Everyone knows that breastfeeding is great for a baby’s health, but lately, societal norms have gone a bit too far in terms of judging new mothers for not breastfeeding. While many women are successful at breastfeeding, there are many others who are not successful or who choose to opt for formula over breast milk for a wide variety of reasons. Some women who choose to breastfeed have begun to become not only pushy about their choice, but have also started to cause a lot of hurt feelings among women who do not breastfeed. It’s gotten so bad that many non-breastfeeders have been referring to those who push their choices on others as “breastfeeding Nazis.”
There is little doubt that breastfeeding provides optimal health and nutrition for a growing infant, but medical websites point out that today’s formula comes very close to breast milk, and that the decision whether or not to breastfeed is a purely personal one. Despite this, an entire culture of superiority has sprung up among some breastfeeding mothers, who openly criticize others. This leaves many non-breastfeeders feeling judged.
Tracy Levesque, the mother of a healthy six year old, has felt hurt by others’ judgment when she was not able to produce enough milk to breastfeed. She describes her struggles with breast milk production, the lengths to which she went to correct the problem, and how she felt when discussing the issue with others:
“I have had my feelings hurt a lot about breastfeeding. I didn’t make enough milk. I tried everything. The baby fell right asleep and was a weak sucker at first. I saw a lactation consultant. I took herbs. I did everything within my power to make enough milk and I could not do it. I would work all day long and I would make one dose for her in an entire day of pumping. It was the number one most difficult thing about being a new parent, hands down. It was a nightmare…you feel like a failure.”
To make matters worse, she says that people would look at her as if they did not believe her efforts at all. “I’m not the type of person who gets my feelings hurt easily, but there are the La Leche League Nazis who don’t even believe lack of supply is a real thing. I even felt like people in my community were advocating doing shady and sketchy things like using illegal drugs. When I said I didn’t want to do that, I felt a bit of judgment from them…it’s the look on people’s faces when you tell them you had a supply problem; they just don’t believe it.”
She is quick to add that she agrees breastfeeding is optimal and she understands why people advocate for it. “There has to be a campaign for breastfeeding in the US because we don’t do it as much as we should. I understand why people encourage it,” she says. But still, she feels parenting can turn into some kind of a contest. “I often feel like parenting… turns into such a judgmental pissing contest. Like anything in life there are people who are so dogmatic about things.”
Levesque is not the only one who uses the term “Nazis” in describing those who are very judgmental and hurtful to those who do not breastfeed. A Google search on the term turns up countless “mommy blogs” complaining about the phenomenon. In an article for The Telegraph, Anna Burbidge says, “I’ve been called a breastfeeding Nazi, the breastfeeding mafia … the Breastapo … a nipple Nazi, and a breastfeeding witch.” She then goes on to make a plea for everyone to stop their “offensive insults.”
But maybe the plea should really be for the entire group of “breastfeeding superiority” folks to be more sensitive to the fact that pushing breastfeeding in a judgmental way is hurtful to many women. And it’s not just judgment about breastfeeding that some are concerned about; as Levesque mentions, it’s an overall culture of judgment for personal parenting choices.
Stacy Kincaid agrees, and she says that the judgment is not only very real when it comes to breastfeeding, but it extends beyond breastfeeding as well: “I have always been fascinated with women being so judgmental of other women,” she says. “If you don’t want children, you’re obviously selfish. If you let your kid watch TV or eat sugar, you’re a bad parent. If you work, you’re abandoning your child. If you stay at home, you’re lazy.”
Besides being judged by others for not breastfeeding and a myriad of other personal parenting choices, women can face the pressure of their own worry and concerns. Rebecca Hartranft says her feelings came from within as well as from society in general: “I felt more pressure from myself more than anyone else… I felt kind of like a failure since I couldn’t do something so natural! I guess also, because I thought that everyone (Ruby’s doctor, other moms etc.) would judge me if I was feeding her formula, I went to the extreme of pumping all the time.”
All of the women echo a similar theme: being judged and feeling like a failure. Both of those feelings are a far cry from the joy and delight that every new mother should be allowed to experience. In an opinion piece for the Fraser Coast Chronicle, author Carrie Walker says that the constant sharing of breastfeeding photos on social media is also part of the culture of breastfeeding superiority:
I am sick and tired of the breastfeeding brigade using any excuse they can to try to ram the “breast is best” message down our throats…I see some friends sharing images of women breastfeeding on Facebook constantly… I’m not offended by the photos – the image itself is no problem at all. But I am offended by the smugness, by the political motivation that lies behind some of the photos…I’ve known so many women who have wanted badly to breastfeed but for various reasons haven’t been able to. They are made to feel inadequate and inferior by these breastfeeding warriors.
The non-breastfeeding women’s feelings are well-justified. Besides the constant social media updates with pictures of breastfeeding mothers and the general air of community criticism, judgment about non-breastfeeders is rampant online. One blog, for example, posted an entire article about “Lame excuses for not breastfeeding.” The post contains a list of 20 “lame excuses,” and the authors states, “What this article tries to point out is that people give all sorts of lame reasons for not breastfeeding, and most often those reasons are just wrong or plain ignorant.” One of the reasons listed is lack of milk production. Under the article are a gaggle of judgmental moms offering even more “lame and selfish” excuses they have heard. This example is just one of thousands of posts criticizing mothers who do not breastfeed.
Indeed, it seems that the breastfeeding Nazis cause a lot of hurt feelings, but are they receptive to that fact? Do they care that they’ve hurt new moms and made them feel like failures? Everyone has the right to make their own personal choices without feeling looked down upon by others, and while everyone agrees that breastfeeding is great for babies, there’s no reason why any mom should feel judged, pressured, or hurt for her personal decision, no matter what that decision may be or how it is ultimately reached.
By: Rebecca Savastio
(Op-ed; Some names have been changed to protect the participants’ privacy.)
Source: Fraser Coast Chronicle
Source: The Telegraph