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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?

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. So the mere state of being fed cannot possibly be described as “best” at all. 

"Fed is best" or "breast is best"

Whilst I detest  ‘fed is best’, I don’t want you to think I am advocating “breast is best” either. 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. Those who are desperately struggling to breastfeed, and not getting much support, have to defend their reasons for this struggle, sometimes to themselves and close relatives by sticking to the “it’s best” mantra.  Those who formula feed for whatever reasons, feel attacked by this message. 

Best and worst: 'breast is best,' so...

Breast is best manipulates those who formula feed their babies into staunchly defending their right to do so. It encourages them them to shout down anyone who dares to voice an opinion, or talk about statistics or risks about their feeding method. It does this because the word “best” is a binary term. Its binary partner is “worst”. When someone says how wonderful they think breastfeeding is, your brain thinks “if I’m not doing that, I’m doing something worse”.

So began the 'Mummy wars'

Now we are at war with each other, when actually most breastfeeding parents don’t think formula feeding parent did “worst”. Also, most formula feeding parents are happily recognise how hard breastfeeding parents may have worked. We are at war because they have told us to be, ever so subtly over time. 

Formula companies, those multi million dollar industries, 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. It benefits them that as soon as someone states facts and statistics about breastfeeding’s benefits, someone who uses formula milk will defend it to the hilt. Parents, understandably hate the implication that they didn’t do the “best”. Sometimes this descends into parents, usually online, bashing formula milk and breastmilk because everyone feels judged, threatened, hurt, and not listened to. So, they lash out. So the mummy wars continues.

Feeding your baby: you did your best

I am here to tell you that you absolutely did your best! You did your best with the information, support, history and relationship with your body and the societal influences surrounding you at the time. You did your best whether you breastfed for 4 years, 4 minutes or you never even tried.


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. You know it does. everyone knows it does. It hurts when someone implies you didn’t do your best because we know how important it is.

Breast is not best; it's the biological norm

Human babies are evolved to drink milk from human mothers. Where there are no issues feeding a baby human milk is optimal. Human milk has developed to nourish a baby in a way that cannot be substituted by taking the milk from another species, and dehydrating it and enriching it to create a long-lasting powder.

 Furthermore, the companies that design, produce and sell formula do not primarily 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. 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 or can’t exclusively breastfeed.  Formula is not the next optimum option after 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 cannot or choose, and you are entirely valid in making your choice,  not to feed your baby solely your milk from your breast, you have the options outlined below. The World Health Organisation recommends these options in this order for low birth weight infants, and previously recommended this for all 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

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, exclusively expressed, used donor milk, donated milk and exclusively breastfed to past 2 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. Thanks for this post. It’s an important perspective, and I’m sure it can change women’s thoughts about themselves in a positive way.

  3. 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)?

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Thank you for posting this it
    puts things really well and is, like breast milk, easily digested.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.)

  9. 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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