At eight and a half months pregnant, there are many uncertainties crossing my mind on a daily basis as my husband and I prepare for the arrival of our precious baby. That said, there is one thing I do know for sure: I will never ask a mom-to-be whether or not she plans to breastfeed her newborn. Here’s why.
- I will never forget the feeling I get when people ask me this question.
Are you going to breastfeed? … You’re going to bottle-feed, right?
I have been asked various forms of this question by women whose only use for their boobs to date is to serve as eye-candy, men whose breasts do not have the ability to lactate, and other women who are past their child-bearing years, but whose children are grown up and “turned out fine,” consequently making them experts on anything baby-related.
It came as a surprise to me to learn that others seemingly have not considered that perhaps I, the owner of the breasts in reference, have some feelings on the topic that I would prefer to keep between my husband and myself.
When asked, I usually try to work the silence for a minute and simultaneously navigate the intentions of the audience in front of me. Thoughts cross my mind:
Why? Did you breastfeed? Were you a bottle-fed baby? Are you going to lecture me? And what exactly are you planning on doing with your nipples over the next few months? Do you have any idea how irritating it is that you just asked that in front of all these people?
I’m aware that it does not matter what other people think of my decision. I am also aware that not everyone who asks is hoping for an opportunity to judge my response. Yet, because I have been on the receiving end of a slew of rude comments and unwarranted ‘instructions’ one too many times, I’ve learned it is easiest to respond with something along these lines: I am doing the best I can to make the best decisions for my family with the information I have right now.
And this is the truth, which leads me to reason #2.
- Moms-to-be may be considering more factors than others realize, and they may not know the answer themselves yet.
Pregnancy brings about a whole new world of un-navigated territory, yet the desire to make the best decisions possible for your baby start immediately. This can be stressful and make pregnant women more vulnerable than usual. Most women could use the respect and support of other women most at this time, but receive what feels like the opposite. People tend to share their opinions on everything: what you should and shouldn’t be eating, how much you should weigh, what you need to register for, etc. Most people mean well, but when the comments come flying at you left and right, it becomes harder and harder to trust your inner compass…and we all have an inner compass.
Many women may have mixed feelings on breastfeeding and, unfortunately, may not feel they have a safe space to navigate them. Personal experience and research, opinions of trusted family and friends, and societal pressure may all be pulling a deciding mother-to-be in different directions. An attempt to be transparent and share personal thoughts in response to this question may cause a woman to experience feelings of embarrassment, frustration, or confusion when, instead of empathy and support, she receives what comes across as judgment.
Personally, I have been considering many factors myself throughout my pregnancy.
As a health enthusiast and a student in a holistic nutrition school, I have read many articles that describe why the “breast is best.” I do believe this to be true and I admire women who take this route. Yet, I find myself considering other factors whilst making this decision for myself.
Like I mentioned, I have read a lot about the value of breastfeeding. I have also read many articles on how the exact effects of breast milk are inconsistent. I’ve read about women who breastfeed until their children can walk, about women who attempt to breastfeed but can’t, and about women who start out breastfeeding, but stop shortly thereafter for a variety of reasons.
Empirical evidence shows that while more women are returning to breastfeeding, the duration of this phase does not last for very long. After all, in comparison to other countries, the U.S. has quite pathetic regulations in place for maternity leave. Knowing I need to return to work only 6-12 weeks after giving birth, I ask myself: Am I really supposed to go sit in my car in 10 degree winter weather to pump milk so someone else can feed my child while I am at work?
This leads me to consider my own experience. I was not breastfed; yet, miraculously, I do not have allergies, I am not diabetic, I can tolerate gluten, I am intelligent, and the bond I have had with my mother since the day I was born is stronger than any other I know. I am inclined to believe that if I give my child formula, there is still a chance for him or her to have a healthy, promising future and that he or she and I will still have a strong connection.
And so I started reading labels on popular baby formula options on the market today. While I have learned about the recent improvements of many, I find it disappointing and actually ridiculously unacceptable that the first ingredient in one of this nation’s top sellers is corn syrup. I do my best as an adult not to consume corn syrup, and I certainly want to avoid feeding it to my child, let alone newborn.
So, I think to myself: “There must be a cohort of women who don’t want to, or can’t, breastfeed, but care about the quality of the formula their baby will be consuming.”
I researched other options. There are better products available to consumers, but sifting through the jargon and lies on nutritional labels in this country is not an easy task. Not to my surprise, the best options are not found in America, likely because our government does little to support the promotion and accessibility of truly healthy products. After all, it is more lucrative to subsidize highly refined and overly processed corn products. Fortunately, there are ways to access baby formula that is widely used in Europe – formula free of added sugars, GMOs, corn syrup, and preservatives and that is made from grass-fed cows that are not treated with antibiotics or hormones. Personally, this is something that matters to me and it is likely an avenue I will explore further though I am sure, even my contemplation of this option will meet unwarranted resistance, even from the bottle-feeding pushers.
On a different note, I also can’t help but to muse at the personal nutrition choices of some of the people that tell me I “absolutely should breastfeed.” Considering what I know about the diets of the average American woman and child in this country, I question if these people care about their own health as much as they do about how I feed my baby. I assume they must consume wholesome diets free of refined sugars, processed foods, and artificial sweeteners as that would help to explain the tone of authority they use when delivering their instructions. And I wonder: have they considered exactly what I should feed my child once he or she stops breastfeeding, or do they trust me enough to make that decision on my own?
My point here is this: I never expected to be considering all of these things until I had to, and I am absolutely sure that I am not alone in this. My thought process and the weight I place on different factors may differ than another woman’s and that is perfectly fine. If women could be more supportive of one another’s choices, regardless of their own opinions, I wouldn’t be writing about why we shouldn’t ask a mom-to-be this question. I wouldn’t have had the experience I have had thus far and my feelings would be different. In an ideal world, women could talk freely with one another and receive the empathy and validation they are looking for, but unfortunately, it doesn’t seem we are there yet.
So, until then, remember, whether another woman is choosing to breastfeed does not concern you, which leads me to reason #3.
- It is none of my business.
I find it ironic that almost every time someone asks me this question, it is followed up with some form of the assuaging comment: “It is a really personal decision.”
It is a personal decision and the person whose decision it is to make may not feel comfortable talking about it with you for a variety of reasons. What’s more, it is not up to you to figure out or even understand those reasons.
A woman may be seeking or hoping for advice, but if that is the case, she will ask for it. I urge you not make the mistake of assuming your opinion is what she is looking for. You may be doing more harm than good in the moment.
I am a healthy woman. I care about the wellness of other women and children. And, above all else, I want my children to be healthy and happy.
I know that breast milk is better than formula. But, I also know that there are many reasons why a woman may choose formula from the get-go or even after a few weeks.
There is a lot of pressure out there today to be a “great” mom. It is easy to lose your ability to make decisions for yourself and children with all of the competition out there. Whether it is the decision to breastfeed or bottle feed, to stay at home or return to work, to send your kids to private school or public school…a mom-to-be can expect to second guess her decisions multiple times a day, every single day, for the rest of her life.
So, please do her a favor: spare her this one question. Give her room to make her own decision and respect her for that. She will be very grateful.