Why the phrase "Fed is best..." can do one.

It's a phrase most commonly banded about when two set of parents attempt, in the same breath, to defend their decision to feed their baby in a certain way, and also to stress how non judgemental they are and supportive of the opposing method. 

It is almost impossible to share an article, fact based or otherwise, on the positive aspects of breastfeeding, without someone feeling judged negatively for feeding formula and calling you out for being mean (not all formula feeding Mums do this by the way! Shout out to the happy, contented formula feeding Mamas) - and if you see such an article shared on social media, you probably only have to go four or five comments deep before someone has said "Fed is best! I don't care how a baby is fed, as long as they're looked after."

Well you know what? Bullshit.

And before anyone pipes up to say that I'm making them feel bad for formula feeding, that's  not what I'm setting out to do here. I'm not looking at anyone and judging them, negatively or otherwise, on their parenting choices (not my circus, not my monkeys) - I'm only looking, in particular, at that phrase.

We would never use those words to discuss anyone other than a newborn baby. If someone shares an article on Facebook about how to encourage your seven year old to get at least five portions of fruit or veg in a day, you're unlikely to see anyone else say "This is really unfair. My son has cake for breakfast, and every day, I take him to KFC after school. We've had the taps in our house modified so that they only run Pepsi. But at least my son is fed. I want the best for my son so I make sure he has something to eat. Not everyone can feed their child vegetables, it doesn't mean we're bad parents."

Equally, you'd never suggest to any of your adult friends that it genuinely doesn't make a shred of difference, to their health or well being, what they eat, as long as they eat something.

Bizarrely, however, that's considered the kindest thing to say about a baby. 

Fed is not best. Fed is the minimum required for survival - "fed is best" is a mindless thing to say, about a baby or anyone else. If fed is best then a parent is totally cool with giving their newborn a McDonalds milkshake... 

Oh so, that's not what you meant? You meant that as long as a baby is given either breast milk or formula then that's better than starving them? Well...duh. I don't think a single Mother I've come across has said "I had a really hard time breastfeeding, so I just let my baby starve to death." Or equally "When I was pregnant I knew that I didn't want to breastfeed, so I accepted that my baby wouldn't survive very long as I would have to starve them."

Nobody is suggesting that starvation of a child is the third option here. What they're saying, when they say "Fed is best." is that whatever you choose to do, it's OK. OK, and best. are not the same thing. So "Fed is best", whilst true, is a completely pointless, nonsensical statement, in the context that it is usually used. 

There are lots of things we can say which actually represent the message of "fed is best", and make sense. 

For example:

"Infant formula is alright."
"A baby can survive perfectly well on infant formula."
"Infant formula isn't a poison, it is acceptable to feed it to a baby."

You can even say, if you like:

"Lots of people have healthy, formula fed babies who thrive."

I'd like to add that I was formula fed from birth and I am very much alive and well as I write this. Equally, my five year old son was formula fed from birth and he is doing great. I know lots of people who breastfed their babies and those children struggled against a number of health complaints, so it's cool, there's plenty of anecdotal evidence of formula fed babies growing up strong and healthy. 

Fed is not best, fed is the minimum required for survival. 
Breast is not best, it is normal, it is the only food stuff on the planet ideally suited to human babies.
Infant formula is OK. 

There's a whole other side to the "Fed is Best" row, and that applies when it is used as a term of reassurance. Rather than defending their own decision to formula feed, or trying to convince someone that they're supportive of formula feeding, sometimes, people use the term "fed is best" to comfort a Mum who, for whatever reason, is about to give her baby formula, and doesn't feel great about it.

If the Mum in question is one of the 1% of women who can not breastfeed because she doesn't have enough breast tissue... then please do comfort her with the knowledge that her baby will absolutely have a great shot at health and happiness, being raised on infant formula. Chances are she lives in a relatively wealthy country, with access to clean, safe drinking water, and whilst there are still risks associated with formula feeding, she is able to minimise these by preparing bottles safely.

However, if the Mum in question is one of the 99% of women who is physical and anatomically capable of supporting her child's development with breast milk, and that is what she wants to do, and she happens to be struggling, "fed is best" is, quite literally, the worst thing you can possibly say.

I am lucky, despite giving birth to a tongue tied baby with a dodgy shallow latch, and suffering from vasospasm in both breasts which makes breastfeeding painful (and always will), and D-Mer which is a weird breastfeeding based anxiety disorder thing... I am capable of breastfeeding. I decided during pregnancy that I wanted to breastfeed and in the long run, these hurdles wouldn't have stopped me from achieving that goal. However, I had really dark days. I mean, the deepest depression I've ever experienced kind of days; triggered entirely by post-partum hormones, and breastfeeding. 

I called my boyfriend in tears almost every day for Quinn's first month on the planet, telling him that I was going to have to accept that breastfeeding wasn't for us, as I could no longer cope with the pain. All I wanted him to say was "fed is best", I desperately wanted someone to tell me that breast milk wasn't all it was cracked up to be, that actually, formula might be a good idea - because the most important thing was that my baby was fed (she was being fed anyway, I was just going through Hell). I wanted someone to basically invalidate my struggle, my physical pain, my emotional trauma... and suggest that I was going through it all for nothing because "fed is best". I was desperate for that.

But nobody did that, least of all Boyfriend, who never once suggested that I stop breastfeeding, even when I wailed down the phone that I'd totally had enough. He reminded me how great it was to do what is normal and natural for our daughter.

Six months on, I have an exclusively breastfed baby, and I'm so proud of myself, I can't begin to describe how great I feel about my own breastfeeding achievements. I look back at those first six weeks and barely recognise myself. If someone had said, "fed is best" back then, I'd have hugged them, and thanked them, for taking away the guilt that I felt at finding breastfeeding so damn hard, and I'd have stopped breastfeeding.

I'd have stopped breastfeeding and I'd probably still struggle with that today. Breastfeeding was my goal, and whilst I hate the use of the word "fail" when we talk about Mum's who didn't realise their breastfeeding goals, it would still have been a goal I didn't meet, and one that I won't have an opportunity to try for again "next time" (no more babies). 

"Fed is best" is probably the cruellest thing anyone could have said to me back then, in terms of how it would have effected my long term parenting experience with Quinn.

So if you're a formula feeding Mum, and you see a conversation about the positive aspects of breastfeeding - just remember, it isn't for you. It isn't an attack on you for formula feeding, it doesn't exist with the sole purpose of making you feel like a substandard Mother, it isn't an opportunity for you to defend yourself. When you comment on these articles saying "fed is best", and that your babies are just as healthy on formula, or that your breastfed baby is always sick so pro-breastfeeding messages are incorrect, or that it doesn't matter how a baby is fed - you're wading into territory that isn't your own, and potentially encouraging a struggling breastfeeding Mum (who this article probably is aimed at) to turn her back on a goal. Don't be that person. 

Fed is not best, fed is the minimum required for survival. 
Breast is not best, it is normal, it is the only food stuff on the planet ideally suited to babies.
Infant formula is OK. 

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