Dealing with criticism

What do I do when my family criticizes me all the time?

Nearly all family members want what is best for the new baby, but they may disagree with about what is best. It can be helpful to understand their point of view by asking about their experiences. Some women struggled with breastfeeding and may still feel sad or angry. Criticism of breastfeeding can be deflected with humour or information about the benefits of breastfeeding. Persistent criticism may need to be met head-on. 

A) Describing reasons for criticism

Probably everyone in your family wants the best for your baby, but they may have different attitudes about what is best (Angelo 2020). Their views can be formed by their own experiences or their culture and can affect not just breastfeeding, but every aspect of child-care. The birth of a baby brings about many changes in the family. Just as you are learning to be a new parent, others too, have a new role.

B) Dealing with criticism of breastfeeding

Having a supportive family is very important to breastfeeding success (Ganle 2019).

If a family member is truly critical of breastfeeding, try understanding their point of view by asking about their experience with breastfeeding and with babies. A lot of older women struggled to breastfeed because they received bad information and no support. They may remain angry, guilty, or sad about it, and this colours their views on breastfeeding.

The mother of one patient at our clinic said that after the birth of her daughter in the 1970s, her doctor had her put some of her breast milk into a test tube. He held it up to the light and said the milk wasn’t good and that she should not breastfeed. Of course, the doctor’s behaviour and opinion were wrong; you can’t test breast milk by looking at it. She remained very sad and upset by this difficult experience and was worried that her daughter would have the same problem.

C) Stopping the criticism

Try the following approaches to stop or reduce the criticism

1) Talk about how you feel

Some family members see their comments as helpful suggestions and might not realize that they are causing stress or pain. This may be sorted out with an open discussion.

If a family member continues to make you feel bad or criticize you as you breastfeed, try the following approaches. If one doesn’t work, move on to the next:

2) Humour

Humour is the first tool as it can be a very good way to diffuse a tense situation. Here are some suggestions. When others:

  • Question your decision to breastfeed, consider responding with:
    • “Just following the doctor’s orders!”
  • Raise concerns about the baby not taking in enough milk, consider responding with:
    • “I’m sure I have lots of good milk. Just look at those fat thighs.”
    • “Given all of the swallowing and choking, I’m sure we’re fine.”
    • “If the baby can spit up that much milk, I must be making lots of it!”
  • Suggest the baby is now too old to breastfeed, and ask:
    • If you are still breastfeeding, consider responding with:
      • “Yes.”
      • “Just following the doctor’s orders!”
    • How much longer you are going to breastfeed, consider responding with:
      • “About ten minutes.”

3) Education

Sharing evidence-based information that supports breastfeeding can be helpful in taking the pressure off of you. Education about the process of breastfeeding can help if family members and friends are not comfortable seeing you breastfeed.

You can also involve health-care providers and breastfeeding specialists in sharing information.

4) Distraction

Distraction won’t fix the problem but it will give everyone a chance to calm down and collect their thoughts. 

For example, you may consider asking the family member to help you with a household task that will take them out of the room or out of the house. 

5) Drawing the line

If the criticizing continues, you can calmly identify the problem comments and inform the individual that it is negatively affecting your relationship with them. We call this drawing the line. 

This is never easy and may be something you and your partner need to do together, especially if it is your partner’s mother or family who is criticizing. 

References

Angelo BHB, Pontes CM, Sette GCS, et al. Knowledge, attitudes and practices of grandmothers related to breastfeeding: a meta-synthesis. Rev Lat Am Enfermagem. 2020;28:e3214

Ganle JK, Bedwei-Majdoub VM. Discontinuation of Exclusive Breastfeeding in Ghana: A Longitudinal, One-Group Observational Study of Postnatal Mothers With Children 0-6 Months old. J Hum Lact. 2019 Aug 29:890334419871012