Mother's milk or formula milk? The important thing is not to judge

Fonte: Andriy Popov / Alamy / IPA

Always under attack

Raise your hand if you have never been more or less vehemently criticized, when not really attacked, for what you were doing while breastfeeding - breastfeeding or artificial. This is a common experience for many mothers be judged for the way they feed their baby.

Read also: breastfeeding, the role of the father

In the eyes of others, breastfeeding often automatically becomes a "Taliban" of practice, one fanatic of naturalness at any cost, but also a woman who is spoiling her child, preventing him from growing independent and autonomous (especially if we are talking about breastfeeding beyond the year) or an exhibitionist if she is breastfeeding in public. Conversely, those who use formula and bottles are portrayed as a selfish woman, unable to "sacrifice herself" for her child or who hasn't tried hard enough, more interested in get back to work quickly or to life before that to the new baby. In the face of right to free choice, which should be acquired in 2022 and instead evidently is not.

And beware: not only does this barrage of judgments spare practically no one, but it also comes from a plurality of fronts. Healthcare professionals, for example: those at the point of birth but also family doctors and pediatricians, not always - it must be said - adequately trained and provided with the right doses of ability to listening, empathy and tolerance. And then relatives, friends and girlfriends (with those jokes that, underneath, suggest that each one feels better than the other), even strangers met at the park or at the supermarket. Not to mention what happens on the social networks, where the attacks of keyboard lions - in this case more easily lionesses - often degenerate into insults and offenses.

But why all this mania to express judgments on the choices of other women, all this verbal violence in doing so, but also all this vulnerability towards such judgments? After all, if it is true that nobody likes to be criticized, it is also true that it would be enough not to pay too much attention to it, and instead we often end up feeling bad, perhaps becoming more aggressive and judgmental in turn. And how to do then for defend against unwanted judgments and in general to try to get out of this poisoned climate?

The factors at play are many, from the most personal to the social and cultural ones, starting from the fact that we live in a moment in which objectively respect and tolerance are becoming increasingly rare commodities and in which every choice risks becoming an ideology, to be defended tooth and nail and to be opposed to other choices / ideologies in a no holds barred battle (just think of what happens with vaccines ).


Breastfeeding in public: the INTIMATE project of a London photographer

go to the gallery

An incredible series of author photos that celebrate the beauty of breastfeeding in public. London-based photographer Natin Sachania, 40, is hoping by publishing these images of ...

We talked about it with Caterina Botti, professor of moral philosophy at the Sapienza University of the city, as well as an expert on feminist issues, and with Rosa Maria Quatraro, psychologist at the obstetrics department of the San Bortolo Hospital in Berica (Vicenza) and co -director of the Ericskon Psychology of Maternity editorial series.

Incompetent and incapable?

“Let's start from a fact, namely that there can be good reasons for deciding to breastfeed as well as for deciding not to, and that there is no evidence of serious risks neither in breastfeeding, even for a long time, nor in not breastfeeding. So from a rational point of view no woman should be attacked and instead almost all are, both those who breastfeed and those who do not, ”says Botti, explaining that in her opinion the contradiction implicit in this 360-degree accusation means only one thing.

“I believe that attacking women always and in any case is a way to prevent them from having a choice and to do so freely and responsibly. A way to make them feel incompetent and incapable all the time and to remind them that it must be someone else - the doctor, family, friends, society - to say how to behave and what is right to do to be a really good mother. ". In short, a legacy of one patriarchal and paternalistic culture which continues to permeate society, so much so that it is often women themselves who interpret it.

The minefield of the benefits of breastfeeding

Some might argue that breastfeeding is the most normal thing in the world (we still remain mammals) and that the benefits of mother's milk for the baby's health are now widely proven. True, yet this does not mean that at an individual level breastfeeding is necessarily the "right" choice and that resorting to the formula is the "wrong" one.

That breast milk is healthier than formula does not mean that every single breastfed baby will never get an ear infection or a cold and that every single bottle fed baby will spend their time between illnesses. The differences can be seen at the population level and must certainly be taken into consideration from the point of view of public health - with adequate campaigns to promote and support breastfeeding, starting from birth points and by workplaces - but on an individual level things can go both ways (many diseases or few diseases), regardless of how the baby is fed. Which, however, depends on many factors, from the character and emotional predisposition of the mother to the contingent circumstances.

Read also: Breastfeeding in Del Paese

Even if we are mammals, then, there are those who cannot breastfeed, for example because they do not produce milk or take drugs that are incompatible with breastfeeding. Who, having not found the right support at the birth point, in the counseling centers in her area, or even in the family, started badly and went on worse. Those who tried but then came the fissures or mastitis or other, and the pain - if not treated properly - took over. Who tried but no: that child so voracious, always attached to the breast at any time of day or night, was unable to bear it.

"Women are not always available for such close physical contact, for letting go of such an intimate relationship, and not because they don't love their baby enough" explains Quatraro, calling into question temperamental and emotional dispositions, but also previous experiences which could affect this provision. Someone who has lost a baby in a previous pregnancy, for example, may have a stronger motivation to breastfeed, but may also have more difficulty, almost feeling guilty about the lost baby. Not to mention experiences like sexual harassment or other. And again: there are those who are by nature need to regulate their relationships a lot and cannot find themselves with breastfeeding on demand. Those who are freelancers, willy-nilly, have had to rush back to work after two or three months of their baby's life. Who, after weeks of back and forth, tears and frustrations, decided that breastfeeding with that baby was going so badly that they might as well try to switch to a bottle. Finally, who did not even want to try, for all of his reasons.

Deciding to breastfeed or not breastfeeding means weighing all these factors, the pros and cons (general and personal) of each choice. “What we are unable to accept - underlines Botti - is that in the vast majority of cases every mother responsibly seeks the best for her baby, and for his relationship with that boy or girl. And therefore there is no single way of being good mothers, but there are many, which arise from the different experiences and circumstances that each mother finds herself living. This is why we still find ourselves having to defend choices that should instead be taken for granted and accepted as responsible ".

The same goes for the criticisms that reach mothers who decide to breastfeed for a long time, even well beyond their baby's first birthday. In this case the classic accusation is to spoil the child, to jeopardize his development towards independence or even mental health. And to do so because in turn they have some psychological disorder that prevents them from "letting go" of the child. Also in this case it must be clearly stated that this is not the case at all, and that the World Health Organization calmly recommends breastfeeding - if it is pleasing to mother and child - even beyond two years of age.

The ambivalence of motherhood

According to Botti, this cultural climate of continuous reproach also has to do with the representation that is given in general of women in this context, always portrayed as monolithic, without any doubt. “As if they were all puppets capable of expressing only one character at a time, moreover chosen with whim: the one she has decided to breastfeed indefinitely and the one she absolutely does not want to breastfeed. But it seems to me that the reality of motherhood is rather a continually questioning what is best to do given the circumstances, ”says Botti.

On the other hand, it is motherhood itself that brings with it doubts, emotions and conflicting feelings that it is important to be able to accept. “A certain conflict and more or less conscious ambivalence are present in each of us and are part of the emotional ties. This also applies to breastfeeding, which also involves great intimacy. Even the breastfeeding mother pushed by a very strong motivation can have her moments of difficulty, and wonder who makes her do it. Conversely, the mother who uses the formula may sometimes wonder if she has missed something, ”Quatraro says.

"Accepting that inside you harbor such conflicting feelings, that you are not so granitic in your choices can be difficult to live and accept, to the point of reaching assume integralist attitudes and opinions, because what we do not welcome inside us we find it hard to accept it outside as well ”.

On the other hand, this same ambivalence, this doubt insinuated into certainties that one would always want solid, can also make fragile and vulnerable. All the more so in an era like ours, characterized by the idea of ​​always having to be on the spot, of not being able to afford any mistakes in the path that should make children happy and successful people. "And all the more - Quatraro emphasizes - if the support of the partner is lacking, which is instead very important to shield the new family, especially in the delicate post-partum period".

How to survive the judgment

Given that the criticisms of others have become an integral part of the parents' choices, some suggestions on how to live them more peacefully, coming to let them slip over them, can be helpful.

1. Leave informed
The first thing to do is to try to find out as much as possible about the choice you intend to make, also to have rational tools with which to counter any criticism.

Unfortunately it is not always that easy because the ability to gather information is also strongly conditioned by external factors, such as the preparation in terms of breastfeeding of those who should or could give help to mothers or future mothers (from the midwives of the preparation courses to the pediatricians) or the interference of the marketing of the companies producing artificial milk.

(Incidentally, this is precisely why any talk on the free choice it should go hand in hand with as many discourses on the real institutional commitment to the promotion of breastfeeding and on the actual application of tools such as the International code on the marketing of breast milk substitutes).

2. Recognize and embrace the fact that you are not perfect
Maybe if we had nursed our baby he wouldn't have gotten sick as often in his first year of life. And if we hadn't breastfed, we might have gotten along better right away, since we just didn't like doing it. Who knows: maybe it's true and maybe not. In retrospect, it is not possible to know. What we can know, however, is that the choices made were guided by specific reasons, which aimed to give the best we could, in that moment and in those circumstances, to our child. So that's okay. And on the other hand, "no one is perfect".

3. Take care of yourself
"When we bring a boy or girl into the world we take on the responsibility of taking care of him or her and making sure that he has the best life we ​​can build for him" explains Botti, adding that this is often understood in a sacrificial sense (you Wanted a baby? So now you're nursing him, whether you like it or not).

"But he cannot take care of another in the absence of self-care. Therefore, one can legitimately ask whether breastfeeding facilitates or complicates this relationship of care. And, in case you realize that it complicates it, legitimately choose artificial feeding ". Also because nutrition in the first months of life is only one of the many aspects of this care: a decidedly multifaceted and lasting commitment.

4. In case of doubts, worries, difficulties, ask for help
“But be careful: not to anyone, hearing too many different bells” advises Quatraro. "On the contrary, it is better to choose carefully with whom to discuss and possibly which experts to contact".

Here, unfortunately, one can clash with the fact that it is not always easy to find the right support: there are figures who should support breastfeeding but in fact are not sufficiently competent in the matter, so they give misleading indications. And there are operators who are very competent on the technical aspects but less on the relational ones. "Sometimes a mother, especially in the first moments after childbirth, not only needs information on how to attach her baby and in what position to put it, but someone who, perhaps noticed a moment of despair, sits next to her and you invite them to talk about themselves, about what they are feeling, listening to them sincerely ”.

5. Do not expose yourself to public judgment, least of all on social media
“Doubts and difficulties are precious because they contain the seed of growth,” says Quatraro. Therefore they should not be fed to no one knows who, but only to trusted people (the partner, a friend, a consultant or anyone who desires), capable of welcoming them with respect and tolerance.

“If you know from the start that your neighbor looks at you with superiority because she is breastfeeding and you are not, don't talk about this with her. Ditto with the friend who considers you a fanatic because at 18 months your child is still breastfeeding ”suggests Quatraro. This applies to real life, but even more so on social networks, where respect and tolerance are definitely in short supply and it is even easier to find resentment and aggression.

Feeding your baby: not just a question of food

A chapter of the book The Science of Mom, by researcher and blogger Alice Callahan, is dedicated to the relationship between motherhood and breastfeeding, told between scientific certainties and social barriers. We report here the suggestive concluding paragraph of her.

"Breastfeeding is important because it improves the health of babies, but this is only one of the factors that can influence the experience and choice of each single mother-baby couple. I remember with great tenderness my daughter's breastfeeding. , and I wish every mom had the same free opportunity to build memories like that.

I believe that breastfeeding is a reproductive right and that we should be supported in every possible way to start it well and thus to feed our children where we want and how long we want. I also believe, and science confirms, that women meet numerous very real barriers to breastfeeding.

We need more research and better support for these women, but we also need to support mothers and babies when they practice bottle feeding, by necessity or by choice. We need to appreciate and support any type of breastfeeding - whether breastfeeding or formula - and see it as an opportunity to build attachment and connections with our children, and to know that this is the greatest gift we can give them.

The first few days with a newborn are difficult and feeding them is an important gesture, regardless of the milk used. We all deserve to be warmly thanked for the work we do.

Updated on 03.07.2022

  • breastfeeding
  • artificial milk
  • breast milk
  • formula
  • newborn 0-3 months
add a comment of Mother's milk or formula milk? The important thing is not to judge
Comment sent successfully! We will review it in the next few hours.