I find the I Support You movement to be the best thing to happen to the parenting community in a long time. There is a sometimes unspoken, sometimes loud war against both breastfeeding and formula feeding mothers, and division, resentment, guilt, judgement, and cruelty exist on both sides.
Author Suzanne Barston sums up the I Support You message perfectly:
…We also feel that the best way to support breastfeeding is to ensure that every woman feels empowered and equipped to feed her baby in the best way possible. That may not always mean breastfeeding; this doesn’t mean that we are ignoring the science, but rather performing our own risk/benefit assessment and making a highly personalized decision. This may not be your choice, and it may not be the best choice on paper, but parenting is not a standardized test. It’s more like an open-ended essay question.
By listening to each other’s stories, as long-winded, convoluted, and complex as they so often are, we can start fresh. This can wash away the negativity, judgment and defensiveness, so that we can more adequately address the real reasons women are not meeting breastfeeding recommendations. And we can do all of this without ruining a mother’s sense of self or well-being. I think that’s a pretty clear win-win.
I love how many women have come forward in the past couple of weeks to share their stories of the infant feeding choices they have made, and watching friendships form over social media due to their incredible honesty and open minds. This movement is about support in its purest form- compassionate, non-judgemental, understanding- support. Motherhood and parenting are not competitive activities, but it seems it’s easy to make them so.
It is vitally important to remember that infant feeding choices may encompass a myriad factors besides the type of food an infant receives. When we explore a mother’s choice of infant feeding method, we may be delving deep into her history, ideologies, and life circumstances:
- How does she feel about her body?
- How does she feel about her breasts?
- About sex and her sexuality?
- About mothering and parenting?
- How was she parented?
- How was she mothered?
- What type of dynamics are at play in her significant relationship?
- Does she have to go back to work? When?
- How supportive is her partner/parents/siblings/employer/family/friends/care provider/nursing staff?
- Does she have reliable transportation? Safe housing?
- How does she feel about touch?
- How does she react to stress, sadness, anxiety, anger?
- What feeding method is “normal” to her? What feels right to her?
- What is her living situation like? Who else lives with her?
- Are there language barriers existing between support people and the mother/family?
- Did/does she have support prenatally and during the postpartum?
- What was her birth experience like? Did she feel it was safe and satisfying?
- Is her culture/religion/community supportive of her choices?
- Does she have access to positive emotional and physical support during her pregnancy and postpartum?
- Did/does she have access to resources and education so that she is armed with the information she needs to make informed decisions for herself and her family?
- How did/does she feel about pregnancy?
- Did she have access to lactation consultants or IBCLCs before and after birth?
- Was/is her health care providers and staff properly educated and trained, compassionate, patient, available when needed and affordable?
When it comes to infant feeding, a woman’s choice may have everything, nothing, or something to do with the handful of possible factors listed above (or countless others). Either way, it is important to remember that there are 1,000 ways to be a “good” mother, and the choice to breast or formula feed is one that does not tip the scales negatively.