Attention Moms: It’s Okay to be Proud of Breastfeeding

Recently, a friend of mine on Facebook trained for and completed a marathon. One the day of the big event she posted a few pictures of her crossing the finish line and wrote a long post about how hard she’d trained and worked, the obstacles she’d overcome, and the pride she felt at accomplishing something so big. Completing a marathon is a big deal, and in her post she detailed the hours each day she’d spent training, the changes she’d made to her life, and the obstacles she’s overcome to reach her goal. Her post was met with likes and loves and all sorts of positive and encouraging comments and I was happy to see all the virtual support she received for reaching her big goal.

A few weeks ago I crossed a finish line of my own. My accomplishment is something I worked really hard for. It took hours out of every day and caused me to change every major aspect of my life. I overcame huge obstacles and, when I reached my goal I was filled with a huge sense of pride and accomplishment. Unlike my friend, though, the one who ran a marathon, I won’t post about my accomplishment. Not because I’m not excited or proud but because my accomplishment is that I breastfeed my baby, without the aid of a drop of formula from birth through his fifteenth month, and if I post about it I know I’ll be accused of mom-shaming or formula shaming.

Right now, it’s tough to be a proud breastfeeding mother. Breastfeeding is a huge undertaking and moms who do it should be proud of the work and love they put into. Because some moms don’t breastfeed though, we expect nursing moms to keep quiet about their accomplishments. Whether it’s offering support to other nursing moms, sharing pride in accomplishments, or passing on research and information, it seems that sharing anything but a “fed is best” mantra incites immediate claims of mommy shaming.

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Check out any public post on breastfeeding, even posts detailing new research about its benefits and you’re likely to see comments like:

“Not everyone can breastfeed, posts like this just make people who can’t feel bad about themselves.”

 “I tried breastfeeding but it didn’t work out for me – seeing stuff like this makes me feel so bad – I wish people would stop posting it.”

“I didn’t produce enough milk for my baby, not everyone can you know.”

“There’s really no difference between breastfeeding and formula feeding.”

These comments might seem okay when they’re targeted at breastfeeding moms but how ridiculous do they sound when we rephrase them to be about marathon running:

“Not everyone can run a marathon you know, posts like this just make people who can’t run that far feel bad.”

 “I tried to do a marathon but it didn’t work out for me – Seeing stuff like this makes me feel so bad- I wish people would stop posting about it”

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“My legs aren’t able to run for so long.”

“There’s really no difference between running and hanging out at home anyway”

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When I saw my friends post about her marathon I was able to recognize it for what it was, her sharing her joy in a big moment. I didn’t take it as a personal attack on my fitness level (which is woefully low) or a snub to the fact that I can’t seem to get my butt in gear to train for a 5k. Her post, in short, was not about me. She wasn’t shaming me for my non-running just as any post I make about breastfeeding is not designed to shame moms who’ve chosen another path.

I hope that as time goes on we can all learn to step back, recognize when something isn’t about us, and simply be proud of our fellow moms and people.

What do you think?

Attention Moms: It’s Okay to be Proud of Breastfeeding

Julia Pelly has a master's degree in public health and works full time in the field of positive youth development. Julia loves hiking after work, swimming during the summer and taking long, cuddly afternoon naps with her two sons on the weekends. Julia lives in North Carolina, with her husband and two young boys. You can find more of her work at JuliaPelly.com ... More

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4 comments

  1. Lauren says:

    While I wholeheartedly agree that breastfeeding moms should be extremely proud, I disagree with this article’s premise that sharing breastfeeding success is akin to that of sharing the feat of accomplishing a marathon. The article mentions but wrongly dismisses the shame and stigma associated with those who try and can’t breastfeed. I believe that speaking of breastfeeding success (to someone who can’t) is closer to sharing pride at pregnancy and childbirth (both hard work) with someone who can’t get pregnant (though not at the same level of course), than it is to a marathon run. My first daughter wouldn’t latch. In her birth hospital in California, she was losing more weight than normal and doctors refused to discharge us if we didn’t supplement with formula. So we had a prolonged stay, but caved when they threatened to keep her but discharge me, and thus separate us. At home, numerous lactation consultants tried different methods to help, but my daughter wanted nothing of my breasts and cried when I even tried to breastfeed her. I pumped around the clock for several months (with each pump a reminder of my lacking) and bottle fed her breast milk so she would get the antibodies. I felt like less of a woman at not being able to feed her directly from my body and share that bond with her. Then I got sick with illness and had to switch to formula in order to take medicine critical to my health that wasn’t compatible with breastfeeding. When my daughter had a bad reaction to the formula and we ended up in the emergency room, I will forever remember with stinging pain and shame how the professional medical doctor told me I was responsible for her being sick, how I should just go home and breastfeed, and how I was harming my child (all without knowing or asking about my backstory, numerous attempts, or health history.) I remember the pain of sitting on a bench in a public park and seeing a plaque dedicated to and for breastfeeding moms, feeling like I didn’t belong. I remember the stares anywhere in public when I pulled out a bottle. My second daughter came out of my body rooting. I am deeply thankful that breastfeeding is, so far, a success. It’s not without challenges (thrush and more), but now I can do what a mom is supposed to do…give a sustenance from my body to my child. Literally provide her with the ingredients for better lifelong health. (Running a marathon is about one’s own health, not the health of one’s child). And I get, as a bonus, to be part of breastfeeding moms groups and the breastfeeding moms “category”. Just as I would never tell someone not to post pregnancy photos on Facebook, I’m not at all saying to withhold speaking of your success and your pride. I’m just urging sensitivity and awareness. I have never felt pain at the Facebook post of a marathon. With breastfeeding posts, I felt proud of my breastfeeding mom friends, but also pain. As I write this very vulnerable personal story, while breastfeeding, I hope it helps someone somewhere.

  2. I understand where you are coming from in writing this article and I understand that breastfeeding mothers can feel under fire when they have people post comments like the ones you have quoted. I do find your marathon analogy a little incorrect though. I agree with you that your friend should feel proud of her training, her effort, and her achievement. I also agree with you that a mother who breastfeeds should feel proud of her achievement – whether it’s come easily to her or whether she’s had to work her butt off to manage it. But you’re comparing running a marathon with successfully feeding your baby. You’re comparing a choice to enter a marathon with the desperate need to successfully feed your baby. When you don’t run a marathon, no one asks why you haven’t. When you don’t run a marathon no one watches you walk down the street and says, “Oh, you’re just walking?” Or, “Oh, you’re not doing a marathon?” Yet when a parent (and I’m assuming this happens more to mothers – but that’s just an assumption) pulls out a bottle, people seem to feel free to ask, “Oh, they’re on a bottle?” Or “Oh, they’re on formula?” Or, “Oh, you’re not breastfeeding?” And then you have to address that. Whether you explain it away, make excuses citing feeding issues etc etc. Or whether you meet it head on and simply say, “Yup, they’re bottle-fed.” After that statement I’ve had people either move on or start to inform me about how breast is best. I have never had someone explain to me that I should train for a marathon instead of walk or do anything else. I would surmise that people have the responses that you have cited to breastfeeding posts because other people (and quite possibly some medical practitioners) have made them feel like failures when they haven’t been able to, or have chosen not to, breastfeed their child. You’re absolutely right when you write, “I hope that as time goes on we can all learn to step back, recognize when something isn’t about us, and simply be proud of our fellow moms and people.” And if I saw a post from a mum where she celebrated her ability to breastfeed, especially if she’d worked her butt off for it, I would praise her for that – because it can be bloody hard work. And really, the mums who have tried and are heartbroken that they can’t perhaps know that the best. If someone celebrates breastfeeding, I don’t personally see it as an attack on bottle feeding. I think perhaps the problem is that some damage has been done in that some mothers feel like they’ve failed, and that needs to be addressed. So perhaps what we need to do in order to do that and “simply be proud of our fellow moms and people” is to put a little message in EVERY feeding post that ANYONE makes. Just a little shout out at the end of your celebration of breastfeeding your baby that ALL parents who are feeding their baby, in ANY way, are doing a great job. Just one little sentence in every feeding post so that it’s really crystal clear that it’s a celebration of achievement, and a reach out to all.

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