A few weeks ago, I shared my ‘Formula is not toxic‘ blog post over on Selfish Mother. I was overwhelmed by the response to it.
As always, though, the mere mention of infant feeding proved divisive.
Days later, Selfish Mother’s founder Molly Gunn – a woman who has raised more than half a million pounds for family charities – was pilloried for providing what some felt was ‘inadequate’ support for breastfeeding during National Breastfeeding Week.
Elsewhere, use of the hashtag #fedisbest typically provokes the kind of ire that should surely be reserved for the likes of Piers Morgan.
How can it be that at a time when we have a female Prime Minister – and even a female Dr Who – we are still tearing each other apart over how we feed our babies?
Instead of fighting amongst ourselves, it’s time to wake up and smell the Americano: feeding is a feminist issue, whether you’re a boob or bottle gal…
Support for breastfeeding is often not good enough
How much help did you get to feed your baby in hospital when he or she was first born?
Did you have someone experienced showing you how to perfect his or her latch within the first few hours?
Were you lucky enough to have a breastfeeding counsellor on hand? Did she sit with you, reassure you, and assess you and your baby thoroughly?
Perhaps you were fortunate and perhaps you weren’t. Experiences are individual and breastfeeding support is inconsistent.
But the NHS’s own statistics tell a simple tale: a staggering amount of women start off breastfeeding their children in hospital, but are no longer exclusively breastfeeding by the time their child reaches the age of three months.
Too many women genuinely want to breastfeed, then end up using formula.
Some of these women are failed by a system that tells them breast is best, but ill-prepares them for the reality of breastfeeding and then inadequately supports them in acting on official advice.
Our culture thinks boobs are for fun
Newsflash! Breasts are for feeding babies. This has always been their purpose.
Breasts are not merely for staring at, squeezing or poking. They are not ‘fun bags’.
Yes, they look nice, but they have a function.
If a woman wants to breastfeed, she must be supported in doing so whenever, wherever and for as long as she wants.
She must be allowed to post pictures of herself breastfeeding on Instagram and Facebook, and on a billboard opposite your living room window should she so desire.
She must – BY LAW – be allowed to sit anywhere she jolly well chooses and get her nips out for her beloved.
She should not be made to feel that breastfeeding, with all its associated leakage, renders her less sexy or desirable.
She is a queen.
Breastfeeding women are shamed
I recently had another mum ask me, ‘Don’t you think they’re ridiculous, these breastfeeding cafes?’
Well, no actually. I think it’s a sad indictment of our culture that some women who breastfeed their babies feel more comfortable doing so in a private room full of other breastfeeding mums, than they would in their local park or coffee shop.
And you know what else? A woman who works through the challenges many mothers face when trying to get breastfeeding established will almost always face criticism, funny looks or raised eyebrows if she ‘lets it go on too long’.
Formula feeding women are shamed
I’m sorry, but they are.
It’s popular to say that mothers who formula feed are not frowned upon or judged, and that it’s all in their minds.
Let me be clear: in a culture that prizes breastfeeding (at the same time as implying it is easy!), the alternative option often feels like failure.
The majority of the women who liked, loved, commented on and shared my original blog post feel that sense of failure as powerfully as I did.
That sense of shame is no less real because some who have never experienced it refuse to believe it exists.
Whatever you think of their choices, ALL WOMEN HAVE THE RIGHT TO CHOOSE
Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure that none of us want to live in a world where women are told what to do with their bodies.
Telling a woman she ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ breastfeed is only just around the corner from telling her that she ‘should’ refuse to have sex before marriage or that she ‘shouldn’t’ use contraception.
Surely we’re past this by now? Surely we can all agree that our bodies are our own, and nobody else’s?
Whatever a woman chooses to do with her breasts after she has had a baby, it is just that: her choice.
You have the right to disagree with her, to be horrified that she’s taken a different path to your own or simply to feel sad for her if things haven’t gone the way she originally planned.
Just never forget that her right to choose trumps your right to judge, every – single- time.
You don’t have to justify yourself
Even those of us who usually operate with a pretty limited supply of fucks-to-give find themselves sucked into the infant feeding maelstrom.
Because, however comfortable we might usually be with giving judgemental twits the finger, we all want to feel that we’re doing motherhood ‘right’. We all want to believe we are doing the best for our babies.
But here’s the thing: the vast, vast, VAST majority of us are.
You are almost certainly the mother your child needs. He or she came from you. Your baby is part of you.
There is nobody else who can mother your baby better than you can. You are the woman for this job.
The fact that my boobs didn’t produce milk was a shitter, and it made me feel I couldn’t be the perfect mother I’d dreamed I’d be when I had my first child. Yet my son is now four years old with an intensely bossy streak, burgeoning OCD and a desire to eat every carbohydrate within a five mile radius. Nobody could be his mum but me. He is mine and I am his, for ever, until the stars don’t shine.
So stop justifying yourself, whatever side of the feeding fence you sit on. And if you ever feel tempted, don’t judge the next woman you see with a bottle in her hand or a toddler on her tit.
Because if – instead of sniping at one another, criticising one another’s choices or congratulating ourselves on our own superiority – we could simply support each other, with kindness and without question, this motherhood thing would be just a tad easier.
And in a world that (apparently) still isn’t quite ready for a Time Lady instead of a Time Lord, wouldn’t that be nice?
Laura Starkey is a freelance writer, editor and consultant – but her most important job is being Mummy to her two children, three cats and tiny sausage dog. Laura blogs about motherhood, beauty, style and home renovation. She is known for her frankness – hence the ‘mouthy mother’ moniker – and is unashamedly a feminist, folk music fan AND lover of face masks.
You can read Laura’s blog at www.laurastarkey.com, follow her on Instagram and find her on Facebook Laura also contributes to the Selfish Mother blogzine.