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Bottle-Feeding Shame

Bottle Shame

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I recently found your blog, and find your advice to be just wonderful. I am hoping you can provide some of your thoughts for my situation.

I just had my first baby (a sweet boy) a few months ago.  During my pregnancy I was fully committed to exclusively breastfeeding my son. I took classes at the hospital, met with a lactation consultant and went to two private seminars.  I even bought a pump (even though I KNOW I was told a million times to just rent until you know whether you need one), stocked up on nursing tanks, bras, etc.

Okay, so you can imagine what happened next.  I exclusively nursed as planned but things soon fell apart.  I was undersupplied, and I was told by my pediatrician to supplement with formula. I was a total mess about it, and I sobbed as my husband gave him his first bottle. I literally could not be in the room while he did it.  I did everything I could to get my supply up – visits from my LC, pumping after each nursing session, fenugeek capsules, mother’s milk tea…..

Emotionally, I was a total wreck.  I would cry when I pumped because I would get so little milk; cry while nursing because my son was not getting enough; cry each time we had to give a bottle; cry when my son cried because he was hungry.  I felt like such a failure as a woman (i.e. my boobs don’t work), and as a mother (i.e. I cannot provide food for my baby).  Yet, I continued to try to nurse and pump.  After about 6 weeks of this, and after consulting with my OB and pediatrician, we decided to just make the switch to formula exclusively.

And you know what?  It was not the parade of horrors I made it in my mind to be.  In fact, our lives changed dramatically for the better. I was a million times happier.  Feeding time became really enjoyable.

My son was no longer fussing with hunger and became quite content after feedings.  My husband was happy to have his old, happy-go-lucky, wife back.  The grandparents were thrilled to be able to give a bottle and bond with their grandson in that way.  My sister was so happy to babysit so my husband and I could have a date night.  All in all, everything is GREAT!

Enter problem:  people are constantly asking me “Are you breastfeeding?”  Seriously – even total strangers.  People even ask my husband whether we are breastfeeding.  I don’t know how to respond to these people.  If I say no, I can just feel the judgment.  I get responses like – “oh, it’s so much better for the baby,”  “I loved breastfeeding – I did it for a year…”.  So, I switched to responding with, “I am not anymore,” thinking that would indicate that I at least tried.  But that invited follow up questions like “why did you stop?”, “did you stop because you are getting ready to go back to work?”

Ugh.  So then I found myself going into the long (and extremely personal) story and find myself babbling on and on to people I barely know about how much I wanted to but it didn’t work out etc.  Finally we went out to dinner with a couple who also recently had a baby.  My husband and I decided on the way over there that if asked, we would just lie and say yes.  But, I really don’t want to lie.   At the same time, I want to convey the fact that I 100% agree that breastfeeding is best, and I truly wish it worked out for us.  Facing these questions just brings up the flood of emotions (“I am a failure as a mom and woman”) that I am finally getting past.

So, the question is – what should I say to these people?  I don’t even understand why they ask in the first place!?

Thank you so much for listening.
Exclusive formula feeder

Okay, funny story here. Well, not “funny,” but more as Exhibit A in the case of You Just Cannot Win With Some People No Matter What You Do: We went out for dinner with some friends and friends of these friends a couple weeks ago, children included. At one point Ike wanted to nurse, and I quietly pulled a nursing cover out of my bag and got to it. An older husband and wife immediately turned to me and start asking me questions: Did I breastfeed all my children, for how long, etc. Gah. Yikes. Hi. Nice to meet you too.

It turned out, though, that they really were very passionate about breastfeeding, and simply wanted to let me know that I was among friends and supporters who wouldn’t be offended if I opted to skip the cover. It was clumsy, I admit, but she was of the generation that simply didn’t support breastfeeding at ALL, so nursing her children had been a struggle and something she really, really fought for acceptance over.

I was nodding in admiration until she launched into a story about how she once wrote a letter to a daytime talk show host for slamming breastfeeding as “gross,” and in rebuttal she brought up the some of the show’s OTHER guests who were the “real freaks” and basically the entire conversation disintegrated into a horrible tirade of homo- and transphobia and I was left sitting there with my mouth hanging wide open because STOP STOP STOP.

Basically: Even if you’re doing what people think is the “right” answer, that doesn’t necessarily give you a free pass from The Crazy.

It’s possible that the people asking you “constantly” about whether you’re nursing are not have good intentions — they’re trying to awkwardly telegraph their support to you, to let you know it’s okay to whip a boob out in their presence, or are simply grasping at the first baby-related topic they have personal experience with in an attempt to have something in common with you. Or they’re just socially clueless, overstepping morons. Or some combination of all of the above.

(Not to mention that even if you WERE breastfeeding, you’d probably feel like you were “constantly” judged for that, too…getting the stink-eye for nursing in public, getting questioned about “how long” you plan to nurse for and when you say “I don’t know, I don’t really have a plan” get an earful about that person’s cousin’s roommate who nursed for TWO YEARS and isn’t that DISGUSTING, like CHILD ABUSE and all you want to do is get away from this person but OH RIGHT THERE’S A KID ON YOUR BOOB AND YOU CAN’T GO ANYWHERE.)

Anyway. Back to your question. I, too, had a terrible time breastfeeding my first baby. I have told people that there is not enough money in the WORLD to make me ever go back to trying to breastfeed a first baby. It’s so highly charged and emotional, because yes, I felt EVERYTHING you described: Failure, shame, regret, etc. We never nursed exclusively and I usually say we “limped along” for about five months with a combination of nursing (followed immediately by a bottle), me at work barely pumping enough milk to dilute his rice cereal, and formula. Lots and lots of formula. Like you, when I finally put it all behind me and accepted that my child would be exclusively bottle-fed, we were all a lot, lot happier.

I never developed a one-size-fits-all response to the question, once we weaned: If it was another mother simply looking for some kind of common ground, I would say we gave breastfeeding our best shot for as long as we could. If I liked her, I might volunteer something about my supply issues due to scar tissue from a botched cyst aspiration. That’s like, the mega-ultra-condensed one-sentence version of the story, but it was usually enough to satisfy someone who genuinely meant well and make them realize it was time to change the subject. If the person pressed, I would very cheerfully say that actually, I really don’t feel like talking about this, if you don’t mind. Still kind of a sore spot, let’s talk about something else. 

If I didn’t feel going into details, I changed the subject to something still baby-related but less sensitive: No, we’re not breastfeeding anymore, it didn’t really work out the way I hoped but hey! How old were your kids when they started sleeping through the night? When did you start solids? I love your son’s shoes/coat/hat, where did you get them? Aim for honest, matter-of-fact, but then shut that topic DOWN before the nosy question-asker gets a chance to respond.

It’s different when you’re talking about random strangers that you have no real interest in talking to in the first place — changing the subject doesn’t work when you don’t particularly care to hear what they have to say on any topic in general. I don’t have the perfect, witty comeback that shuts down any and all follow-up question that leaves the person subtly shamed yet not offended and lets you walk away feeling just great and not irritated. I usually ended up saying whatever I thought would best end the conversation at the time. I usually was wrong.

It SUCKS that people feel they have the right to judge moms who use formula. It’s SO FRUSTRATING, and then breastfeeding advocates wonder how they’ve ended up with an image problem. I swear I have never, ever asked a new mom — even close friends! — if they breastfeed or bottlefeed. I figure if we hang out enough, I’ll see whether she pulls out a boob or a bottle eventually. If it’s a boob, then maybe I’ll talk about my experiences. If it’s a bottle, well, I have a lot of experiences with those, too. Ooh, is that a Dr. Brown’s? I love those! Etc.

Remember, these people’s judgment that you feel? That you’re driving yourself crazy over trying to avoid or appease? DOESN’T MATTER. You will never please everybody. Somebody out there is always — ALWAYS — going to look at your parenting choices and think “UR DOIN IT WRONG.” Breastfeeding today, the “wrong” kind of baby food tomorrow, lunch at McDonald’s the day after that.

Some things are easier to develop a thick skin over than others — and it’s completely understandable that your breastfeeding experience is still a bit chapped and raw for you. That will get better, I promise. One day you’ll re-read your letter to me and those paragraphs about how hard you tried and how much it sucked and you’ll realize that a new layer of confidence has grown over the wound: You tried SO HARD and that is AWESOME and then you made the RIGHT CHOICE to focus on being a mother to your baby, rather than spend all your time crying and feeling like nothing more than a malfunctioning dairy case. That’s a WIN in my book.

I totally understand the urge to want to get credit for time served, for at least TRYING to nurse. I did the same thing. (Mostly because NOBODY wants to be the mom who didn’t even TRY, right? Right? She’s the WORST MOM EVER LET’S JUDGE HER TOGETHER.) (That was sarcasm, and lots of it.) But looking back…eh. I don’t even remember any of the people I had those conversations with now. It clearly wasn’t worth all the worry I put into it, wishing I could keep myself from rambling to waitresses and the Internet that no, we’re not nursing anymore but I tried and it sucked and I did everything I swear oh God please don’t try to suggest something that I could have done differently because it’s too late and that doesn’t help GAH. And then coming up with the perfect comeback a few hours later.

It got easier once I learned to own my decision — even though it didn’t really feel like “my” decision for a long time, since it all felt so out of my hands and control — and just answer as matter-of-factly as possible. Nope, bottle-feeding for now, I would have liked to nurse for longer but it didn’t work for us, that’s wonderful to hear you had such a good experience now excuse me I need to be going now, nice meeting you etc. If they judge you, whatever. They’re clueless and they don’t know you or your baby. Who is being FED, by the way, which is kind of the POINT.

The good news is that as your baby gets older, you SHOULD stop hearing the breastfeeding question so often. And then practically not at all. It’s funny how all those passionate, nosy strangers suddenly morph in the “you’re STILL nursing that kid, omg, he has TEETH, he can practically ASK FOR IT!” types.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Michelle

    October 26, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    If it makes you feel any better, I think people simply just don’t know what to say or ask sometimes when they want to have a conversation with you. If it wasn’t breastfeeding, then it would be another topic. I am an adoptive mom and people feel like they can ask me all kinds of questions about my kids, right in front of the kids, even strangers at the grocery store. I decided a long time ago to first look to the person’s true intention. If they are genuinely curious about my family, then I give them a brief but honest answer and politely move on. If they are trying to be rude or critical, then I chose to ignore them. I completely feel that you actually do not “owe” anyone an explanation. A good trick I use sometimes is to respond to their question with a question. For example, “Are you breastfeeding?” and respond, “Why do you ask?” It will sometimes launch the person into their own story and they magically forget about you and the original question and you never have to answer to them. Or they will feel downright awkward saying, “Because I am nosy and curious about your life.” and I think the awkwardness kind of points out the rudeness in their question in the first place. As a plus, it gives you a moment to pause and determine if you want to engage this person at all. Good luck!

  • roo

    October 26, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    Oh, can I just tell you how reassuring and lovely it was to come across this article today?

    I have a two-month-old that I’ve never been able to nurse (though, like the OP, I’d planned to– studied, bought supplies, and so forth.) I’m on medication. But I can’t even talk about that to people who ask, because “Really? What medication? What for?”

    …and I really don’t want to talk about any of that– particularly not with people I just met– because it’s the sort of thing that elicits even more judgment and shame than not breastfeeding.

    And I cried and cried when I found out I couldn’t do “what’s best for my son. But I don’t see why random strangers and new acquaintances need to know all that– though I’m insecure, like most new moms, so I can’t seem to shake this need to justify my actions.

    But you know what? Formula is what’s best for my son. In these circumstances, with me as the mom in question.

    It’s such a relief to be able to say that, and not feel like I’ll be chased with torches and pitchforks. Thank you both for that. 

  • Cassie

    October 26, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    I switched to exclusively formula at 4 months due to a low supply. (Seriously, people would talk about pumping 6-8 ounces a SESSION, and I was barely getting 6 ounces A DAY, which was nowhere near enough for the kiddo while he was in daycare. Not even CLOSE.) People would ask all the time, and I’d casually shrug it off with “We did (breastfeed) but I had supply issues, but Kiddo is doing just great and growing like a weed,” followed by a quick switch in topic.
    The harder part is exactly what Amalah said – OWNING the decision and not feeling… whatever… about it. Don’t beat yourself up for doing what you needed to do. Don’t feel the need to explain to ANYONE. Do congratulate yourself for the breastfeeding you did do. Do congratulate yourself for a happy son and family.
    The whole contraversy of whether you did or did not breastfeed will be forgotten in the blink of an eye (they do tend to grow up SO FAST) and what’ll be left is the quality of the time you had. Don’t let an issue like this ruin it.

  • Kathryn

    October 26, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    These stories drive me nuts. My son ended up on a feeding tube at 9 months old because he was solely breastfed and wasn’t getting what he needed from me (and he had a growth on his tongue that had to be removed through surgery, so bottles weren’t an option as he couldn’t move his tongue). He only needed the tube for 3 months and is now a perfectly healthy 4 year old with no eating issues whatsoever, but it still annoys me that people kept pushing me to breastfeed when obviously it wasn’t working at all for my son. Monthers need to do what works for them and what keeps their children alive, and no one has the right to judge any of them for that.

  • JenVegas

    October 26, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    My supply started running low when I went back to work and I felt bad about the semi-gradual conversion to formula for like a minute. I think you have to decide for yourself that what’s best for your baby is that he is healthy and happy and what’s best for mom and dad is that if they are both healthy and happy and if that means formula then whatever to all of those type of people who will judge you. You don’t owe them any explanations and I think that if you can project that energy into your answer (whatever you decide it will be) you can shut down a conversation if you need to.
    I have a lot of friends who have had babies over the last couple of years and their breast feeding efforts run the gamut from never even tried to tried but failed to did for a while but then quit because she wanted to be able to drink beer again to still going strong with no plans to stop anytime soon and not a single one of them judges the other.

  • Laura

    October 26, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    Michelle – “Why do you ask?” is a brilliant response to people’s questions about breastfeeding, or anything related to parenting really. I wish’d I’d thought of that when the scowly old lady in the grocery store cornered me and my then-6-month-old daughter last year in the orange juice aisle and said “you’re not going get her a flu shot, are you?”.

  • Katie

    October 26, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    I could have written this letter–pretty much every last sentence from the prenatal prep work to the vicious cycle of nurse/bottle/pump hell (and only pumping an ounce or two a day, total) to, on the advice of my LC, quitting at six weeks, and realizing exactly how much happier you are. Minus the sobbing and self-hate when you have to buy a can of formula at Target.

    I was never good at answering questions of why we quit. Mostly, I think I launched into verbal diarrhea about how low my supply was, and how really! I promise! I did everything I could!

    I really only felt better about quitting (and admitting to it) when I finally accepted that there are lots of women who can’t, or choose not, to breastfeed, and that is a perfectly valid choice. This post is only tangentially related to low supply, but it made me feel tons better: http://my–fascinating– Essentially, it’s what the author said the verb is much more important than the adjective.

    Sadly, I still haven’t come up with something that sums this up in a perfect witty comeback. But know that the time for comebacks is very, very short. Because now that my son is 18 months? I haven’t been asked about breastfeeding in quite a while.

  • Jen K.

    October 26, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    Same thing happened with us — a lactation consultant once had me formula-feed my first in her office after I tried to nurse, and then sent me home with a bag-full of formula samples. (Turns out I have hyposplastic breasts and this tissue didn’t develop properly during puberty). I got the question all the time — even from cashiers at the grocery store (!). I lied to the cashiers. Friends I would say that I would have loved to but I have a medical issue that keeps me from producing milk. End of story. I was so much happier when I just accepted the formula was what was best for our family.

  • Procrastamom

    October 26, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    It just makes me sick to my stomach to think that a new Mom is sitting there fretting and crying and worrying about feeding her baby formula.  You know why she does that?  Because of all of the misinformation and scare media and Judgey McLactivists who constantly scream, “Formula!!  Poison!!!”  It makes me so angry.  Can we all just agree that FEEDING your baby is best and that a happy mom really does equal a happy baby?  Please?

  • Kari

    October 26, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    My standard response to rude questions is to calmly say, “I am not sure why you would ask me that.” I think it would work for rude comments, too: “I am not sure why you would say that.” And then just let it hang there. 

    I like Michelle’s answer up there, too: “Why do you ask?” It’s a little less pointed, but still gets the message across. 🙂

  • Jennifer

    October 26, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    Funny, I was all prepared to shame nosy people into never asking another woman about breastfeeding (2 pound, 6 ounce preemie at 31 weeks, who spent 7 weeks in the NICU, and is still on 24 calories per ounce at 5 months; severe preeclampsia that didn’t go away with delivery, to the tune of the ER and readmission when my BP spiked to 215/100+; round-the-clock pumping for two months, so I could deliver not-enough food to the hospital; NINE LCs; useless herbs and a 48-hour bout with Reglan that made me a basketcase–yeah, suffice to say I never really got the lactation thing down)–but the two times it actually happened to me, I didn’t have the cojones to pull it out. 🙂  “I have a preemie, and my milk never really came in” is enough, now that I’m finally out of the bitterness.  But O.M.G. did I beat myself up about it, for months.  I know 99% of people are just curious, and I surprisingly have no problem talking about the NICU experience and my preeclampsia (trying to spread the Gospel, I suppose), but jeez, we’re all using formula for a reason.  People should learn to mind their own business!!

  • Kristen

    October 26, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    Someone once told me that a good response to a baby related “shame” question is “are you and your husband/wife/whatever still having sex?” Because seriously? No ones business!
    I had a man once ask me if I breastfed and how long. When I told him six months (6 months of exclusive bottle feeding breast milk that I pumped every damn day at least 3 hours a day due to poor sucking), he told me he preferred to hear 12 months! I sat with my mouth agape for a minute, until he walked away to unleash his boorish opinions on someone else.

  • Heidi

    October 26, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    This is a refreshing post–I, too, was a breastfeeding failure with my first, third, and fourth children. And that despite the fact that I am an NICU nurse with certification in lactation! (My second child breastfed like a champ until 18 mos. Go figure.) I can completely relate to all of the emotions in this post and in the comments. I agree with Procrastamom that the “lactavist” culture can be so hurtful to a new mom struggling with breastfeeding. Too often their attitude is that breastfeeding is totally natural and easy, so they only reason a mom wouldn’t breastfeed is laziness or ignorance or lack of love for her baby.

  • Amy

    October 26, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    Oh, I totally could have written this letter two years ago when I was struggling with milk supply issues.  I was an emotional wreck when I had to use formula.  I filled my days with tedious pumping sessions (to produce 1/4 of an ounce at a time! Total!), And I did it all, fenugreek, tea, and even Reglan, which doubled my supply to a whopping 1/2 an ounce at a time.  And like you, when I finally switched to exclusive formula feeding around 5 months it was like a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders and my daughter’s feeding schedule was suddenly so much more logical and organized and effective.

    I spent a lot of my daughter’s early days going to various new moms’ groups around town, and I would always dread the moment when I had to take out the bottle to feed her.  I was convinced that everyone in the place was judging me.  And I suppose some of them might have been, but I never really gave them a chance to say so because I would ramble and babble this huge long story about how I had had a c-section and I had been pumped full of Pitocin before that and then I was on an antibiotic later, and who really knows what the cause was, but my lactation consultant said it could be any of those things and I tried really, really hard and blah, blah, blah… And eventually their eyes would glaze over with boredom.  I do not recommend this approach, but it did always shut people right up.

    I remember meeting another new mom at one of those meetings who was also bottle feeding, and she announced with complete confidence and unapologetically that she hadn’t been able to breastfeed due to “medical reasons.”  I don’t know what those reasons were, and I’m not the type of person to pry about those sorts of things (I imagine there are people out there who would!), but I really admired the unquestioning way she presented this information.  She wasn’t all wishy washy like me, but just stated the facts in a way that discouraged others from getting into her business.  After that I tried to be more decisive and less TMI when I talked about the subject with new people.  I think Amalah and others have given you some good advice about trying to “own’ it.  It took me a long time to get to that point, but once you get there, you really start to care less about what other people think.

    Eventually this will fade into the background and all of the angst of the early days will be a hazy memory. I seriously can’t imagine how my daughter could be any smarter or have a more robust immune system than she does now.  (Sorry, don’t mean to gush…) But seriously, all those concerns about formula are long gone, and if I had it to do over again, I would be much easier on myself.

  • Jill G

    October 26, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    I usually ask (people I know, not totally strangers) but it is for the reason Amy said – to show support. I had a really strange situation and I exclusively pumped – I knew no one else who did this and really felt isolated. Now that I have shared my story, many of my friends ended up exclusively pumping. It was plan B – he still got the breastmilk but just not straight from the source.

    The crazies seriously must hang out at the grocery store. I have like 3 stories about weirdos I have met there, so do many of my friends and so has Jen K!

  • camille

    October 26, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    Procrastimom says it best: what’s best for your baby is FEEDING your baby. Formula is a Godsend…women with nursing difficulties pre-formula ran the very real risk that their baby would not thrive, or even survive (and I’m one of the fortunate mamas who have had very few problems nursing my two). I hope that mamas who do not have nursing go as they had hoped can be easier on themselves (which includes not refering to themselves as breastfeeding failures).

  • IrishCream

    October 26, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    For what it’s worth, I was exclusively breastfed, and nursed until I was two. My husband was raised on formula. I have the crappiest immune system, allergies to everything, and asthma. My husband has taken three sick days in the last five years, and he’s no slouch in the intelligence department either. There are a lot of great things about breastfeeding, and a lot of great things about formula, too. You’re obviously giving your little one a great start in life by being happy, relaxed, and loving, so congratulations to you!

  • Suzy Q

    October 26, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    Yep, standard response to any intrusive question is, “Why on earth would you ask such a personal question?”  followed by a turnaway.  And to those who persist, “How much do you weigh?”  Shuts ’em right up.

  • Kimberly

    October 26, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    The judgement definitely goes both ways. My sister in law didn’t like to be in the same room with me when I nursed my son. And she only used formula with hers. Eh. What are you going to do?

    You know you are a good, caring mom who will do just about anything for your son. Try to let that knowledge be enough and for all those nosy strangers: a simple, “not your business” should suffice. After all, you’re not going to see them again.

  • JB

    October 26, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    I might be being too simplistic, but what about saying….”I don’t talk about my breasts in public, I didn’t even do that when I was single! Har!” *Wink* “So, how’s your job going?” Or something. Include a “cocktail laugh” as necessary.

    Or some form of that…”Oh, no one wants to hear about my hooters, I had enough of THAT in college, who knows what I’m saying!” or some other slightly-embarrassing/inappropriate comment that might shut people up.

    …No? Just me who watches too much stand-up comedy? :-/ .

    But my point is, no one should MAKE you talk about something that you don’t want to.

  • CatM

    October 26, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    It is such a shame that people are so judgmental of the decisions made by other mothers! I nursed my oldest for almost a year and my youngest for 5 months. I had to start medication for raging heartburn developed during pregnancy. I felt so guilt-ridden for stopping early, but my youngest totally thrived on formula! People should mind their own business!

  • ER

    October 26, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    THANK YOU! I have been looking for an article like this for 5 months now. Everything & everyone (including myself pre-baby) is 100% pro-breastfeeding. Yes, I know it is the best thing for the baby, but it is HARD and when it doesn’t work out, you need support too. I cannot believe how many people (MIL’s friends, my UNCLE, random people on the street!) asked me about breastfeeding. For awhile I just lied as well, but after a few months I became confident in my decision to stop. Not only was it better for me (my sanity), but my husband and grandparents were able to bond with my son as well. It is such a personal experience and I every woman needs support, no matter what their feeding decision is. I will say it gets easier as the baby gets older (no crazy people asking questions anymore), so hold your head high and know that a happy mom is the exactly what your son needs- no matter how you get there!

  • Amber

    October 26, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    I’m 34 weeks pregnant, and plan on exclusively breastfeeding, and not being able to do that scares me to death. Not in a “OMG formula BAD” kind of way, in a “my mom did it, so that’s the way I want to do it” kind of way. Reading this has helped calm my nerves a bit, and realize, even though I already knew, that it won’t be the end of the world if breastfeeding doesn’t work out for us. I totally agree that there is so much pressure from the world that if I hadn’t already made the decision to breastfeed, I would most likely be frustrated with the constant trying to convince me otherwise. This came at a perfect time! It has definitely helped me calm down as I get closer to “The Day”. I hope Amy’s advice helps, and know your not alone! I may not have the same problem, but I can sympathize and I’m thinking of you!

  • Maren

    October 26, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    I like JB’s comment! I am bookmarking this so I can read it in 8 months when I have my 2nd. With my first I pumped for 11 months, and still felt like a failure for drying up then. I had people tell me when he was 3 months old that I should keep trying, because he still might get the hang of it (because the pumped milk wasn’t good enough? Because both of us sobbing at every feeding is more productive than happy mama, happy baby?) (Incidentally, I did try to breastfeed him once at about 5 months – I was pumping and he was MAD at not being held, so I picked him up and tried to give it to him from the source – he looked at me like I was crazy). Something about giving birth makes me (and others it seems) pretty prone to being less squeamish about sharing gory details (level 4 tear, anyone?) so I would just tell the nosy lady about 27 hours of labor, shoulder dysplasia, both of us almost dying, fevers, NICU stays, underbite, and 10 pound babies…then I was lucky enough to be able to brag about my tremendous supply and pass that off as a 2nd best option. Then I would go home and cry while I pumped and my baby sat next to me crying because I couldn’t hold him and pump at the same time.

  • Kimberly

    October 26, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    I could have written this letter when I had my son. We lasted 13 days. Amy is right – own it! Easier said than done, I know. You made the best decision for your family (and your sanity) – how dare anyone second guess you?! My response to the nursing question: it did not work out for us.

    I had to remind myself A LOT that when he graduates from high school, no one will know or care whether what he ate at 6 weeks old. As it is now, he’s 2 and no one seems to know or care!

    You are a rockstar mama!

  • Christine

    October 26, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    “It’s funny how all those passionate, nosy strangers suddenly morph in the “you’re STILL nursing that kid, omg, he has TEETH, he can practically ASK FOR IT!” types.”

    OMG YES!!! My son is almost 19 months and won’t give up the boob. I’m thrilled that we made it so long yet at the same time I am. so. over. it. But even the nurse at his last checkup gave me a weird look when I said he still got breastmillk and used that “tone” when she asked, “He still gets breastmilk?!” Yeah. Still has breastmilk. Didn’t realize there was a magical age when they were supposed to be on cow’s milk only.

    I got the formula/BM question when DS was first born, but it was from the grandmas. I don’t understand why it’s anybody’s business. You feed your kid however works best.

  • Olivia

    October 27, 2011 at 8:29 am

    Love JB’s response! Hang in there mama. In the blink of an eye the tears spent over not breastfeeding will be dry. Unfortunately, it’ll be something else later on. I think the best thing we mothers can do is work on that thick skin and owning our parenting decisions as soon as possible because someone will always be nosy and judgey.

  • Kati

    October 27, 2011 at 8:50 am

    I had a horrid experience BFing my kiddo.  It was miserable.  She was a preemie so I spent a lot of time connected to a pump and then we realized that I had extremely low supply.  I couldn’t take any of the prescribed meds because of allergies and other things going on.  

    So, yes, I got the judgmental questions and opinions on the matter.  Finally I just started telling people the truth, I’d had cancer.  Now, it’s not my fault they assumed I’d had breast cancer or that I’d even had it recently.  It did shut them up, though.

  • Kate

    October 27, 2011 at 8:54 am

    I don’t have much other advice to add to Amy’s spot-on (as usual) advice or to the other commenters other than to say ME TOO. Not being able to nurse my first son and the dread of every feeding that you describe was by far the most difficult part of being a new mother for me. by far. As others have said, you need to own the decision and be comfortable with it. This will go a long way toward helping the judgment you feel from other people, because I’d be willing to bet that most of the time, they’re not really judging you, they’re just looking to make conversation or asking out of curiosity. You may just be feeling judged because you’re still feeling guilty (I know, I know). You know you’re doing the best thing for you and your baby and that is ALL that matters.

  • kimm

    October 27, 2011 at 9:13 am

    It seems like everybody is so gung-ho about breastfeeding, but when you have to go back to work there is no support at all, every though they all ask about it-I think it’s in the realm of sexual harrassment. I wouldn’t ask anybody about their BREASTS at WORK!! But everybody did, then my bosses were upset that I have to take breaks to pump, and I cried every day in the hot car pumping(nowhere to do it privately at school), because I wanted to be with my son, and wanted to do a good job too. I didn’t go back for the new school year-wish the laws actually helped support moms more. We gave formula a lot because I couldn’t pump enough.

  • Emily

    October 27, 2011 at 9:30 am

    Can totally identify. Hated being in the predicament of wanting to breastfeed. being unable to do so without extremely negative emotional consequences, hated being judged for making that decision. Amy’s right on; I loved The Bloggess’s take on this as well:

  • Nessa

    October 27, 2011 at 10:10 am

    I think just the number of posts should help soothe your feelings of not being the only one who’s had issues. I could’ve written this post too and lasted for as long, but I firmly believe my baby blues were a direct result of the anguish and lack of sleep I was getting from pumping so frequently to get enough, but still having to supplement. #2 is due in Mar and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m scarred enough to be fearful of trying again especially since the tenderness has not gone away, even in the wonderful 2nd trimester! But I’ll give it my best shot and quit a lot sooner if it doesn’t work out again, so that I can be mentally stable for both of my kids. Those that are questioning probably aren’t worth responding to. If they are close to you, then offering up an explanation should shut them down-if they care about you. Perfect strangers should probably not even be acknowledged, although I also love the redirect of “why do you ask?” and a walkaway. Your intentions to do the right thing mean you’re a good mom, once you realize that, it will get better!

  • Jessica

    October 27, 2011 at 10:42 am

    First time responder here… But OH! I feel horrible! I’m one of those people who have been asking women lately if they breastfeed/fed. But for me, it’s because I am 28 weeks pregnant and I’m CURIOUS. Hardly anyone in my family did it and I just want someone to talk to about it when Lil’ Mongoose comes in January. If the response was “no”, or “we tried”, I usually leave it at that. The only one I pushed on was my sister-in-law. And I said, “May I ask why it didn’t work for you?” I try not to be judgemental, nothing better than a young woman with no kids telling another woman with 4 kids how to raise them correctly. But who knows how it comes across. Just telling my side of the story so that some people out there know that sometimes these questions are asked because the questioner needs support in her own decisions she’s going through now too…. THANKS!

  • Laura

    October 27, 2011 at 10:54 am

    This is the template that works out pretty well for me:

    Nosy person: “Are you breastfeeding?”

    Me: “No, we had some medical issues.”  *smile*

    At this point hopefully you can change the subject, but there may be one more exchange:

    Nosy person: “What were your issues?  You know, a lot of times you can breastfeed anyway, blah blah blah.”

    Me: “It’s kind of personal.” *smiiiile*

    Then change the subject.  Generally this works out pretty well– I haven’t had anybody take offense or try to push beyond those two exchanges.  Of course I’m sure there’s somebody out there who won’t take “it’s kind of personal” for an answer, but at that point you may want to move on to the nuclear options…

  • andrea

    October 27, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Our pediatrician posted this article on his site:

  • Nessa

    October 27, 2011 at 11:19 am

    I think all these other posts is a testament to how hard and how many issues women have with this. I also could’ve written this post and I stuck it out for probably as long, but I firmly believe that my baby blues and anxiety were a direct result of the stress and lack of sleep I was getting from pumping so frequently and still having to supplement. #2 is due in March and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m scarred and scared enough to be freaking out about trying this again. But I’m going to give it my best shot and I’ll quit earlier this time if it doesn’t work again, so that I can be mentally stable for both of my children. If those that are asking questions, that are really none of their business, care about you then your explanation (however you choose to give it) should shut them down or offer up comforting words if they sympathize. But I agree that a redirect of “why do you ask” and a walkaway is a good way to handle those that really don’t deserve an explanation of any sort. Your intentions to do the right thing means that you ARE a good mom and once you realize/accept that, it’ll get better.

  • Amy

    October 27, 2011 at 11:30 am

    I was unable to breastfeed my daughter due to a breast reduction done eons ago when they didn’t do things they way they do them now. My milk never came in and while I tried, pumping for 40 minutes at a time only to have absolutely nothing come out, in the end I decided it wasn’t worth it. Better for my daughter to be fed and happy, which meant mama is happy. I do still regret from time to time not being able to breast feed, not going to lie about that but owning it has helped a lot when people get a little too forward with the questions. My OB’s nurse pushed the issue – not rudely, just questioning whether I was breastfeeding and when I said no, she followed up with why not. I was honest, said it was a medical issue and my milk never came in.

  • Eden

    October 27, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    My five month old and I are exclusively breastfeeding and we defend ourselves to our own FAMILY because we are not bottle feeding. YOU JUST CAN’T WIN. Only you know what is best for you and your baby!!! You will NEVER get this time back with this baby, so enjoy every second, every scent of him! Other people can take their opinions and jump in a lake.

  • Katie

    October 27, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    @Jessica–I wouldn’t be at all offended if a friend of mine who was expecting asked me about my breastfeeding experience when they were expecting–I think it would have helped me tremendously if somebody had prepared me for the fact that in some instances, breastfeeding really doesn’t work out, and there is nothing you can do about it. The “you can do it!”/it’s all supply and demand!/keep latching that baby!/one bottle of formula will permanently derail your attempt to breastfeed/”moms who quit just didn’t try hard enough” attitude of a lot of books/websites really clouded my expectations and made it hard for me to realize when we got home that (1) this isn’t working out, and (2) the reason you and your husband are having one of the ugliest fights of your marriage at 2am? Is because the baby is starving, and all you husband wants to do is give him a bottle of formula, not “undermine your breastfeeding relationship.”
    In fact, I’m sure that I’m pretty obnoxious about handing the number of my LC out to any first time moms I know, “just in case.”

  • Megan

    October 27, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    You really just can’t win. And Amy is so right, if it isn’t this it is just going to be something else.

  • Shannon

    October 27, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    WHY, OH WHY do we have to tear each other down with criticism about such a personal thing as breastfeeding?!?  Good gravy!  I get so irritated at anyone who asks the “Are you breastfeeding?” question (unless it’s my doctor, a fellow mom or mom-to-be looking for guidance or advice) because WHAT DOES IT MATTER TO YOU?!?  Ugh!  As if motherhood doesn’t come with quite enough guilt trips as is.  I just want to hug and reassure anyone who is going through those huge “I’m a failure” moments — you are not a failure!!  (A failure mom would just not bother to feed the baby at all — and unfortunately, the world has some of those…)  It is just patently unfair that at a time when our bodies are a tsunami of hormones that sometimes “the girls” just don’t respond how we want them to.  I also think that depending on your life situation, in some cases breastfeeding/pumping is so damn hard and stressful that I could never blame someone for saying “To hell with it!”  I know that being a stay-at-home mom made it pretty easy for me to breastfeed, but if I had gone to work and had to pump?!  Uh uh.  Nuttin’ doin’.  I MIGHT have lasted for six months, but given my lack of success with pumping, I probably would have given it up sooner.  

    So for anyone out there feeling less than wonderful because of difficulties with breastfeeding, YOU ARE WONDERFUL!!  Loving and bonding with your baby is SO much more than breastfeeding.  You are a wonderful mommy and just keep telling yourself that. 🙂

  • Brandi

    October 27, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    I’m so glad someone else had the same experience I did with breastfeeding. I felt horrible listening to my son scream because he was hungry and I couldn’t produce enough milk for him. He never latched on so I pumped. We saw the lactation consultant, pediatrician, OB, and tried the fenugeek but nothing worked for the supply issue or his latching. I pumped all day and barely had enough for one bottle or breastmilk a day. I felt so inadequate. Formula feeding is definitely easier but I still have regrets. In the grand scheme of things it seems so insignificant since I have a perfectly happy and healthy baby (I was told I would never be able to get pregnant). Things could be so much worse.

  • Jessica

    October 27, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    I, too, have a complicated breastfeeding experience (which you can read all about here if you want to:, but I want to say that even though I agree that it is incredibly shocking the stuff total strangers feel they have the right to inquire about once you start procreating, I DO wish that when I was pregnant and in life in general, I had heard more of the variety of experiences with breastfeeding that all the incredibly moms have mentioned in the comments. I think part of the reason people can be such trolls about this kind of thing is precisely because we don’t talk about all of these experiences as normative; we feel embarrassed, or judged, or uncomfortable (understandably), and so most people only get the ‘breast is best’ oversimplification of feeding a baby, and they don’t know any better. I didn’t know any better when I ran into a brick wall of challenges with feeding my son–seriously, I had NO CLUE how difficult and complex it could be. And I wish more moms felt less ashamed about what needs to be done to feed a baby, because it sure would have helped me (and I’m guessing many of the commenters here) feel less isolated ourselves. Just a thought. I personally am happy to share (especially with women) the challenges I’ve had because if they ever have them, I would hate for them to feel as overwhelmed and alone as I did.

  • Angie

    October 27, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    Oh yeah, the trying-to-be-supportive a acquaintance who totally sticks her foot in her mouth while trying to telegraph her support for your breastfeeding choices? Oof. I’ve done that. :::blushes:::

  • Karen

    October 28, 2011 at 12:54 am

    Well, there are already great responses here, but just another perspective. I struggled to nurse but was successful ultimately for 13 months though I ended up supplementing formula last few months when I couldn’t pump enough for daycare. I had begun attending LLL meetings, met some nice women there that I am still friends with, mostly LLL attracts people who are successful nursers and pumpers and I’m happy for them. I didn’t have a bad “lactivist” experience there, in fact I mostly wanted to nurse because my mom and aunts have always talked about nursing in the 1970’s and how hard it was back then so I wanted to be just like them and be successful at something that society didn’t support. It was so stressful for me though, and with #2 coming soon I am going to relax more about it. This column has made me own that decision even more than I had already. THANKS!!!!! Knowing that the nursing and formula combo worked so well once I started it, I’ll be ready to go with that should the need arise than feeling like I need to prove to the world that I can nurse exclusively.

  • Olivia

    October 28, 2011 at 8:43 am

    Karen – even though I’m still nursing my 2.5 yr old, I did supplement with formula when she was under 1 yr old because I had trouble pumping enough, too. Depending on the situation, breastfeeding doesn’t have to be all or nothing and that relieved me of a lot of stress.

  • Megan

    October 28, 2011 at 11:07 am

    I’m currently limping along with breastfeeding, doing the best I can with what I can produce and supplementing with a bottle at pretty much every feeding. This was really hard just out of the hospital with raging hormones and new baby shock.

    I really wanted to do this for my baby and couldn’t. Giving her the bottle felt like I was putting a Big Mac in her mouth (i know it’s not true, but still…). Not having been overly opinionated about such things before I was pregnant, I wasn’t prepared for how horrible I felt about it and that I actually would burst out sobbing over it if my husband brought up the topic.

    Sure I hate it when people ask, and I also give rambling explanations as to why it isn’t working out – but up until recently the worst voice of them all was the one in my own head, screaming at me that I was already failing this helpless little thing in my arms. That was the hardest to overcome and I’m still working on it.

    I’m in week nine with my newborn and she’s doing great. I’m also doing much better now that I’ve accepted that I’m doing what I can and what I do later down the line will have a greater impact on her health and who she is as a person than breastfeeding. It would have been great if it had worked out – but it’s not. At some point it’ll be all bottle feeding and by then I think I’ll be totally at peace with it.

  • Jenn

    October 28, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    Behold! The perfect answer to the “Are you breastfeeding” question:

    Nosy Stranger: Are you breasfeeding?

    Reply (with a smile and a joking tone of voice): Why, are you hungry?

    Okay, maybe it’s not the most socially appropriate answer – but in my opinion, it’s not an appropriate question. Period. And I have always felt questions like that deserve a friendly answer that leaves the asker feeling just a little squicky.

    I don’t know why people feel so compelled to ask such a personal question. Why do we become public property as soon as we have babies?

  • EG1972

    October 29, 2011 at 7:51 am

    As has been said, it’s always something. My hubs and I have now felt the need to start fibbing about how much our toddler nurses, since there’s judgement about that too. Why can’t we all just get along?!

  • Hollie

    October 29, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    One of the worst things about the bottle-shame is that it flushes you Every. Single. Time. you feed your baby in public. Which is pretty frequent for me. I was sooo lucky, mechanically, with breastfeeding. My baby “got it”, I had great supply, and for 11 weeks we were in oxytocin heaven. Then some kind of mysterious protein allergy reared its head, never going away for FOURTEEN WEEKS OF ELIMINATION OF ALL GOOD FOOD, EVER. Now she’s on prescription formula, and though I know that Elecare is DEFINITELY what’s best for my baby, I get looks, questions, and comments all the time when I mix a bottle in public. It brings back the feelings of shame and failure in an instant.

  • Jessica

    October 30, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    I just always ask, “Why do you want to know?” It turns the question back to them and you can kind of figure out why they are asking (general nosiness? just curious? maybe possibly pregnant and wondering how it will work for them? ALL SORTS OF REASONS). I nursed for 9 months and gave it up because honestly? I was done. I feel no guilt, and I never noticed if anyone gave me a dirty look. Probably because I was too busy making googly eyes at my son to give a crap what they were doing around me.

    I have never EVER in my adult life had someone ask me if I was formula or breastfed. Until I became a mom, I had no idea either. It wasn’t discussed because my parents were strict believers that all the OTHER stuff they did for us (camps, going to the zoo, to the park, making cookies, singing songs, playing in the rain and in the yard and taking nature hikes and educational field trips and reading to us and loving us) more than made up for anything else.

  • Jenn

    October 31, 2011 at 2:50 am

    If they are total strangers you have two options. You can tell them it’s none of your business or you can lie to make them feel better. You don’t owe these busy bodies anything. If they are not total strangers and you feel like it, I liked the line “As much as we can” and if they press further “We take it day by day”. Because, again, you don’t owe them anything.

  • Eden

    October 31, 2011 at 10:08 am

    Jenn, I will be using that response, DAILY! TY!

  • MR

    October 31, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    Jenn – I LOVE that response!! I laughed so hard when I read that. 🙂
    OP, I am a total breastfeeding advocate, but even more than that, I am a happy mother advocate. Breastfeeding is great if it works for you. And formula is great if it doesn’t. I absolutely detest it when people make women feel guilty or ashamed if they stop breastfeeding! A lactation consultant actually told a friend of mine once that she just wasn’t trying hard enough when her milk just never came in. I didn’t know my friend at the time, and this LC is in another state, but all these years later, I still want to go rip that LC a new one! That is just not ok. Breastfeeding is like fertility. Some people simply can’t make babies or carry them to term. And I think everyone would agree that you would NEVER tell someone suffering from infertility that they should just try harder. Because it simply doesn’t work for everyone. It sucks and is totally unfair, but we are lucky enough to live in a day and age where there are other options. Even aside from medical issues where you can’t nurse, sometimes it just doesn’t work for some families for whatever reason. To each their own. More than breastmilk, baby needs a happy momma. And if trying to breastfeed is making momma unhappy and miserable, it isn’t worth it. What is important is that baby is getting food and a happy mom. Please don’t EVER feel guilty or ashamed for FEEDING YOUR BABY. Hugs.

  • Emily

    October 31, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    I want to know how to get over your own shame. She’s 13 months and I still cry and sob and get very depressed over how it didn’t work for us. And I know now, so many things that I didn’t understand then. If I had known these things then, I could have succeeded. I know I could have. I know I could have… I know…………… I’m so afraid that if it does work with any future kids that the guilt will be so intense that I’ll continue to fall apart. How do you recover from things? I know it must be easier for some – but I am still a mess and I see no recovery in sight.

  • Heather

    October 31, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    I knew I wasn’t going to be able to breastfeed, well before I got pregnant with our son. It was a fact that I never thought twice about. I wasn’t prepared that at nearly every baby event (support group, play time, etc) I would be the only one not breastfeeding. Every family is different, I guess I wish I wasn’t the odd man out though. Food for thought.

  • Sharon

    November 2, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Totally off topic but – Andrea – I clicked the link to your pediatrician’s website and I LOVE HIM. Wish I lived where you did – what a find! That whole site looks amazing and I have bookmarked itfor future reference.

  • Cheryl S.

    November 2, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    I can SO relate. I had HORRIBLE PPD. Somehow, breastfeeding was making it worse (rather than better like they tell you!) so I stopped. It was such a relief. When people would ask if I BF, I just said NO in a way that closed the subject if they were strangers. Unfortunately, until he realized that I was much less crazy after stopping, my husband was one of my biggest critics! (I still haven’t totally forgiven him for that) Anyway, we were out to dinner one night a few weeks after the baby was born and he said something about me not BFing. I said that most men wouldn’t care how their child got fed. He said he cared. So, my answer was “When you can grow t*ts and do it yourself, you get to have a say. Until then, don’t say another word about it!” Luckily he finally got the picture.

  • Gina M.

    November 11, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    Thank you so much for this article. I just had my first and he is 5 weeks old. I had an awful experience with the Lactate specialist, she was horrible. I too took all the classes and was determined to breastfeed… Those classes don’t truly prepare you for the real life experience. My little one not only wouldn’t lack even with the breast shield, I also couldn’t produce enough to feed him. The final thing that pushed me out the window was the swelling I got in my breasts that made me look like a frickin porn star… there was just too many issues for me to go through for another 6 months. I agree with the article that life is so much better now; my husband & family can feed out little man and he is growing and that’s the most important thing. What I found ironic is that the lactate specialist in the hospital told us that she was bottle feed! Thank you too all the comments from other ladies on here, makes me feel better with my decision and gives me a response when strangers ask why we are not breastfeeding.

  • Lana

    December 4, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    Thank you for this. My son is 20 days old and I just found out I have hypolastic breasts. In other words- my boobs never developed mammary tissue, and I can’t produce much milk at all. I’ve been crying my eyes out about it- but I’m coming to peace with it. Reading all the responses here have made me feel less alone in this. 

  • Jamie

    January 27, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    I can’t tell you how happy I am to have come across this post even after all this time. My daughter is now two and a half and I was only able to supply her with breast milk until she was about 3 months old. I planned to exclusively breastfeed throughout my pregnancy but after she was born, she wouldn’t latch right, it was uncomfortable, and on top of that I did not have an adequate supple for her. I decided to try to pump so I could see exactly how much I was getting and then would supplement with formula but it was such a headache. I finally decided to make the switch to exclusive bottle feeding and it was such a stress reliever for both of us. She was satisfied and full and Mommy wasn’t stressed out and worried that she was not getting enough food. I have to say that the worst bottle feeding “shamers” of me were not strangers, but my mother in law. Every time we would visit one of the first questions she would ask would be how the breast feeding was going, or have I tried this, or just keep trying, breast is best blah blah blah kind of stuff. It really made me feel inadequate as a mother. It should really just be a general rule that if I don’t invite you to inquire, or ask for your advice, please keep your questions and opinions to yourself.

  • Melinda

    June 8, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    Everyone memorize this: “I’m surprised you feel comfortable asking that question.” 

    Works every time. 

  • Kelly Scott

    May 5, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    My favorite response to a nosy stranger prodding me about personal parenting decisions like breastfeeding/sleeping/discipline etc? “Do I know you?” Shuts them up, every single time. 🙂