insert emoticon here, The Tiniest Capen, working mother

Judgey McJudgerson

I’ve been reading parenting boards, looking for perspective and ideas. But I’m seriously annoyed by how often, when women ask for help with bottle or formula feeding, they are told how to breastfeed or pump better, instead.

I asked my first and last question about formula feeding in one group — G was getting constipated as we had to increase her supplementation with formula, as I returned to work and found I was unable to maintain my breastmilk supply at a level high enough to meet her appetite — and got two or three comments on how to ease constipation in an infant. I got 3 times as much feedback on how to augment my milk supply so I could stop giving her formula. I ran out of polite ways to say “I’ve tried that, I’m doing yay, that one didn’t work,” and stopped myself before I said “and does anyone want to answer the question I actually asked? Because my husband and I are fine with our choices and you aren’t helping me.” They all meant well. Much of it was good advice. But it wasn’t the help I asked for, or the help I needed.

Another woman, on another board, asked for advice on transitioning her breastfed infant to bottles and formula, as she was returning to work and knew that pumping would be complex and likely unsuccessful. All the replies were about how breastfeeding would be better, with three people who wrote variations on the theme that she should petition/complain/sue her employer for failing to make breastfeeding and pumping easy for her per the law, or she should extend her maternity leave, or she should find a new job. No one offered advice on transitioning to bottles and formula. Essentially, because she had the audacity to admit publicly that it’s hard to be a working mother, and she might not succeed with breastfeeding with her personal constraints, she was told she should try harder, and that her solutions were wrong, and no help was offered.

There are all these lovely essays about how motherhood is hard, and we’re all doing the best we can and we need to be kinder to ourselves and acknowledge that our choices and instincts about what is right for our family are valid and worthy. And then there are all these people who seem to just be waiting to tell you exactly how wrong you are when you follow those instincts and make those choices.

Justin is often confused because I say I don’t want to be part of big and expansive communities, that I don’t want to invite multitudes Into my life. He sees that as a weakness: you have less support when your community is small. But, man. I just… Parenting isn’t actually making me reconsider that feeling of mine. This is really a big part of why I prefer solitude: when no one knows what you’re doing, no one can judge you.

More than that, I wish motherhood wasn’t social competition, and that we trusted each other to make the best possible choices for our own families. But we, apparently, don’t.


  1. Oh, I’ve been there. It didn’t seem to matter that my son was allergic to my breast milk (even after an elimination diet) and was perfect on hypoallergenic formula. I was told I should basically give up eating everything and be miserable, while likely making my child miserable in the process, in order to feed my child breast milk. Amazingly, he’s five, already does multiplication, and is happy as a clam so I’m thinking he wasn’t all that scarred by using formula.

    Mom boards are horrible cesspools of judgment and moral superiority. I will say that it gets better when they’re toddlers, though I think it’s possibly because one needs less advice when they’re that age. I’m sure there’s no less judgment, but I didn’t seek it out anymore.

    I remember giving Reed prune juice, pear juice, and (I think) apricot juice when he had similar issues around 4 or 5 months. Good luck! And don’t forget for a second what a great mom you are.

  2. I just take for granted that no matter what I’m doing, I’m Doing It Wrong, in someone’s eyes. But I don’t actually care about them, so whatever.

    My participation in mom groups steadily declined over the first year, as she differentiated from Unknown Fetus into Unique Person, and I found the general advice less and less relevant anyway.

    (That said, if you haven’t watched the movie Her, there’s this throwaway scene with a video game called “Perfect Mom” that is so satirically hilarious I was almost falling out of my chair laughing…)

    1. (Oh, and yeah, I totally got the panicky email all of a few weeks into my stint back at work from G, that they’d run out of frozen milk and were rushing off to the convenience store to buy formula. Which, i mean, of COURSE they were. I was teaching and our rotating schedule meant it was not possible to pump on any kind of a consistent schedule – sure I had a private room, but you cannot pump and teach a room full of 12-year-old boys during the same period, you just can’t – and little miss gargantaur was consuming like 1000+ calories a day at that time in her quest to gain a pound a week for two months straight, so, like, AS IF, right? And anyone who has a problem with the fact that I was feeding my child rather than quitting my job can go to hell.)


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