The series Drying Up: How Breastfeeding Fails addresses the complex issues of breastfeeding and why women struggle to meet their own goals. Posts will cover personal choice, bodily autonomy, the role of the medical community, informed consent, and how to make resources more available to those who in need.
The Blame Game
by Katherine Anderson
It is time to stop lying to ourselves. Women have not failed to breastfeed. We have failed to help them do so. We do not support them by judging them or their choices. We support them by listening to their stories, and providing empathy as well as information.
It is time to place the blame where it belongs, and that place can no longer be on women who just want to feed their babies. It needs to be on those who have failed to support them. It needs to be on the formula companies that undermine them, the doctors that do not educate them, and the culture that does not accept them.
The reasons why women do not succeed in meeting their own goals for breastfeeding are multifaceted. The frustrations of caring for a new baby combined with the stress of sleep deprivation and conflicting opinions and advice, can quickly send a vulnerable mother into a tailspin of guilt and shame. There are plenty of reasons that it doesn’t work out, and we can pin it on any number of issues. Slow weight gain. Oversupply. Undersupply. Poor latching. Pain. You could blame doctors, lactation consultants, nurses, formula handouts, pharmaceutical companies. There’s plenty of it to go around. Except it doesn’t. The blame falls on mothers. We take a mother who is trying to do the most basic parenting task, and we tell her she’s not good enough. And she believes it.
Most of all, women blame themselves. They blame their bodies. They’re judged for trying too hard, and then shamed for not trying hard enough. There is criticism everywhere they turn.
We cannot afford to waste time quibbling over how mothers should try harder or blaming them for not doing all this work themselves. $13 billion dollars and over 900 infants a year in the United States of America could be saved if they were not formula-fed.
This is to say nothing of the 1.3 million infant lives could be saved this year if the UNICEF and World Health Organization guidelines were followed.
We must separate the issues of bottle-feeding as a parenting choice, and infant formula as a chemical substance. We must validate the choices parents make for their children while also being free to expose the risks lack of breastfeeding support presents to women and children.
To claim that you cannot criticize formula without judging the mothers who use it is disingenuous. Science says that the consumption of saturated fats leads to an increase in cardiovascular health risks. Science says that a sedentary lifestyle leads to an increased risk of high blood pressure. Those claims are backed by research and are not criticisms. What’s more important is what they do not say: that those who eat fast food are bad, or that those who don’t exercise are lazy.
Informed consent is the foundation of patient advocacy, and you cannot be informed if you are not aware of the facts. Parents have the right to the latest research and practices when it comes to infant feeding. They have the same right as a man does when he goes to a doctor for his erectile dysfunction, as a woman has when she needs labwork to test for a disease, as an athlete who sustains an injury. The risks presented by formula should not be brushed under the “mommy war” rug.
The slogan “Breast is Best” ignores what is best for the mother. Breastmilk is best for babies, of that there is no doubt. So what is best for mothers? Encouragement. Validation. Respect. They need education that is not admonishment, and advice that is not belittling. They need friends and family members who will accept the choices they make.
“Why do you care if a mother breastfeeds or not?”
Isn’t that reason enough?
Katherine Anderson is the mother of three children, a birth and breastfeeding counselor, and aspiring IBCLC. Passionate about lactivism, environmental causes and other endeavors, she enjoys writing, horseback riding, and dedicating her talents to support mothers in the community.
She is currently available by email for breastfeeding or birth related consultations. To contact, please email firstname.lastname@example.org