Posted by: Jennifer | October 8, 2008

Guilty as Charged

“Hey Breastfeeder, your mere presence makes me feel guilty”.

“You make me feel guilty when you talk about formula”.

“Doctors should respect the choice of their patients and not make them feel guilty for not breastfeeding”.

“I was made to feel guilty for not breastfeeding”.

I know I am not the only breastfeeder who has been told that the fact that they exist, the fact that they nurse their child, the fact that they talk about nursing their child, makes a non breastfeeder feel guilty.  On the other hand, it is completely socially acceptable to criticize breastfeeders for a variety of reasons.  I would never say to a woman purchasing formula in a store “how can you feed your child that crap”, but apparently, it’s entirely appropriate to say to me “wow, I can’t believe you’re still doing that” or “you’re crazy for holding and nursing your baby all the time” or a personal favourite of mine “you’re ruining him”.

Back to the subject of guilt, I can understand how a person who really wanted to breastfeed and then didn’t could feel guilt.  I would feel guilt if I knowingly did not do my best to feed my child from the breast.  On the other hand, if a person is ok with their decision, then really, what reason do they have to feel guilt?

Dr. Jack Newman wrote a fantastic article on the subject of guilt.   The Washington Post also reported on the toning down of a breastfeeding campaign that would target the dangers associated with formula and with not breastfeeding.

Women are not given accurate and correct information on the dangers associated with infant formula due in large part to the guilt factor.  Notwithstanding the fact that many health care professionals themselves are not educated on the subject (an entirely other post), doctors rarely discuss breastfeeding as anything but “best” and “beneficial” and next to never talk about formula as a dangerous thing.  It really is funny when you look at it because if a person went into their doctor’s office and said that they were going to be eating only fast food, their doctor would without fail discuss with them the health problems that would result from such a thing (and same with smoking as noted by Dr. Newman).  A doctor is not worried about making the smoking or fast food eating patient feel guilty, they are telling them that what they are doing is not safe and not wise.

Look at smoking ads.  Wait.  Are there even smoking ads anymore?  I honestly cannot think of any.  I have seen cigarette packages with warnings and grotesque photos all over them.  When I think about the fact that there is no more smoking in Toronto restaurants, no more smoking ads, and warning labels all over cigarettes, I can also think about how few people I know who smoke anymore.  Most people who smoked in university have quit by now.  I wish this much attention was paid to infant formula because it affects babies at their most vulnerable moments.

Here are two of the proposed breastfeeding ads, followed by the ad that eventually ran, followed by one of the lobbyest letters.  Wow.  The first two pack a powerful punch.  And yes, there will likely be people who were unaware of just how dangerous formula is who will feel guilt, but a.  they were unaware, and b.  think of all the babies that a campaign like this would help.  The third photo is completely ineffective.  Completely. 

As parents we all strive to do best for our children.  When we are given wrong information, it doesn’t help anyone.  It simply reinforces the concept that people can “choose” how to feed their child and that those who breastfeed are somehow doing something “better” and again, that their presence is a cause for “guilt” among those who do not.




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