Sunday, 19 June 2011

Breastfeeding Leper

I had this grand idea that for national breastfeeding awareness week (if it still exists without the funding), I would publish a blog post every day on the subject. Then I remembered I barely find time to post once a month at the moment so I forgot the idea.

However, I thought I'd try for at least one post. But there is so much to discuss about breastfeeding as it's such an emotive subject, so I thought I'd take a different angle, to show that we breastfeeders sometimes feel excluded and despised too.

Now don't get me wrong, I am a confident breastfeeder. I don't feel the need to hide away and will happily breastfeed in a coffee shop, restaurant, well, wherever I need to really. But there have been times when I haven't found it so easy.

For example, when Felix was still tiny and I was trying to find my feet, getting used to being at home and having to find friends to spend my days with (either that or never speak to another adult ever again!), I went along to a local baby group. At first the breast/bottle divide was about 50-50. After the first couple of sessions though, I don't remember seeing anyone else breastfeeding. The plastic chairs (think school hall) were set out in a circle in the middle of the room. So there was no opportunity for discretion, and there was no way of making yourself comfortable. Nobody spoke to me whilst I was feeding either. I felt ostracised from the group, like an intruder with a disgusting habit.

I believe I gave the group one more chance after this. Nothing any worse happened but I felt no real desire to attend again. I went on a mission to find other breastfeeding mums to befriend and thankfully my antenatal class members came good (they weren't an obvious first choice as we were sent to an NCT group the other side of the city and we only made it to one class before Mr Premature decided to enter the world).

My point is, that it's often the formula-feeders that feel the breastfeeders look down on them, pity them or criticise them. It happens to breastfeeders too y'know. Nicknames like the Breastapo come from our need to display confidence in our decision to breastfeed. It's a defence mechanism to any negativity we may feel.

I think our own inner feelings of guilt or insecurity can make us imagine other people's prejudice in these situations. I know formula feeders who never even considered breastfeeding and are more than confident in their decision. They don't feel belittled by me and I don't feel embarrassed about breastfeeding in their presence.

How about you? Breastfeeders: did you ever feel excluded by the bottle-feeders? Formula mums: have you ever felt pity for or judgemental about another mums decision to breastfeed?


  1. I haven't felt excluded by bottle feeders but I feel they have re freedom when it comes to feeding their babies in public - maybe I have bottle feed envy!? With a burton I often sat on toilets in disabled cubic,es if. Was out and he needed feeding, it was horrible. I just didn't have the confidence to breast feed him in a cafe on my own! Silly really at my age, I know!
    Great post x

  2. In the early days when Iyla needed feeding a lot, I was more than happy to do it anywhere but as she got a bit older I started to prefer not to do it in certain places, especially 2 of the baby groups I go to. Strangely I would rather do it in a cafe / anywhere else than in a group of mums! The reason being that I NEVER have seen anyone breastfeeding there and because of that I don't feel comfortable to do it either. I also feel uncomfortable when people assume I formula feed and then I tell them that I breastfeed and they either think I'm just one of those 'breastfeeders' or feel like they need to explain themselves to me! Which they don't!

  3. I only managed to breast feed for about 6 weeks, and I have to say, bottle or breast, I never found other Mum's unsupportive. It was the health care proffesionals that - for me - put imense pressure on to breast feed. When I finaly changed to bottle, I cried for days. No Mum should be made to feel that bad about their feeding choices. It seems so awful that you didn't get the support you needed, and from Mums too! Shame on your group I say! x

  4. That's awful when they treat you like that, every mum is ultimately
    In the same boat. I breastfed for about 12 weeks and felt very guilty switching over. I used to try to explain the history to the HVs all the time till I accepted it myself.

  5. No, but then I recognise this is mostly just about me, and that I'm very very lucky. We all need to just be a bit bloody nicer to each other. Formula feeding? Breast feeding? Doesn't really matter, does it. If you've got a happy, healthy baby, and a happy, healty mum, then that really is all that matters.

  6. Jenny - It is much easier when you have a nice big department store with a private breastfeeding room. I spent HOURS in the one at John Lewis when Felix was a baby!

    Mum2babyI - I hate when formula feeders try to explain why they do it. It's your choice, don't justify yourself to me! I'm not judging you for your decision.

    WaterBirth - Sorry you found it so upsetting. I've found all the healthcare professional very supportive. In fact sometimes patronisingly so because they're so keen to celebrate breastfeeding - so I suppose similar to you, just it has a different meaning to me!

    Mcai - Glad you have accepted it now. Be confident in your decision. You did what was right for you.

    KT - OBVIOUSLY, you didn't feel like that. Cause you just love getting your tits out. ;-)

  7. I had the same experience of being the "last breastfeeder". I was lucky in that other mums were supportive but I knew one mum who really felt bad about not managing to breastfeed her very prem baby for longer and I felt guilty breastfeeding in front of her.It's sad that there is so much guilt around feeding babies that we can't just get on with it and enjoy the experience, however we end up feeding.