The Baby-Friendly Woman Haters

Breastfeeding Baby

This week has seen a lot of talk in the blogosphere and on facebook about the UNICEF baby-friendly initiative, and how it affects formula marketing in hospitals.

I’d just like to say, before I get started, that I am categorically opposed to formula companies marketing their products in hospitals. It is a very sneaky and effective form of marketing and I don’t believe it should be allowed to continue. It’s dangerous to women’s health and the health of their babies. I support the baby-friendly initiative completely – this post is NOT about the rights and supposed wrongs of the baby-friendly initiative. It is about the out-and-out POISON that I have seen launched from woman to woman all over the internet, sparked off by debates over free formula given out in hospitals.

This week, I have been disgusted at the way women are speaking to (and about) their fellow mothers. Not only this, but the bloggers who have hosted their comments are very quick to to back up the viewpoint that it is anti-woman to offer free formula in the delivery room, but some of them neglect to oppose the comments that are also very obviously anti-woman, anti-choice and anti-simple-fucking-human-decency.

Allow me to paraphrase some of the gems I have read this week:

“I am sick of women using the fact that breastfeeding can be hard as an excuse not to breastfeed.”

“If a woman has to formula feed out of medical necessity, then that’s OK”

“I’m sorry, but “choice” does not come into it where an innocent baby’s health is at stake. Using formula shouldn’t be a free choice at all.”

I am shocked and incensed that women are turning on their fellow women in this way. I am a passionate supporter of breastfeeding and always have been, and I think as a result I have blocked out a lot of these vicious literary assaults on others regarding their feeding choices. I simply didn’t want to believe that mums could be so freaking nasty to other mums about an issue as emotional as this. I didn’t really want to believe that these scary lactivists actually existed – I would have rather believed that they were fabricated by a bitter formula mum with a chip on her shoulder. How wrong I was.

The hypocrisy from these people stinks. On one hand, they are saying (quite rightly, I might add) that the emotional experience of labour and birth is important. They support a woman’s choice to birth outside of the hospital, even if that may increase the risk of harm to themselves or their baby depending on the woman’s level of risk. They are also saying that causing emotional distress to children is not okay, which it’s not. BUT they think it’s okay to tell women that their emotional experience of breastfeeding doesn’t matter? That she should just push through it even if she is hating every minute of it?

On the one hand, they are saying that women are strong and capable, and able to make their own informed decision. On the other hand, they are saying that they are weak and vulnerable, and should put themselves through self-punishment in order to breastfeed their babies lest they not be a Good Enough Mother.

Maybe this is an issue close to my heart because I found breastfeeding to be so hard emotionally with my first baby. I am proud to say that I nursed him for 26 months, but for the first year it made life very hard for me – and as a result, for the rest of my family. I often feel as though I cannot talk about the fact that breastfeeding was incredibly emotionally taxing, or about the fact that sometimes I wish I HAD given up, because I would have been a better mother for it.  Maybe my son wouldn’t struggle with the things he struggles with today had I not been near insane from lack of sleep and the stifling feelings of entrapment which,  although caused by my PPD, were definitely exacerbated by the physical and emotional sensations of breastfeeding.

Frankly, I am shocked at the small, but definitely present, group of people who are insistent on spreading the lie of “Breast is Best No Matter What.”

You know what? Breastfeeding is not the right path for every mum. Yes, breast milk is the physiologically normal way to feed an infant. Yes, it is amazing. Yes, nutritionally it is better for babies than formula milk. Yes, I will support breastfeeding and do all I can to help other mothers breastfeed until the day I die. What I will not do is stand idly by and ignore these awful, venomous comments from MOTHERS to OTHER MOTHERS. This group of women need to listen up and realise that they have no idea what they are talking about.

Put simply: Nobody but THE MOTHER has the right to decide whether their reasons for formula feeding are valid. I am amazed by the amount of mortal humans who are, in their own eyes, omnipresent enough to know EXACTLY what any given mother at any given time is going through with regards to feeding her baby. The sore nipples that stop one mum breastfeeding may be easily overcome by another, but that doesn’t mean that her sore nipples were not a valid reason for HER to stop breastfeeding.

I’m not talking about political correctness here. I, for one, have been publicly attacked on several occasions for speaking positively about breastfeeding when there was no hint of judgement in my tone. I’m talking about having a bit of compassion, a bit of human decency and understanding.

No matter whether we breastfeed our children or formula feed our children, we need to come together and support each other’s right to make that choice for ourselves and our children.  And a big part of that is telling the formula companies to get their advertising the fuck out of the hospitals. Taking formula marketing out of the delivery room is not taking choice away – true choice is informed choice.  Here in the UK, formula companies are not allowed to advertise in this manner. Formula is still available at the hospital for those who medically need it, or for those mothers who started out breastfeeding and quickly decide they want to use formula. For mothers who choose to formula feed from the get-go, it’s simple – bring your own. Just like you’d bring your own nappies, baby clothes and car seat. I think it’s a good system.

Let’s look after each other. Let’s tell those formula companies to sod off with their marketing ploys and crappy breastfeeding advice. Let’s support each other as mothers, because let’s face it, mothering is hard enough without having to deal with the unwanted and unreasonable judgements from others.


  1. says

    Great rant!!

    The first 2 1/2 months of breastfeeding my now 5 month old DD were…HARD, FRUSTRATING, EXHAUSTING…I could go on.
    Because of her homebirth turned c-section, my baby girl was on formula until I was able to pump enough to get my supply up, as well as work with actually getting her off the bottle – she refused my nipple for the first month, and I felt so rejected.
    But thanks to an amazing support system (LC. husband & family), my daughter and I persevered, using both a nipple shield, SNS, and pumping all the time.
    My boobs hurt. My nipples cracked. I cried rivers. I had no sleep. I was recovering from a c-section. When DD finally did latch onto my nipple, she clamped down so hard…then I started dealing with INTENSE vasospasms.
    I had every reason to quit, and came so close. There were days I cried because of the pain from nursing.
    And while I’m glad I was able to push through (no more pain!!), I KNOW why many choose to formula feed…and I would never presume to judge them for that.
    I’m pro-breastfeeding, pro-natural birth, etc.
    BUT I’m also pro-momma. Because I’ve been there, felt the extreme pain.
    And even if I hadn’t, who would I be to judge? What if I DID make that decision (to use formula) one day? I would want support, not angry words.
    LADIES!! Stand up for each other, knowing that we are all doing our best as mommas :-)

  2. Nicky says

    I couldn’t agree more. What’s really sad is these women think that this aggressive approach in some way encourages other women to breast feed. It doesn’t – all it does it makes women feel bad and shamed or angry and rebellious making it much more likely that they will stop when it gets hard. What women need when breast feeding is support. Support which I found sadly lacking when I was battling to feed my babies. Despite all the money poured into breast feeding support in hospitals etc- being bombarded with pink clad breast feeding support ladies morning noon and night – and all the leaflets and advertising – new mothers everywhere who need friendly support are feeling lost and judged because real support when you need it is very hard to find.
    After 6 weeks of battling to breast feed my twin boys (no dont want a medal – just to illustrate that breast feeding support in this country is only skin deep) I got thrush and was in agony. I rang all the numbers and could barely get verbal advice let alone actual support. and they all managed to make me feel like I had failed by even entertaining the idea that i should stop or top up. This was in total contrast to most of the medical profession I came in to contact with who acted as if breast feeding twins was a great but naive idea that would never last .
    Sorry you got me on a rant! More support less judgement please!

  3. says

    Hear hear! This of course brings to mind my recent post. I think though that some of this apparent radicalism stems from the transition period we’re in at the moment, from a norm that was bottle feeding to the norm that is breastfeeding. Naturally there are those who feel passionate about the latter, but still the status quo, if you like, is the former. I *hate* the word “lactivist” for this reason – it just makes breastfeeding out to be the radical way rather than the norm. Once we move into a period where breastfeeding is the acceptable norm, I think that formula will then be accepted as a natural back-up rather than the evil ‘replacement’ it is seen as now. And for such a transition to take place more quickly, we need to have REAL support systems in place – both formally and informally. And so yes, that means compassion people! Learn to support each other.

    We all make choices upon what we can manage, but alone we will naturally manage less than if we were supported properly. When I breastfed our son I struggled for weeks and weeks and all the midwives said was “you’ll get used to it”. Which IS TRUE in a way, but not exactly what you want to hear… that’s where the LLL is so wonderful. Even by email I got more support than I did via the NHS. That – and a good friend’s help and advice – are what kept me going.

    • says

      Thank you for your comment! You’ve reminded me that I was planning on linking to you here, it seems the ranty mindset took over there :/ I will edit this to include your link!

  4. Rachel says

    Great post. I have to admit to at least thinking this way sometimes. Breastfeeding was/is so easy and enjoyable for me that it is sometimes hard to appreciate what others go through. The more experience I gain as a mum the more I realize you can’t judge others journeys. This was a good reminder for me.

  5. says

    Absolutely right behind you on this one: fantastic post. Hospital is NOT the place to advertise: in the antenatal waiting room in PLymouth there is a TV playing continual adverts for baby-gear – I mean CONTINUAL, so say you have to wait an hour for your appt, you have to sit through however many adverts for toys, car seating systems, formula – you name it. It wasn’t on the last time I went so maybe enough people have complained about it. And certainly not in the delivery room either! Totally inappropriate.

    Women must be free to make their own choices, for whatever reason, in all aspects of parenting, and no-one has the right to make a judgement on that unless it directly affects themselves in some way (an example perhaps would be a child hitting/punching yours with their parent allowing that behaviour to continue unchecked). Breastfeeding is between mother and child and no-one else is involved – even dad has to step out of that one.

    The problem is that the weight of public opinion has swung so heavily away from formula-feeding in general, that stupid people then take it as read that NO-ONE should use it. And, like you say, it’s despicable that women can’t be strong and intelligent enough to support each other in what can be a difficult and emotive area.

  6. says

    Great post … I wrote one about the same subject but my stance was different. I would actually prefer to see MORE information on breastfeeding given to women during pregnancy. I don’t see samples sabotaging a breastfeeding relationship. Some mothers just don’t want to, they want to fail. Sorry they do.

    I do 110% agree with you that breastfeeding is HARD. I never thought I’d do 1 month, then my goal was 6 weeks … 17m+ on we’re still going. Its NEVER been easy. And I’m not sure how much I enjoy it … I know BiP does!

    I hate mothers who judge other mothers. I really do. Do what you want seriously – just don’t tell me when I should wean, why I should hide my breasts, and why breastfeeding is only for babies under 6m old.

    • says

      Agree with you! The judgement from both sides needs to stop. I think there has to be a huge paradigm shift before we see real changes in the way we see breastfeeding (and therefore changes in the breastfeeding rates).

  7. Elsie says

    Excellent post.
    I struggled with breastfeeding and although I stuck it out, I made myself and my family very miserable in the first three months. I often wonder if would have happier memories of my first days as a mother if I had not been rail roaded into something that brought me so much misery.

  8. stephaniemz says

    I never understood why people felt that criticizing the predatory marketing campaigns of formula companies was an attack on mothers who use formula. We routinely criticize alcohol companies for predatory marketing…which is not an attack on those who drink (in the US).

  9. says

    Way to go Imogen, couldn’t agree more (as ever!). I personally feel that many of the very pro-breastfeeders are actually causing a lot more harm than good to their cause as well as upsetting a lot of formula feeders along the way. Breastfeeding is normal feeding but for a million and one reasons we will never understand some mothers choose to not breastfeed, why they choose that is none of our business and we should not patronise them with our assumptions. What we should do is get rid of all the terrible formula advertising, normalise breastfeeding amongst children (no bottles for baby dolls!) and educate, educate, educate and support, support, support.

    • says

      Yes yes yes! :) thank you for your comment, totally agree! There’s a huge difference between promoting and supporting breastfeeding, and causing emotional distress to mothers who couldn’t, didn’t or otherwise struggled.

  10. Michelle says

    Thanks for this post Imogen. I’ve been quite upset by some of the posts I’ve read lately, very harsh and judgeypants. I wasn’t able to breastfeed, and hate the idea that people might have thought that I just couldn’t be bothered/didn’t care enough to persevere.

    • says

      Thank you for your comment! I agree, there have been some very uncalled for comments being thrown around. I even saw on a bottle mama support page on Facebook, a scary lactivist had joined the page and posted a holier than thou, judgy, downright bitchy rant. At first I thought she must have been a troll but a little searching around revealed that she was real, and an active participant of the online parenting community. Shocking.

  11. Jana Els says

    I whole heartedly agree with you.I breastfed my son on my breast for the first week after which he drank expressed breast milkbin the day time up to a year.I found it taxing and difficult and constantly had to battle to keep my milk supply up but I did it.I do understand other women’s reason for not breastfeeding as well.What I do not understand is the SA government recent decree that it will no longer be supplying free formula to it’s state run clinics in the hope that it will decrease the mortality rate amongst infants.Many of these mothers are from very poor communities and they do not eat a balanced every day and would therefore not be able to sustain breastfeeding for an extended period so formula (which they normally would get from these clinics) would be that poor infants only hope of getting all the nutrients it requires.
    Just thought I should leave this statement as well.

  12. says

    Thank you.

    As a formula-feeding mama, I *hear* the “breast is best” message far too often without people knowing my truth behind formula feeding. I think the movement to encourage breast-feeding is a good one, because in some communities, it is not encouraged at all. But, most importantly, I think encouraging good parenting trumps whether a child is fed by breast or bottle. We don’t have enough parents who take an active role in raising their children. If we did, I think they’d take interest in what goes into their child’s body and decide what is best for their own family situation.

  13. Mr Bryn says

    Completely agree with the article,
    My wife cannot breastfeed now due to an underlying medical condition which reqires medication which makes her breast milk unsuitable for feeding. We have had nothing but good experiences with our midwife who gave us every help she could and through her efforts and communication with the doctors my wife managed to breast feed for 8 days before she had to go back on her meds.

    However she has also had some really nasty comments aimed at her from some people after she commented on a blog about our difficult journey to start a family, including “if you are so sick that you can’t breastfeed why did you have a baby”

    • says

      That is unbelievable! It’s so upsetting that somebody would say that to a fellow human being. I’m sorry that your wife has been attacked over her circumstances. Huge props to her for giving her baby the first precious week of colostrum and early milk – every drop counts and she should be very proud!

      Thank you for commenting, it’s really lovely to hear from a partner on issues such as this. I think it’s easy to forget that it’s not just the mother that is affected.

  14. Rach says

    love love LOVE this post. I am currently feeding baby 6 aged 11 months and this is the FIRST time it has been an easy, smooth and enjoyable ride. With my others I had silent reflux (baby 3) Cows milk protein allergy,(baby 5) and many general weight gain, slow let down and thrush problems to contend with (all of them but mainly baby 4) and generally was well ready to quit by 9 months. This all coupled with staunchly formula feeding mother, aunts and sister, and living 200 miles away from any support.. I can totally see how, if you had only the experience I’ve had with my sixth behind you, you could fall into that smug arsehole way of thinking ;) but thought is all it should ever be – keep your trap shut, be it in person or online.

    • says

      Thank you for commenting! Wow, you did INCREDIBLY well to get to 9 months with those odds stacked against you! Amazing! And yes, it’s often the people who’ve had an easy ride who can’t understand. Similarly, though, I know a few ladies who have actually had a very hard time with breastfeeding, and because they got through their difficulties (and good for them!), they feel like nobody else has an ‘excuse’ to ‘quit’. At the end of the day, we never know what someone else is going through or dealing with.

  15. says

    I really liked this article. I think it’s ridiculous how people treat other people. Where is the respect? One thing I have to say though is why does nobody acknowledge that there is another choice? It isn’t just breast or formula. I gave birth to twins this past September. They were a month early. They were perfectly healthy but they were tired and jaundiced and they wouldn’t breastfeed. I KNEW I wanted to breastfeed, it’s something I’m passionate about, so when they wouldn’t breastfeed, I was heartbroken. So I decided we would work on BF but in the mean time I would pump so they could still get breast milk. I’ve been pumping like crazy and we’ve been working on breastfeeding. Now, at 4 months, they’re breastfeeding, but not exclusively. It’s been so exhausting getting to this point. I just wish that people knew there was another alternative. I wish pumping mothers were acknowledged for their efforts and that more people accepted this as a way of feeding their babies. I have to think that more people don’t exclusively pump because it isn’t in the spotlight more. I think if it were talked about more, more people would do it.


  16. says

    I have gone into the extended breastfeeding stage, and my son has never had formula. Yet my success with breastfeeding came down to one woman. I struggled at the start and was seen by around 7 different people who failed to help . .and it was pure chance that someone went on holiday and the stand in called the local breastfeeding expert. . . who arrived at my house 15 minutes later. . . from then on we got breastfeeding back on track with no trouble


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