When I opened my computer this morning and saw the headline, I literally spit my coffee everywhere, just like they do in sitcoms. “Mom Shamed for Breastfeeding in Victoria Secret,” it said. Yep, a mother was asked by other shoppers to stop breastfeeding because it was making them uncomfortable…as they stood in a retail store whose decor includes huge posters of busty women in sexy bras, rocking tons of cleavage. And it wasn’t the first time this has happened.
Breastfeeding is an infant’s source of nutrition and none of anybody’s damn business. Babies don’t just feed at home, and every mom deserves the right to choose where and how she feeds her baby. How about a big high five of support that she is out with her children, doing the best that she can? Motherhood can be a tough gig, and even harder when people are cruel.
The issue is even bigger than this. It’s about how mom-shaming has become socially acceptable. The Internet seems to have inflated peoples’ need to have an opinion on everything. It’s like real life has become one big comment thread. We wonder why postpartum anxiety and depression are on the rise? Maybe it’s because there’s so much pressure to do things “perfectly” in order to avoid judgment; maybe it’s because these horrible comments can be internalized, causing moms to start to believe them. Comments like the one made in Victoria’s Secret can cause anxiety for moms, resulting in isolation and depression because she’s too nervous to feed her baby in public. These types of comments can even spell the end of her nursing journey.
I was shamed for breastfeeding in public
Not that formula feeders don’t get shamed, too. A mom I met recently had struggled immensely with breastfeeding, and eventually switched to formula. She felt OK about her decision until she went to her local mom’s group. She gave her baby a bottle and rude comments ensued.
More mom-shaming in action: Popular blogger and Instagrammer Rach Parcell is on vacation this week with her husband and young daughter, having left their infant son at home with his grandma. You know where this going, don’t you? Parcell posted a picture of the three of them enjoying the beach, and the comments were cruel and hurtful, calling her a horrible mother for favoring one child and leaving the other. But really, can anybody actually know how she parents through one photograph?
The Internet gives the impression that everyone’s business is everyone’s business. It’s present on social media and even trickles into places like Victoria’s Secret.
Change will come when we take our own advice. I talk with my two young boys all the time about the importance of kindness and acceptance, and realize this applies to motherhood too. On the one hand, my grandma’s words ring true in my head: “If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.” But on the other, I believe we should take it a step further. Do more than be appalled at the shaming. Choose kindness and compassion. Make the effort to tell the nursing mama at the mall that she is doing great. Say the same to the one with the toddler who’s screaming on the floor. Find a mom’s group that shares these values and spread the same message. This positivity and encouragement will make it easier to let go of all the judgement out there.
Carrie Bruno is an RN, lactation consultant, sleep coach and the founder of The Mama Coach, a nationwide group of RNs committed to making motherhood easier.