Let’s clarify this right from the start; fed is necessary, a basic human need in order to survive. It is not “best”. Best implies choice – if you choose to not feed your child then you are abusing them. I’m not particularly interested in that point though, we all know that isn’t what people are saying when they tell mothers that fed is best. I want to discuss the numerous other reasons why this phrase is at best silly, and at worst detrimental to infant and maternal health.
Firstly, “Fed is best” (FIB to stop me going mad from typing it many times over.) Doesn’t consider the importance of breastfeeding support. It’s either used as a way of placating a mum who is struggling to breastfeed (“don’t beat yourself up! Just stop breastfeeding – Fed is best!!”)or defensively by a Mother who is is formula feeding. (“My kids are all healthy! Fed is best.”) It does not address the feelings of guilt, disappointment and failure that come when we want to breastfeed but find it hard, and it doesn’t encoirage us to consider why breastfeeding is hard, or what mum wants to do. It just silences her with empty words. When guilt and grief is suppressed with platitudes and “you’re doing good enough, don’t worry.” It blossoms into anger and resentment, a huge sense of failure, and even mental health issues. At best, that breeds this culture of breast vs formula we have going on, and at worst it tips mums into depression.
Next is the way we perpetuate the idea that breastfeeding is unachievable by stating FIB. (“My baby didn’t latch after a week so we used formula – Fed is best!!”) This is sending a message loud and clear that successful breastfeeding has a time limit on it, but that’s ok because formula is just as good. Why aren’t we telling women about exclusive expressing, or sharing statistics and stories about babies who latched after 2,4,6,8 weeks and longer? Why do we instead write off breastfeeding in one catch all phrase designed to try (often unsuccessfully) to make us simply feel better about something so very personal? if a Motheris considering formula, she will either share that if she feels safe, understood, and not judged or talked down to, or she will simply feed formula. She does not need someone telling her FIB – because it’s not helpful, and it’s not actually true. Trust and respect are built on honesty. When someone trusts and respects you, they are more likely to open up and ask for further support. When we say FIB, Mums usually know damned well that isn’t scientifically accurate and they may well lose some trust and respect. Or they feel misunderstood, patronized, as though no one is listening to their pleas for breastfeeding support. (I’m not talking about mothers who are already suggesting they want to use formula – informed choice of course extends to non judgemental info on FF -but I am saying let’s wait and hear Mum’s thoughts on this before we jump in with promoting formula.)
Let’s not pretend that we actually believe formula is on a par with breastfeeding. There are reams of scientific evidence to the contrary. When someone claims FIB they are saying how we feed isn’t important as long as the baby has a full belly. We are so fortunate to live in a society where formula safely grows babies, and gives us a choice, but it stops at adequate nutrition. A breastfed baby shares his Mother’s immune system each and every time she feeds him. He has all of his needs, physical and emotional, met at her breast, he is less likely to suffer SIDS, allergies, and obesity to make just a few.we can not then hold up formula and say “Fed is best!!” in comparison. Yet this is happening, and it’s adding to the number of women who switch to formula without accessing appropriate breastfeeding support first. It frustrates me infinitely that we omit the facts about breastfeeding and formula simply because we want to avoid hurt feelings. We have no issue talking about the importance of diet, exercise, rest, and life balance and yet the very place our relationship with diet starts and is shaped – infant feeding – is glossed over because people feel guilty for giving formula. I’m getting a bit fed up of saying that breastfeeding is NOT about people currently or previously formula feeding, it is about making breastfeeding more achievable for our children when they are having babies in the future. Do we really believe that mums are daft enough to believe breast and formula are on the same level?I don’t think so, so let’s stop patronising them.
To summarize. Fed is not best. Fed is necessary. Breastfeeding is the healthiest method of feeding almost every baby, and formula is an adequate alternative for any number of reasons. When we claim fed is best we make formula and breasfeeding sound the same, and make breastfeeding feel less important than it is. We discourage mothers from seeking support or considering other feeding choices such as expressing. We don’t reach out with support, or allow her to open up and share her grief – we just silence her and end the discussion without finding out how she actually feels. A statement designed to be helpful and reassuring causes so much damage to both new Mums today, and future parents. We need to stop. We need to take a step back and think “what will I achieve by saying this?” Because while it might not sway a Mother from her attempts to breastfeed, it may stop her opening up further so she can get continued support to achieve her goal.