Updated: Oct 30
Dealing with unsupportive comments and unsolicited advice whilst breastfeeding is arguably one of the most frustrating things about breastfeeding for many moms. Although breastfeeding is protected by law in the UK, the US and Australia (as well as much of the rest of the world), seeing mothers nursing their little ones in public remains a relatively rare sight. It is even less common to see a mom breastfeeding a toddler or older child outside of their home.
Whether you choose to FOO (flop one out) whenever, wherever, or a more modest, OUOD (one up, one down) approach is more your style, nursing in front of company in many Western countries invites questions, criticism and scrutiny. So what is the best way to combat it? Here are four tried and tested ways to deal with unsupportive comments from friends, relatives and even that random lady on the train.
Here are a few for your arsenal:
Up to 2 years old, breast milk still provides your child with at least 60% of their vitamin C requirements (Dewey, 2001).
The immunity boosting properties actually increase during the second year of life (Lawrence & Lawrence, 2011).
Endorphins in breast milk provide babies, toddlers & children with natural, drug-free pain relief when they are teething or unwell.
Breastfeeding reduces a mother’s risk of developing breast cancer by 4.3% for each year that she lactates (Collaborative Group of Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer, 2002).
Breast milk is still an important source of vitamin A in a child’s 2nd & 3rd year of life (Pearson, 1998).
Breastfeeding is associated with 20-30% increased white matter growth compared to those who were not breastfed (Deoni et al. 2013).
Breastfeeding antibodies have been found in breast milk as long as 10 months after the COVID-19 infection (Bauerl et al. 2021).
This one may take a little confidence, but in my experience it is an illuminating response which can bring you closer to those around you & help you both to understand one another better. Try these questions for anyone who you feel is making unsupportive comments: • What is your experience of breastfeeding? • What is that opinion based on? • Why do you feel that way?
Much of the time, asking these questions reveal genuine interest, ignorance, past trauma or a lack of understanding, opening the door for further honest conversations about the realities of breastfeeding.
Again, this becomes easier with time, as you become more confident in your motherhood. You may not feeling comfortable engaging in questions and debates about breastfeeding and that is absolutely fine! You don't have to and it is not your job to educate anyone if you simply do not want to or feel able to do so. Boundaries are about defining yourself as a mother and individual and identifying what you will and will not do. Here are some that I have found to be especially useful:
"I am really passionate about breastfeeding on my own terms."
“I’m not looking advice.”
”Breastfeeding is between me and my baby.”
“I love breastfeeding on demand, it's an active choice that I make.”
Remember that you never have to stand for being insulted and you have every right to draw a line at any comment that you feel is rude or uncalled for.
Responding to criticism with true compassion takes some serious love, but I promise you that it is worthwhile when dealing with those who may be dearest to you. Many of my closest female relatives have no experience of breastfeeding and so there have been times when their advice or opinions have come across as insensitive and even attacking. If you are in the midst of the fourth trimester, you may not receive your cousin's incessant suggestion that you give your child formula to help them sleep at night, so well. If you consider though that she may have had a traumatic postpartum experience which left her feeling robbed of the opportunity to ever breastfeed, then you may not take her insistence so personally.
In short, many people's opinions about breastfeeding aren't about you or your baby. Often they are based on outdated ideals and generations of misinformation and a lack of breastfeeding support and education. Whilst understanding this will not stop unsolicited comments, it may make them more tolerable.
If all else fails, silence your critics by squirting some breast milk in their direction and telling them to mind their own tits. Maintain eye contact as you do so for maximum effect. These tips are adapted from my book: ‘Self Care: The Breastfeeding Edition’ - available here, now: www.thebreastfeedingmentor.com/book