Responding to Questions and Criticism About Being a Breastfeeding Mother
‘Tis the season for more family gatherings! While overall the season for family time is fun, it can also feel overwhelming, especially with a baby. December is a time filled with holiday cheer, and meeting up with friends and family, including some members you may not have seen for a while- or even years! This can mean you might get some unwelcomed questions and criticism about your choice to breastfeed. Unfortunately, not everyone has learned to keep their uninformed or inappropriate comments to themselves. But have no fear, Milky-Mama is here to support you and guide you through dealing with criticism.
Starting the Conversation With a Positive Mindset
Sometimes people make comments about breastfeeding because they have no personal experience breastfeeding, they have no background education on breastfeeding, and some simply do not get it. And sometimes, we as mamas, are already defensive about breastfeeding because of negative backlash we’ve either personally experienced or from what we’ve seen on social media and the news. It’s important, as adults, that we listen and really hear what people are asking and pay attention to their tone of voice. Try not to start in the defensive position and be aware of your tone and body language when breastfeeding questions are brought up.
Some comments might be made because they are curious or just trying to make conversation with you. Those questions should not be viewed as criticism, but welcomed as an opportunity for us to teach others about the beautiful thing we are doing and the importance of your choice to breastfeed your child.
Some people, other mothers in particular, may feel that accepting your choice to breastfeed means admitting their own choice to not breastfeed, or their inability to breastfeed, is a failure or the wrong choice. Their insecurity might be the reason behind their comments, which actually has nothing to do with you. It may be helpful to make it clear that your choice to breastfeed your child is not a judgment on their parenting. You’re making this choice based on your ability and on the information you have learned. Make it clear that this choice is the best for your family and has nothing to do with other people.
Techniques for Responding to Criticism
You always want to keep in mind that your response needs to be one that you are comfortable with and that best represents you and your family. There are different approaches you can take, you want to respond in the way that makes you the most proud. A common technique is to “sandwich” your response. This is when you start and end the conversation with a positive comment (the bread). This can be about the person or just a blanket statement in a positive tone like, “I’m so glad you care about the best interests for my baby!”. In between the positive statements is the “meat” of your discussion. Opening with positivity will help the respondent be more open to listening to what you have to say.
State the facts. It’s hard to argue with research and facts! If someone chooses to confront you with uninformed criticism, it’s easy to shut them down with proven facts. Calmly, explain that breastmilk and breastfeeding has been proven to be best for your baby. Educate them about the incredible amount of research that has been done regarding the health benefits of breastmilk and breastfeeding for both mom and baby.
Cite Credible Sources. Your doctor, The World Health Organization, and The American Academy of Pediatrics are three go to credible sources you can bring up when asked about why you are still breastfeeding.
Laugh It Off. Some people are quick witted and are able to come up with humorous comments to diffuse tension. A common humorous response is something along the lines of, “If I keep nursing her I hope I get to room with her at college!”.
Ignore Them/The Issue. You know in your heart that you’ve got this, mama. You don’t have to get approval from others, especially those who are not supportive of your choice. Politely change the subject (popular movies or tv shows are a safe go-to topic), or get up and move to a different room.
Repeat Your Response. Repeat after me, “I’m doing what is best for MY child and MY family”. If you keep answering criticism with the same response, there is no argument to be had. Chances are the person will get bored and walk away.
Below are some of my favorite practice responses from La Leche League on how to respond to criticism in healthy ways.
“Criticism: Are you sure you have enough milk?
Response: I’m so glad that you care about the baby. My doctor says that as long as the baby is having 5-6 wet diapers and 2-3 bowel movements a day and is gaining weight that the baby is getting plenty of yummy breast milk. Thank you so much for checking in. It really shows how you care for the baby.”
I like this response because it’s a perfect example of the “sandwich” response approach. This response also has you citing your doctor, a very credible source, which shows you are knowledgeable and prepared!
“Criticism: I support breastfeeding, but [insert completely non-supportive statement here].
Response: Breastfeeding is an individual decision. It works for us, especially when we have support. I really feel supported when I’m told that I’m doing a good job and that I’m a good mother.”
I love this response because it is short and sweet but also direct. This response also kind of turns it around on them so they are tipped off that their comment isn’t supportive and gives them an out to then BE supportive.
“Criticism: That’s disgusting. Cover up!
Response: It’s natural and normal to breastfeed. Babies get hungry everywhere they go. I’m meeting my baby’s needs when I feed him when he’s hungry. The World Health Organization recommends that babies are breastfed for up to two years or more if mother and baby desire. Believe me, I try to choose the most comfortable and sanitary place for my baby to breastfeed, just like adults do when they eat a meal.”
This type of comment and criticism is one of the most common ones I’ve seen online, and can be so hard to respond to. I like this response because it once again cites a credible and reputable organization, the WHO. Also, you are able to humanize your situation by making you feeding your baby similar to the adult making this comment eating their meal.
“Criticism: That baby is feeding AGAIN?!? You’re just a pacifier!
Response: I sometimes feel like a pacifier, but then I remember that pacifiers were designed to be like a breast so it’s completely normal for my baby to “use me as a pacifier”, because breasts are the original pacifier. I’m choosing the most natural way to care for my baby.”
This response bringing up the history of the pacifier is *chef’s kiss* brilliant! I love that this response brings up the whole reason pacifiers were designed and are sold. Bringing up that a baby coming to mom for comfort is natural is also one of my favorite responses. It’s hard to argue with going to mom for comfort!
“Criticism: You’re STILL breastfeeding?
Response: Yes. [with a smile]”
Short, sweet, direct, and positive! You can also add, “And LOVING it!” :) What else needs to be said?
Remember, we are all doing our best. You can always reach out to the Milky Mama instagram for additional support!