All content of this blog is my own opinion only. It does not represent the views of any organisation or association I may work for, or be associated with. Nothing within this blog should be considered as medical advice and you should always consult your Doctor.

What I'm really thinking: the breast-feeding mother

In response to "What I'm really thinking: the bottle-feeding mother" published Guardian Friday 6 January 2012

I see the bottle feeding mothers watching me as I fumble around under my breastfeeding apron, trying to latch on a wiggly baby that I can't see.  Those looks speak a thousand words, most of which boil down to, "don't flash an inch of flesh in public, we're feeding our babies without exposing ourselves, why aren't you?"

I feel as if they're judging me, they can have dad, gran, friends feed their baby, whilst I'm tied to mine almost 24/7.  Do they feel superior to me? Certainly I feel that I have to defend my decision to continue through sore nipples and growth spurts, justify why I don't just give a bottle, so they'll accept me.

They sit at the postnatal groups, beady eyes peering at me, bottle lids clicking as my son nurses hungrily.  But I can't help noticing how their looks change - A bit of envy maybe - when I start to breastfeed.  My guess is they're thinking, "that looks a lot more efficient than bottle feeding".  You're right, I want to tell them.

I can almost hear the deafening mental processing in those staid church halls: "She won't have to make up a bottle each feed, sterilise them, tote them around.  And imagine just being able to roll over at night and have an instant feed, nobody has to get up to make it, and a built in pacifier."

But I don't want to fall into the trap of judging them too harshly, either.  I could easily have ended up bottle feeding, if I didn't get the support that helped me succeed with breastfeeding, most have no idea what they're missing.  Now I've cracked breastfeeding, I see the advantages. I'd even choose it again next time. It's really not so bad, I want to tell them, after the early weeks are mastered ..

The point of this is to demonstrate how ridiculous the original article was.  As one reader said on Facebook, it would have been more accurately titled - What I think you're thinking.  The reality is that most breast feeders are just trying to get on and feed their baby "discreetly", not judging others, and most bottle feeders are doing the same - it seems everyone feels judged regardless of how they feed their baby.  Articles like this, just further hot up the "mummy wars", and we all know how profitable that is.

If I were more of a cynic, I might even wonder if this is a genuine "mummy article" - opinion pieces are free of the "breast is best message" that has to accompany standard articles, and AF companies are not allowed to advertise... The insidious comments re breastfeeding (from someone who didn't do it) and "try it you might like it" theme could be eyebrow raising for some..Just a thought


  1. Brilliant, simply brilliant!

  2. I wrote a response too. To be honest - even though I know you are deliberately lampooning the origional - I think writing anything that is critical of bottle feeding only serves to give bottle feeders a bad image of breastfeeders. No wonder they feel judged. I wrote a piece in which I tried to show that my first thoughts about bottle feeders are not critical ones but rather ones in which I try to consider why they might have ended up bottle feeding over breastfeeding. Perhaps the advice they got was awful, perhaps the tales they have heard of cracked nipples and clingy babies have put them off. Perhaps they have people within their family who have sabotaged their attempts or perhaps they had a very ill baby and no help to express.

    be kinder - that's what I think will help.

  3. Well said. That article was disgusting

    Donna, we ARE kinder. We are kinder every, single day. I defend any mother I know who tried and was failed. BUT we ALWAYS have to watch what we say and how we say it as a breastfeeder. You have to be sensitive EVERY single day. No one is sensitive of a breastfeeder. In fact its quite acceptable to make nasty comments and ask "are you STILL breastfeeding"

    I know being aggressive isn't going to change things, but I am so sick and tired of being nice when it is bloody hard to breastfeed. 90% of mothers go through hell and back because they know its THE best option for their child. They should be loud and proud, not hiding and quiet

  4. Donna - yes it's not something I'd have written, as you pointed out it's simply adjusting the original to make a point. Changing this dramatically would lose emphasis.

    Reality is breastfeeding mums DO feel nervous about exposing flesh in public, hardly a shock given we still see polls debating whether it's acceptable to feed milk of our own species in public in the way it was intended to be delivered!

    Mothers DO receive pressure to give a bottle and have a break as discussed in this post:

    The reality is that it IS a PITA to bottle feed, it's NOT more "efficient" - as many mums who have done both on the FB group often confirm.

    That's not being mean or harsh but realistic.

    I kept the part about "beady eyes" etc, not because I think this is true - but because I thought keeping that from the original showed how it's all down to interpretation, a mum nervously trying to feed discretely and looking about anxiously, may be perceived as "beady eyed" by someone else. One mum attempting to look supportive, could be perceived as looking judgemental by another. It's really all down to the head space we as the "receiver" are in - mums judge themselves far more harshly than anyone else could, otherwise articles like this would never be written.

    I'm the first to acknowledge the barriers to breastfeeding mums face - have a read around my blog:


    Really - I get it.

  5. I don't think this piece of writing is critical of bottle feeders. It's just highlighting the ridiculousness of the original article. Why not respond in an equally ridiculous way? Softly softly gets very tired sometimes.

  6. Fair enough. I wrote my own response, which I sent in and I hope they publish. However I do get the feeling that they (the Guardian) would rather pit mums against eachother than print something which shows how breastfeeding mums are not judging those who bottlefeed.

    I am still feeding my 1 year old despite having a very tough first ten days where he was in hospital and I was expressing for days and trying to feed him myself rather than accept the bottles the nurses kept bringing. I was determined but can see how some mums have their attempts scuppered by circumstance.

  7. Beautiful. A pure piece of art! I love it!

  8. For those mothers who choose to bottle feed, I realise we live in a world where bottle is the dominant choice and the formula and food industry have a great deal of power and influence. Our capitalist society is not organized around the sort of parenting that best suits the infant or the child. Frankly, I do think bottle feeding would have been a hell of a lot easier. I would have got some sleep for a start. I breastfed my first for 15 months and am still nursing 21 month old twins, I am utterly knackered most of the time and I don't see how I could have done this without being a full time mother (my brain is often addled with tiredness and ther is no way I could have done my former job as a lawyer in that state) and a super supportive partner who shares everything else.

    What irks me is the lack of honesty from the formula feeding mums about their choice to bottle feed. For most mothers/parents, it is a *choice*. There is no way that your choice to feed with artifical milk cannot be classed as inferior for your child. It's probably also inferior for your long term health, but possibly not your mental health, given the physical demands breastfeeding can make on a busy mother. Whilst I'm on my soap box, I wish breastfeeding mothers would be more honest about how hard it can be - it serves no prospective breastfeeding mother not to have her expectations managed. One of the things that helped me most when I was breastfeeding the twins was knowing that I was probably going to breastfeeding them twelve hours a day intially - TWELVE HOURS A DAY, I said! Eek!

    We all have to make judgments on the basis of our personal circumstances. Fine if you choose to formula feed, just be honest about the facts (the evidence is indisputable), stop being so defensive, don't denigrate breastfeeding mothers. Raising children is the hardest thing I've ever done, the vast majority of us are doing our best, and struggling at times, whatever our choices. I've made the ethically right choice to breastfeed. In my view, it's the best thing I could have done and it's a joy (most of the time) to see my babies bloom in a way I don't beleive they would if they'd been formula fed. But I make loads of other choices that are inferior when it comes to parenting and I'm no where near a perfect parent - who is? I'm not sitting there gloating. I'm just getting on with it.

  9. And Rozanna, I take my hat off to you!!!! Amazing. Just amazing what you are doing. I agree wholeheartedly.

  10. I understand you Donna. Although I totally understand the reasons behind this piece, I do think it adds to a 'them and us' culture, which I would rather not encourage to be honest.

    There's another blog I saw yesterday, which was inspired by the same Guardian article, but actually said at the end what I imagine most breastfeeding mums actually think. And I think a lot of it boils down to "Don't hate me because I'm breastfeeding"

  11. Surely the point is it's ridiculous to suggest all bfing mothers are judging "with beady eyes". Flipping that round is NOT to make a them an us situation, but to highlight *I thought* how silly general assumptions like that are (given most mums use a bottle at some point and most are NOT thinking what these sorts of articles suggest)

  12. I hope I didn't upset you with my reply, that was not my intention.

    My point is that if a bottle feeder were to read this, it could quite easily be seen as a negative article. Just as me, being a breastfeeder, found the original Guradian article quite negative towards breastfeeding mothers.

    The fact that the original article was rediculous is obvious to most people, but just as there will be those that found it spoke reason, so will there be people that take this seriously. Or maybe worse, take it as a mickey-take of themselves.

  13. Why are the breastfeeding mums the ones who have to modulate ourselves. We are accused of being smug if we say we enjoy breastfeeding. I myself have been accused of putting other mums down and making them feel bad by the simple act of feeding my child.
    I for one am fed up - Breastfeeding ROCKS!!!! Why shouldn't I be allowed to say that?

  14. Didn't upset me in the slightest Sundancer? I've clarified at the bottom of the article :)

  15. I read the Guardian's bottle-feeding version first, and to be honest to begin with I felt my hackles begin to rise as many other breastfeeding mummies probably did. Until the very last paragraph: "medical complications took the choice out of my hands" and I immediately thought of my sister.
    She was so excited to be pregnant and eager to breastfeed. She bought 'The Food of Love' and talked to me about my experiences. Then she was told that her baby had a cleft lip and probably a cleft palate as well, and it was likely that she wouldn't be able to breastfeed. There was a little hope that it would be a minor issue, and women have breastfed babies with cleft lips before, but when he was born it was clear that it would not be the case. He had a bilateral and complete cleft lip, and rather than a cleft palate he has no palate. No breastfeeding. My sister worked so hard to express for him, but with all the other complications involved she made the decision to stop when he was twelve weeks and he is now fully formula fed.
    Now my sister is on the bottle feeding side of the room at baby groups, being watched by the breastfeeders who choose to shun any interaction with those mums that are using a bottle. Of course that is not the case at every baby group, but I do think that the silent judging and envy described in these two articles goes on everywhere. My sister was devestated not to be able to breastfeed. She knows so much about the process, but whenever she offers advice to other mums she has met, it is treated with suspicion.
    Rather than meet articles like that in the Guardian with retaliation, wouldn't it be more productive to try to encourage people to live and let live a little? I would regard myself as a lactivist; I believe that all babies should be breastfed if possible, and that formula is only for those babies and mums who are absolutely unable to breastfeed (like my sister and her little one). However, some bottle feeding mums need to be reminded of the benefits of bottle feeding and not have all they have lost rubbed into their faces.

  16. I read that back to myself, and realise I may come across as over-reacting. I understand the reasons why you wanted to write this article, and it does highlight the ridiculousness of the original. This particular issue is just rather close to home for me and my family today.
    My sister told me over Christmas that it still twists her stomach to see me breastfeeding my son. This experience with my nephew has made me a lot more sensitive towards other mums' reasons for bottle feeding. x

  17. I did mixed feeding with my first-born until she was one year old (expressing bottles for the first six months, then switching to formula after those stores ran out and I was so exhausted and fed up with the expressing). This was by choice so I could return to work part-time and have someone else feed her when required. I also thought it would be nice for Dad to give the evening feed. It was nice for him, but I then had to sit on the sofa and spend ages expressing, then possibly top up the bottle in the morning again to ensure she had enough for her evening feed with Daddy.
    When my second was born I couldn't face the thought of expressing again, so decided not go back to work so soon and enjoy the caring for my baby, breastfeeding bit. I have loved it and it is soooooooooooo much easier than bottle-feeding. Don't get me wrong, there have been good days and bad, but I am sure we all have those no matter how we are feeding our child. We all make choices for all sorts of reasons, and we should never judge as we don't know what the reasons are. Looking after a baby is hard enough, without worrying what everyone else is thinking about your method of feeding!
    On another note, breastfeeding doesn't have to mean a clingy baby or staying up all night. Mine has been sleeping through the night (well, most nights anyway) since before she was five months old. All babies are different and it has nothing to do with the method of feeding.
    It's a shame this debate is always them vs us, breast vs bottle/formula. At the end of the day, we are all Mums caring for our baby in the way that suits us best.

  18. Of course some will judge - just like some call breastfeeding gross or akin to using the toilet in public. I empathise with women who want to bf and can't (for whatever reason) as I think lots of my blog posts highlight - but this kind of thing ALWAYS gets the media, what about the breastfeeding mums and they feel in public? How often is that pointed out?

  19. Wow... looks like a few people completely missed the point. Honestly it was the kind of response that article deserved. Why is it ok for bottle-feeders to vilify breastfeeders, but breastfeeders are not allowed to respond in kind? The article was written to show how ridiculous that angle was, how it could easily be turned against the other side, and how no one needs to speak that way. I'm so sick of the mindset that we need to let everyone who disagrees with breastfeeding walk all over us, all in the name of not stepping on the toes of those who didn't breastfeed. Because god forbid THEY feel bad for making a decision they weren't quite as comfortable making as they'd like us to think they were.

    Why are we not allowed to defend ourselves and our decisions? Why is it ok for them to call us breastfeeding nazis for the simple act of lifting our shirts to feed our babies in the presence of someone who bottlefed but not ok for us to rise to our own defense? My parents didn't raise me to take abuse laying down, if someone takes a shot at me you better believe I will defend myself. That being said I honestly don't care how you fed your baby. I am simply feeding mine in the manner in which I deemed appropriate for US. Why is defending those choices even necessary? If everyone could just mind their own business life would go a lot more smoothly.

    Rozanna Niazi I think a lot of breastfeeding mothers downplay the difficulties because
    A) In most cases if we express the slightest bit of difficulty we are either complaining, or we get the "why don't you just switch to formula" line.
    B) We want other people to try it. In Western cultures we seem to be brainwashed into thinking that life should be easy. Painless. It's not, but if you tell someone it hurt but was worth it all they hear is that it hurt (and they'll already be going through labour and THAT hurts so why add more pain and stress?)

    Yes we need to be realistic when we speak to others about breastfeeding, but putting too much emphasis on the struggles just makes the goal seem unattainable. Then if the person you've told about your struggles ends up not being able to breastfeed it leaves the impression that you think that because you pulled through all of these issues anyone should be able to do it. Which is where a lot of this resentment comes from. Because maybe that other mom didn't have the same support that you had, maybe when she opened up and told someone she thought could help about her problems, she was told "why don't you just switch to formula, it's easier" and in her vulnerable, emotional state she believed them.

  20. Now to be absolutely fair... and in the spirit of NOT unnecessarily escalating "mummy wars" by overinflating something... there are a few points to be made:

    1) It's neither an article, nor an opinion piece: it's a "reader's letter". Not pointing that out, in my opinion, makes the situation into something that it isn't, and does escalate these increasingly pointless "wars".

    2) Another reader's letter in the very same series - that was actually linked to at the side of this one when I read it (though I believe they're random) - was about extended breastfeeding:

    Credit where credit is due, whoever made the decision to publish the pro-formula rant can't be accused of bias either way. Both sides of the coin are represented. There is also no way to comment on these pieces, which keeps the scales balanced: I have no doubt that, tragically, if comments were allowed there would be far more "Here here! You tell 'em!" replies than counterpoints.

    This is a tricky one, to be honest. I believe in freedom of expression - whatever that may be - as strongly as I believe in the evils of formula and in a child's right to be breastfed. Was the reader's letter full of defensive, hateful bile and nonsense about breastfeeders? Quite clearly, yes. Are many formula feeding mothers defensive about their choice and hateful towards their critics? Of course they are. So while the conspiracy theorist in me says that yes, this COULD have been sent in by someone with a pro-formula agenda rather than a genuine parent... it's NOT an inaccurate portrayal of how some people - however misguidedly - feel. Should they be censored / have publications refuse to print what they have to say, whilst pro-breastfeeding messages (such as the one that was also included) are allowed to be included? I have to say that I strongly disagree with anyone who thinks that that would be in any way "right".

    With that in mind, and in all honesty, I think the backlash to this has been hasty and a little... well... pointless? It's like a Christian group starting an internet campaign against a letter in Dear Deidre titled "I Cheated and Don't Feel Guilty".

    tl;dr -

    It's a reader's letter, a pointless and hateful one but nothing more.

    Anyone who agrees with it is already an entrenched formula feeder with no hope of change.

    Anyone who is offended by it is already a committed breastfeeder who isn't going to suddeny say "O I SEE NOW! Formula is easy let's gooo!"

    Anyone who is breastfeeding and would be swayed by something like this... is an idiot. It's not unclear how biased and spiteful the article is. In fact I just don't see it happening. Anyone THAT monumentally stupid will either have already been swayed to formula, or has no children, because they couldn't figure out what the holes were for in the first place.

    So, my gut reaction to the reactions (and there are a couple floating around the usual FB circles) is... why? Why react? Why pluck a paragraph-long reader's letter out of obscurity and highlight it at all? It's kicking a hornets' nest for absolutely no apparent reason. "No good will come of this".

  21. I think the bfing mums letter in the same series is of a totally different tone and nature. It's not offensive to non breastfeeders in the same way.

  22. I bottle fed my daughter. For the first 6.5 months those bottles contained nothing but breastmilk. It was hard work, but I wanted to do the best for my daughter despite physical difficulilties which made breastfeeding near impossible. I made the same sacrifices as a breastfeeding mother, but when out in baby-friendly cafes I did feel breastfeeding mothers staring at me and judging me. I felt like shouting "it's breastmilk, okay?!" at them. Assuming that all bottles contain formula is the first mistake. Assuming bottles are always given through choice is another.

  23. But how can you possibly know those women are "judging you"? I sometimes watch mums feeding, not because I'm judging but because I find all types of feeding fascinating. I'm never sure whether I should make eye contact if spotted or look away! If I smile do I look smug? (worse still if you're bfing at the time!)
    What if they're thinking "that could so easily have been me"? What face would convey that?

    Breastfeeding mothers also feel judged, in our baby clinic I was the only one ever breastfeeding, bottles of dilute cordial were the trend from being small - and people didn't hide their stares! I decided to perceive them as "interested", but I could easily have taken their looks in another way?

    My point is perhaps how WE feel influences how we perceive the behaviour of others?

  24. "I think the bfing mums letter in the same series is of a totally different tone and nature. It's not offensive to non breastfeeders in the same way."

    Well, ignoring the fact that this was but a tiny piece of what I had to say and the rest has been overlooked completely... I don't think that this particularly matters. I did point out that the letter was defensive, hateful bile. Unless, of course, you're suggesting that they shouldn't have published the letter because of the offense it might cause?

    Aside from that; everything else I said stands. The letter would only gain support from staunch current or past formula feeders with a chip on their shoulder. It won't sway any breastfeeding mother, and it's unlikely (to the point of being negligible) to be the voice that turns the head of someone who doesn't have children yet.

    So... why draw attention to it? Why turn it into something that it isn't? Why kick the hornets' nest for absolutely no gain other than to tell those who were offended "WE'RE ALL OFFENDED!!"... which they know anyway?

    I'm sorry AA but however it was intended, despite the explaining away that followed, this article reads like a backlash. THIS is "Mummy Wars".

  25. Regardless of if it was a readers letter on not, the point is, if it was a letter in this vein from a breastfeeding mother it would have NEVER been published what so ever! This is why people are getting a little angry about it because we breastfeeding mothers have no choice but to sit back and take all the abuse flung at us from bottle feeding mum's, we have to endure being called a Nazi, part of the breastfeeding mafia, shouted at because we dare to feed our screaming hungry children in public, tutted at, snarled at etc etc etc.

    I am a breastfeeding mother and you know what I think when I see a bottle in a babies mouth, I feel ashamed for our society who make it so Damned difficult to breastfeed in the first place, that a mass corporate company has ruined how we support new mum's for the sake of greed. I don't judge bottle feeders, I feel for them that they may have wanted to breastfeed but were lot down by people who should be supporting them but don't.

    The mummy wars were started by the formula industry. Those companies are who breastfeeders judge, not the mothers!

    1. i totally agree, we alos perceive their thought to be bad ones because thats what society expects us to think! But you're right!! many women cannot BF for lots of reason, although I believe with the right support, information and guidance many more would at least 'try' a little longer than they do before giving up! I BF but was incredibly determined to do it. I had no support other than my husband, and I happily bf everywhere altho I got many looks of disgust from a lot of people. Sad thing is you can tell disgust from interest.
      We sadly perceive others behaviour to be negative when we cannot recognise it in any other way.

  26. "Regardless of if it was a readers letter on not, the point is, if it was a letter in this vein from a breastfeeding mother it would have NEVER been published what so ever!"

    This is a wildly unfounded assumption, surely?

    All I'm saying is that the backlash here has been disproportionate and largely pointless. I'm not saying that people don't have the right to respond in anger if they want to - like I said, I hate censorship, people have the right to respond however they want. Hence, mummy wars. If you WANT Mummy Wars, that's perfectly fine... but I just can't fathom why anyone would talk about Mummy Wars in a negative way whilst in the same breath engaging in / furthering said Mummy Wars. It's insane.

    Don't get me wrong - there IS a battle to be fought against the widespread use of formula and against morally bankrupt formula companies. I'd just suggest that it's a battle that would be better fought on a different, less straight up aggressive, front... one less focussed on butting heads endlessly with irrelevant snippets and defensive FF parents.

  27. When I read that piece in the Guardian, the first thing I thought was: 'I bet that was written by someone working for a PR company' (i.e in the employ of a baby food manufacturer). I am a cynic and an optimist :)

  28. well done. also wrote a responce to this obsene article. good on ya :)

  29. For balance, another article from the series.

  30. This is not backlash, it's entertainment for those of us who were annoyed by the first article! Aren't we allowed to have any fun?!