Why Fed is not Best.

I HATE the phrase Fed is Best!

I don’t say the word ‘hate’ lightly as I think it’s a strong word, a bit too overused, but I do hate this phrase.

Of course, babies have to be fed! This is essential and really shouldn’t require any debate. All babies need to be fed. Something I’m sure all parents everywhere agree on.

My reason for despising the phrase so much is the way it is used. I think it’s rolled out as a bit of a weapon, or maybe more of a defence, to how mums are feeding their babies. I think it’s sad that we feel we have to defend our decisions regarding feeding our babies in this way.

 Why as a woman and a mother, are we feeling the need to defend or justify our decision about the type of milk we provide for our baby?

Why does society not support us?

Why as women do we not support each other? 

It does matter how we feed our babies

I also think that sometimes when people say this, it undermines the importance that many women feel regarding their breastfeeding experience. When people say, ‘oh well breastfeeding didn’t work out, never mind, fed is best’, it can really hurt. Whilst the end of breastfeeding may be for many different reasons, and provoke so many different feelings and emotions for us as individuals, it does matter to many many women, how you feed your baby. Women report to feel, devastated, heartbroken and traumatised, by their experience of breastfeeding. It does matter to many women that grieve the loss of this experience and journey. This isn’t something that should really be belittled, made light of or seen as that mother being selfish, as if she is choosing to breastfeed to the detriment of everything else! Whilst to some mothers it may be a comfort, that their baby is being fed and thriving, it shouldn’t be used to exclude the rest of the picture. That breastfeeding isn’t for many of us just about food, it’s about comfort, your relationship with your baby, with yourself and a part of motherhood that is and was significant to us! It does matter how our babies are fed and more so, that we have the support, information and right to an informed decision of how we feed our babies!

This is about judgement

Now herein lies a deeper issue. The judgement mothers feel regarding this decision, the lack of education, support and services available to inform and support what should be your choice. I think this affects all mothers, regardless of how you are feeding your baby. Often this fear of judgement is an individual feeling, coming from our own internal feelings, views or experiences, but also society impacts upon this to us too.

I once supported a mum who had really struggled to get breastfeeding established, it had been quite a battle for her. She had not grown up in a family that breastfed, seen others around her doing it, it was not viewed at all as the ‘normal’ way babies were fed in her family. She daily fought with suggestions and comments that she should just give a bottle, that she didn’t need to breastfeed and that she had tried hard but surely formula feeding would be better for them both!  When things with breastfeeding were getting a little easier, she got up the courage to do their first breastfeed outside of the home. She reported to me that the very first time she fed on a bench outside, someone spat at her!!! I couldn’t believe this, firstly because it’s so disgusting to do this, but secondly, I just couldn’t understand why? Why is feeding your baby viewed this way in our society? (by some). Although I seriously question that anyone who thinks its ok to show your disgust by spitting at someone, is not the best judge of what is actually acceptable or not!! I was mortified for that mum, that she had had that experience and so ashamed that our society views it in that way! Just to say, it didn’t change her mind about how she decided to feed her baby, she continued to breastfeed because she wanted to, but I’m sure it’s an experience she will never forget.

Lactation consultants don't support formula feeding.

This is incorrect!!!

 People are often led to believe that Lactation consultants do not support formula feeding. Obviously, each lactation consultant is different, but I think that most of us would see ourselves as specialists in infant feeding and this means breast, bottle, mixed, expressing and pumping and all of the many combinations and ways babies can be fed. Infant feeding difficulties and challenges can occur regardless of how your baby is being fed. Personally, what I stand for above all things is informed choice. The choice to decide what you want to do, in your situation, with your feelings and experiences. However, the right support and knowledge is critical to this decision, to allow mothers to do this. It isn’t always a choice, is it? Many of us choose to breastfeed, but that doesn’t work out, that wasn’t our choice!!! That great support at the right time, to help inform your decisions, massively impacts how you feed your baby and actually can mean the difference to how you are feeding your baby being your choice, rather than something you had to, felt you should, or ended up doing.

I have supported many women who are bottle feeding that report they feel judged or ashamed about this. Many women report they feel unsupported, or left to get on with things, because they are formula or bottle feeding. How often do we jump to the conclusion when a baby is having a bottle that it’s formula in there, and that the mum chose to feed this way? She may may have, but there are many mums who express and give their breastmilk in a bottle for a whole variety of reasons, issues with latching, having to work, waiting for tongue tie assessments, because breastfeeding isn’t working out the way they thought, or maybe even because they just want to do it this way!!!! I have had mums ask if they can attend a group I facilitate as they are bottle feeding. How as a society have we allowed this judgement of the way women are feeding their babies, who are we to have an opinion on this?!!! We all need support as mothers.

What about 'Breast is Best'?

So, it seems either way, bottle or breast, we can feel judged about how we feed our baby.

 So, whilst I rarely say it, I’m going to use that word again, I also hate the phrase, ‘breast is best!’  ‘Best’ implies judgement. How can anyone else decide what is ‘best’ for you, your baby, your family? No one is better placed to do this than you! This phrase ‘breast is best’, implies that by not breastfeeding (or giving your baby breastmilk) you aren’t doing what’s ‘best’ for your baby. Why are we placing this judgement on women who choose that this isn’t the right decision for them or their baby? Or placing the guilt on mothers that may have chosen to breastfeed but that hasn’t been possible for them! Because we feel they are making the wrong choice? If something isn’t working out as you had hoped, the very last thing you need is another reason to be sad, disappointed or made to feel guilty!!!

I’m not debating the facts and evidence that breastmilk contains protection against illness and disease that is not available in other forms to your baby. I think it can feel that we are making others feel guilty if they have chosen (or have had) to formula feed, to constantly highlight the difference between formula and breastmilk. But informed choice is so so important, and you need to know all the facts to be able to make an informed decision. 8 out of 10 women say that they wished they had breastfed for longer, that’s a huge percentage! There is so much guilt and blame that comes along with motherhood, most of which definitely shouldn’t be there. I heard this statement recently, 

‘Guilt serves no purpose unless it is a catalyst to change your actions!’

The author was stating that if you feel bad about something, say not visiting a relative, that guilt is a negative and pointless emotion unless you can use it to make a change. If you decide to act differently, so go and visit that relative more, then from that feeling of guilt came something positive, a purpose . Guilt is internal, it is our perception, our reaction.

 Making a decision, and then finding out later that if you had had more information about it, it’s not what you would have chosen to do, that’s what needs changing!!! Ensuring that parents have that information is essential, and not in a way of ‘this is what is ‘best’, but in a way of,

 ‘Here are the facts, here are the differences and here are the risks!’

 Having the opportunity to ask questions, having the support you actually need, when you need it, because it isn’t always easy or straight forward for some of us to overcome infant feeding challenges, and then to have a society that doesn’t judge those choices, wouldn’t that be something!

It's not just about the milk!

Breastfeeding is more than just milk, food or calories. It’s love security and protection in a form that just so happens to come from a part of your anatomy that society would really prefer us to keep hidden, unless we are a model, advertising perfume or sex and then suddenly its more acceptable to be on display?!! Would that mother have been spat at for sitting on a bench with a low-cut top on?

How many mothers who desperately wanted to breast feed their baby and this has not happened for them have been told never mind ‘fed is best’ or ‘best is breast’ Both phrases serve no purpose other than to bring up guilt, shame, or resentment. Often due to not enough skilled or timely support and a greater understanding from society of how much hard work it can take to establish this, so support and information about this is critical, services for mums invaluable. Hearing ‘breast is best’ must be like a dagger to the heart when you wanted to but couldn’t.

Bottom line, you can't say one thing is 'best' for everybody!

Mums that breastfeed can feel judged and mums that formula feed can feel judged, clearly a wider societal issue is at play here. Why are we not supporting each other as parents? Surely if we ensured all parents have the information they need to make informed decisions, then no judgement is needed, it’s your decision! It doesn’t need to be one way of feeding vs the other! There is no need to pitch them against each other and vilify women for which side of the fence they sit! We are all mothers, and that experience is ours to own. We all need the information, evidence, support and understanding to be empowered to make our own decisions, not have them made for us!

Neither of these phrases are ‘best’ even if they are meant with the ‘best’ intentions.

Leave the judgement out of it!

Breast is not best! It’s ok to feel strongly and passionately about wanting to breastfeed, but it’s also for you to decide if you want to do it or not!

Fed is not best, its essential. All babies need to be fed. You need the information, about the differences, to understand that they do exist, but to have the right to factor in all those other elements, such as your life, mental well-being, health and relationships, into that decision.

You should get to decide what you feel is ‘best’, but informed decisions only come with the right information and support to enable this choice. 

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Alice Lucken

I am an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and Parenting Practitioner. I have been a nurse for nearly 20 years and have over 10 years of experience working with families as a Health Visitor and Infant Feeding Specialist, supporting complex infant feeding challenges. I now work independently to help families overcome any infant feeding or parenting challenges they are facing.

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