The choice to breastfeed your child is an extremely personal decision. Even more than that, it is an extremely personal experience and one that cannot be shared with any being other than your child.
While it can come as a shock that some people might criticize you for any aspect of your childrearing, the choice to or not to breastfeed is one that comes under scrutiny far too often.
New moms, especially first-time moms, can feel emotional or overwhelmed in the presence of criticism, regardless of if it is coming from a stranger or a loved one. We’ve polled our breastfeeding community and compiled the top ways other moms handle unsolicited advice or criticism while breastfeeding.
Play “Name that Criticism”
In general, breastfeeding criticism can be grouped into three categories:
- Criticism about the choice to/not to breastfeed.
- Criticism about the age of the child being breastfed.
- Criticism about being unable to breastfeed.
While you can’t always stop the criticism from coming, you can keep some emotional distance by focusing on naming the criticism category instead. By just saying, “Oh, that would fall into Criticism Category #2,” you can keep unsolicited criticism from digging itself into your emotional soft-spot by keeping it in your head instead.
Educate the Critics
Whether the critic offering unsolicited advice is a mom or not, they may not realize the myriad of health reasons that can influence a decision to breastfeed or not breastfeed, as well as the decision of how long to breastfeed.
In other words, you and your doctor are aware of your childrearing choices which are supported by sound health reasons, but your critic is not necessarily aware of these reasons.
So if you have the time and can find the emotional equanimity to do so, educate them. Here are some helpful and short educational responses you can try out and modify as desired:
- “My doctor advised that I not breastfeed for personal health reasons.”
- “My doctor advised that I continue breastfeeding for the health of my baby.”
- “My breastfeeding method is the one my doctor recommended.”
- “Breastfeeding longer benefits both my baby and me – did you know women who breastfeed longer have a lower risk of cancer?”
- “Infants who are breastfed longer have a lower risk of illness, allergies, disease and death, as well as better cognitive and social development.”
Thank Them and Depart
There may be times when advice or criticism about breastfeeding simply comes at the wrong moment. You may find yourself getting angry, tearing up or just feeling overloaded or unwilling to engage with the critic.
This is totally normal! It is your right to engage or not engage as you choose. It doesn’t matter if the critic is a loved one or a stranger – what matters is how you feel and what you are up to in that given moment.
If you are feeling fragile, sensitive, rageful or just unwilling to respond for any reason, the easiest response is a simple acknowledgment followed by your departure.
For example, you could say, “Thank you for your advice and concern. I will think about it more.” Then simply depart. If you can’t leave right away for any reason, try to walk away or change the topic as a last resort.
Ask Them Questions
Another useful strategy for coping with unsolicited breastfeeding critiques or unasked-for advice is to turn the tables and ask your critic some questions.
For instance, if the critique is focused on the fact that your baby is older than one year old and still breastfeeding, you could ask them these questions:
- “Did you know that infants that are breastfed into their second and third year show more advanced cognitive and social development and have a lower risk of illness and death?”
If the critique is about your choice not to breastfeed, you could ask them this question:
- “Did you know there are many medical reasons why some women cannot or should not breastfeed?”
You could also use more general questions, such as asking the critic the following:
- “Why do you feel like that is the best approach to take?”
If nothing else, at least this will keep the critic talking so you won’t have to say anything else for a while!
Shut It Down
Finally, there may be times when the critic simply will not stop offering unsolicited advice or criticism. This is often the case when the critic is a loved one and even more often the case when the critic is a mom and a family member.
While there may be all kinds of reasons you feel like you can’t, won’t or shouldn’t lay down the law with this person, if you’ve tried everything else and nothing has worked to end the flow of advice and/or criticism, it may be time to simply shut it down and make that topic off limits in the future.
There are very polite ways to do this that can still be effective. The key is to be firm and to stand your ground if the critic tries to introduce the topic again in the future.
Here are some ideas to try:
- “Thank you. Please know that I do hear you, and I understand you feel compelled to share your advice with me. However, I have done my own research and consulted with my doctor, and this is the path I have chosen. The topic is not open for any further discussion and I ask that you respect that.”
- “I appreciate your concern, and I know you care about my baby and about me. I am doing what is best for both of us, and that is all I am willing to share at this time. Please do not bring up this topic with me again.”
By taking some quiet, private time to think about how to respond to unsolicited advice or criticism, you will be better prepared mentally and emotionally to navigate such situations with grace, tact and firmness.
Know that regardless of the unsolicited criticism or advice you receive, Ameda is committed to providing information and support to empower you throughout your breastfeeding journey. For more information about Ameda breast pumps or for advice and insights from experts or other moms, visit our Resources for Mom page.