Responding to Criticism

Do you feel worried about how to handle criticism about breastfeeding? La Leche League is here to help.

Many parents worry about criticism they may face while breastfeeding their baby. Some parents worry about criticism from their own friends, family members, or in-laws. Some parents worry about criticism from strangers when breastfeeding in public. Most parents have been criticized in their life at some point and can remember how this felt in the past. Criticism often leads to problems in relationships and can even be destructive to relationships if on a frequent basis. Past experiences with criticism makes it normal to desire to avoid criticism, however you cannot control what other people say to you, but you can control how you respond to criticism.

The most important parts of responding to criticism often lie in your tone of voice, your facial expression, and your body language. You may need to practice saying your responses in a mirror to ensure that you appear confident and non-threatening. Also, be sure that you take a deep, relaxing breath filling your lungs and brain with oxygen before you respond.

Begin and end your response with a positive statement about the other person. It’s helpful to “sandwich” your response in between positive statements about the other person so that they will be more receptive to your response and it will not lead to escalated conflict. Your response could be as simple as providing updated information and research about breastfeeding, as breastfeeding has not been normalized in some societies.

Healthy communication starts with “I” messages, instead of “you” messages. “I” messages convey what you are feeling and thinking in healthy ways. “You” messages are often received as attacking and threatening. A simple formula that is easy to remember with “I” messages is the following:  “I feel ___________ when ____________. I’d prefer if ____________________”.

This formula can help you to tailor your response to criticism to fit any situation inside and outside of breastfeeding.

Below are some ideas on how to respond to criticism in healthy ways, but feel free to change to your own experiences and preferences.

Criticism: Are you sure you have enough milk?

Response: I’m so glad that you care about the baby. My doctor says that as long as the baby is having 5-6 wet diapers and 2-3 bowel movements a day and is gaining weight that the baby is getting plenty of yummy breast milk. Thank you so much for checking in. It really shows how you care for the baby.

Criticism: I support breastfeeding, but [insert completely non-supportive statement here].

Response: Breastfeeding is an individual decision. It works for us, especially when we have support. I really feel supported when I’m told that I’m doing a good job and that I’m a good mother.

Criticism: That’s disgusting. Cover up!

Response: It’s natural and normal to breastfeed. Babies get hungry everywhere they go. I’m meeting my baby’s needs when I feed him when he’s hungry The World Health Organization recommends that babies are breastfed for up to two years or more if mother and baby desire. Believe me, I try to choose the most comfortable and sanitary place for my baby to breastfeed, just like adults do when they eat a meal.

Criticism: That baby is feeding AGAIN?!? You’re just a pacifier!

Response: I sometimes feel like a pacifier, but then I remember that pacifiers were designed to be like a breast so it’s completely normal for my baby to “use me as a pacifier”, because breasts are the original pacifier. I’m choosing the most natural way to care for my baby.

Criticism: Formula is just as good as breastfeeding.

Response: It’s amazing how much research has found out about the differences between breast milk and formula. I’d be happy to send you some of the findings and articles if you’re interested. (Here’s a helpful link https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/benefits/ )

Criticism: You have to wean when that baby gets teeth.

Response: I worry about biting too, but thankfully I have a lot of support from my the other mothers at La Leche League meetings who have given me tips on how to handle biting when it occurs. I’ve learned that it’s normal for babies to test out their new teeth and how to set healthy boundaries and limits so it’s not an ongoing problem for us. Parenting is always hard work!

Criticism: You’re STILL breastfeeding?

Response: Yes. [with a smile]

Finally, remember that you can always reach out to a La Leche League Leader who has nursed her own baby and handled criticism about breastfeeding over the years. La Leche League meetings can give you a place to vent your frustration about criticism from others and find support from others who know what it feels like to be breastfeeding in your community.