Breastfeeding can be hard enough on parents. Unsolicited comments and opinions from other people don’t make it any easier.
Though many women enjoy moments of connection and a sense of accomplishment in nourishing their baby this way, nursing can also be physically, mentally and emotionally taxing.
So unless you’re going to say something encouraging to a nursing parent, it’s generally best to say nothing at all. We asked breastfeeding moms to share the rude, hurtful and inappropriate comments they wish family, friends and, heck, even strangers, would stop saying. Here’s what they told us:
1. “You’re going to do that here?”
Breastfeeding parents get this kind of comment when nursing their baby while out and about — at the mall, on a plane or in a restaurant. The onlooker can’t believe she has the audacity to (gasp!) feed her baby in someone else’s line of sight. The subtext: This person would much prefer she hide somewhere away from public view, no matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient it is for parent and baby.
To that, Karrie Locher, a registered nurse and certified lactation counselor, says: “Would you like to make and eat your dinner in a bathroom stall? A mom and baby are no different. This comment makes it seem that feeding our child or pumping to provide breastmilk is an inconvenience to passersby. Like it could ruin their entire day.”
“Breastfeeding may be recommended [by society], but it sure as hell isn’t supported,” added Locher, a mother of four. “All any mother is trying to do is feed their baby and keep them healthy and happy.”
Not to mention it’s unhygienic (and unkind!) to expect a parent to go nurse or pump in a bathroom. But it happens all too often. When Locher was breastfeeding her fussy then-9-month-old at a fall festival, she got some dirty looks from strangers, so she asked one of the volunteers where she could nurse.
“They said, ‘Glad you asked. We had a few complaints,’ and recommended the bathroom or the janitor’s closet,” Locher told HuffPost. “The bathroom was busy, so I went and nursed my baby standing up — nowhere to sit — in a dark janitor’s closet next to buckets, mops and old dusty paint cans. Never, ever should that be OK. Never, ever should a woman be shamed into feeding their fussy baby in any place other than where they’re comfortable.”
At get-togethers with family and friends, a loved one might usher a mom to an empty room where she can nurse away from the rest of the guests, under the guise of it being “more comfortable” for her.
“Actually, I’d be most comfortable in the company of family and friends and not hidden away in a room because grown adults are uncomfortable with me feeding my baby!” Jamie R., a mother of four, told HuffPost.
Rather than tell moms they should breastfeed in secrecy, we should be asking them where they’d prefer to nurse. Some are comfortable with doing it wherever, and others would rather be alone with their baby. But let that be their call.
“Even if a mother wants privacy to nurse or pump, that privacy shouldn’t be a shameful walk to the bathroom,” Locher said.
2. “Breastfeeding is natural.”
Breastfeeding is a natural process, but it doesn’t always come naturally. In fact, many women struggle to make it work, especially in the early days. In a University of California, Davis, Medical Center survey of first-time moms, 92% reported having breastfeeding problems a few days after giving birth. So making comments about how instinctive it is — even when you mean well — can be hurtful.
As a La Leche League Facebook post put it: ”[Breastfeeding] is not always natural like breathing — which is automatic — but rather like walking — which needs to be learned — and learning is easier with support.”
“The truth is that breastfeeding can be really tough!” pediatrician Yami Cazorla-Lancaster, author of “A Parent’s Guide to Intuitive Eating,” told HuffPost. “Some mothers and babies struggle quite a bit in their breastfeeding journey, and mothers definitely feel guilty or inadequate if they are made to feel that they are the only ones that have struggled. It is more helpful to say something like, ‘How can I support you?’”
3. “Wow, your baby is so tiny” or “Whoa, your baby is huge!”
Commenting about a baby’s size, even when you mean no harm, can trigger anxiety in new moms who choose to nurse, said Cazorla-Lancaster.
“It’s really not appropriate to comment on the body size of any person, but especially for breastfeeding mothers,” the pediatrician said. “Saying things like, ‘Your baby is so tiny!’ or ‘Wow, your baby must eat a lot!’ can lead to a cascade of worry and doubt in mothers.”
“Mothers start to worry that their baby is not getting enough or getting too much or may feel ashamed,” she added.
Similarly, remarks about the baby “looking hungry” can bring up feelings of self-doubt in new parents.
“This is already in the forefront for a nursing mother,” Kenda H., a mother of four, told HuffPost, “and for first-time nursing mothers especially. There is just so much anxiety for new mothers in general, trying to decipher cries and read their baby’s needs, but bringing that idea forward is careless. She has a pediatrician. And you are not them.”
It’s best to leave discussions about a baby’s weight to their health care provider, who is trained to understand growth charts and can counsel parents if there are any concerns, Cazorla-Lancaster said.
4. “Are you sure you should be eating that?”
Stop worrying about what’s on a breastfeeding parent’s plate (or anyone else’s plate, for that matter!). Your thoughts about what she should or shouldn’t be eating are not only unwelcome and rude, they can even be harmful. These kind of offhand comments from others can trigger unhealthy or obsessive thoughts in people who struggle with disordered eating or body image issues.
“Bodies make milk from whatever we give them, and there is no perfect breastfeeding diet,” Suz Gillies-Smith, a body acceptance advocate and mother of two, told HuffPost. “In a culture obsessed with postpartum people losing weight, commenting on the food a breastfeeding parent eats is to uphold diet culture. It’s unnecessary and harmful.”
Same goes for telling nursing women to avoid spicy or gassy foods because you heard they’re bad for the baby. Though certain strong flavors, like garlic, may change the taste of breastmilk, there’s no evidence that eating these foods harms the baby. (However, if a nursing parent notices a pattern of fussiness in the baby after they consume a certain type of food, then it’s worth bringing this up with a pediatrician.)
5. “Your baby is too old to be breastfeeding.”
In June, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated their breastfeeding guidance for the first time in a decade, now encouraging breastfeeding for two years or more (up from one year or more previously). And while the timing of the update and lack of policy to make it realistic were met with some criticism, the call to provide more support to moms who choose extended breastfeeding was largely celebrated.
When Jamie R.’s baby was just 3 months old, her mother-in-law couldn’t believe she was “still breastfeeding.”
“It’s no one else’s business how long you choose to nurse your baby!” she said.
Locher heard a similar comment recently while nursing her son, who hadn’t turned 1 yet.
“Some parents work extremely hard to overcome obstacles with breastfeeding their child, and when it finally, after all of the hard work, seems to be ‘going well,’ they want to cherish it!” she said. “Parents should not be shamed for doing something that is working well for them and their baby.”
Plus, these comments about a baby being “too old” sexualizes the act of breastfeeding a toddler, she added.
6. “Breastfeeding seems to be stressing you out. Can’t you just quit?”
We should absolutely support mothers who cannot or do not want to breastfeed. But at the same time, comments like that can come across as dismissive or hurtful to women who are having a hard time nursing but want to commit to staying the course. We should be talking honestly about how difficult breastfeeding can be without rushing to offer alternatives or solutions.
“This is well-intended, as obviously people want to help new moms eliminate stress from their lives,” organizational psychologist Allison S. Gabriel, a professor at the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management, told HuffPost. “As someone who struggled significantly with breastfeeding, however, saying this felt like it was reinforcing that I was ‘failing’ at breastfeeding since it was a being perceived by others as a stressor.”
Also, as Gabriel pointed out, it’s not as though you can just “quit” breastfeeding cold turkey.
“Even when I decided to stop, it took several painful weeks until my body stopped producing milk,” she said. “It also took time to figure out a bottle our child would be willing take. This isn’t an on/off switch.
7. “Pumping isn’t breastfeeding.”
This kind of thinking is “very misinformed,” Locher said. Whether you pump breastmilk for your baby or they nurse at the breast, either way, it’s still breastfeeding, she said.
“It’s incredibly insulting to pumping mothers, who work incredibly hard and put tons of love into pumping their milk, storing their milk, cleaning the parts and pieces, etc. Pumping is feeding baby milk from the breast. That is breastfeeding.”