It’s World Breastfeeding Week

Spare a thought for the formula fellowship

This week my son turned seven months old. He was exclusively breastfed for six months. A happy achievement, not without a large slice of anxieties, frustrations and incredible pain.

In this war against anything not ‘natural’ these days, the breastfeeding battalion is especially charged up. And rightly so. The world stares them down when they try to feed in public. Perverts peek and others vulgarize it. Disapproving glares surround them as they try to do something perfectly normal — feed their child.

Women should have the freedom to breastfeed in public. They shouldn’t have to answer to disrespectful comments and questions. They shouldn’t need to explain themselves at all. Baby, breast, normal.

But what you never hear in this din is : Baby, bottle, normal.

That’s because of the increasing pressure to aspire to today’s earth-mother-goddess that is bearing down on all of us. The voices that cluck at formula fed babies. The pictures of cherubic infants being cradled at their mother’s breasts. The articles on the magic of breast milk and the much darker, murkier, questionable world of formula.

I do think it’s relevant to celebrate breastfeeding in a world that increasingly shames mothers that do it in public. And it’s a wonderful occasion for people to share stories, advice and form support groups to help navigate the sometimes stormy seas, especially at the start.

But it’s also important to highlight just how challenging the road can be. Breastfeeding felt like the least natural, least instinctive part of taking care of my newborn. And it hurt A LOT.

Let’s remind ourselves that there are mothers out there who, for any number of reasons, are unable to breastfeed. Or maybe are uncomfortable with it. Or just plain didn’t like it. All of these reasons should be ok. We need to stop making formula feeding mothers feel inadequate.

I babywear. It’s no surprise that the babywearing groups on Facebook in the past few days have been flooded with mothers’ selfies of proudly breastfeeding their babies. I understand that it feels like a badge of honor, but where is the equivalent of this warrior mom in the formula world? It made me think about how invisible these mothers are as they plunder on through the tiring, mundane feeding routine.

Finally though breastfeeding — whether glamorized, normalized or villified — is still what people expect mothers to be capable of doing. The most damaging side effect of this expectation is the pressure it puts on every new mother. As though tending to all the other needs of a newborn is not hard enough, the guilt and worry that’s caused by the inability to nurse is overwhelming.

Prior to my delivery I attended Lamaze classes at a centre, which were incredibly helpful and empowering. But the session on breastfeeding still makes me a little uneasy. It’s commonly stressed that all mothers are capable of feeding their babies. They mentioned that in the class as well, and of course it was coming from a place of encouragement to make you understand that your body is capable of it. I’m usually a quiet participant in classes, but here I piped up and asked — really, ALL mothers? The instructor emphatically said yes. And then I told her my mother wasn’t able to breastfeed either me or my sister.

I was a 100% formula fed baby. And my mother was no less of one because she wasn’t able to feed me. Not to mention the fact that I turned out into a healthy, fairly intelligent person.

It’s really time to acknowledge all the feeding care givers. The fathers who give their partners a break by feeding their ravenous babies. The grandparents, the aunts, the uncles, who step in and give the parents a break. Nourishing an infant, no matter the method, is exhausting.

All women should feel empowered to make the choices that they feel is best for them and their babies. And have a support system for whatever they decide. So this World Breastfeeding Week, go out and give a formula feeding mother a big hug. Because they don’t have a special day, let alone a whole week, to celebrate their choices.

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