We come up against this argument a lot don’t we?
Some use fed is best as a supportive slogan for those who couldn’t or didn’t want to breastfeed, but a lot of people find this slogan dismissive and in fact harmful.
Why you may ask… let me explain.
And before I start, this is in no way against those who have chosen to formula feed or even about formula at all. Formula is a great and safe alternative to breast milk for those who don’t wish to breastfeed or for those who come up against barriers that they can’t overcome. It also has its place medically and has saved babies lives – I am not dismissing the benefits of formula use when wanted and/or needed.
This is about parents, their rights, and their need to be heard and supported whatever their choice of feeding method may be.
As a mum I have used formula when needed – I am not against formula use. I am however against the term fed is best.
Origins of fed is best
Many won’t know where the slogan originated and that can be problematic.
How often do we use phrases were we’re not entirely sure where it came from, only to later realise the original phrase was in fact harmful?
How often do we use phrases where were not entirely sure where it came from, only to later realise the original phrase was in fact harmful?
The fed is best movement was started by a mother and physician who had a child who unfortunately suffered dehydration and as a result has a brain injury. She blames this on her fear of using formula after being told that breast is best.
Amongst many claims, she believes that starvation in the first several days of a child’s life causes autism – however, there is no proven scientific link to this, just her belief. In fact, studies like this one have shown children with ASD are more likely to have been bottle-fed or weaned early in comparison to children without ASD.
She advocated for all children to receive formula in the first few days of life whilst a mother waits for milk to come in. Included in their mission statement is the paragraph below;
‘To be fully informed, parents must be taught the risks of insufficient breast milk intake when supporting exclusive breastfeeding in order to prevent hospitalizations for insufficient feeding complications. Finally, we strive to eliminate infant feeding shaming while prioritizing perinatal mental health.’
This statement makes out like many mums and babies will suffer from insufficient breast milk and that hospitalisation due to starvation is a regular occurrence. Neither of which are in fact true. It also bypasses the fact that breastfeeding is known to help a mother’s mental health postpartum due to the production of oxytocin (happy hormone) when breastfeeding.
There are some other outrageous claims on not only her website but within her Facebook group that shows her bias against exclusive breastfeeding.
For example, she urges mums to check colostrum levels via manual expression which as a breastfeeding peer supporter I am fully aware that expression is zero indication of supply. Lots of mums can feed their children very successfully and never achieve a drop via expression. This could falsely lead Mothers to believe they are not producing milk and lead to unneeded supplementation which can then hinder the breastfeeding journey.
She claims any newborn that is constantly feeding is hungry and must require supplementation – thus ignoring the fact that children nurse for many other reasons than just hunger such as comfort, connection, pain relief, and just to satisfy the biological need to suckle and may have nothing to do with hunger at all.
These are just some of the many incorrect statements made and I’ve witnessed A LOT worse on her Facebook group but unfortunately haven’t kept evidence (wish I had, you’d be shocked). This origin is important as it holds weight and demonises breastfeeding people.
The term ‘Best’
Another argument is in the use of the term ‘best’ which insinuates there’s an alternative or a ‘less than’ method, which is simply untrue. The opposite of fed is unfed, and this would be neglectful and abuse. To insinuate the basic need of feeding an infant is ‘best’ is insulting.
Whilst scientific evidence shows that breast milk is healthiest for a human infant, combination feeding, and formula feeding are alternative methods that will provide children with the nutrition they need to grow and thrive.
We also simply can’t ignore the fact that there are risks that come with formula feeding and not breastfeeding for both feeding parent and child.
Fed is best is often used as a counterargument to ‘breast is best’ (not a fan of that slogan either but an article for another time, maybe?). Breastfeeding advocates are not fighting for breast or nothing, though they are promoting the benefits of breast milk to both infant and parent, wanting to raise awareness and increase support for those who WANT to breastfeed.
Fed is best is saying anything other than starved is best – but again it is not. Parents could give babies foods at 14 weeks and they’d be fed but it certainly wouldn’t be best – current guidelines stand at 6 months being advised but never before 17 weeks. The term ‘best’ leaves too much up to personal interpretation.
The term ‘best’ leaves too much up to personal interpretation.
Parents want to breastfeed
In the UK over 80% of parents attempt to breastfeed yet we have some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world by 3 months being around 17% and by 6 months only 1% are exclusively breastfed (as reported by Unicef).
It’s not that parents do not want to breastfeed it is that they are not supported enough to do so. This shows us that support is seriously lacking which is creating a hide divide between formula-feeding parents and breastfeeding parents which is promoting the use of such divisive terms pitting parents against one another.
It also dismisses the fact that parents do primarily choose to breastfeed, they want to breastfeed and often struggle without adequate support to breastfeed.
For those who ‘fail’ or those who ‘succeed’ this can be very dismissive of their feelings, wishes, and desires.
For a new parent not being able to breastfeed or having a hard time can be an emotional time. It can cause lots of upset and a grief-like feeling as explained by Prof Amy Brown in her book ‘Why Breastfeeding Grief and Trauma Matter‘. For parents who do experience grief and trauma being told that fed is best makes them feel guilty for feeling sad. It dismisses their wishes and wants for their child and doesn’t provide comfort – although that is the intended purpose of the phrase by some.
For parents who do experience grief and trauma being told that ‘fed is best’ makes them feel guilty for feeling sad. It dismisses their wishes and wants for their child and doesn’t provide comfort – although that is the intended purpose of the phrase by some.
Being upset about the premature ending of a breastfeeding journey can also be met with judgement – such as why are you upset fed is best anyway! Being upset is silly, at least your child has food.
It’s often used as an excuse to not support a new parent sufficiently, instead of offering help for issues parents are passed off and fed is best Is thrown at them. If a parent dares moan or express any sort of /negative’ emotion she is told to stop as ‘fed is best’. This dismisses their feelings entirely.
Parents who have a hard time feeding, who seek support and help, who persevere through multiple issues and work hard to overcome any barriers often then feel their hard work and determination isn’t celebrated as fed is best anyway. Why bother putting in all that hard work, the blood, sweat, and tears when fed is best.
Breastfeeding parents when sharing their success, when celebrating hitting certain milestones are berated and jeered at – told they are boastful and are bragging. They are told they are shaming others who couldn’t breastfeed who didn’t want to. Often their achievements are either ignored entirely or met with negativity.
Parents who are supported by a lactation consultant after birth have a far higher rate of initiating breastfeeding, higher rates of continued feeding beyond the 4th trimester, and are more likely to be exclusively breastfeeding by 3 months. Use of fed is best allows the lack of support to go unchallenged, it gives those in higher positions room to say there’s no need to spend the money on services to promote and support breastfeeding. This will mean further parents are let down and failed by the system meant to support them and cause further grief, trauma and ill-feeling continuing this divide.
So, whilst You may not individually be offended by the term fed is best and you may even find some comfort in those words, 1000’s of others feel the complete opposite. It makes them feel dismissed, hurt, let down, and silenced. I prefer Informed and Supported is best!
Disclosure: The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and are not upheld in any way by boobingit. The information and references within this guide were accurate at the time of the author writing and boobingit is not responsible for any inaccuracies post-publishing. Please seek the help of a medical professional should you need it whilst breastfeeding.