Why you shouldn’t ask, “Are you breastfeeding?”

Are you breastfeeding or bottlefeeding?

Talk about a loaded question! New mamas look at me and assume the answer I expect, not knowing the response I will give. Breast is best, right? I can see on their faces the worry that I will judge their answer and, in turn, their fitness to be a new mother. They have often been bombarded with the same question since early in their pregnancies. Well-meaning people asking, “Are you going to nurse?” Or the less thinly veiled, “You’re going to nurse, right?”

Breastfeeding pressure is increasing across the board. Doctors, nurses, and even hospitals have increasingly gotten behind the “breast is best” message. Baby friendly hospitals have increased in number — the expectation being that mothers who deliver there will nurse or at least try to nurse. The pressure to nurse is so high in some areas that a backlash campaign “fed is best” has launched.

I want what is best for baby and mother. For some, breastfeeding comes much easier than for others. Some babies have trouble with their latches, and some mothers have delayed lactation or short supply. Some babies tolerate the first few days after birth, waiting for the volume of milk to increase, and some do not. They lose too much weight (greater than the 5–10 percent that is acceptable) in the first few days after birth, become dehydrated, have low blood sugar, or become jaundiced.

Breastfeeding requires education and support that is not always there. In addition, successful, long-term breastfeeding requires something that is often in short supply with moms in the US: time. We expect our moms to bounce back into not only the workforce but into their pre-baby lives fast — too fast if you are one struggling with breastfeeding. I get that.

If breastfeeding is your goal, then your pediatrician should do everything they can to support you. For many, breastfeeding is one of the highlights of new motherhood, and moms who want that experience should have it. Support without agenda is the key here. Being pushed or bullied into breastfeeding is not fair. Monitoring baby for trouble signs while problem solving those first few weeks of nursing are my reasons for asking — and I won’t judge, no matter the answer.


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