First off, I’m just going to say that I don’t care what you do with your boobs once you become a mom. Whether or not you choose to breastfeed is a personal decision and one that no mom should be shamed or judged for at anytime, anywhere. Full stop. Let’s just be done with that nonsense once and for all, OK?
But here’s the thing: No matter what I say about how non-judgmental and accepting we need to be of all the ways that moms feed and nurture their babies, when it comes to moms celebrating the accomplishments and joys that breastfeeding their babies brings them, someone always seems to get up in arms about that.
They say, “What does it matter? All that matters is a healthy baby. Why do you need to announce how proud you are of breastfeeding your baby? Don’t you see how that shames the rest of us who don’t use our boobs for feeding?”
You’ve heard this argument, haven’t you? You hear this kind of thing especially around this time of year, because August is National Breastfeeding Month, and major breastfeeding organizations, breastfeeding social media sites (as well as moms themselves) often take to the web to share their breastfeeding success stories, triumphs and pride.
And every time this happens, there's a huge backlash.
I get this. Moms who tried breastfeeding, but had to give up for whatever reason, feel triggered by seeing the kinds of posts that get spread during National Breastfeeding Month. And let's be clear—those feelings are valid and people have every right to skip those posts, unfollow or whatever works for them.
But there is no reason to be angry at a woman who shares her triumphs at breastfeeding. There is no reason to take down a community who wants to support each other in breastfeeding. There is no reason to bash an entire awareness movement like National Breastfeeding Month.
Let me tell you why National Breastfeeding Month exists. It has zero to do with "breastfeeding is better than formula feeding, and anyone who doesn’t do it is a bad mom."
National Breastfeeding Month was started in 2011 by the United States Breastfeeding Community as a way to highlight the real obstacles, roadblocks and barriers American women face when they set out to breastfeed.
The fact is, the majority of women start out with an intention to breastfeed, but many are not meeting their goals. Just take a look at the 2016 breastfeeding report from the CDC. A whopping 81 percent of women start out with the intention of breastfeeding, but by six months, only 51 percent are still doing so. By 12 months, that number has slid to 30 percent.
It has nothing—and I mean nothing—to do with putting down women who do not breastfeed for whatever reason.
Any amount of breastfeeding is awesome, but again, this isn’t just about the milk. As the National Breastfeeding Month proclamation says, it’s all about giving mothers the “opportunity” to breastfeed. And with so many cultural and socioecomic hindrances in place—from way-too-short maternity leave to lack of financial and physical access to qualified lactation consultants—how can anyone claim that breastfeeding moms have equal and free opportunities to breastfeed?
The answer is that they don’t. And that's why we need a month to highlight these issues—and also to give moms a chance to celebrate the successes that they’ve had at breastfeeding, most of which have not come easily. And through these public recognitions, moms are encouraging their fellow moms to persevere despite the real hardships they are likely to encounter.
So let’s be clear. Abundantly clear. National Breastfeeding Month is about support, education and encouragement for mothers who want nothing more than to breastfeed their babies, but who need extra support, empowerment and TLC. It has nothing—and I mean nothing—to do with putting down women who do not breastfeed for whatever reason.
What all of us women need to recognize is that motherhood is not a comparison game. We're all allowed to do it our own ways and feel proud of our choices. That also means that moms should be able to openly discuss the real issues and concerns they have about a particular path they have chosen. All moms should be able to freely discuss the difficulties they face and celebrate their successes.
Motherhood is unique to each of us. No two moms will do it the same way, and that diversity of experiences and realities are what make parenthood interesting and that much more beautiful.