Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I was recently introducted to this article from the Boston Globe and it resonated so much with me I've decided to share the entire article here. I have highlighted the specific points that really hit home for me.

Food for thought
One mom's plea to stop the smug judgments and let parents make their choices in peace

By Kara Baskin, Globe Correspondent August 14, 2010
By now, most of us have heard about supermodel Gisele Bundchen's breezily offensive comment in Harper's Bazaar U.K. that breast-feeding for six months should be a "worldwide law.'' Her blunt statements electrified the blogosphere — not because she's right or wrong (and, really, who cares — she's Gisele Bundchen, not Dr. Sears) — but because some mothers make it their business to criticize other mothers' decisions.

Her decree — one she softened on her own blog after her comments made worldwide news — casts a harsh light on competitive mothering and its capacity to sting even the most confident woman. Bundchen is the celebrity version of the smug mommy who glares as she sees you bottle-feeding; the one who clucks disapproval at your decision to use day care; the one who sees your kid eating sand on the playground and "helpfully'' suggests you consult a child psychiatrist.

After Bundchen's pronouncement, parenting sites buzzed with women lambasting bottle-feeding moms for all manner of sins, from immaturity (apparently bottle-feeding moms want to drink wine and sleep in) to poor nutritional awareness. According to Internet antagonists, bottle-feeding is at worst an act of selfishness; at best, it's due to lack of education. Rarely is it an informed choice. The furor was especially intense, no doubt, because this is National Breastfeeding Month.

So at the risk of being judged, I confess: I bottle-feed my 2-week-old son. And, most days, I'm confident about my choice. I had breast-reduction surgery and was told my milk might come in painfully, or not at all. While pregnant, I talked to friends who'd had breast reduction surgery and attempted to breast-feed — with no luck, just discomfort.

I also have panic disorder, which inevitably flares up when I'm overtired and stressed. I've known many women who felt tethered to their children thanks to a demanding breast-feeding schedule and who resented their husbands sleeping while they sat awake. I saw bottle-feeding as one way to make the parenting ride a bit smoother and to protect my own mental health, because I think my son will benefit most of all from a happy mother.

But a voice in the back of my mind still needled: "Motherhood is supposed to be hard! Bad mommy!'' What business did I have making life easier for myself?

This voice first surfaced a couple of months ago, when I took a childbirth class at my local hospital. There, we were asked to raise our hands if we planned to breast-feed. I was the only mom who didn't. Several classmates looked at me with arched eyebrows. I stammered some half-hearted excuse. "It's OK,'' the nurse said sweetly. "You shouldn't need to explain yourself.'' But how could I not, when each student was preemptively issued a pamphlet titled "Congratulations on Your Decision to Breast-Feed''? I left feeling guilt-ridden.

I felt judged again after having my son, when an advertisement for breast pumps played on a loop in our hospital recovery room. "You know you're a great mom, because you made the very best decision for your child,'' a narrator cooed as a blissed-out woman nursed her baby. The implication was, of course, that other choices are reserved for moms who make sub-par decisions. I wanted to be part of the good mom club, too.

And I cringed reading message boards in the wake of Bundchen's comments, in which she alluded to formula as "chemical food'' and then later backpedaled, insisting, "I am not here to judge.'' (Too late, thanks — I've already envisioned my innocent son guzzling gasoline from his cute four-ounce bottle.)

"Breast milk is a birthright,'' one breast-feeding advocate railed on CBSNews.com. "We are too lazy and too caught up in trying to make our 3-week-old into a self-sufficient human so we can go out and have a drink and pretend we never had her for a couple hours.''

If I needed any further evidence that we bottle-feeders are lazy boozers who need reprimanding, I only had to look within my own social circle. When talking to other women about this article, one bottle-feeder admitted she was made to feel like she fed her kids "battery acid.'' Another said she'd disclose the reasons behind her nonmedical decision to bottle-feed her baby, but only if I promised anonymity. "I'm tired of the judgment,'' she e-mailed.

Sadly, while there are health benefits to breast-feeding (disease-fighting antibodies for baby; decreased risk of breast cancer and type 2 diabetes for mom), the perks are often lost in a haze of self-righteousness. The slogan-ization of feeding "join the boob-alution!'' or "breast is best!'' trades complexity for cuteness. After all, "I love cracked nipples'' or "I haven't slept well in two weeks'' don't sound so enticing.

Bottle-feeding, while also nutritionally sound, isn't a walk in the park, either. It's expensive. It's messy. It's imperfect. So is parenthood. Instead of polarizing ourselves in search of validation, why not acknowledge the good, the bad, and the ugly on both sides? We'd all feel better about ourselves.

Before I left the hospital, a nurse asked if I was bottle- or breast-feeding. I launched into an apologetic monologue about my choice. She was an older, no-nonsense lady who'd seen it all. "Honey,'' she interrupted, "don't let anyone criticize you. In my day, bottle-feeding was the rage. Do what's best for you.'' I wanted to kiss her.

Indeed, in the 1950s and 1960s, bottle-feeding was en vogue. As the nutritional benefits of breast-feeding have come to light, more women have opted to do so, though not exclusively. Now, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 74 percent of babies in the United States are breast-fed at birth. But only 43 percent of babies are still breast-fed at six months. I find it hard to believe that more than half of all women want to do wrong by their children. I think they're trying to do the best they can for their kids and themselves, whatever their situation.

After all, parenting choices, including how we feed our children, aren't always clear-cut — a truism hammered home in Massachusetts this week by the Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled that women are entitled only to eight weeks unpaid leave under the Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act. In light of such restrictions, many women opt for convenience. The last thing any of us need — whether we bottle-feed for health reasons, practicality, or simple preference — is judgment.

It's time to eliminate the superiority complex from motherhood and acknowledge that there are no right or easy answers. There are nutritional benefits to breast-feeding. There are mental-health benefits to bottle-feeding. I've known sickly kids who were breast-fed and healthy kids who were bottle-fed, and vice-versa. Like so many aspects of parenting, it's a roll of the dice. But one simple way to assure our children's long-term success is by providing them with loving, nonjudgmental role models. After all, some things never go out of style.

Send comments to gsection@globe.com


So...what would you have highlighted?


  1. Great article. You pretty much have it on the spot (highlighting) but what that nurse said is so true.
    My mom started feeding me at 2 months. Yup you read right feeding m e and she was using cloth diapers (when disposables where the in-thing but she had to I was alergic) but she got judged. So ya it's not only breast-feeding. It's every freaken decision you take from the moment you go into labor.

  2. Obvs I've got nothing to contribute to the baby-feeding angle here, but something you highlighted in the article stuck out to me nonetheless - "Motherhood is supposed to be hard!...What business did I have making life easier for myself?" Substitute "life" for "motherhood" and you've got my frequent hang-up. I generally guilt myself into doing things I don't want to do, thinking that I "have" to do the hard stuff in life. I'm slowly learning that doing what *I* want to do, and taking care of *me*, are not bad things. Sure, there will always be things we have to do that we may not enjoy (paying taxes, etc) but sometimes, sometimes - it's ok to say "no" and do what makes YOU happy.

    So I'm learning.

  3. Great article! I would have highlighted and shouted from the rooftops the same section you did:

    "... I think my son will benefit most of all from a happy mother."

    YES! I am definitely ALL FOR mothers/women supporting each other instead of criticizing. It's a hard world out there and we need to embrace the "to each his/her own" mentality and support our fellow mothers and women!

  4. I love how she concludes her article:

    Like so many aspects of parenting, it's a roll of the dice. But one simple way to assure our children's long-term success is by providing them with loving, nonjudgmental role models. After all, some things never go out of style.

    I don't have children and often find myself watching my friends with their kids and making notes to myself what I would do differently...it's hard not to be a little judgmental (at least for me), but I'm working on it and deep down I know that it isn't about bottle/breast or cloth/disposable or co-sleeping/CIO...but all the babies who are happy and well adjusted have parents who are also happy and well adjusted...that is the most important thing for a child.

  5. I'm not a mom, but I think you are awesome. And if I ever am a mom, I hope I can find friends like you.

  6. Great article. I don't have kids, but I spent much of the past week with my two cousins, aged 9 months and 13 months. One is bottle-fed and his parents are pretty laid-back (well within reason) about his general feeding schedule and diet. He's healthy and happy. The other is breast-fed and his parents are fascinatingly strict about what and when he eats (all organic, homemade, etc). He's healthy and happy. Both are loved and well-cared for by their parents and extended family, which I'm guessing is why they're both, you know, healthy and happy.

    As long as decisions are made with love, they're probably the right decisions. And people who want to judge that need to think a little more about love, methinks.

  7. I tried in earnest and failed miserable to breastfeed my first child due to inverted nipples. I felt like such a failure. Now I write this 23 weeks pregnant and it is all I can think about. I fret more about this issue than about the major surgery (c-section) the baby and I must go through to even bring him into the world. Oh, and believe me I feel like a failure too because I can't "give" birth I have to have my son cut out of me. I will try again to breastfeed my new baby, and pray that this time I will be successful but I am preparing myself for the looks, tut-tutting and down right ugly reactions if I fail. Thank you for posting this.

  8. F*CK YEAH I want to drink wine and sleep in. I nursed my kid for a year, but I'd hand her over with a bottle as often as I needed to un-tether.

  9. I bottlefed my first two daughters...my own choice. I am now breastfeeding my 3rd daughter and love it. People also judge me...they think I'm a 'radical' because I BF, cloth diaper & co-sleep with my baby. Perhaps its my age (35) or that this is my THIRD baby, but I do not feel the need to explain myself at all...but I also do not expect ANY mom to have to explain her decisions to me (unless they're leaving their wee-ones in a car alone or something-I WILL speak up). I've been on both sides of the baby feeding issue and think whatever works best for your own tribe is what you should do! YES...a happy mommy is the BEST.
    Obviously other parents are way less confident in their own skills and therefore have to pick on the parenting skills others. Bully syndrome, perhaps?
    If my baby would TAKE a bottle (she refuses), I would totally take advantage and have a glass of wine.

  10. Thank you for posting that article. As a soon-to-be mom, I am already nervous about sharing the choices my husband and I are making or plan to make for our child.

    The section that you highlighted where the author felt guilty for trying to do something to make parenthood slightly smoother/easier really stood out for me. I bet many moms who are trying to breastfeed are using swaddling, swings, bounce seats, pacifiers, etc... to help calm their child and make their lives easier. Parenthood is HARD (and I'm sure that I have no idea how hard) and anything parents can do to make it a little smoother should be embraced. I very much believe that having a healthy, sane and happy mom is as important as anything else you can do for your child.

  11. Since I'm spayed, and we're having our child through a surrogate, I often wonder what kind of lectures I'm going to be given about how it's a sin that I'm not breastfeeding. Currently working on my response, but it will be something along the lines of, "Cancer took my uterus, so we used a surrogate. I can't take the hormones necessary to produce milk because it might bring the cancer back." Or, a more simple, "It's none of your business."