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“Fed is best… right?”

fed is best breast is mummy wars
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“Fed is best… right?”

fed is best breast is mummy wars
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Fed is best, right?

Well actually – fed is the bare minimum. 

Yes! I am going to say that feeding your child so that they don’t starve to death is damned important, and so cannot possibly be described as “best” at all. But I don’t want you to think I am advocating “breast is best” either because you might be surprised to hear that I hate that one just as much.

I get it. Everyone (including me) hates hearing "breast is best".

You might feel like that mantra puts a lot of pressure on you and makes you feel like a failure when you can’t provide the “best” for your baby. Well that isn’t the only reason to hate it. The thing is that formula companies love the “breast is best” campaign, precisely because you hate it. They love it because it separates us into two categories (this is important). It pits us against each other: those who are breastfeeding and those who are using formula. Now those who are desperately struggling to breastfeed (and it can be bloody hard, especially at the start) and not getting much support, need to defend their reasons for this struggle (sometimes to themselves and close relatives even) by sticking to the “it’s best” mantra, and those who formula feed feel attacked by this message.

So, why do you think this benefits those who sell formula?

If there's a best, there's a worst, so...

Breast is best manipulates those who formula feed their babies into staunchly defending their right to do so, and makes them shout down anyone who dares to voice an opinion or fact that makes them feel worse about their chosen method. It does this because the word “best” is a binary term. Its binary partner is “worst”. So if someone tells you how wonderful they think breastfeeding is, your very clever brain uses its knowledge of language and thinks “if I am not doing that, I must be doing something worse”. 

So began the "Mummy wars"

Now we are at war with each other, when actually we don’t think you did worse and you do understand how hard we worked. We are at war because they have told us to be, ever so subtly over time.

They want us to think we are different from each other. They want us defensive of the side we picked. They are completely over-the-moon that the situation occurs that as soon as someone states the positive facts and statistics about breastfeeding, someone who uses formula milk will defend formula to the hilt (sometimes bashing breastmilk along the way), because parents understandably hate the implication that they didn’t do their “best”.

You absolutely did you best at feeding your baby.

I am here to tell you that you did. You absolutely did your best at feeding your baby

You did your best with the information, support and societal/cultural influences that you had at the time. You did your best if you breastfed for 4 years, 4 minutes or you never even tried.

But (and this is a big fat but)…

But, and this is a big fat but:

Saying “fed is best” is like saying it is fine to feed your child McDonalds every day. It is saying that it doesn’t matter what you feed your baby. It does.

Breast is not best; it's the biological norm

Human babies are designed to drink milk from human mothers. The milk is designed to nourish them in a way that cannot be substituted by taking the milk from another species and adding things to it to make it last a long time in powdered form.

Furthermore, the companies that design, produce and sell formula do not have your babies’ best interests at heart. They are wholly and completely focused on their profit margin. I know that no-one wants to believe this but it’s true. If you are unsure, read The Politics of Breastfeeding by Gabrielle Palmer

Fed is not best; formula is a life saving tool

Fed is not best; fed is the bare minimum. Breast is not best; human milk is the biologically normal food for human babies. Formula is not evil;  formula is a life saving and valuable tool to replace human milk when needed, and it is most definitely not ‘worst.’ There are babies being fed much worse and let’s not forget it. 

What the formula companies don’t want you to realise is that formula is not the only option if you don’t breastfeed, is the optimum option next to breastfeeding and it doesn’t need to be culturally normal to replace human milk with supplemented cow’s milk substitute. They purposely put us into two categories (I told you it was important) because they don’t want us to realise there are other ways.

If you either cannot breastfeed, or choose not to (and you are entirely valid in making that choice), the World Health Organisation recommends these options in this order for all infants (further recommendations can be accessed here for low birth weight infants,):

breast pump and bottles expressed breastmilk human milk fed is best breast

1. Express human milk from your breast and feed it to your baby

2. Use donor milk, fed directly or expressed (HumanMilk4HumanBabies is one way to do this in the UK)

3. Use formula milk.

World Health Organisation and UNICEF
Because formula companies don't care what you feed your baby - right?

The point is that they want you to think that they don’t care how you feed your baby but trust me, they care. Breast milk is not a profitable commodity and so they care very much that you feed your baby a product that is!

Important Note: my feeding history

While raising my four children I have: exclusively formula fed, mix fed, tube fed, exclusively expressed, used donor milk, donated milk and exclusively breastfed to past 3 years. I have zero issue with how people choose to feed their babies. Everyone is different. I have a massive issue with the formula companies and their unethical practices in promoting formula and the purposeful warmongering they manipulate between mothers.

Thank you for reading.

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  1. I read this through the eyes of a formula feeding mom. If I were a formula feeding mom reading this, I wouldn’t feel offended at all–I’d feel VERY UPSET…with the FORMULA MILK COMPANIES!!! I allowed my eldest to be formula-fed in the hospital because the staff scared and pressured me into doing so. I knew better when I gave birth to my second baby. Not a drop of formula milk, or even a tip of a bottle touched his lips. Thanks for the wonderful article. 🙂

  2. Hi! This is very well written and clear! Thank you for taking the time to post. May I share this to my fb page as long as I give you the credit (of course)?

  3. As a lactation consultant I work with so many women who feel like failures, I’ve seen wonderful mothers who give us much breastmilk as they can and need to use formula. They wear their babies on their chests and cosleep with them and have a wonderful attachment and the children grow up Healthy and happy. But the mothers carry such guilt, sadness and loss because it wasn’t “best ” I think your article is wonderful, I am going to recommend it.

  4. Emily, this article has been a pleasure to read. Thanks for taking a calm, objective, well-reasoned look at what is such an emotional issue for so many. I hope this helps people understand that we’re better off supporting each other in our attempts to nurture our children rather than undermine each other because of the different choices made. It’s time the focus is on the questionable ethics of the formula companies rather than the parents trying to do make the right decisions for themselves & their families.

  5. Thank you! This is succinct and puts the point across perfectly. I shall be pointing all my friends to this article, and sharing it via social media.

  6. Overall a great article, was great to read something with balance.
    Could you please correct the comment on alternatives though as, they are not in that order, of preference. The WHO clearly states it is circumstance dependant. (Page 10 in the document indicated within the link.)

  7. Great to see such a balanced article on such a fraught subject. Particularly insightful on the lack of adequate support including from family members who feel they need to save you from the distress of breast feeding. Well done!

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