Is Breastfeeding Mandatory for Mothers?

Last week we started a discussion about women breastfeeding in public. I interviewed to women who said that they love breastfeeding. They told us that at some point, it just makes practical sense.

But what about mothers who can’t breastfeed? Should they receive criticism for bottle feeding? There is more than one side to this discussion. Here’s how Erin Strange feels about bottle feeding.

I don’t breastfeed. Shortly after Elliott’s birth I realized that I wasn’t producing enough milk. He was jaundiced and his numbers continued to rise even after the typical peak days. In order to get the jaundice out of his system and avoid light therapy, we had to supplement with formula. I am producing about 4oz daily, and we were trying to breastfeed while supplementing, but he rejected the breast and became frustrated. In order to get him to eat we had to bottle feed. I still pump daily and give him the 4oz I get.

I am really insecure about the fact that I’ve got to bottle feed. People close to me have been supportive when they know that I’m unable to breastfeed, but it’s hard to be asked all the time if I’m breastfeeding and then feel like I have to explain why I’m not.

There is a great deal of societal shaming directed to parents who bottle feed. So I felt a lot of guilt about not being able to feed my baby by myself and accepting that I needed to supplement. Parents should be able to choose how to best feed their child without judgement. Some people can’t breastfeed, some people don’t want to breastfeed, some people have a traumatic reaction to breastfeeding because of a history of abuse, some people adopt babies and can’t breastfeed, and the list of reasons goes on. We don’t always know the contributing factors that lead to the decision on how to feed our children.

I would likely say that I respectfully disagree with whatever negative comment they made. I probably wouldn’t feel the need to defend all bottle feeding mom’s or even explain my position/why I’m formula feeding, but I would absolutely acknowledge the comment and move along.

The advice I would give to other women in my position is to be proud of the fact that you’re feeding your child the best way you can. If you had wanted to breastfeed and found you were unable, try to acknowledge your feelings of guilt, shame, disappointment, and realize that you’re doing the best you can with what you have.

About Serena:
Serena is a freelance writer who enjoys baking, protesting, and playing with little dogs.


  1. Femitheist says:

    I actually was not aware that there was such a thing as shaming people for bottle-feeding until I read this and then asked a friend. When I had my baby, I didn’t breast-feed and no one ever said a word to me about it. Nothing negative, anyway.

    My friend said that it may depend on where you live, because where she lives, people do get shamed for not breastfeeding, but where I live, I’ve just never experienced or witnessed it.

    Many people here have babies when they are very young, and a lot of people I know don’t breastfeed and even sort of have an aversion to the idea. That might be due to age, though.

    Anyway, having said that, I don’t understand why people would criticize others for breastfeeding or not breastfeeding. It’s their choice, leave them alone about it. That seems like a very bizarre thing to criticize someone for.

    And, there’s no reason to feel guilty or bad for not breastfeeding. There are plenty of good alternatives, and it is not imperative that you do, most of the time.

    As long as you do your best to make all of the correct decisions for your child, so that you can be the best possible parent to them, there’s really nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of.

  2. Thanks for both of your thoughtful comments. I agree 100% that it’s more important to make sure your baby is healthy, not hungry

  3. Louise ChanarĂ½ says:

    First you have to go through the agony of giving birth because you are the one with the uturus and then you are shamed for not breastfeeding just because you have a set of breasts, that are by the way YOUR breasts, not some public milkmachine.
    People should be happy you are feeding your kid at all. You could have just given it to your partner and say ‘Here you go, deal with it.’
    Really, if I were you I would be very angry with this shaming the mother culture and shout at anyone who dares to tell you what to do with your own body.

  4. Never felt guilted or shamed by anyone for my choices on how I fed my daughter. I breastfed until 7 months, my period returned and I started Progesterone Only Pills for birth control, my milk dried up and she started losing weight because she wasn’t getting enough. No one shamed me over not producing enough, no one shamed me for switching her over to formula and baby food. I fed her as much as I was able to produce and supplemented the rest with formula.

    As for breastfeeding in public, anyone who stared got stared at back and for those who continued got the finger or a loud castigation about the rudeness of staring at a mother feeding her child.

    But I was bold in my decisions and my confidence didn’t allow anyone to second guess my choices for my child. I was fearless about staring people down who inappropriately stared and vocal in my opinions. I think for some it boils down to confidence, if people see a mother confident in her choice they are less likely to give their differing opinion and it is less likely to effect her if they do give one.

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