This post originally appeared as a guest post on Minimalist Nutrition as part of a World Breastfeeding Week series, but is no longer available there.
“I just wanted to let you know that what you’re doing is beautiful and courageous if anyone ever gives you a hard time for doing it in public, you shouldn’t let them,” our waiter declared.
I smiled awkwardly and said, “Thanks,” as the young man placed my food on the table in front of me.
He continued on, “I mean, I just don’t understand why people get so upset. It’s only natural and it’s beautiful. I hope no one ever makes a big deal about it to you.”
I was sitting in the back of the restaurant, facing a wall, and nursing my daughter while using a cover. I’m pretty sure no one had even noticed I was doing it before our server loudly proclaimed his approval. He didn’t seem to notice the irony of the fact that he was making a big deal out of it.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciated the kindness he was trying to show me. I agree that breastfeeding is natural and beautiful. I believe women should be able to nurse in public (without covers, if they so choose) shame-free. I follow people whose social media posts are peppered with tags like #normalizebreastfeeding and #breastfeedingisbeautiful. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been able to exclusively nurse my daughter for over seven months now.
But I’m also friends with women who, for various reasons, have been unable to nurse their babies. Some have medical conditions that left them with an inadequate milk supply. Others struggled with babies who never could latch properly. A few have had to bottle-feed because the medication they require for their own physical or mental health could be harmful to their baby when passed on in breastmilk. The sadness they feel at not being able to nurse has only been compounded by the guilt our “breast is best” society has placed upon them.
Would the server have gushed about how beautiful and courageous I was for feeding my child in public if I had been using a bottle? I doubt it.
Many of my bottle-feeding friends have shed tears over not being able to breastfeed. Some endured weeks or months of painful, futile attempts to do so. They’re spent a lot of money and countless time on visits to doulas, doctors, and lactation consultants. They’ve been lectured and guilt-tripped by their pediatricians, their families, strangers in the grocery store, and strangers on the internet. But ultimately, it came down to the fact that if they wanted their child to eat they needed to bottle-feed.
Don’t these mothers deserve our applause and support, too? Aren’t they just as courageous (or even more so) as those of us who nurse?
After all, it seems to me that feeding your child by whatever means necessary is the most natural thing for a mother to do.
So let’s continue to advocate for breastfeeding rights and normalization. But let’s also advocate for the mothers who bottle-feed, both by necessity or by choice. As long as our babies are well-fed and well-loved, that’s really all that matters.