By Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.
As a mother, I’m no stranger to guilt. In 17 years of parenting, I’ve lost plenty of sleep thinking about my shortcomings — perceived and real.
Occasional lapses in the feeding department are especially difficult to reconcile with my profession as a dietitian. Yes, I’ve given in to plenty of nerve-wracking requests for candy, cookies, and fast food, and opted to serve boxed macaroni and cheese and processed chicken nuggets (gasp!) for dinner.
I’ve never regretted how I fed my kids when they were babies, however. I combined nursing with using infant formula, sometimes on the same day. At the time, I was working outside of the home and breast/bottle strategy made the most sense.
I was sure about my feeding decision, but it seems that other moms are not so certain that they’re doing the right thing when they forgo breastfeeding.
A recent survey of 1,900 first-time moms revealed that almost half of them feel guilty about choosing to feed infant formula. “Formula guilt” could be why about two-thirds of the women in the survey were willing to shell out up to 50% more on big name formula brands, thinking that name brands are superior. No need for the added expense: All formula sold in the U.S. must conform to the same standards set by the Food and Drug Administration, which are designed to meet an infant’s nutrient needs.
There’s no question that breastfeeding is considered the gold standard of infant nutrition. Pediatricians and other health experts encourage women to nurse their babies for upwards of 12 months, and longer, if possible.
“I’m a strong advocate of breastfeeding, and it’s important to me that moms are armed with the right information on the benefits of breastfeeding for both the baby and the mom,” says Alanna Levine, MD, a pediatrician in Tappan, NY, and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. “But the last thing I want is for a mom to be stressed or feel guilty when it comes to feeding her baby.”
When it comes to children, life doesn’t always go as planned, even for health professionals who know the breast is best. Dietitian and blogger Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, had every intention of breastfeeding her two boys, but ran into trouble that prevented it with both children. Her experience influenced her perspective about feeding choices.
“Nobody knows the whole story about the feeding relationship between that mother and child, no mom should feel bad about her choice, and nobody should make a mom feel guilty about her choice,” Kuzemchak says.
Guilt is harmful if you let it rule your life, but let’s face it: a certain amount of motherly angst keeps a family on course. Guilt motivates me to fold three loads of laundry at 10:30 at night instead of getting into bed, sock away money for college tuition that I’d rather spend on vacations, and it spurs me to run out for milk during driving rainstorms.
If parenthood has taught me anything, it’s that being as happy as possible is the greatest gift you can give your family. If that means no breastfeeding, then that’s the best choice for you and your loved ones. Save your guilt for later: Once your child starts to talk, it will tough to ignore demands for junk food. Trust me. I know all about it.
Were you subjected to “mommy guilt” because you chose or were unable to breastfeed? How did you deal with it? Share your thoughts in the comments below or in our Parenting community.