Breast-feeding Is A Mother’s Choice…Don’t Let Anyone Tell You Otherwise!

My first day really back on Twitter (I decided to finally try to get back in the swing of things), and I saw all these tweets about an article on Psychology Today about breastfeeding[WARNING:  I realize that there are moms out there suffering from postpartum depression (PPD) and/or having a difficult time breast-feeding that should not be reading articles that will only cause them further distress and feelings of guilt and inadequacy.  So, if you are currently suffering from a postpartum mood disorder, you should probably wait until you are feeling more strong before reading what I call crap that is being shoveled out in a feeble attempt to remind people that breast-feeding is best, no exceptions…which is what this article is trying to lead people to believe, which is dead WRONG.]

As I read the article by Dr. Darcia Narvaez, my mouth dropped farther and farther til it felt like it was going to hit the floor, it was that unbelievable.  It’s unbelievable that Psychology Today would allow such an unbalanced piece to be written, let alone be published for all the world to see.  The irony is that she’s posting this under the heading of “Moral Landscapes.”  I think it’s absolutely immoral what she’s doing in pulling such bullying tactics, trying to guilt mothers into breastfeeding irregardless of circumstances that they may find themselves in.  This Dr. Narvaez needs to walk the shoes of a mother who has suffered from childbirth complications and PPD.  It is obvious she has no experience or knowledge whatsoever of maternal mental health issues, PPD being a serious one, with one out of eight new mothers suffering from it.

Practically every single point she makes is filled with inaccuracies and lack of research to back them up due to a pure bias toward breast-feeding.  It’s almost like she deliberately set out to target mothers and try to bully them into following her preachings, but with no research/statistics to back any of her assertions up. Well, this preachy article should be pulled, in my honest opinion.  Thankfully, many comments opposing this article immediately started to appear on the site, and Karen Kleiman wrote a post on Psychology Today, which I applaud wholeheartedly.   Please check it out.  I wasn’t going to post a comment because what I would’ve wanted to say has been said in the numerous comments and this Dr. Narvaez wasn’t going to listen anyway.  Usually, I love to pull out my favorite lines to criticize here in my blog, but with this article, I would’ve had to quote the ENTIRE thing, it was THAT BAD.   I would like to take her first eight points and throw them out with tomorrow’s trash, especially the one where she tries to have you believe that “99% of moms can breastfeed successfully.”  Yeah, right.  Most women rarely succeed on the first try. Many don’t succeed until several days later. Some never succeed at all. Not succeeding at breast-feeding does not automatically make you a failure at being a mom.

But isn’t breast-feeding as easy as putting a baby’s mouth to your breast and having it suck? Aren’t we like other mammals that possess mammalian glands that produce milk for our offspring? We’ve all seen new piglets, puppies, and kittens lined up in a row doing their thing, all naturally knowing how to suckle after birth.  No, for HUMANS breast-feeding is no more instinctive than all other aspects of baby care that are learned from doing or learned by the in-person guidance of experienced individuals.  If breast-feeding were instinctive, why would there even be the need for lactation consultants? Why would one of the minimum qualifications of doulas be experience with breast-feeding? For every woman who feels that breast-feeding is natural, fulfilling, a source of contentment, and a great way to bond with the baby, there is a mother who feels that breast-feeding is difficult, painful and physically and mentally exhausting. Getting the baby to latch isn’t as easy as you’d think, and one would never know that a tiny little mouth can cause so much pain while sucking, especially if your nipples are already sore and cracking. And that’s in addition to the round-the-clock feeding schedule (e.g., one hour at a time, every two hours), sleep deprivation, and possibly even mastitis.

There’s this whole to-do about breast-feeding nowadays and how breast is best. Consequently, all too many moms choose to breast-feed with the best of intentions—knowing the benefits to the baby—but with very little concept of what it really entails, faced with a steep learning curve, and not expecting to have to learn or get help from anyone else for something as seemingly simple as putting the baby to breast to let the baby do its thing. As a result, all too many moms end up setting themselves up for a big letdown when they have difficulty breastfeeding and are unable to breastfeed for as many months as they were hoping to be able to do.

What new moms should keep in mind is that breast-feeding is a matter of personal preference. It is not for everyone. It is not a prerequisite to being a good mother. It’s a personal decision that must be made and should not be influenced by what other people say, think, or do. A mother who breast-feeds doesn’t mean she’s a better mother or loves her baby more than a mother who does not breast-feed. Breast-feeding is one method of feeding your baby. Your baby will grow up just fine with one of the formulas available today. There are plenty of people who were fed formula that are healthy and extremely successful in their careers.

A common misconception out there is that you must nurse your baby if you expect to bond properly. Let’s think about this for a moment. What about everyone who’s been bottle-fed? I doubt everyone who’s ever been bottle-fed failed to bond properly with his or her mother. You don’t have to breast-feed to bond. If you do breast-feed without any problems, that’s great. But you can also bond while formula feeding. Not everyone chooses to and/or is able to breast-feed. Dads and adoptive parents can’t breast-feed and are still able to bond successfully with their babies.

If you want to breast-feed, giving it your best shot is all you can ask of yourself.   Don’t let anyone else influence you into believing you must breast-feed. You and your significant other are the only ones who should have any say in the manner in which you feed your baby. It’s no one else’s business. You will be making the decision based on what you feel comfortable with and what you think is best for your baby. Feeding your baby formula doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom.

Don’t feel guilty or deficient about not being able to breast-feed, and don’t feel guilty for having to stop breast-feeding if you need to take medication to recover from your PPD. The priority is for you to be well again so you can care for and establish a warm and loving relationship with your baby.

If you haven’t already done so, go on over to these blog posts that have also been written in response to the Dr. Narvaez’s article:   My Postpartum Voice’s “My Breasts, My Sanity, My Choice” and Fearless Formula Feeder’s “Good versus ‘Evil’: How ignorance can bring out the best in the breastfeeding/formula debate.”

19 thoughts on “Breast-feeding Is A Mother’s Choice…Don’t Let Anyone Tell You Otherwise!

  1. Thank you so much for this post. I was equally horrified to read that “article” (if you can call it that) in Psychology today.

    I had severe low milk supply due to a deformation with my breasts. There are so many “low milk supply is incredbly rare” comments circling out there, that it causes people to think that it doesn’t exist. I am proof that it does, and throwing “statistcis” – which vary, depending on which “professional” you ask – at me makes no difference. I produced almost nothing. I had no choice to feed my child formula (as well as some donated milk from my sister), and to have someone tell me that I might as well have been feeding my child bread-and-water is not only inaccurate, but unnecessarily harsh. I tried everything. I even partially breastfeed for four months, until my supply dropped off completely. And it still wasn’t good enough, in the eyes of some.

    I still shouldn’t have given formula – I should have used MORE donated milk. Who cares if there are no milk banks for me, I should have used milk donated from strangers on the internet! Let’s ignore the fact that it’s untested and could contain viruses like HIV and Hepatitis – that’s better than formula!

    Apparently, it was better for my newborn baby to have a stressed-out, high-strung mother (who cried her eyes out every single day over society-induced guilt) than it was to get some formula.

    • Hello,
      Not sure if you had seen the recent spurt of comments last week on Karen Kleiman’s Psych Today rebuttal to Dr. Narvaez’s “article,” and that’s what led you here. Anyway, I’m glad you found my blog and left a comment! Dr. Narvaez’s article was written in such a way as to, as the last response to my latest comment implies, attract attention and awareness during last year’s BFing Awareness Week. While she may have attracted attention, most of the people who left comments were opposed to her views. I refer to Dr. Narvaez as someone who was trying to use “bullying tactics” to make anyone who doesn’t comply with her views feel bad. This Annie G indicated Dr. Narvaez was not bullying, but I beg to differ. Everyone has their own viewpoint, but there is a way to express your views in a way that doesn’t make new mothers feel bad about themselves for not being able to manage to breastfeed instinctively and in quantities that are enough for their babies.

      Like you, I produced almost nothing and had to rely on formula to ensure my baby had enough to thrive. I had a terrible ordeal in my very first postpartum days, having had an emergency procedure to remove my uterus only 3 days after giving birth and hemorrhaging in the process. I was separated from my baby for over a day, with nipple confusion occurring even before I left the hospital! Tried as I might, it was near impossible for me to get the baby to get enough milk from me with all the pain and difficulties I was experiencing that week. But I managed to keep on pumping (very little, though, and supplemented with formula) until I had to go on my antidepressant meds when I converted to 100% formula.

      People should learn how to mind their own business instead of preaching to everyone that BFing is the ONLY RIGHT way to feed baby! And I agree with you on your views of donated milk. You bring up such good points!

      These people have no idea how difficult it can be for some new moms during the postpartum period. It’s easier for them to criticize and scold, when they haven’t really got a clue until they’ve walked in the shoes of every mother that has experienced difficulty BFing for all the various possible reasons!

  2. Hi Ivy! I followed the link from Karen’s Psychology Today post and just wanted to say I appreciated your feedback on my posts. I am a labor support and postpartum doula, art therapist and PPMD clinician (trained with Karen Kleiman) AND a breastfeeding advocate. Even though I identify as a breastfeeding advocate, my main loyalty remains with women’s mental health. That being said, a woman’s emotional stability comes first for me over EVERYTHING including feeding choices. I firmly believe that women should be able to make their own choices about how to feed their infants without being shamed.

    It pains me to read such narrow minded comments from doulas, lactation professionals, and mental health professionals. I understand that formula holds legitimate and serious risks, but I do believe that mental health concerns can be far more serious than formula risks. It’s not always an easy decision for a mother to make, but I have seen with my own two eyes many situations in which formula is the lesser of risky circumstances.

    Furthermore, I have met many mothers who are aware of the risks of formula feeding, but simply have no interest in breastfeeding. I understand that folks who value breastfeeding to the extent that they see it as a moral concern (I do not resonate with that notion, by the way) see such mothers as selfish. I think it’s fine to have the opinion that those mothers are selfish, but not fine to impose that worldview upon them. Breastfeeding is not a moral issue. Period. Some people might see it as a personal moral, but it is not universally moral. Big difference.

    I wish that the rabid lactivists who commented on the PT blogs could understand that they can be both right AND wrong. Yes, breastfeeding is protective of mental health. Most of the time. But sometimes it really isn’t, and I just wish that they could see that. Rigidity in thinking is so very adolescent in my opinion. I sure hope they grow out of it!

    • Hi Melina,
      What a nice surprise for you to stop by and leave your comment! You and I are on the same wavelength when it comes to the priority of women’s mental health. People need to realize that if you don’t have a healthy mother, that jeopardizes the development and overall well-being of the baby. I always think of the airplane analogy where the parent should grab the oxygen mask before putting one on their child. My blog post on this whole breastfeeding debate fed by the unbelievably narrow-minded viewpoint of Dr. Narvaez–and supported by other just as narrow-minded individuals–is all about choice. A woman has a right to it! I hate to say it, but people just can’t seem to climb out of the abyss of ignorance and thinking that their viewpoint is the only one that is right and everyone else is wrong until they themselves experience a postpartum mood disorder AND try to breastfeed and are having difficulties with it and don’t necessarily have access to breastfeeding help! I’m with you when it comes to breastfeeding not being a moral issue, PERIOD. It bothers me to know there are women out there committed to helping mothers, like doulas and lactivists who just don’t get it. Let them walk in the shoes of a PPD, PPD OCD, PPP, PPA survivor and THEN let’s see what they have to say! This is why I recently blogged about empathy. It’s way too lacking in this society, isn’t it? Hope to keep up correspondence with you! All the best, Ivy

        • Hi Melina, Hey, that’s great! I briefly checked out your new blog just now, and noticed you added me to your blogroll…thank you!!! :) I will add you to mine as well! I will definitely check it out in more detail once I get past the crunch I’m undergoing right now in terms of reviewing the first galley of my soon to be published book. Very manually intensive, and it doesn’t help that it’s as long as it is. Can’t wait to be done with it. Best, Ivy

  3. Thank you for this post. I know that my own struggles with breastfeeding actually KEPT me from bonding with my first child. Why doesn’t anyone mention that? What about the women who so desperately want to do the “right” thing by breastfeeding and struggle? I hated breastfeeding. I dreaded it. My daughter had a hard time latching and would fall asleep at my breast all the time which meant I was feeding her round the clock. I feared she wasn’t eating enough so when she slept, I pumped. I didn’t sleep, I didn’t eat. I focused on feeding her all the time and I started hating motherhood. My PPD got significantly worse until I became literally frightened of her need for me. With my son, I vowed I would not let guilt or shame rob my bonding with him. I tried to breastfeed, but the old feelings of desperation and anxiety came right back. Like my daughter, my son was a sleepy feeder and I went right to bottle-feeding. I felt better and actually smiled, sang and cuddled with him as I gave him his bottles. FYI: My sister-in-law struggled to breastfeed her first and ended up giving him a bottle. She felt horrible and guilty so with her second baby, she breastfed until the baby was a year old. Now she’s going to have her third and has decided that she will bottle-feed again. She says she did not notice any difference with her daughter’s health (she still got as many ear infections and illnesses as her bottle-fed brother) so she will probably breastfeed for a week and then go to a bottle.

    • Hi Hilary,
      Thanks so much for reading my post and sharing your thoughts! As with everything else motherhood-related–thanks to the abundance of myths–more women are willing to speak up in support of breastfeeding, thinking that it’s the end all, be all. Subsequently, they believe you can’t bond with your baby if you don’t breastfeed. What these women fail to realize is that you can’t bond well or even take care of your baby well IF YOU AREN’T WELL YOURSELF. So many more women are willing to gush about their positive pregnancy, labor, delivery and postpartum experiences, leaving moms who don’t have such positive experiences ashamed to share their feelings and experiences. This is exactly why the supermom myth exists and there is so much stigma on maternal mental health issues. I could go on and on, but a lot of what I’m saying now I’ve said in prior posts (and in my upcoming book!).

      • Well I followed the link here from Postpartum stress centre’s FB page and am launching my blog this week which includes PPD information and advocacy… I saw your disclaimer and wanted to ask permission to do a modified version of yours. When I went to your about page to find contact details I saw you are a fellow MHC alum (I graduated in 1994! and recognized you I think from one of the alum magazine articles a while back). Would love to connect with you further!

        Deb

        • Oh, great! An MHC alum! So happy to “meet” you! I just dropped you an email. Look forward to “chatting” with you more! – Ivy

  4. An absolutely awesome post. Very well-balanced and compassionate. Breastfeeding should by all means be promoted as a healty, valid, good option. So should bottle feeding, barring the problems that plague developing countries with bad water and poor manufacturing standards.

    What strikes me is that this Dr. Navarez is supposedly an ethicist and in charge of a column called “Moral Landscapes.” For all she claims to not be a therapist, she’s an “Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the Collaborative for Ethical Education at the University of Notre Dame.” Supposedly, her research focuses on moral character education. How someone with such poor moral fiber and any concept of compassion be a professor at a Catholic university much less a respected researcher in the field of moral and ethical education mystifies me.

    In fact, I intend to contact the University of Notre Dame’s psychology department to find out. I encourage everyone who was offended by her article to contact Daniel Lapsley, psychology department chair, at (574) 631-6650 or lapsley.2@nd.edu . Bullying has no place in education, psychology, ethics, or motherhood, and it’s time the bullies get the message.

  5. Thank you. I breast and bottle fed my now teenagers and they are fine. I have emailed Psychology Today and asked them to pull her blog. For someone with a PhD she is most ignorant.

    • Thanks for stopping by to read my post and comment (and for voicing your concern with Psychology Today)! I am totally with you there!

  6. Beautiful, and brilliantly said. As a PPD survivor myself, it makes me really happy to see other women spreading the word that while breastfeeding is great. it is not the be-all, end-all of parenting. Sometimes it can benefit moms who are suffering – I think Karen Kleiman describes it in one of her books as a “lifeline” – but she also stresses, as do I, that this is not the case for EVERY woman. It certainly wasn’t for me. In fact, my postpartum depression was so intimately intertwined with my struggle to breastfeed that I couldn’t start the healing process until I weaned. I wish that weren’t the case, b/c I really did want to nurse. But my choice seemed to be that I could be a nursing emotionally unavailable and miserable mom, or a formula-feeding, engaged, happy mom.

    I’m proud that I made the second choice. In my opinion, that is when I became a mom- when I had the strength to say, “this is what is best for my family, and will be best for my child in turn.” The strength to forget about expectations and just find my personal best.

    Thank you for this empowering post. I blog over at FearlessFormulaFeeder.com and if you ever want to do a guest post (or even just reprint this one, linking back to this blog of course), I’d love it.

    • Thanks for reading my post and taking the time to comment! I’m glad you like the post! People have got to stop preaching what all mothers should or should not be doing. We can all make decisions for ourselves. If people would just let us make our own decisions for ourselves and stop trying to make everyone believe in this (breastfeeding is the only way to feed a baby; the key to successful bonding is through breastfeeding) and other motherhood myths, there would be a lot less unnecessary pressure on mothers to force themselves to comply with what society feels is the proper way to be a mother. And maybe, just maybe, there would be fewer moms feeling guilty, defective, inadequate….which increases the risk for postpartum mood disorders!

      You may absolutely link to this blog post on your blog! Thank you!

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