How to Handle Mom-Shaming

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Mom-shaming—AKA the term for judging or attacking mothers over their individual choices—is an unfortunate part of parenting, especially in today's internet-driven culture. It can range from passive-aggressive comments to full-on bullying, and can be anywhere from uncomfortable to traumatizing.

So why, exactly, do people feel the need to attack a mother's personal parenting decisions?  Carly Snyder, MD, a reproductive and perinatal psychiatrist, HuffPost columnist, and host of the radio show MD for Moms, has a theory: "[People] who mom-shame are almost always doing so to reinforce their own choices due to a deep sense of insecurity and fear."

As inappropriate as it is to mom-shame, it is almost inevitable, especially with the prevalence of social media. Here, we will break down the main types of mom-shaming, how to respond and cope, and, most importantly, how to remind yourself that you're doing the best you can—no matter what anyone says.

Common Types of Mom-Shaming

Unfortunately, moms today are being shamed over pretty much anything—big or small. "Few topics of motherhood are off-limits when it comes to mom-shaming," explains Dr. Snyder.

That said, there are certain topics that are targeted more than others. The following are the most common reasons for mom-shaming.

How You Feed Your Baby

Instead of being praised for keeping their babies fed and healthy, many moms find themselves under scrutiny for how they provide food. Historically, breastmilk has been considered the gold standard for babies, leading to the (now-outdated) phrase, "Breast is Best." While there are many incredible benefits from breastfeeding, including a stronger immune system and lower rates of SIDS, not all moms have the ability or desire to do so—and that's okay.

Whether they have health issues, are struggling to produce enough breastmilk, or simply do not enjoy it, many mothers turn to formula feeding their babies. Sadly, this leads others to ask questions such as "Why didn't you breastfeed?" or "Do you feel guilty using formula?" Make no mistake; this isn't just curiosity—it's mom-shaming. These types of questions can tear down a mother's confidence, making them feel inadequate or as if they are "harming" their baby by not providing breastmilk.

Here's the thing: using formula is a completely healthy alternative to breastfeeding! Society tends to demonize its use, but the truth is, formula-fed babies are in no way nutritionally inferior to those who are breastfed. While baby formula is not an exact replica of breastmilk, your baby will receive all the necessary vitamins and nutrients needed to grow. The FDA states that all infant formulas in the United States must meet federal nutrient requirements and companies are required to notify the FDA before marketing new formulas.

The bottom line? Ensuring your baby is properly fed is all that matters, no matter what mom-shamers have to say about it.

Sleep Training Methods

Sleep training is a hot topic among the parenting community, and it seems like everyone is anxious to get in on the conversation (even if they don't have kids). Mom-shamers are quick to target those who use the "cry-it-out-method," which, as the name suggests, means letting your baby cry until they fall asleep on their own, or for a certain amount of time before soothing them.

Opponents of the cry-it-out method argue that it is harmful to babies, while those who use it tend to swear by it. There are mixed opinions from experts on the topic, but when it comes down to it, whatever method you choose to sleep train your child is yours and yours alone. Whether you let them cry a little or choose a "gentle" sleep training method, you will eventually learn what works best for your baby. As long as you are following safe sleep guidelines and have your baby's best interest at heart, you should feel confident in your decision.

Working vs. Staying at Home

Mothers are often slammed for how much time they spend (or don't spend) with their kids. "This is poorly shrouded as a way to shame working moms," says Dr. Snyder. Working moms are often under the mom-shaming microscope and on the receiving end of invasive questions such as, "Don't you wish you could be home with them more?"

Unfortunately, mom-shamers tend to avoid looking at the bigger picture. Maybe you absolutely need the income or are a career-driven individual who thrives in a professional setting. Whatever the reason, working moms are making the choice to do what is best for their families. When mothers are shamed for working, they are made to feel as though their career aspirations are not as important or unworthy of their time—which couldn't be farther from the truth!

Stay-at-home moms and working moms have one important thing in common: their love for their children. Either option allows for children to grow and thrive in a healthy, loving environment.

How You Raise Your Kids

Ultimately, mom-shamers attack over any aspect of motherhood, including how you raise your kids. More specifically, the idea of "intensive parenting" has come to light in recent years, causing criticism from parents and non-parents alike.

"Intensive parenting prioritizes parents actively participating and coordinating a child’s life in every way," explains Dr. Snyder. Basically, intensive parenting is a round-the-clock approach to raising children, rather than allowing a lot of freedom to explore on their own. While some may not agree with this style of parenting, shaming those who prefer it does nothing but cause unnecessary stress.

"[Mom-shamers] can do what they feel is best for their child and you do what is best for yours—they don’t have to agree with you or understand your reasoning for your choices to be ok," adds Dr. Snyder.

How to Respond to Mom-Shamers

While you might feel angry or hurt, Dr. Snyder urges you to remember one key truth: "Being mom-shamed isn’t indicative of anything beyond being in the company of critical people."

Ultimately, the best way to respond to mom-shamers is to not say anything at all! As Dr. Snyder explains, "Often, the best thing to do is disconnect from the conversation. You don’t have to justify or explain your parenting to anyone—you’re doing your best."

If you feel the urge to say something, she recommends a superficial and simple "thank you"—thanking someone for their concern, alluding to the fact that you will consider their ideas, and then walking away. (And, of course, not actually thinking twice about their "advice.")

Dr. Carly Snyder, MD

You don’t have to justify or explain your parenting to anyone—you’re doing your best.

— Dr. Carly Snyder, MD

If the shaming comes as a comment on your social media post, you can simply ignore it. Of course, if you would rather not deal with it all, you can delete the comment or block the user if the behavior continues. The best thing you can do is whatever makes you feel comfortable.

How to Cope With Mom-Shaming

There is no way around it: mom-shaming hurts. As Dr. Snyder says, "It makes even the most confident parent question themselves."

As difficult as it can be, the most beneficial way to deal with mom-shaming is to tune it out. "Parents are exceptional at hurting one another by tapping into insecurities and anxieties that are near-universally experienced," Dr. Snyder explains. "Arguing why you feel your position is right, or explaining why you are doing something one way over another won’t change a mom-shamer—they will still act superior because of their likely deep-seated anxiety."

Dr. Carly Synder, MD

[A] parent's choices are dependent on their unique child and their specific circumstances—there is no 'one-size-fits-all' answer to parenting.

— Dr. Carly Synder, MD

When you realize that a person who feels "superior" to you is in no way a better parent, the better you will feel about their needless attacks. "The longer you are a parent and the more kids you have, the easier it often becomes to tune mom-shamers out," says Dr. Snyder. "[This is] by virtue of realizing you’re doing your best and your kids are turning out pretty amazing despite the inevitable slip-ups we all have."

When it comes to the shamers that don't have children, Dr. Snyder says you should keep in mind that if they do have kids of their own one day, they are bound to feel pretty ridiculous for slamming others over things they once knew nothing about.

Most importantly, try to remember that you are doing whatever is best for your child. "[A] parent's choices are dependent on their unique child and their specific circumstances—there is no 'one-size-fits-all' answer to parenting," says Dr. Snyder.

A Word From Verywell

Mom-shamers can certainly shake your confidence as a parent, but their words will never change the fact that you are doing your best (and being amazing at it). Mom-shaming is fueled by insecurities and self-doubt—not your worth as a parent. If you are having trouble dealing with mom-shaming, you can always reach out to your healthcare provider, parent coach, or a perinatal therapist to get the help you need to cope.

Remember, being a mom isn't easy! The true supporters in your life will understand that and praise you for your effort—not shame you for it.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. The Benefits of Breastfeeding for Baby & for Mom.

  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Questions & Answers for Consumers Concerning Infant Formula.

  3. NPR. Sleep Training Truths: What Science Can (And Can't) Tell Us About Crying It Out

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Safe Sleep Guidelines.

By Alex Vance
Alex Vance is a freelance writer covering topics ranging from pregnancy and parenting to health and wellness. She is a former news and features writer for Moms.com and Blog Writer for The HOTH. Her motherhood-related pieces have been published on Scary Mommy, Motherhood Understood, and Thought Catalog.

Originally written by
Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon

Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert. She's also a contributor to SleepCare.com and the former editor of Columbia Parent, with countless years of experience writing and researching health and social issues.

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