, dog walking, and colic rocking duties to anyone who wants to help.
Indeed, “breast is best” for both mom and baby, but that doesn’t mean you won’t hear criticism from misinformed loved ones and strangers about your decision to breastfeed. Be sure to seek out the support and information you need so that you are able to reach your breastfeeding goals, even in the face of negativity and criticism.