The breast is best and fed is best campaigns have completely missed the mark. I realize that people feel passionately about their “side,” but choosing sides is a dangerous game when it comes to new mothering. Here’s why:
A few weeks ago my colleague Lauren wrote a beautifully passionate piece called This is why I am fed up with “Fed is Best.” She reminded us of the nutritional superiority of breastmilk, and of the struggle that breastfeeding mothers face in trying to feel normal as we do the most normal thing – breastfeed our kids. She also expressed her solidarity, noting that we are all mothers making the best decisions for our families, and that there’s no need to get defensive. But the problem is not that women are overly sensitive. Being sensitive is what makes new motherhood a powerful and transformative time. In short, it’s a good thing. The problem is that there are even two sides at all. We are blinded by competition. We are like teenagers looking for pokemon and missing the Justin Bieber concert.
Both of these campaigns have overlooked the most important piece when it comes to raising the next generation. And women and babies are suffering because of it.
The most important piece is mom.
She’s new, too.
New mothers are learning.
They are learning to listen to their instincts. And they matter more than breastmilk or formula. Food doesn’t raise babies. Moms do.
In an airplane the flight attendants tell you that if there is an emergency, put your own oxygen mask on first, then your child’s.
Who are the flight attendants for new moms? Occasionally you meet one or two people who ask how mom is doing before examining the baby, but they are few and far between. Most people go right to the baby.
How can she learn to trust her instincts, if time after time, she is ignored?
Moms need encouragement, not advice. Telling someone how to feed her child sends the message that she does not know. If enough people tell mom that she is not equipped to make her own decisions (even indirectly), guess what happens. She might start to believe it herself. That she needs to rely solely on a book, advice, or WHO guidelines in order to raise her baby.
It’s sad. It’s dangerous. It’s preventable. But not with campaigns like these.
When my baby girl was a year old, several people, including our pediatrician, told me that I should stop breastfeeding. I felt gravely misunderstood and profoundly alone. I immediately realized what it must feel like if the tables were turned. How would I feel if I knew that formula would be the only way that my baby or I could survive, but someone told me, “you know, breast is best?” I would feel the same way I felt then: undermined, belittled, and misunderstood. Telling new mothers what to do, no matter how sweet your voice is and no matter how many scientific studies you cite, if you do not listen to her, you send the message that she is not worth listening to. And then the doubts start to immerge like those creepy black shadows in the movie Ghost.
Every woman has her own story, and we can’t pretend to know someone else’s story unless we ask.
If another mom makes a decision that is vastly different than your ideal, remember that the human species is crazy smart when it comes to survival. She is surviving the way she knows best. Following your ideal will likely end in failure if she’s not totally on board.
If you are a new mom, I encourage you to listen to your instincts.
If someone in your life is a new mom, I encourage you to listen to her, to her story, to her ideas about what’s best for her and her baby. By encouraging her to explore her new role without judgement, you empower her to make the best decisions for her baby’s healths, her health, and her entire family’s wellbeing.
The most important piece is mom. Moms are raising the next generation, not breastmilk or formula.
The breast is best and fed is best campaigns draw followers, and unfortunately they are directing our focus to the second priority and bypassing the first.
Moms need their oxygen, they need a cup of tea, a leaned ear, clean clothes. Then maybe, just maybe, there will be enough quiet in the room for their inner voices to immerge.
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