“My friend and I have babies only a few weeks apart. It was great supporting each other throughout our pregnancies but now it has changed as I am breastfeeding and she is not. I know she had a tough time so I am careful not to talk about breastfeeding too much in case it makes her feel bad, but it has still become a barrier between us.
It’s irrelevant to me how she feeds her baby – she is a wonderful, loving mother, but when she’s not telling me how “lucky” I am, she’s telling me how I should be introducing an evening bottle to my own baby to help her sleep better. Every conversation we have about our babies has become a minefield and it’s really getting to me. How have other mothers coped with this situation?”
Rose Davis, Waiheke Island – I have found that some friendships become difficult because of differences in approaches to parenting. I decided to spend more time with people whose parenting I feel comfortable with, because I enjoy their company more.
It seems like you might need to directly address the issue of breastfeeding vs bottle feeding with your friend, so that it doesn’t lurk beneath every conversation. I would suggest gently telling your friend that you think she’s a great mum, but you believe in breastfeeding and are able to breastfeed without any trouble, so you don’t plan to use bottles of formula.I think some mums who can’t/don’t breastfeed feel guilty and inadequate about it. They tend to keep raising the issue because they want to be reassured that they are still good mothers. Maybe being aware of this might help too.
Lisa Ross, Dunedin – I think I would respond with something like “we are two Mums on different journeys with our children and have to do what feels right for us and go with our maternal instincts. It doesn’t mean one of us is right and the other wrong. It just means everyone is different with unique situations that they respond to in their own way.”
Raegan Dutch, Kelston Auckland – When I read this it makes me wonder if it could be a good idea for you, your friend and your babies to spend time together at the park or try an activity like playgroup. This could make it easier to have conversations about the babies’ activities in a specific environment rather than talking about what they do or don’t do at other times in their day. When the discussion is focused on what is happening right in front of you it may help to avoid conversational “minefields”, allowing you to enjoy each other’s company and time with your babies.
Celia Perrott, Hawkes Bay – How mothers feed their babies does seem to be an emotionally charged subject at times, not helped much by media influences which often seem intent on driving a wedge between breastfeeding and bottle feeding mums. We as La Leche League mothers usually feel very passionate about exclusive breastfeeding, but in the reality of our society, the line is not always clear cut; quite a few mums feed both breast and formula milk, and others may wean from breastmilk onto formula, or others wanted to breastfeed, but it didn’t end up that way.
I think I would tend to agree with your friend wherever possible e.g. if she says how lucky you are, you could acknowledge that you have been fortunate in that respect (even if you don’t necessarily feel that it has been all down to luck!) as sometimes mothers may have faced large obstacles, or a lack of support in breastfeeding. Some mums may also feel a sense of failure or huge disappointment if breastfeeding didn’t work out well, as breastfeeding is so strongly promoted as the ideal, so it’s important to tread carefully and not invoke a defensive reaction. Research shows that the vast majority of mothers do intend to breastfeed, but there are many many factors which may jeopardize this (but that’s a whole separate subject).
On the talk about giving a bottle at night, just say that you have decided to stick with breastmilk for now as it’s working out okay, and if her baby is sleeping long hours at night perhaps say something positive about that, so she feels affirmed in what she is doing too. In this parenting lark I think it’s all about supporting one another and avoiding sensitive and controversial issues, especially if a friendship is valuable.Even if a good friend makes quite different parenting decisions from us, we can all respect difference and still give an encouraging word.
Adith Stoneman, Kelston Auckland – When we become mothers, many of us find ourselves bombarded by well meaning, loving people that give us advice. Sometimes that advice is quite helpful for mothers, however, often it is not, it is undermining a mother’s ability to mother her own baby, it is disempowering her and that is always wrong.
No person knows the baby better then the mother. She is the one that spends the most time with the baby, getting to know the baby better every day.Parenting styles are as varied as “babies”, and we as mothers/parents need to find the style that suits us and our babies best. Topics of feeding, sleeping, immunisation, returning to work etc are hotly debated issues by mothers/parents and the media. And maybe we need to just agree to disagree on these.
Many mothers find a network of support that has like-minded mothers/parents to help them on their parenting journey. I would encourage you to do just that. Find the women in your community that you can relate and talk to about issues of your parenting choice. If you have an opportunity to share issues with like-minded women, then you do not need to discuss this with your friend and tactfully you can avoid conversations about issues that you know you have different views on. We do not need to lose our friends because we have chosen a different way of parenting, though sadly we often do and I am sure that many mothers can relate to you.
Jill Allan, Melbourne – I didn’t experience this myself, having seen less and less of my antenatal group as they were moving in their own direction and I was taking the ‘LLL’ path. On the rare occasions I heard about what I considered a less-than-optimal breastfeeding experience, post-natal depression, whatever, in the past, I felt the best thing to do for my friend, in the present, was to listen, and to agree.
Your friend wants more than listening and agreeing, I think. She knows that the weight of medical, social and societal opinion is approving of your choice, while your babies are less than six months of age. In one of Pinky McKay’s books she discusses what is called bottle-feeding mothers’ “guilt” because she feels that it is not guilt but grief. This resonated with me, as having been on the receiving end of some deeply-felt tirades, the vehemence expressed by those mothers did seem more like a side effect of grief, rather than guilt. In my own experience, guilt doesn’t make me feel threatened or annoyed enough to attack other people, it’s just a faint sort of pang in my conscience which makes me want to apologise and do things differently next time; whereas grief is an actual pain.
Your friend seeks validation from you, as she “knows” she has “failed” and so unconsciously wants someone else to follow her methods so that she is not alone in her failure. It’s very tricky. If you say “yes, a nighttime bottle is a good idea,” then your friend will expect you to use one. Saying “I’m happy with the amount that my baby is sleeping right now,” could be seen as re-asserting the superiority of breastfeeding, which is already an open wound for your friend. “I can see that it works really well for you” is also slightly divisive so all I can think of is a change of subject – “Your baby is looking so well, s/he must have grown/be developing/learnt lots of new things.” Developmental steps forward, which babies make almost every day at this stage, are a good source of conversation. And then… some non-baby conversation! Take the babies out, visit a café, get some fresh air, walk through a shopping mall …
The weight of societal disapproval felt by your friend will ease as the two babies pass the age of six months. In my personal experience; which is outdated, but I am sure vestiges of this attitude remain – breastfeeding a six-month-old baby is a Very Good Thing, and breastfeeding a baby over the age of one is, for society at large, an equally Bad Thing.
As your friendsenses less general disapproval for her use of a bottle, and consequently feels more confident in the general ‘rightness’ of her mothering, you may gradually come to feel disapproval from others for continuing to do the thing that gained their complete approval less than twelve months ago.The same disapproval that your friend felt for not breastfeeding a small baby could swing round and attack you, for breastfeeding a toddler. And this may cause a shift in the friendship, making it even more difficult to sustain. “You should try a bottle” conversations could be replaced by conversations which begin “when are you going to wean?”
There will be more situations that test the strength of the part of your friendship that is not about babies. In my opinion, developing the non-baby areas the two of you have in common will see you through this and other differences. I am willing to bet that your opinions on the best time to toilet train are not going to be the same….
Robin Jones Greif, Blenheim – This can be a difficult situation, but it’s important to remember it may only be the first of many as your baby grows and your parenting choices increase. There are several approaches you could take, from emphasising the positive way you see your friend interacting with her baby to tackling the situation head on. If you are able to, a frank conversation may be helpful for both of you. You could tell her you can see how much your breastfeeding seems to upset her and you are sorry about this. She needs to know that her comments are damaging the friendship and this makes you sad. Mothering is not a competitive sport and focussing on all the many things you have in common is the only way you can move forward.
Please realise that your friend is grieving for the loss of the breastfeeding relationship she had dreamed of having before her baby was born and is taking this out on you by trying to undermine your breastfeeding experience. She may not even realise this is happening and may not appreciate how it is impacting on the friendship you shared. Hopefully this will get better with time as she realises that there are other ways to show that she is a ‘good’ mother. It would be great if, by the time she has her next baby, she can approach this as a new chance to breastfeed.
Janet Wilson, Papakura – I was in a similar situation. It became more and more difficult, and because both children were ‘firsts’ there were many situations (coffee groups were the worst) where comparisons were made about everything to do with our babies. I found that LLL became a great place to reaffirm my faith in breastfeeding and talk to my heart’s content about all things breastfeeding!
Gradually I made friends that were in the same parenting sphere. I planned my outings with other friends, and made sure I was feeling confident about my choices. It also helped to NOT get into discussions – not easy, but things like meeting at the pool, walking, and doing activities left less time for the minefield compared with sitting down and chatting.