To Be Honest: A pregnant woman writes about judgemental, out of touch breastfeeding advocates

They saw my pregnant bump from afar and they came for me with their judgment. But the smug, patronising earth-mothers with their leaflets on how proper, decent mothers breastfeed had chosen the wrong target.

“No thanks,” I said politely, and walked on. She was having none of it and followed me through the shopping centre. “It’s just a leaflet explaining the benefits of breastfeeding, with some practical advice and support,” she said.

“No, thank you,” I said through gritted teeth, continuing to walk. “I’ve made my decisions about my body, thanks, and I will be bottlefeeding.”

“Would you not just look at the leaflet?” she responded with evident disgust, as though I’d told her I was planning on leaving my baby in a faeces-ridden pit full of ravenous tigers and refined sugars while I went off on a three-day crystal-meth binge.

The relentless campaign to "educate" women about the benefits of breastfeeding is intrusive and classist. Whole university departments dedicate studies to it. In 2005, NUI Galway came out with a five-year strategic action plan on breastfeeding. Last year, the Economic and Social Research Institute produced a study on the topic.

I couldn’t get into it with this woman so I just walked off, seething at her presumptuousness. I have very personal, medical reasons for not being able to breastfeed. Bottlefeeding is my only option.

My kids are well cared for and loved without me being stuck to a chair for six months, crippled with mastitis, unable to work or to have any life of my own. And they’re well cared for because they are not from a socially disadvantaged background, and they get fed three times a day – or more, in the baby’s case. But you’ll never see the purveyors of guilt and shame, who are usually fortunate enough to be able to afford to stay at home to care for their children, out with leaflets campaigning about the real cause of illness or deprivation or anti-social behaviour: poverty.

The news that poorer mothers in the UK are to be bribed with £200 (€240) if they breastfeed is another example of middle-class comfort divorced from the reality of people’s lives. This is repugnant.

Poverty and inequality cause the greatest problems for children, not formula milk over bottled milk. If lactivists genuinely cared about kids, instead of banging their sanctimonious hobby horse, they’d encourage us to use our resources to make sure that every kid gets a decent breakfast and lunch in school.

Breastfeeding is fantastic for women who can do it and who also want to do it. They should be supported but, despite the great intentions of the many good organisations, most of my friends gave up within a few weeks. I can’t breastfeed, nor do I want to. This does not make me a bad mother. Stop treating me like a failed object of pity. Stop trying to control my body.

Contributions are welcome for this anonymous column, which offers a voice on aspects of education. Email education@irishtimes.com