Yesterday, when I quoted Lorrie Hearts about a hospital’s decision to stop making free formula available to new moms in an effort to be “baby-friendly”, I got a lot of supportive comments and questions through Tumblr. (Thanks, y’all!) I also got a lot of hate and misrepresentation directed at me through Twitter. (Does this decide the never-ending social media battle in my head? Maybe!)
When I wrote about breastfeeding and formula feeding for my column in The Daily earlier this year, what I stressed was that too many moms who choose (or must) formula feed are outright shamed for it:
But why a woman doesn’t nurse is beside the point. Whether she’s unable to or simply chooses not to, the guilt has got to go.
We should reserve our motherly disdain for systemic issues that make parenting harder — workplace inequities and the maternal wage gap, the lack of paid maternity leave and affordable child-care options — not other women’s personal decisions about how to feed their babies.
So it’s all the more infuriating that the responses directed at me (shrouded in patronizing rhetoric about wanting to “educate”) have been absolutely rife with shaming.
FeministBreeder, a blogger and lactivist whose Twitter description touts herself as a “rocker chick turned natural mom” (I’m dying to know what kind of mother isn’t a “natural” one), started in by suggesting my post was “harmful to women’s health,” that I hadn’t researched the issue, and that I was “siding with the formula marketing industry” who take advantage of “vulnerable” women.
Her tweets actually embody the main issues I have with those who shame formula-feeding mothers: the condescending attitude that women who formula feed are somehow stupid or have been duped, the assumption that anyone who formula feeds or supports women who do so isn’t educated on the issue, and, of course, the shaming inherent in suggesting that formula hurt women (and babies). The other issue, which I’ll get into in a bit, is the mind-boggling classism I’ve seen bandied about.
I am not Jessica Valenti’s number one fan (though I do think she is wonderful), but I have to hand this one to her. I am very pro-formula if that’s the choice the mother has made & it annoys the hell out of me when people try to make a woman change her mind to suit what they think is the better choice for her. I’m not saying that people aren’t right when they say that breast milk is better for a child. I’m saying that sometimes breastfeeding is not the best choice for the mother. Some women can’t breastfeed & some simply choose not to. These are not bad women or bad mothers.
I don’t know what I’ll do when I’m a mother. I’ll probably try breastfeeding, but I certainly won’t feel like any less of a wonderful mom if I don’t stick with it. I know many wonderful women who went with the formula option (including my own mother), and I think they are incredible mothers. Breastfeeding is absolutely better for your child. Anyone who says it isn’t is ignorant to health & nutrition. BUT, I don’t think it’s one of those things that new mothers should be made to feel bad about. The arguments that compare formula feeding to smoking while pregnant just don’t hold up for me.
There really are much bigger things to argue about.
Your body, your children, your choice.