Advocate vs Militant

It’s easy to be a militant breastfeeder. It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and say “oh you should have done this” or “you obviously didn’t want it badly enough” or “formula sucks and  I’d rather use donor milk than give rat poison to my baby.”

Yup. Judging people is easy.

Sitting next to the mother crying because her milk has dried up completely is hard. Comforting the mother who lives in poverty and has to go back to work, desperately wants to nurse but can’t get a pump because WIC doesn’t consider work a “need,” that’s hard. Counseling with the adoptive mother for whom induced lactation didn’t work tears at your heart.

Hearing someone judge a mother I’ve worked with directly and telling her she didn’t do enough…well, it pisses me off. And it’s not like I feel my work is being criticized. Hardly. I see the mother herself start questioning again. Just when she’s feeling confident again as a mother and a woman.

The fact of the matter is, not all women can breastfeed whether its because of physical problems or her life circumstances.

A true breastfeeding advocate will see this. A militant breastfeeder shoots off her mouth and destroys relationships with a single blow.

It takes far more work and compassion to be an advocate.

I’ve said it so many times: You don’t know the story behind the bottle. Did the mom not get support and she’s weaned completely? Did the mom have breast surgery? Is she not comfortable with breastfeeding in public? Is that the biological mom at all?

To be honest, I do judge one type of mom with a baby bottle. The mom who is feeding her infant/toddler/preschooler soda or koolaid or sweet tea. No, I can’t support that. Nor do I advocate supporting that.


The breastfeeding advocate’s greatest strength is in listening and giving advice and then…letting go. Find out what mom’s goals are. If she doesn’t plan on breastfeeding at all, suggest she just try and see where it goes. What’s the worst that can happen? She decides it works and keeps going? Or she decides it doesn’t and is satisfied with that. In the end, it’s about showing support to the woman. Maybe next time she’ll decide to breastfeed longer.

So much talk is given to letting breastfeeding be seen as normal. Let young people see it.  Don’t cover up. Be open and vocal.

That’s great in theory, but we have a society full of body myths and young women who are truly uncomfortable in their own skin. What happens when the only exposure to breastfeeding a young expectant mother who is insecure in herself as a woman has is to a nursing toddler or preschooler? There’s a good chance it won’t evoke those maternal instincts. Completely backfires.

This is when the advocate is needed rather than the militant. The militant fires off her mouth in a barrage of “you shoulds” and “if you don’ts.” The expectant mother tunes out any useful information. The advocate builds a relationship. The advocate lets the mother know her friendship is not contingent upon breastfeeding. She gives information and support to the mother, no matter what.

I saw this very scenario play out recently. Very young mom with no intention to breastfeed, her only exposure being to a “hippy” type. But her resident hippy was an advocate who shared, but wasn’t pushy. She laid the groundwork for the lactation consultant at the hospital…someone with “authority”…to finally convince mom it was worth it just to try.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to have militant feelings, but don’t cross the line into being a breastfeeding bitch. That doesn’t do anything for the cause.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Polish Mama on the Prairie
    Feb 10, 2011 @ 11:25:13

    Those are great points. I breastfeed. First daughter was for a year, second I’m still breastfeeding at over a year old. I think every woman should be encouraged to just give it a try. I see no harm in that. That’s what I did. I really had no intention of doing it much at all, but I gave it a try. Because I was encouraged to just try, no pressure added.

    I have, of course, come across the opposite situation, as well. The Militant Bottlefeeder. The woman at a social situation who finds out I breastfeed and begins to just bombard me with negative comments and incorrect information about it. I try to keep my comments short, simple, understanding, and fact based, and learn one of the two things: either she tried it and it didn’t work and is resentful that it worked for me so therefor I keep myself empathetic to her, or she is a Koolaid in the Bottle kind of mom, so there is no discussion worth having with her.

    And then, there is the older mother (not all of them, thank goodness), who thinks I am just being weird and disgusting for breastfeeding, because “it was good enough for her kids and heck, [she bets I] was bottlefed too!” Of course, I have no idea how to handle that one, because then, I usually get the tirade about why in the world do kids need all this equipment?” [Gives me a dirty look] Starts listing Carseats, babycarriers, seatbelts, talking about laying babies on their stomachs is better for them, etc… “And we’re all still alive today!” (Never mind that I lost a dear friend in elementary school because he was not wearing a seat belt in the back seat, right around when they were becoming mandatory for kids to use). I really have no idea how to handle that, so I blush and clam up and don’t defend myself because I don’t want to be seen as a Militant Breastfeeder, or as “some dirty stinky hippy” (by the way, my being born in Poland, we didn’t have hippies over there, yet Moms breastfed, strange isn’t it? How stereotypes are placed on different types of behaviours).

    And I agree, our society is filled with people who have negative self esteem and body images, so yes, breastfeeding openly doesn’t solve that problem at all. If we all just keep being empathetic toward others (and remember that even self criticism of your body is heard and reflected by your children), perhaps that will change in time.


  2. TaderDoodles (Lisa B)
    Feb 11, 2011 @ 09:30:06

    The very first mom I met in our new town was a nursing mom with a baby the same age as mine. Her hubby worked with mine and she came over with him while he helped hubby unload the heavy furniture. IN MY HOUSE, she proceeded to talk down to me because I chose to be discreet while nursing Abby. I didn’t say a thing about how or what she was doing because I didn’t care. I didn’t even care if she nursed or not. That is none of my business. But having other moms tell me what I should or should not do, especially in a militant fashion is a turn off. It’s why I didn’t nurse my first two for very long and why I nursed #3 for over a year… because of people pushing themselves on me making me feel like I was doing it all wrong.


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