Mothers feel guilty whether they breastfeed or use formula

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Mothers just can't seem to catch a break! According to a new study, mothers are often made to feel guilty about the way they feed their children, no matter what they choose.

It seems that no matter how hard mothers try, and no matter what they do, they’ll always be subjected to guilt tripping. According to new research from the University of Liverpool, mothers experience guilt and stigma and often feel the need to defend their feeding choices, whether they breastfeed or bottle-feed, Science Daily reports.

The researchers asked over 1,600 mothers with infants up to 26 weeks old to fill out an online survey with questions about their experiences feeding their babies.

mothers guilty breastfeeding formula

Unsurprisingly, formula-feeding moms felt more guilt. The researchers found that 67% of formula feeding mothers felt the guiltiest, while 68% felt stigmatized, and 76% felt that they needed to defend their feeding choice. 

Breastfeeding mothers were less likely to experience these negative emotions, but they still occurred from time to time, especially with mothers who practiced mixed feeding. These mothers often received pressure from their family members, and also reported feeling stigma from breastfeeding in public.

Mothers who started out exclusively breastfeeding but stopped and mothers who had planned on exclusively breastfeeding during pregnancy were most likely to end up feeling guilty.

"They feel like they are failing to achieve the socially constructed status of the ‘good mother’"

“Women who breastfeed feel stressed about neglecting the rest of the family and other obligations, whereas women who do not breastfeed feel a sense of guilt about feeding their child something sub-optimal,” researcher Sophia Komninou explained in a media release.

“They also feel shame about having to explain to others why they are not breastfeeding which leads to them feeling like they are failing to achieve the socially constructed status of the ‘good mother’.”

Fellow researcher Victoria Fallon went on to say that the ‘breast is best’ message has done more harm than good. “We need to be very careful of the use of words in future breastfeeding promotion campaigns,” she said.

On the next page: why we should stop pressuring mothers.

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