I'm tired of being shamed for breastfeeding my child.
I often read articles which claim the benefits of breastfeeding are overstated -- that it's not a necessary practice -- and they break my heart. Not because I am particularly worried about the research, but because we are already shamed by our society so continuously for breastfeeding that every time another study comes out, we have to brace ourselves. We have to get ready for the attacks; for the well-meaning family and friends who will send copies of the articles to us, who will tag us in them on Facebook, who will write things like: "See? It's okay for you to stop now". Or: "This article proves giving him formula won't do any harm". Or even: "Maybe now you'll get her off your boob and she'll stop being such a mumma's girl".
These comments serve to instill more shame into women who are so frequently told that what they are doing is shameful.
If any parents who formula feed are reading this article, let me say this: keep holding your head high and being the rockstar parent you know you are. Do not for one moment think that this post is here to judge you or condemn your choices. Some of the most exceptional mothers I know -- women I deeply respect and admire -- formula feed their children and both they, and their kids, are phenomenal.
This article is here to be a voice for breastfeeding mums who feel that if people keep telling them breastfeeding isn't a good thing for their child, they're going to break into pieces.
I received dirty looks. I would leave venues and events and hide away while I fed my child. I was told my child would be less clingy, less demanding, sleep better, eat better, be better, if he would just stop breastfeeding.
In Australia, only 15 percent of infants are still exclusively breastfed at six months. I have no doubt that mothers who formula feed in the first few months of their babies' lives receive criticism and judgment. But once the baby is six months old, the mother will often be judged for 'continuing' to breastfeed.
I felt that change, immediately. The voices who supported me through those first months were now the same ones telling me it was time to stop. I received dirty looks. I would leave venues and events and hide away while I fed my child. I was told my child would be less clingy, less demanding, sleep better, eat better, be better, if he would just stop breastfeeding. Despite this, I continued feeding him. Many in my mothers' group were no longer breastfeeding and I began to feel different, as though I was strange and out of place.
I felt the burden of the shame that was being thrust upon me. I was made to feel I was being selfish and indulgent for 'still' feeding my child and any sleep challenges or behavioural difficulties we experienced were automatically attributed to breastfeeding.
More blame. More shame.
I am so lucky I have a husband who constantly advocates for my son and I, and with his support I continued to follow our child's lead and make the choices that felt right for our family. As such, I found myself breastfeeding my son at age two -- something I shared with only 5 percent of Australian mums.
By this point I began to feel I needed to keep it a secret that I was breastfeeding a toddler. I felt that I must be doing something wrong, that I was going about motherhood the wrong way. I heard and felt the judgement from the very same people who were so keen to support us in the beginning, as well as from those who didn't know us at all.
When it got to this point, I turned to the only other ally I felt I had: research. I quoted to those who questioned me that the World Health Organisation recommendations state that children should be breastfed until age two and beyond. I sought out peer-reviewed, extensively researched, credible information that highlights the physical and emotional benefits of breastfeeding.
Most mums aren't choosing to breastfeed because it may or may not contribute to their child's academic performance in the future.
The research, I felt, was the only real support available to me.
So when studies come out which undermine the only defence I feel I have, it hits hard, right where it hurts.
But here's the thing we need to remember; most mums aren't choosing to breastfeed because it may or may not contribute to their child's academic performance in the future. Generally, they're not thinking about the future benefits it could offer at all. They are breastfeeding because of what it does, right now, in this moment, for their child. Because it makes their baby feel safe, loved and nurtured in the most organic way; in the same way it has since the first humans existed.
They're breastfeeding because it's right for them, right now.
So look at the information. Read the studies. Listen to the experts. But most importantly, do what feels right for you and your child. And don't shame someone else for choosing differently.
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