Too Many Parents Have Felt Judged For How They Feed Their Babies

It’s a pretty bleak picture that more than half (53%) of parents have felt judged for how they feed their babies – with parents of bottle-fed babies facing the most scrutiny.

A new survey of 1,000 parents found 57% of bottle-feeding parents reported being judged for using a bottle, compared to 38% of parents who breastfeed.

At a time when parents are already having to learn how to – well – parent (not to mention navigating their own hormones, sleep deprivation, and a shift in their entire routine), they’re also facing judgement over how they choose to feed their little ones. And it’s not OK.

In fact, one in four (25%) parents said being judged for their decisions has had a negative impact on their mental health, according to the poll by Tommee Tippee.

It’s one of the reasons why TV presenter Stacey Dooley has teamed up with the baby brand to launch #TheSocialFeed: a movement showcasing everyone’s unique feeding stories.

“Before becoming a mum myself I really had underestimated how contentious an issue feeding your baby can be,” said Dooley, who gave birth to her first child with Strictly’s Kevin Clifton earlier this year.

“Everybody’s circumstances are so so different, and the idea that new parents can feel judged is just so unhelpful. As if they haven’t got enough to worry about!”

The campaign has already prompted parents to share their own feeding journeys and experiences of being judged.

In response to an Instagram post by Dooley, one parent revealed how she had trouble breastfeeding so she opted to bottle-feed instead – and was shamed by her husband’s family for doing so.

“I unfortunately had babies at the same time as sister-in-laws who were able to take to breastfeeding and were able to feed successfully. My mother-in-law did make the comment of I must be ‘lazy and it’s not that difficult’,” recalled the parent. “This was feedback I would get from my husband also.

“My husband came to understand the difficulties I had with our second child, when after months of trying to breastfeed and seeing nurses, I was told to start my child on formula as she was not gaining weight.

“This reduced some stigma, but still hurt when my mother-in-law would comment on how easy it was for my sister-in-law to do it, and I should put more effort in ... As a mother, you need to do what’s best for your child, it is hard, but it is your choice.”

It echoes the experience of Jessica Barrett, who wrote for Grazia last year about the stigma she’d faced for formula feeding her baby and the “implication that you’ve made a lazy decision or you don’t care about the health benefits of breastfeeding”.

Another mother, who has epilepsy, revealed she didn’t want her baby to be exposed to her medication through breast milk so she opted to formula feed instead, but felt judged for doing so.

“Professionals encouraged me to breastfeed and kept telling me the benefits of ‘breast is best’,” she said. “I had to challenge this by stating that they couldn’t tell me the side effects of my medication when pregnant, then encourage me to keep giving this medication to my baby. There was no response to this.

“It’s a shame that, in the 21st century, situations like this are still present as opposed to simple outright support.”

And even those who are breastfeeding face scrutiny – not so much at the beginning, but certainly as your baby ages. One mum revealed she breastfed her daughter for 2.8 years “but received a lot of negative comments along the way” – mostly, ‘isn’t it time to stop?’

In response to the survey, one in three (33%) parents admitted feeling guilty after being judged for their feeding choices, while 27% felt like they were a failure as a parent.

There’s already so much pressure piled on parents – a new survey by Unicef reveals 70% think being a parent is getting harder each year, citing the cost of living, lack of childcare, having less time to spend with their children and fewer support services as reasons for this.

So really, the last thing we need is to be shamed over how we’re feeding our little ones, too. At the end of the day, fed is best – and we’d all do well to remember it.