"Why don't you just give that baby a bottle?"
"When are you going to stop nursing....he's starting to walk now!"
Comments like these can be very hurtful to a mother who is trying to do what is best for her baby. Sometimes friends or relatives are simply uninformed about the many benefits of breastfeeding. Or perhaps they may not understand how important it is to a mother to nurse. The sad fact is that even some doctors are not very well informed about breastfeeding. While they learn the basic anatomy and physiology of breastfeeding in medical school, they are often not taught how to support and encourage nursing mothers. If they don't have personal experience with breastfeeding, they may not be very supportive at all. Mothers need to think through their responses before they encounter this situation. In her article "Coping with Criticism about Breastfeeding" in Valley Babies magazine (Vol 3, No 1), Suzanne Rickman offers some excellent pointers.
The Critical Health Care Professional
Any time a health care professional suggests she wean, a mother should get a second opinion. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life, with continued breastfeeding for a year or as long thereafter as both mother and baby desire. The World Health Organization (WHO) actually recommends that mothers breastfeed for at least two years. So if a doctor or other health care professional expresses disapproval of a breastfeeding relationship, a mother can calmly explain the AAP and WHO recommendations. If the disapproval becomes harassment, she may need to find a new health care professional.
The Critical Friend
Sometimes a mother may feel pressure from friends to stop breastfeeding. If a close friend didn't have a positive breastfeeding experience, she may unwittingly discourage the new mother. The fact is that breastfeeding really can be very challenging in the early days. So if a woman is surrounded by friends who don't support her decision to nurse her baby, she may very well decide to give up. That's why it is important for expectant mothers who want to breastfeed to ally themselves with a good support group prior to giving birth. Then those mothers who have been successfully breastfeeding will be able to provide the necessary encouragement.
The Critical Family Member
It can be especially hard when a new mother receives criticism rather than support from her own family. If her mother didn't nurse, she may not understand why it's so important. When the criticism comes from a mother-in-law, it can be just as difficult. In a situation like this, the new father is a key player. He needs to run interference for his wife and protect her from discouraging members. He might even provide those critical relatives with some helpful resources.
The Annoying Stranger
When a stranger makes a comment about her breastfeeding, a mother has several options. She can ignore it, respond to it with tact, or get upset. Certainly, it is better to avoid the latter! Here are a few options for a tactful response:
• Use friendly humor. If someone says "How long are you going to nurse that baby?" You might respond with, "Oh, at least for the next five minutes."
• Be gentle, not defensive. Perhaps the critic has never seen a nursing mother. Maybe breastfeeding is something new. Realize that this might be the perfect opportunity to educate her about breastfeeding.
• Give a factual response. Explain the AAP recommendations. Give the critic some food for thought.