If you haven’t already endured criticism about breastfeeding, brace yourself. At one point or another, nearly every breastfeeding mother is attacked for her decisions or actions. My guest, psychotherapist Sandra Reich, confirmed what I’ve seen over and over. First, holiday time seems to be a prime time for family members to offer criticism. Second, breastfeeding is often an emotionally loaded issue.
So be prepared for criticism – whether it’s verbal remarks or just critical glances. How should you respond? Maybe every fiber of your being wants to lash out. Don’t take the bait! Given the science, my own experience, and tips from Sandra, I’d like to suggest 7 effective approaches for dealing with criticism about breastfeeding your child.
1. Use non-response responses
Often, you can get away with something as vague as “Hmmm or “Uh-huh.” If you want to up the ante, you can throw in, “Oh, you’ve raised an interesting point there.” These responses are a great way to say something without actually saying anything at all. Sometimes, this is all you need to do.
2. Focus on the “other” with active listening
Communication experts have been teaching active listening for years, and with good reason. It’s a great way to diffuse the situation, because you’re focusing on the other person’s remarks or feelings, rather than defending yourself or your own words.
Have some pre-made sound bites to use when you encounter criticism about breastfeeding. Examples of responses might include, “I can see you have very strong feelings about this,” or “I’m so glad that approach worked well for you and your baby.” These or similar responses can help you avoid a squabble.
3. Provide information or authorities
The critical relative or friend picking on you may find it harder to question the authority of your child’s doctor or the American Academy of Pediatrics. Don’t hesitate to quote some professional or some organization as the be-all and end-all of knowledge. This approach will often shut down your opponent. (Not always!)
4. Focus on YOUR decision
Over the years, I’ve learned that breastfeeding, like how to style your hair or who you go to bed with, is a very personal decision. You have no obligation to put up with criticism about breastfeeding your baby. It’s your baby; your decision.
Therefore, make the decision that you feel is best for you and your baby, and stick to it. A comeback like, “This works for our family in our situation, but it might not work for you,” or “Maybe you tried it and it didn’t work for you. I get that,” can often help you to take control of the situation without being combative.
5. Use humor
If someone says, “If he’s old enough to ask for that, he’s too old to have it!” you could come back with, “Yeah, he’s 3 years old. Wow, if he asks for a Lamborghini, what am I going to do?”
6. Enlist others to help support you
Ask your partner or other supportive friend or family member to help run interference. Especially if you know of particular people who will be more vocal with their criticism about breastfeeding, having someone else help to diffuse the situation and can help things stay pleasant.
7. Try a last-ditch effort if things get out of hand
Sometimes, no matter how you try to deflect criticism, you’re stuck. You can try to find some common ground, or just admit that the gap is too big to close. When necessary, resort to, “We’re really at odds here. Let’s just agree to disagree and remain friends (happy sisters, or whatever.)”
In our lively conversation, I gleaned from Sandra two approaches that don’t work:
(1) Don’t sit there and take it as though it never happened.
(2) Don’t take the bait by defending yourself with a litany of logical reasons.
Instead, acknowledge that you heard the comment, but further discussion is off-limits. Sandra emphasized the importance of setting boundaries and having consequences, and without them, it’s hard to create healthy relationship with yourself and others.
Join me as Sandra and I help you to activate your criticism-radar, find ways to prevent or minimize criticism, and respond to others in ways are more effective than lashing out.
How do you handle parenting or breastfeeding criticism? Let me know in the comments below!