Guilt-Free Feeding

Don’t Let Breastfeeding Guilt Get You Down

Don’t Let Breastfeeding Guilt Get You Down

Shame and guilt. Two words that should have no place in motherhood, yet they plague every mother at one point or another. One of the earliest sources of guilt is breastfeeding guilt. And it touches every mother – whether she chooses to breastfeed or not.

Mothers who choose to breastfeed but have some difficulties with it are often shamed by pediatricians or family members into supplementing with formula. In their opinion, the child is not getting enough food. (Check out some other breastfeeding myths here). On the flip side, mothers who choose to formula feed are shamed for essentially poisoning their children (seriously?!). There is often no winning side. No matter what you do, mommy shamers will find you and let you know their opinion.

Dealing with the Mommy Shamers

All this begs a question: How do we (mothers) combat these feelings of breastfeeding guilt and shame?

Well, one obvious solution seems to shrug it off and carry on with what you’re doing. Sounds simple, but it’s much tougher to do than it appears on the surface.

First, postpartum moms are flooded with hormones and are recovering from one of the most difficult things in their life. They feel vulnerable, sad, in pain, and unsure of themselves in their new role. They are looking for support from their community but are often met with shaming and dismissal. It’s not easy to handle when you’re already experiencing a heightened response to everything around you. But all you get is judgment from a close family member. It hurts.

Second, new mamas often need to hear that they’re doing a good job to feel validated. So, in such a situation, shrugging off hurtful comments becomes next to impossible. You need support and that’s absolutely normal.

So what do you do when you feel you can’t handle these messages on your own? Involve your partner.

Postpartum they are your gatekeeper, shield, cheerleader, and any other role you may need them to serve. Your partner needs to help you navigate any hurdles that come with breast or bottle feeding. They should remove shamers out of your space and not let them guilt and shame you about anything. They need to build up your self esteem and offer unconditional support if those shamers already got to you. And the most important part: They should never be the ones to shame you for anything or guilt you about anything! If they are, find support elsewhere. Your support can come from a friend, a family member, or therapist. Consult my Resource Library if you need help finding one in your area.

Guilt-Free Feeding

Are You the Mommy Shamer and the Source of Your Breastfeeding Guilt?

But what to do when the guilt or shame is internal? What if you are your own mommy shamer?

The first step is to forgive yourself. You are merely reacting to the barrage of information that seems to be designed for you to feel shame and guilt. Once you’ve forgiven yourself for this shortcoming, try to see what the guilt is about. In most cases the guilt is about not being able to feed your child properly from your breast. And the biggest reason you feel this guilt is because of the societal messaging that “Breast is Best”.

Lately, we’ve all been bombarded with this message to the point that we feel that if we can’t breastfeed exclusively for at least 3 years, we have failed as mothers. While the message is not a bad one and wants to promote the optimal nutrition for the baby (because let’s face it, breast milk is superior to formula in many ways), it fails to acknowledge that formula is food and not some sort of poison. So there should not be any shame or judgment attached to formula feeding a child. As long as you’re feeding your child age appropriate nutrition, they’re happy and growing – that’s all that matters!

Overcoming Your Breastfeeding Guilt

Obviously, every mother wants what’s best for her child, and it’s easy to obsess about breastfeeding in the beginning of your baby’s life, but you need to put things into perspective. Are you always going to feed your baby organic from the garden fruit and vegetables, serve eggs from your chicken coop, and feed beef from a cow that you raised and butchered yourself? I’m guessing, no. But if you are, I bow down to you, amazing goddess!

You will at some point in your life give your child sugar, a chicken nugget, a hot dog or some other completely unhealthy but super fun food and your child will survive. Say what? Yes, you will not be perfect and your child will be OK! Were your parents perfect? No, and you are still on this earth and doing just fine.

And if your worry is stemming less from the nutritional side and more from the bonding side, I encourage you to read “Why Breastfeeding May Not Feel Like Bonding“. In this article, I talk about the fact that sometimes breastfeeding can actually get in the way of bonding. If it’s making the mother’s life miserable, there is very little bonding happening with the child. And there are so many other ways to bond.

So next time you go to make your baby a bottle of formula don’t feel bad. You are feeding your baby and doing the best that you can – that is the most important part. A well fed infant is a healthy infant.

Guilt-Free Feeding

Quote of the day:

“Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we are not good enough.” – Brene Brown

Mental Health Tip of the Day:

When you are feeling the guilt rise up and threaten to overtake you, take a moment and breathe in and out slowly. Do this for about 10 seconds. After you feel more calm think of at least one thing you are proud of (I swaddle this baby like a boss) and concentrate on that. There is nothing to feel guilty about!

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26 thoughts on “Don’t Let Breastfeeding Guilt Get You Down”

  1. This is awesome! After breastfeeding I fed my baby with a bottle until he was too. I got so much slack for it but it was such an important cuddle time for us but I was tired of feeling guilty about it

    1. Thank you for sharing, Renee. We fed our son with a bottle for a while too. I can’t even remember when we stopped. I think it was when he showed us he wanted a faster flow. Cuddles are so important and no mom should feel guilty about how she provides for her child.

  2. I love this post. I dealt with EXTREME guilt when I gave up breastfeeding my first child. I had a lot of things going against me: he was a NICU baby and I had to pump the first five days, I got mastitis, I had the flu, I had a sinus infection! It was a lot and my supply just tanked after getting sick so much. Looking back I did give it 110% I literally tried 30 different products or things to help. I would feed my son and then power pump. All I did was wash pumping parts and bottles, pump, and feed the baby. It was a lot as a new mom. We did make it to five months though. It was a huge struggle. With my second child, my oldest child and I had RSV and I couldn’t hold her for the first two weeks until I tested negative so I didn’t even have a chance to breastfeed her. I did try to pump for her but I barely produced anything since I wasn’t around her. So I’ve been a breastfeeding mom, a pumping mom, and a formula mom!

    1. Audrey, thank you for sharing your story. That is so powerful. And I’m sorry to hear that you struggled so much both times. You are a very strong and resilient, mama.

  3. I am a firm believer that every mother knows what’s best for her child- be it formula or breastmilk. We as a society are way too judgmental of other people’s choices and that needs to stop. I am so glad you shared this post. It needs to be put out there for people to read and reflect!

  4. Such a great post. I have been fortunate to have success with breastfeeding, but there are so many who haven’t or choose not to breastfeed and their babies are still fed so who cares! I watched my best friend get so distraught because her milk supply was low and it was so upsetting to think she devalued herself as a mother over something like that, even though she has a beautiful healthy and happy baby girl who is perfectly content with formula!

    1. Thank you for sharing, Christine. Yes, what happened with your friend happens so often. And it’s because the breastfeeding message is so centered on baby’s wellbeing and doesn’t seem to care much about the mothers. There are 2 people in the breastfeeding relationship and both should be respected.

  5. I was raised in a very critical, judgmental environment and religion, and therefore was constantly surrounded by judgmental, critical people. At around age 27 I met someone that was raised in a different religion, and was just as judgmental and critical as I was. I felt as if God was putting a big mirror in front of myself. Suddenly I could see so clearly how I was, and how I was swimming in ugly sin that was keeping me from loving, positive friendships, and was keeping me in chains.

    I began changing myself starting then. I also started being careful who I hung out with. Every so often I’ll come across a critical or judgmental person or one will try to come back into my life and all I want to do is run and hide!

    There is right and wrong in life, but so many things are grey areas. I’ve learned that only the people that are open to growing and maturing are the ones that let those grey areas go. People that don’t remain stuck, and immature for a very long time.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Shayla. I think this is an experience a lot of people go through whether raised in a religious or secular environment. Judgement is constantly around us and dictating a lot of our actions. It’s important to look within ourselves and change what we can. It is remarkable to hear that you have been able to make such big and successful changes in your life. I hope that you are only surrounded by people who are not judgmental and mature.

    1. Mom guilt doesn’t make you weak. But I think it definitely points to the messaging you’ve received during your life about what you should and should not be doing.

  6. When I started breastfeeding at the beginning it was so overwhelming and time consuming, I stopped after 4 months and I felt really guilty but I think as time passed I realized he still was eating and a healthy child and I think every mom has their own strategies! There is no one right way! Praise you for sharing!

    1. Thank you for sharing, Hoang. Yes, every mom’s journey with breastfeeding is so different and should not be filled with guilt. When breast is best gets pushed as the message, it only considers it from the baby’s side and does not include how it can impact the mom.

  7. I hate mom guilt. It’s the worst. I always reach out to my close group of girlfriends that are moms. They are always there to take the guilt away and encourage me. I love your mental health tip. Great post!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Monica. It’s so good to hear that you have mom friends to turn to that help take some of that guilt away. It’s so important.

  8. After having my second son I was having both feelings in me. And what helped me a lot was going to the gym. Exercises help us somehow to not think on these feelings, feel better and more happy about yourself. And I am not saying about doing hard core or any body changes, just simple exercise.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Ala. Exercise is great and should be a part of every mom’s life. It releases endorphins (the little happy hormones) and allow us to be present in the moment.

  9. My kids both took a bottle until they were between 1 & 2. They were breastfed but only for a couple months then formula fed. I think every mom should be proud of themselves for everything when it comes to raising their child. This allows breastfeeding moms to be proud of themselves as well as those who don’t. It’s all hard and deserves praise.

    1. Thank you sharing, Sarah. I wholeheartedly agree. I think there is far too much emphasis put on how we feed the baby and it ends up neglecting everything else. While it’s important to nourish our children properly with safe and nutritious food, there are so many other needs we need to remember about. And a mom should never be defined by how she chooses to feed her children.

  10. totally totally agree with this.. and like i know some specific ways to parent (or do just about anything else) work for me, i know it is the same for others as well … (but i will still let my family know they did not load the dishwasher the right way :-))

  11. I hated breastfeeding! I tried it with all 4 kids and never once enjoyed it. People always look horrified when I say that but I keep saying it because everyone experience is so different, not everyone enjoys it and that is ok!

    1. Thank you for sharing, Laura. You are so brave for sharing your experience with others. I experienced the same reaction from people. It’s tough but needs to be out there. Not all of us enjoy it, even if we stick with it.

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