As women, we have to fight against so many things. Other women shouldn’t be one of them.
Too often, we make each other feel less than good enough. We aren’t skinny enough. We aren’t pretty enough. Our houses aren’t clean enough. Our kids don’t play enough instruments or enough sports. It’s a ridiculous cycle of tearing each other down.
As part of it, there seems to be no shortage of women ready to shame new mothers for their decision to breastfeed, formula feed, or combi-feed their babies.
Why do we do this to each other?
I’ve known for a while that the UK has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world, and Northern Ireland — my little corner — has the lowest of the low. If the mothers here are making educated decisions for their own lives and families and that’s how it goes, then that’s fine. If women should have the rights to decide what happens to their own bodies, then that surely applies to the choice to breastfeed or not.
But then I found out WHY the rates here are so low. The biggest reason UK mums give for why they don’t breastfeed is that they feel too much pressure from other women.
Questions like why isn’t your baby sleeping through the night? and why doesn’t your baby feed on a strict schedule? don’t make a woman feel good about what is probably already stressing her out: how good a mother she is. In those first weeks and months of having a new little baby at home, most women are barely making it through the day without crying, screaming, or both (sometimes at the same time). Life is amazing and terrifying, and we really don’t need to make it harder for each other.
There are a lot of legitimate reasons someone might choose to formula feed her baby despite the health guidance that says that breastfeeding is more nutritious for infants. Not every woman has an easy or fulfilling experience breastfeeding, and healthy bonding, which can be hindered by negative associations of feeding, is incredibly important for new mums. Pushing a new mother to do something she doesn’t want — including adhering to a strict schedule that doesn’t benefit her family — is only going to make her resentful, missing out on valuable time with her loved ones.
Women are often told that giving their babies bottles of formula will make them sleep through the night. Breastfeeding mums in the UK do not feel that they are supported in their decision, with many women in the previous generation pressuring them to change their minds in a time of high emotion and peers bragging about the quiet nights they are supposedly experiencing. Considering how low the numbers are, it can be difficult to find a like-minded friend.
With the lack of support overwhelming, it’s no surprise that women who want to breastfeed can quickly give up, especially when women are often shamed for feeding in public and the answer to every feeding difficulty is just give him a bottle. There should be an equal amount of support for the different feeding options available to mothers. After all, the goal is healthy, happy babies and healthy, happy families.