There’s A Special Place In Hell For People Who Judge Cancer Survivors For Not Breastfeeding

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bottle formula feeding babyFor anyone who’s ever judged a woman for not breastfeeding her baby, first of all, congratulations on your Completely Awful Excuse For A Human Being award! There was some stiff competition this year. And for those of you who have, knowingly or not, judged a breast cancer survivor who underwent a double mastectomy for not breastfeeding, please see yourself out of human society. There are probably some nice uninhabited islands in the Pacific somewhere where you could get along very well with the native iguanas and parrots (as long as you don’t tell them that being a reptile or bird is no excuse for failing to nurse their young).

Emily Wax-Thibodeaux writes in the Washington Post about her experience as a cancer survivor and new mother, and chiefly about the endless parade of Judgy McFormulaHaters who have been nagging her about breastfeeding from the first moment she held her son in her arms:

“I can’t. I had breast cancer,” I said, looking down at Lincoln and stating proudly: “But I’m just so happy to be alive and be a mother after cancer.”


“Just try,” [the lactation consultants] advised. “Let’s hope you get some milk.”

“It may come out anyway, or through your armpits,” another advised later when I was doing the usual post-labor, slow-recovery walk through the hospital halls.

Look: I don’t need to be sold on the gospel of breastfeeding; my twins are going to be a year old next month and are still nursing like champs. I am on board the breastfeeding train … for myself. It is absolutely none of my business why someone else chose formula (or why they chose breastfeeding). It’s also not the business of lactation consultants, especially who, as health professionals, should be able to understand that no breast tissue equals no milk. Cheerfully telling a patient that she might be able to get milk to come out of her armpits is not helpful, especially in the case of a cancer survivor like Wax-Thibodeaux, who points out that any milk production her body achieved would only mean that her surgeon had failed to collect some breast tissue and therefore put her life at risk. Hey, new mom, maybe you’ll start sweating milk! Sure, it would mean a possible death sentence for you – but at least your baby will get breast milk instead of formula!

Wax-Thibodeaux posted a follow-up earlier today in which she shared the responses she’d received from other formula-feeding mothers who’d felt an emotional resonance with her experience. Women wrote in about being accused by strangers of poisoning their babies with formula, about doctors who were not allowed to use the word ‘bottle’, about being reduced to tears after being harangued by nurses and consultants. Some of these women were other cancer survivors, some of the were just women who didn’t want to or couldn’t breastfeed, and not a single one of them deserved to be treated this way. For future reference, here is a short list of reasons that it’s okay to bottle-feed:

  • Medical reasons
  • Psychological reasons
  • Logistical reasons
  • Mom damn well doesn’t feel like breastfeeding
  • Other (fill in the blank)

I think that about covers it.

The next time you see a woman giving her baby a bottle in public and you want to say something to her about how breastfeeding is best, here’s my advice: 1.) Don’t. 2.) DO NOT DO THAT. 3.) Offer her the chance to slap you in the face. 4.) If she mentions that she is a breast cancer survivor, offer her the chance to kick you in the face. No one needs your moral stamp of approval to be permitted to formula feed, and trust me, they’ve heard every reason under the sun about why ‘breast is best’. If you feel the need to share your judgment with new moms for having the audacity to do what’s best for them and their children, it just means that what you really think is best for baby and mom is ‘stressed’.

(Photo: herjua/Shutterstock)