I recently read an article featuring a new mom who hung a “No Breastfeeding Zone” sign in her hospital room. She knew while preparing for the birth of her baby that she would also need to prepare for the inevitable onslaught of questions from hospital staff regarding her use of formula. And rather than explain her situation over and over throughout her stay, she hung a large, glittery sign that was designed to be unobtrusive and unaggressive but also tell her truth.
View this post on Instagram
Attention please, attention please. We do indeed have a mommy-to-be who had breast cancer and a mastectomy which means, without boobs in the houseeeee! Got the banner raised just in case people are confused at why we are NOT going to be breastfeeding our little bundle of joy. Yes I have foobs, no I do not have boobs (or nipples) therefore… my body is incapable of breastfeeding:) -sign was made by me!!!!!) 💕 thank u @japalelis for the inspiration! #breastcancer #pregnancy #thebump #bump #babybump #pregnant #survivor #thriver #breastcancer #breastcancerawareness #pregnantafterchemo #pregnancydiary #pregnantbelly #photography #38weekspregnant #inducedlabor #laboranddelivery #formulafeeding #breastfeeding #breastfeedingmama #banner #breastfeedingbanner #nobreastfeeding @similac_us
Not only had chemo and 33 rounds of radiation taken an immense toll on her body, but she had also undergone a double mastectomy. The treatment that saved her life and miraculously spared her the ability to create it, left her body physically unable to produce milk.
My heart broke for this beautiful new mom. I remember feeling a similar need to explain my choice not to breastfeed. My husband and doctor were supportive, but the hospital staff seemed less so. Immediately following my son’s birth, they took us to a recovery room where I told the nurse we were formula feeding. We had just left the operating room so we had nothing with us. She encouraged me to at least try breastfeeding and waited me out while my hungry newborn cried for more than 20 minutes.
I kept thinking if she knew why maybe she would accept our choice and just bring the darn formula. My decision was made and that’s not to say it was made lightly or without guilt. But I’m confident it was the best decision for my family.
Instead of feeling supported, I felt judged, not just by her, but other staff members as well. I must’ve been asked 20 times if I was going to “try” breastfeeding. Maybe it was how I was asked. Maybe it was the pamphlets left on my side table touting the benefits of breastmilk. Maybe it was the look on the nurses’ faces. Maybe it was my own guilt.
My good friend had a similar experience in a different hospital. When she arrived in her room with her new baby, there was a note addressed to the staff to inform them she wasn’t breastfeeding and it was also written in large letters on her board. It was likely meant to inform the staff but it didn’t stop them from asking her questions or encouraging her to try. It left her feeling the need to explain her decision. It left her feeling judged.
The fact is that formula feeding parents know the incalculable benefits of breastmilk. We’re well aware of its superiority. Yet we’ve weighed the pros and cons and made an educated decision for our family. But we are so inundated with the Breast is Best Campaign that pressure, guilt, and shame are being piled on those who can’t.
What we’re not saying enough is that it’s ok to formula feed our babies when we can’t breastfeed. And it’s no one’s business what “can’t” means to a parent. It means something different to everyone.
To some, it means their breasts can’t produce milk. To others, it means their breasts have been removed. Breastfeeding can trigger past sexual assault in some and immense physical pain in others. To some parents, “can’t” means they don’t have any desire to try for any myriad reasons and they shouldn’t ever feel compelled to share just to avoid being shamed or judged.
I saw this new mom’s sign and I knew exactly why she hung it. Although the sign was pink and poetic, it screamed out to me, “Please don’t judge me! I have a good reason! I literally have no breasts!!”
And you know this survivor still had her critics! There were women wondering why she couldn’t find donor milk if she was unable to produce it. Well, because it’s expensive and hard to come by. Because when a person makes a decision for their body and family, it’s not anyone’s responsibility to provide them with information or choices beyond them stating that they plan to formula feed their baby.
Ultimately, we can all agree that a fed baby is best. Hopefully, we can also agree that respecting parents’ decisions and supporting them accordingly are equally important. No one should feel so much pressure they feel the need to literally hang a professionally made sign in their hospital room explaining why.