I thought about titling this post "When Advocacy Turns Into Deterrence" or something of the sort, but I will be honest, I think Deterrence is when your intentions are to persuade someone not to do something. And that is not what this post intended to be about, because I don't feel any advocate's actions are to purposely keep someone from breastfeeding, otherwise you wouldn't be an advocate. I honestly feel that sometimes advocacy turns into bullying. Words meant to belittle another person, their morals or their parenting choices and the motive behind those choices crosses this line. This is not how I want to see breastfeeding advocated.
I highly suggest that anyone who considers themselves a breastfeeding supporter or advocate head over to The Leaky Boob and read Jessica's series on Unsupportive Support, paying particular attention to the post about Other Breastfeeders.
This week, I was able to witness a lot of interactions on breastfeeding. Some through forums, others through The Leaky Boob's facebook page, and other facebook interactions. A lot of the interactions were very positive, information being shared appropriately. However, there were 3 or 4 occasions that made me cringe.
For advocacy to be effective, it should be encouraging, informational, and free of judgement. When advocating, we must remember that actions speak louder than words. We should treat others how we would want to be treated. Remembering that everyone believes that they are right. Accusations just put up defenses.
When someone who calls themselves an advocate questions morality, motive, and the integrity of someone with opposing views, opinions, or experiences all they do is cause the other person to put up defenses. The line of communication is shut down immediately.
When addressed with the statement that a mother was unable to make enough milk for her baby:
The Bully: You didn't try hard enough. You took the easy out. No other mammal has supply issues.
The Advocate: You did a great job! Remember that any breastmilk is better than none. What made you feel you had a low supply? (And then supply important FACTUAL information after finding out WHY the mom states she was unable to produce enough milk)
When an article on how scare tactics are wrong in breastfeeding advocacy is shared:
The Bully: Formula is Poison, Mom's who choose it are selfish, immoral, lazy, and the such.
The Advocate: It is not right that scare tactics are being used to encourage something so natural. There are risks to formula feeding that should be shared, (shares factual links, information).
When faced with the statements "every mother is doing what is best for her child" or "better formula than starvation":
The Bully: Accuses people of taking the easy way out. Says they don't believe these mothers really have their child's best interest in mind. States that parents are really being selfish and not wanting to put in the work.
The Advocate: Agrees, then states that cultural booby traps play a lot into the failure of breastfeeding, and that until these change, formula feeding will remain a common feeding option. Then politely educates those that breastfeeding is natural and has benefits for both baby and child.
When a conversation ensues about weaning a 6 month old as the mother is suffering severe anxiety from pumping while at work.
The Bully: Tells the mother that she is being selfish. That she needs to continue until at least 12 months so that her child can be healthy. Tells the mother to just not have the baby take any bottles while she is at work, or get milk from a donor.
The Advocate: Starts by congratulating the mom on her 6 months of accomplishments. Offers tips to relax. Suggests seeking medical help for safe medications to deal with anxiety while breastfeeding, then encourages her to not fully wean if she must give up pumping, but then to supplement with either donor breast milk if feasible, but if not, then formula if needed. Will also encourage the mother to educate herself on reverse cycling, and adaptability of her child, where the child may not need much fluids while she is away. The advocate will end with once again reminding the mom what a great gift she has given her baby so far.
When an expectant mother states she is nervous about how her partner will view breastfeeding, specifically nursing in public:
The Bully: Tells her that if he doesn't understand it is his problem and that he will just have to deal with it. He needs to get over the sexual part of breasts and get a clue.
The Advocate: Acknowledges that this is a valid concern. Encourages the mother to first, educate herself (giving her references like kellymom.com and other helpful links), and then to have an honest discussion with her partner, regarding the importance of breastfeeding, but reminds her to really listen to what he has to say, and address his concerns, while still stating how important it is to her that she has his full support. The advocate then encourages the mom to return to her/the forum with any questions or concerns she may have and wishes her a wonderful birth and breastfeeding experience.
When a mother states she supplemented during her breastfeeding relationship:
The Bully: Tells a mom that she didn't trust her body. Tells the mother that she didn't try hard enough. Says that supply issues are just in her head and an excuse to "half ass" breastfeeding. (Direct quote from this week)
The Advocate: Reminds the mother that any breastmilk is better than none. If the mother seemed open to it, the advocate will suggest tips that may be helpful to the mother next time.
When it comes to breastfeeding in general:
The Bully: Views it as the only way, that there is NO REASON a mother should turn to formula, states in writing or verbally that those who use formula are somehow less moral, less of a parent, lazy, or selfish. Does not acknowledge that our culture sets mothers up to fail, or if the bully does, they feel it is a very minor roll. The bully feels that it is okay to use scare tactics, name calling, and belittlement if someone chooses formula for any reason. They feel that they are superior because of their choice and success to breastfeed, whether it was easy for them, or a challenge. When others talk about challenges that led them to formula, the bully is quick to point out that they faced something "harder" and overcame.
The Advocate: Uses gentle education, encouragement, and understanding to help others succeed in breastfeeding. She will remember that sharing her success, and focusing on her breastfeeding relationship, being open to nurse in public, and offering help to others, is the best way to advocate breastfeeding. She is there to listen, will acknowledge booby traps and other issues. She understands that supply issues can be real, but understands they are rare and many women are misinformed. Instead of accusations, she will offer information. In the end, she will accept that she can not make the choice for anybody else, and that breastfeeding vs formula feeding does not determine the health or happiness of a child in and of itself. She understands that breastfeeding is the natural choice, but not the only choice, and not always the right choice.
We need to remember, when we are trying to encourage others to breastfeed, that you are more likely to encourage them by being a good example then anything else. Sharing information (factual, with sources) will always beat degrading comments. Most of all, we need to recognize that our society sets a mother up for failure more often then it sets her up for success, and until that changes, women are going to face a lot of booby traps, min-information, and more, and that formula IS better than a starving baby and every mom IS trying to do what is best for her child.