Thursday 4 June 2015

Newsflash: No one really cares if you breast or bottle feed

breast vs bottle, difficulty breastfeeding, brelfie, brelfies, bressure, #bolfie, #bressure, #brelfie, parenting blog, mother diaries, parenting, parenthood, breastfeeding in public,

Have you ever had an argument about something you were passionate about with someone who has completely opposing views to you? How did it go? My guess is that at the end of it both of you were left even more passionate about your beliefs than ever before. See, the problem with debating about things with people who are highly opinionated is that it is quite futile. People will always have their opinions and along with them their criticisms of others' behaviour. But does that mean we stop debating? Or that we stop fighting for what we believe in? 

Recently my newsfeed has been full of #brelfies, raising the debate about women having the right to feed their babies in public. If you're unaware of what a #brelfie is, here is an example of one that went viral after this lady was told to 'cover up' when she breastfed in public:
With all things internet related, there has been a backlash of opposition. With each #brelfie that pops up, is another bottle-feeding mum who feels judged for her feeding choices and a whole new social media campaign started: #bressure (aka. the pressure to breastfeed). 

The problem is that every new mother probably feels like they are the first one to be judged for their feeding choices; every new mother feels like they're the only one that's up at four in the morning with a screaming baby who won't feed from their boob; every new mother looks at the #brelfies and has some sort of emotion towards them, from defiance and pride, to jealousy and victimisation. And that's why I've had enough of the #brelfies and #bressure; because women will probably always be criticised for their feeding choices, not least by one another. Will social media make people who are uneasy with mothers breastfeeding in public change their mind? Will posting a response about how judgemental it feels for bottle-feeding mums ever really stop them feeling judged? People think what they want to think, and no amount of social media is ever going to change someone's confirmation bias. My guess is that only an experience or relationship can do that.

Of course, no one should be told they cannot feed their baby a certain way, no one should be made to feel bad about feeding in public, whatever method that may be. Interestingly, I got a lot of encouragement from strangers when I breastfed in public, but I had my fair share of criticism for bottle feeding in public. Do I have a right to complain about that? Of course I do, but ranting on Facebook is not going to get the message across to the eighty year old woman who tutted at me and told me what a shame it was that I didn't carry on breastfeeding. Besides which, most judgement we feel over our feeding choices is probably in our heads. I felt very judged when I first became a mother but the second time around I couldn't give a damn what people think; my family and I are happy and healthy, and that's all that matters. I refuse to feel negatively over something just because someone may think differently to me. 

If I was still the first time mother I was nearly five years ago, I would no doubt have bitten at the first display of a #brelfie. Why? Because associated with every breastfeeding image were feelings of failure, disappointment and months of pain and discomfort. I was bitter because I tried so hard, Lord knows I tried, for four months, and I just couldn't carry on. No one patted me on the back, and it felt like everyone was more disappointed that I didn't carry on, rather than applaud the fact that I had breastfed for four months with bleeding nipples (owweeeee). Becoming a parent for the second time has been very different; I even had moments of enjoying breastfeeding, so much so that my plan of solely bottle feeding my baby from day one was postponed. When I eventually switched to the bottle I didn't beat myself up over it, I made a choice and I was happy with it, and so were my family. The whole feeding experience has been a lot more positive.

Now instead of feeling hard done by when I see a mother breastfeeding, as I did the first time around, I think it is lovely and natural; I have warm feelings associated with it because I was lucky enough to have moments of enjoyment when I breastfed my second baby. Had I not had that, I would not have been able to look at a #brelfie without wincing. It's no wonder, then, that #brelfies provoke such a reaction, because breasts have many different connotations for a lot of people, not solely if you found breastfeeding difficult. If you were brought up in a prudish family, or an overly sexualised environment, seeing breasts on your Facebook feed may make you feel a little bit uncomfortable. That's not the responsibility of the people posting #brelfies though, is it? But what is their responsibility is to respect that other people have different attitudes to seeing bosoms publicly, and to accept that posting photos of breastfeeding may make some people more adverse to it. In my opinion, seeing someone breastfeeding out in public has a very different feel about it to someone posting a #brelfie on Facebook. Will posting them make a difference to those who oppose it? Or is it simply about rallying other breastfeeders to feel more confident?

And the question remains, is it good to fight for what we believe in, even if no one's opinion is ever really changed? Or is that not the point? Women should be able to breastfeed their child wherever the hell they like, but is that really what we're fighting for when we post #brelfies? Is the issue really about breastfeeding or just judgemental people? How many people have experienced criticism for breastfeeding in public compared to the number of bottle feeders? That we will never know, but I'd guess it is about the same. 

This debate will go on forever, and guess what? You're no more criticised than the mother that went before you and you're no more of a victim, however you choose to feed your baby. Someone, somewhere, will always have a negative opinion of you, so do whatever the hell is right for your own family and ignore the others. Let's stop this endless debate about breast or bottle, and let's start supporting one another. Instead of posting #brelfies, or ranting on about #bressure, why not just stop debating and get on with feeding your own baby. And if someone criticises you in public, kick up a fuss, start a petition to breastfeed in the cafe that turned you away, or to change the 'breastfeeders welcome here' posters to 'breast AND bottle feeders welcome here.' Better still, stick up for the friend who feeds her baby differently to you. The truth is, that most of the criticisms you feel may well be in your head, because most people don't actually care about how you feed your baby, as long as it's not arsenic. We are our own worst enemies. So please let's not make this into more of a debate than it really needs to be.

Have #brelfies changed your opinion about breastfeeding? Is there a better way to promote breastfeeding in public? How can we support breast and bottle feeders without making the other feel marginalised?

update 5/6/15: There have been a few people on my Facebook page that have taken offence to this post and to the heading 'no one cares if you breast or bottle feed.' The title is a tongue in cheek response to the comments I have heard people say when they see 'brelfies' on Facebook. I do not want to raise another debate of breast vs bottle, I want to raise a debate on whether these images are helpful in terms of encouraging others to breastfeed. I think breastfeeding is a wonderful thing and needs to be endorsed, but I also want to support and encourage all mothers through this blog, whatever their feeding choices. Of course all mothers care how they feed their children! The title is there to provoke a reaction, which it clearly has. Thanks for reading!

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