Two accounts of wet-nursing came across my Facebook feed this week: one from a mother who was unable to nurse her child and so a friend nursed her baby, and another from a mother who pumped breast milk for her baby as well as her best friend’s. Both talked about judgment from others, but the simple mandate “Feed the baby” was an imperative to them that superseded stigma. And sadly stigmatizing parents (but most especially mothers) for how they feed their infants is the rule and not the exception.
A Winnipeg mother was harassed by a mall security guard for nursing her eight-month-old daughter – on International Women’s Day earlier this month. She said, “Any breast-feeding mom will tell you that you always get the looks when you’re nursing in public but I’ve never experienced that before.” Also earlier this month, another mother received decidedly rude service on a recent United Airlines flight leaving from Houston, for breastfeeding her five-month-old son. “I felt so completely embarrassed, uncomfortable, and self-conscious for the rest of the flight.”
On the bottle feeding side of things, it’s not tremendously better. Zealous advocates for breastfeeding may make mothers who cannot or do not want to nurse to feel inferior – often with intent. A 2011 essay on Kelly Mom compares a mother feeding her child infant formula to smoking or drinking during pregnancy and asserts no studies support the safety of infant formula. Pediatrician and author Dr. Sears claims on his website that breastfeeding “is one of the best long-term investments you can make into the emotional, intellectual, and physical health of both mother and baby.”
Fact is, infant formula and breast milk are both suitable foods for babies. If someone is feeding their baby, give them a break. That’s their primary job for the early years of life, and they’re addressing it. Let them.