Have you seen the #endmommywars hashtag floating all over social media lately? It’s becoming a pretty big thing.
On the one hand, it’s an important idea. No mother should ever be shamed for any parenting choice she makes. Period. Truly, it shouldn’t matter if you breastfed, formula fed, stayed home, sent your kids to daycare, whether you were labeled as a “helicopter” parent or “free-range.” Every mom is just doing her best, trying to find her way, and learning as she goes along. The most important thing is how you love your kids. And there is more than one way to provide a loving, secure family base for your child. I’m sorry that any mother has made another mother feel anything but supported in her choices, whatever they may be.
But I’m afraid this #endmommywars campaign is not as supportive as it seems, and in many ways is just pitting mothers against each other further. Are there judgmental mothers out there? Sure. I’ve met them (and I’ve seen loads of them on the internet!). But for the most part, I have seen a ton of kindness from the other mothers I encounter in my daily life. And I think we need to accentuate that aspect of motherhood MORE. Let’s talk about what we can do to support one another, not underline how some small number of moms are cruel to each another.
But most importantly, the campaign shuts down our ability to voice our opinions and debate civilly. Although I wholeheartedly support motherhood in all forms, I know that feeding babies breastmilk is the best thing for their developing bodies. As a lactation consultant (IBCLC) it is my job to support mothers who wish to reach those goals. Does that mean I don’t support formula feeding mothers? Of course not! I know that breastmilk is not an option for all mothers, and I know that in most cases their babies will do fine with formula. But I should be permitted to say that one infant food is, in many ways, better nutrition.
The same goes with other opinions I may have about parenting choices, like what I think is the best car seat, how I want to discipline my children, and whether I think it’s important or not to feed children organic fruits and vegetables. Can’t I voice these thoughts and opinions without somehow starting a war with someone else? Not every disagreement is a war!
Now, I have to walk on eggshells anytime I state an opinion in this current parenting climate. But it doesn’t have to be that way. And #endmommywars only perpetuates the myth that there is some kind of huge divide between parents. Most of us all basically want the same sorts of things for our children, and listening to one another—hearing varied thoughts and opinions—can be truly enriching. In fact, I have learned a lot from talking to mothers who did things differently than me. If I couldn’t talk about things, I would never know what works for others, and how similar we are even when we look different from the outside.
And, of course, the biggest problem with the #endmommywars campaign is that it is entirely a marketing campaign from Similac! Yes, it is. Let me say it again: IT IS A MARKETING CAMPAIGN FOR FORMULA. If you do a search anywhere for the hashtag, you will see Similac’s name splashed right under it. Even if you like the campaign, you need to know that’s what it is. It’s a campaign whose aim is to get mothers to buy formula.
Formula is a really useful modern innovation, and many babies who have access to clean water and modern medicine do well on it (this is NOT the case in developing countries, and it is a dire problem). Many of my dear friends used it for various reasons, and I support them fully. I believe you can formula feed and be the most cuddly, loving mom. I know that.
But for a mother who really wants to nurse, is struggling, still finding her footing, getting criticism from left and right, and feeling entirely open and vulnerable, this campaign is potentially QUITE damaging–which is exactly Similac’s purpose.
Research has pointed out the power of formula advertising, and formula companies are quite stealthy in how they sneak their advertisements in. Have you gone into a pediatrician’s office recently? There will be pens with formula brands on them, and posters on the wall sponsored by formula companies. Our pediatrician gave us a little book to record shots and baby milestones that was made by Similac. And of course, there is the formula that is handed out left and right at hospitals, and sent to new mothers’ homes whether they request it or not.
I remember when a friend called me after her third baby was born. She had successfully breastfed her first two children, but her newborn was really fussy at the breast. She was exhausted, in tears. When babies fuss at your breast and you don’t know why, it’s hard to have faith that breastfeeding is going to work, no matter how many babies you have. She told me they’d been sent home with formula and were about to use some, but she thought she’d call me first. I gave her some tips to calm the baby down, helped her feel more normal, and things ended up going fine. But she told me had she not spoken to me, that bottle of formula seemed pretty damn tantalizing.
And it is, for many moms. Most moms don’t know what to do when their baby cries while nursing, when their nipples hurt, or when they aren’t sure if their baby is getting enough. They may not have a breastfeeding helper’s number to call, but they almost always have formula on hand, thanks to the generosity of companies like Similac. And quite often, one bottle of formula leads to another, and another, until breastfeeding is over. Obviously this is not the only way things unfold, but it is an altogether familiar scenario I encounter.
Thanks to formula companies, it is much easier to find formula than breastfeeding help. Thanks to formula companies, it is easier to say that women are at war than it is to find ways to unite them.
And I am sick and tired of it all. So, let’s END #endmommywars. And support one another by listening, questioning, thinking, loving, and listening some more.
EDITED TO ADD: Part of the publicity for #endthemommywars is that Similac is putting out a movie with that title. Click here to watch the trailer. I was actually asked to participate in this film a few weeks ago. More about that later…