Breastfeeding or bottle feeding? It’s the ultimate hornets’ nest for a lot of mums and can be more divisive than even the toughest debate you’ll see on the floor of the Dáil. But does it really have to be so contentious?
Before I became a mum, I didn’t really have a strong opinion on either. I’d always been very happy to see a mum out breastfeeding her child and probably felt a little in awe of how incredible the human body is at providing nourishment for a baby. That said, when I saw another mum giving her baby a bottle, I wouldn’t have been ‘tut-tutting’ to myself over her choice either. I’ve always thought fed was best and to be honest, now that I am a mum, my mantra still stands. I’ve had friends who breastfed and friends who bottle fed and I wouldn’t judge either for their decisions, so why do some people think it’s okay to load guilt onto another for her choice?
As mums, we face lots of tough choices every day and when you’re a new mum starting out with a fragile new-born to care for, a lot of those choices can be really daunting. Being a mum is hard enough without being made to feel like you’re inadequate or doing something wrong… I think we all berate ourselves enough on a daily basis anyway without other mums doing it for us.
So why do we do it?
It seems crazy, but you get a group of mums together who are happy to chat and laugh and swap stories, and the second the topic of breastfeeding Vs bottle feeding is dropped into the room, it’s as if a grenade has been unpinned and everyone is bracing for an explosion.
I’ve seen it in action and it’s not pleasant. The conversation starts off measured. Statistics are often thrown in. Soon passions emerge and tempers fray and all of a sudden there’s judgement and acidic bile in every loaded comment.
‘Oh the breastfeeding mafia are at it again!’
‘Mums who bottle feed are lazy, you can’t improve on nature!’
You get the picture and I’ve no doubt as fellow mums, no matter what your stance, you’ve heard things like this and much worse.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with impassioned debate or for espousing what you believe in. On the contrary, that’s a good thing. But when that championing of your cause puts another down, that’s when I’ve got a problem.
I can remember I was at a hen party about 2 and half months after my baby boy was born. It was my first time to leave him for a night and I was a bit emotional to say the least. I’d also recently come through the haze of post-natal depression and with a few Proseccos on board things could turn teary in a jot, so all in all this evening was going to be full of potential speedbumps. Let’s just say I had a lot of tissues at the ready.
I got into a conversation with two other new-ish mums at the hen party and of course we talked about our babies. One of the women had breastfed and laughed as she explained that she hadn’t really been a so-called breastfeeding advocate before giving birth, but that she’d done it as she had heard it can help you burn lots of calories.
We all laughed as she then went on to say she had really enjoyed breastfeeding despite her initial reasons for doing it.
I wasn’t really saying anything, I had chosen to bottle feed and I was genuinely happy with my decision. It wasn’t the sort of conversation that was limbering up to be a debate or anything. It was relaxed and friendly. Truthfully, I was also probably a little distracted thinking about how my baby boy and husband were getting on and as I’m a shy person by nature, I just I laughed along with the remarks as one does in a conversation like this.
I then listened, as the other woman quickly declared, ‘I’m sorry but you enjoy your baby so much more when you breastfeed, how can anyone choose the bottle over mammies creamy gold?!’ she laughed.
I stayed silent.
It was an innocuous enough remark and I know it wasn’t meant to hurt or was indeed directed at me. In fact, I’m quite sure this woman had gotten the wrong end of the stick and thought I was breastfeeding. She probably assumed she was preaching to the converted. But she wasn’t. And her words struck me harder than they should have. I remembered thinking about them more and more on the train the way home the next day. It felt as though it was the first time someone had passed judgement on my decision to bottle feed. It felt like she was inferring that I was in some way harming my baby by my choice… was my post-natal depression because I didn’t breastfeed? Was that why I didn’t bond with my son from the get go? My mind went into overdrive.
If that same moment happened to me today, you can bet your bottom dollar I would have something to say in return. Now that my son is 9 months old and I’m finding my feet again I certainly wouldn’t have let that comment pass. But I wouldn’t have descended into nastiness either. I probably would have just said ‘well I bottle feed and I’m happy with my decision and you know what I really enjoy the feeding time snuggles too,’ and left it at that. No judgement. No vitriol. Clearly, this woman was passionate about her decision to breastfeed and was happy to tell the world about it. And that’s got to be admired and celebrated. What I didn’t like though, was the implied judgement on bottle feeding mums.
But here’s the thing. Just because I decided bottle feeding was right for me, that doesn’t mean I don’t still admire women who breastfeed. It also doesn’t mean that I should feel guilty for my decision either. There’s a million and one reasons why mums decide to stick with breastfeeding, and there’s an equal number of reasons why women decide to bottle feed. Not one of them is really anyone’s business. Ultimately, I think we get so wrapped up in our various opinions on the feeding debate, that we lose sight of what’s important. My 9 month old baby boy is busting out of his clothes and is as far as I know, happy and healthy. And in the end, isn’t that all that matters?