Why I Don’t Like or Agree With The Term ‘Fed is best.’ Get Over the Guilt Trip

Why I Don’t Like or Agree With The Term ‘Fed is best.’ Get Over the Guilt Trip

I may get some stick for this post, but I can’t help myself. Last week was World Breastfeeding Week and I was pleased to see so many positive and lovely stories, pictures and videos about breastfeeding. It also seemed to bring out the formula feeders who were whining again about being left out, or felt they were being made to feel guilty for their choices.

Here’s the thing.

I believe the guilt is on you. It’s not coming from breastfeeding mothers, or breastfeeding advocates and lactation consultants. It’s your guilt you’re feeling each time breastfeeding is heralded. No-one is shaming you, making you feel bad on purpose. It’s a bit like when someone tells me how great they are at crafting with their kids, keeping the house clean, holding down a job and have a perfect relationship. I feel bad for not being Mary Poppins but then I realise it’s not their fault, the guilt is on me. Plus, Mary Poppins left the kids to it eventually and flew away, she’s not perfect. Except it doesn’t exist. Nobody’s perfect, least of all me. I may have breastfed my children, some longer than others, but I’m not good at a lot of other things about parenting. I do my best and I love them with a passion. I don’t believe for a second that breastfeeding elevates me to Supermum status, all consuming earth mother, lording it over you dirty bottle feeders giving poison to your babies.

You know breast is best, you get told it enough, yet you chose to or had to formula feed, and that’s OK. You’re OK. You’re a good mother, because if you didn’t feel guilty about something, then you wouldn’t care. Let us talk about our breastfeeding struggles, wins, share our brelfies and talk about how amazing it is. You can talk about how amazing other aspects are. Don’t project any guilt or shame on something I said.

We all do it differently. Whether you tried breastfeeding, or didn’t want to from the start, that’s your bag. From time to time I like to talk about the benefits of breastfeeding, or my breastfeeding journey. I know for a fact 98% of women will have enough milk (whether they believe it or not), it’s more about support and the right information to keep going. If I hadn’t had the support of friends and my local La Leche group this time, I may have stopped far sooner. What I don’t like, is any time I post about breastfeeding, or make a comment about it, I’m accused of making formula feeders feel guilty or shaming. Don’t project your feelings of guilt on me. I’m not out to make mums feel bad.

Fed is not best. Fed is a given. What’s the alternative to fed? Starve the baby? Of course fed is best, fed is the minimum we should be giving our babies. Formula definitely has it’s place, but it is not the best food for babies. Once a single formula feed has been given, the gut changes forever. It irks me every time I see that phrase when formula feeding mums get up in arms about breastfeeding. Any breastfeeding information is given in good faith, people just want women to be educated about their choices. Informed and well supported choice is best, what and how we feed our children matters, being educated and supported to make choices that are best for our families and free of bias that shouldn’t even be there is what matters. To say that fed is all that matters is doing families a huge disservice. At the end of the day, it’s still a choice, as is the diet we have. I know what’s healthy for me and what’s not, but I still reach for the crisps, wine and chocolate. I give my children sweets, fizzy drinks and aspartame, it’s my choice given the information I have.

That isn’t to say that families who don’t breastfeed are inferior, and parents who rely on formula through necessity or choice aren’t by default less loving or less competent, but the fact is, just like with many other food stuffs, other feeding methods are inferior. It’s difficult to quantify the differences but there’s no denying that differences are there.

Breastfeeding advocates in fact want all infant feeding choices to be discussed more honestly and more helpfully for all, and want formula feeding families to be supported in making informed choices that are truly best for them and not for anyone else, as is currently often the case.

The Huffington Post (and there were others of a similar vein) published a post with someone whingeing that world breastfeeding week should be ‘world infant feeding week’ because it celebrated something she couldn’t do. The responses where priceless!

“Oh dear god….. its about promoting breastfeeding, getting society to realise breastfeeding is natural and people shouldn’t be embarrassed to feed their baby in public! Its about getting support and encouragement to those who want to breastfeed.
It is not about slating those who don’t breastfeed but no way should it have its name changed.”

“I could not win an olympic medal but I still like to celebrate the achievement of athletes and raise awareness of the benefits of participating in sports.”

“You ask me how I would feel about “the whole world celebrating for a week something I couldn’t do?” – the same way I feel about gay pride month where all the LGBTQetc people celebrate their sexuality and it had absolutely nothing to do with me and so I have no need/right to pass comment….The reason there is a world bf week is because bf is scientifically the better option for feeding your child and statistically there is only 5% of women who give birth who physically/biologically cannot breast feed – so for all other mothers it is a choice. If you choose to feed your baby formula- that’s great. Your baby is fed. But you also come from a privileged society where access to clean water to be able to make formula is taken for granted. In 3rd world countries, bf is the only option. As a bf mum, knowing how much I had to battle in the early months with various problems to keep going, and how much I have to fight for my legal right to feed my baby in public, I will damn well have my week and do everything I can to promote breastfeeding over formula. The UK has the lowest bf rates in the developed world, that is a horrendous statistic and something we should be working to change. So, if you are a formula feeding mum, good for you. But let us have our week promoting the best feeding method for babies, as advised by the world health organisation and articles like this one don’t help.”

“This reminds me of when people say there should be a White History Week, or a Straight Pride…”

“Shall we rename talk like a pirate day to just talk day so as not to offend non pirates??? Formula feeding is second best, breastfeeding is best. Inconvenient but true. Not unfair. Not forcing it down anyone’s throats. Just a cold hard biological fact. Same as beef burgers are second best to steaks. Sort of the same and will both feed you but one is better.”

You get the gist. I agree with all of these statements. I felt bombarded with formula feeders exploding about feeling guilty rather than celebrating a week of awareness of breastfeeding. I know I should ignore it but it did affect me, hence this post.

My breastfeeding journey over 4 children (includes formula feeding)

When I had my first daughter, I breastfed exclusively for 4 months. At the beginning it was excruciatingly painful, but after 2 weeks it eased up. What didn’t was the frequency of feeds and the evening colic. I was her only source of nutrition and it was breaking me. She wouldn’t take a bottle so I could have a break. I wish I’d known then what I know now about giving breastfed babies a bottle. I was exhausted, suffering from PND and couldn’t see a way out. Eventually, we arranged for her to go to Grandma’s overnight, I needed to relax and sleep. At the same time, I saw the GP and they prescribed antidepressants. When she went to Grandma’s, she took the bottle, she had no choice. When she came back to us, I was so scared she’d never take a bottle again I carried on. I think I gave a couple more breastfeeds as I was so engorged but I never looked back. My mental health improved, probably a combination of giving up breastfeeding and the medication. It didn’t even occur to me to feel guilty at the time, I did what was right for me at the time. Looking back afterwards, I did wonder what I would have done had I sought out more breastfeeding support, but I felt like it was me, I couldn’t cope with it and the expectations it placed on me.

With my second I was so paranoid about him not taking a bottle that I exclusively fed for a few weeks and then introduced a bottle. He was no trouble, took to both, but after a while more bottles crept in and at 5 months our breastfeeding journey was over. My third child was the same. I didn’t feel guilty at the time at all, but later I wondered whether I should have stuck at it more. There was a niggling feeling that other mothers could do it, why couldn’t I?

When I was pregnant with Daniel, my 4th child, I was more determined to be ‘successful’ at breastfeeding. I had the support of friends and family, I sought out La Leche League, I really wanted to get past 6 months and possibly 12 months. Those first few months were hard, I won’t deny it. He was a clingy baby and I ended up wearing him in a sling most of the time. Evenings were difficult, he was like Amy in that respect. I did give him formula a couple of times in desperation, but it made no difference to how he behaved. I stuck at it, then at 5 months he turned a corner and was far less fussy, he started to eat solids at 6 months and we’re still going at 2yrs 7 months! Far longer than I thought I would, and the bond is amazing. He feeds twice a day now and still really enjoys it. It’s definitely for him and not me – if he wasn’t interested, I would have stopped long ago. I’m so proud of myself for sticking at it and it gives me and my son so much joy that I will not apologise for shouting it from the rooftops and wanting other families to benefit the way I have.

Support is so key when it comes to breastfeeding. A lot of women stop because of misguided expectations, or lack of confidence. Many had a bad start to it due to their or the baby’s birth recovery and couldn’t continue. Some get conflicting advice and information, and stop because they can’t find the right way. Some don’t feel comfortable breastfeeding in public, or in front of family members – society has a lot to answer for in over sexualising breasts and women feeling uncomfortable about a natural process.

It’s a scientific fact that breastfeeding is better and geared towards our babies more than formula. It’s also been linked to fewer hospital admissions and higher IQ. All the world over. The benefits don’t stop after 6 months either. It’s also true that if you formula feed, the bond can be as strong, and the baby will most likely grow up fine. But you’re taking a risk.

If you’re pregnant and plan on breastfeeding, would you like to be a beta tester on my breastfeeding course? You get the course for free in return for some feedback. Just enter your details below and I’ll be in touch 🙂

Jenny-midwifeandlife-midwife-blogger-mummy

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22 Comments

  1. August 10, 2017 / 4:53 pm

    As someone who wanted to breastfeed and couldn’t, this comes across as hurtful. Some women do not have the supply to provide for their baby. In those cases, FED IS BEST! One woman literally starved her child to death because everyone told her not to give her baby a bottle. Our baby lost almost a pound shortly after birth! We had no choice but to supplement or she would have suffered the same consequence. No one is denying breastmilk as being better quality, but the reality is a fed child is better than a dead child.

    As for saying “no one is shaming you” well there are actually tons of breastfeeding moms that do shame moms that formula feed, I know from experience.

    • Midwife and Life
      Author
      August 10, 2017 / 4:59 pm

      I’m sorry if you’ve felt shamed. Formula absolutely has it’s place as I’ve stated above.

    • August 10, 2017 / 5:15 pm

      Agreed. I fully intended to breastfeed but my son was unable to latch and, after months of trying, we decided to exclusively formula feed. He lost so much weight after birth that he had to be readmitted to hospital but some breastfeeding mums were openly hostile about my giving him formula to help him gain weight in between expressed feeds. I don’t feel guilty but I’m so sick of the lazy analogy that it’s like choosing to eat junk food when you know it’s bad. It’s absolutely not. If I were to have another I’d definitely try breastfeeding again but I’d rather have a few baby than a starving, undernourished one.

  2. August 10, 2017 / 7:16 pm

    LOVE this post! As a mum of seven exclusively BF children, I am always nervous about putting anything about breastfeeding as there are so many quick to jump up and make me feel guilty. I have volunteered as a peer supporter and then worked as a breastfeeding practitioner, I have never sugar coated breastfeeding, in fact I tell them that I think bottle feeding is actually harder, my baby’s milk is there on tap as and when he/she requires it, no waiting for the kettle to boil, no cost involved. There is a HUGE lack of information out there, especially about the size of a newborns tummy compared to what is stated on a formula can, it’s no wonder new, sleep deprived mothers reach for the formula, they give them a bottle their stomach is so full they sleep for hours, what woman in their right mind would choose having a baby waking every hour through the night over that!

  3. Vicky
    August 10, 2017 / 8:18 pm

    Totally agree with this post! My mum is a nurse, as am I, and she breast fed me and my siblings for at least 6 months. I have grown up being aware of the benefits of breast feeding for baby and mum, and was determined that I would breastfeed my baby. In 2015 I had my little boy, but due to a lack of support with breastfeeding post delivery, I really struggled and my baby had to go back into hospital just 4 days after we got home. I was still so determined to breastfeed, I have Type 1 Diabetes and my husband has eczema and asthma, I wanted to try to give my baby the best possible start and try to reduce the risks of him developing future health condition like his parents had. There was a lot of pressure from my husband and his family to just switch to the bottle, but with the proper support from hospital staff and the use of nipple shields, he soon took to breastfeeding with no problem and he has thrived ever since. I am so pleased that I persevered, and I continued to breastfeed until my little one turned 1. It was difficult, but I feel that I did what I felt was best for my baby. I am currently 17 weeks pregnant and I absolutely plan to breastfeed again, for me, breast is best. This is my choice, but I would never criticise anyone who chooses to formula feed, as long as women are being given all the appropriate information to allow them to make an informed decision about which way to feed their babies, that is the main issue I think. We need to provide information and support to women regarding breastfeeding.

  4. Melissa
    August 10, 2017 / 8:54 pm

    I completely agree that support is incredibly important to have success with breastfeeding! My husband is from Europe and we had his parents over a week after we had our daughter and you wouldn’t believe the looks I got for wanting to breastfeed her. Mind you, I’d leave the room because any kind of exposure to them seemed weird and then I’d get guilt trips over them not being able to help bottle feed her and so I was pressured into pumping so they could feel included. Well I’m finally pregnant again and I’ve sworn to my husband that is it happening again! They’re not allowed to visit for a couple months after the baby arrives. Sadly, my husband agreed with a lot of their views so I was always on my own to make it work and only lasted a couple months total. Still makes me sad but I know I can stand my ground better this time around.

  5. Sarah
    August 10, 2017 / 10:12 pm

    It’s also true that if you formula feed, the bond can be as strong, and the baby will most likely grow up fine. But you’re taking a risk.

    Most likely?
    Taking a risk?

    For someone so adamant and keen to let everyone know ‘formula has its place’ you come across as very judgemental, how dare you say mothers are taking a risk at not bonding with their child by choosing to bottle feed. You may as well tell formula feeding mothers they don’t love their children as much as you so clearly do.

    • Midwife and Life
      Author
      August 10, 2017 / 10:21 pm

      Maybe I didn’t word it properly, I meant there’s a risk in general to health when you formula feed but the are plenty of examples that go against it!

    • Vicky
      August 11, 2017 / 11:14 am

      I don’t think this post was meant to sound judgemental, it can be difficult when you believe in something so strongly, I myself am guilty of feeling that formula is suboptimal for babies, but it absolutely does have it’s place! There are sometimes circumstances which make formula the only safe option for baby, for example, I have a friend who needed surgery only a couple of weeks after she gave birth. She was in hospital for at least a week and on very strong analgesia, so breastfeeding was no longer safe nor appropriate for baby and she had to switch to formula. If it weren’t for formula then her baby could have died.

      Breastfeeding is well researched and shows that it can reduce the risks of developing health conditions, however, this is not a certainty. I was breastfed and I still developed diabetes at 17. My husband was formula fed and he has eczema and asthma. Sometimes, shit still happens despite doing what medical research recommends. It’s also true that many formula fed babies grow into perfectly healthy adults, it’s not an exact science which is why they only say that breastfeeding “can reduce the risks” of developing future conditions.

  6. August 11, 2017 / 5:36 am

    Great post. You’ve articulated feelings I had about World Breastfeedong Week when I saw posts online like “Breast Feeding Doesn’t Make You Better Than Me”. It was never about those parents. It was never a dig at THEM. It was about raising awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding because those rates SHOULD be higher as the benefits are widely publicised and clear to all as being good. Choosing to formula feed (and it not being a forced choice due to issues with BF) is akin to choosing not to exercise regularly. You’re not going to harm not doing it but it increases health benefits if you do. Raising awareness of that is a good thing and mothers can take that advice as they wish as every situation is different but at least the awareness was made.

  7. Becky
    August 11, 2017 / 9:51 am

    Really great article and anyone worrying that it judges formula feeding needs to read through to the end and the author’s own experiences where she formula fed her babies. So she’s not judging or guilt shaming formula feeding. She did it herself. She’s saying she wishes there was more support out there for breast feeding because it is a better food for babies. It’s not the only food, we have formula but it is not the bespoke nutrition that humans make. its bespoke because the woman’s body reacts to the baby’s needs through a clever saliva communication between mouth and nipple. That just doesn’t happen with formula. So if your baby is poorly your body will respond to that and adjust the milk content accordingly. it’s also free and has a positive impact on the mothers health. Increase of oxytocin (love hormone) lower rates of female cancers and you lose weight doing it. So these are all extras that formula can’t provide. So it’s ok to champion it. It’s not saying your a crap mum if you didn’t do it. But saying hey did you know breast feeding can do this? Then more people can make an informed choice about whether they want to do it or not.

    • Midwife and Life
      Author
      August 11, 2017 / 10:10 am

      Thank you for this!

  8. August 11, 2017 / 1:37 pm

    I really don’t agree with this. It comes across very hurtful and a little judgemental – i bonded extremely well with my daughter who I bottle fed and have been asked on several occasions ‘why did you bottle feed?’ In a judgmental tone that made me feel inferior. The guilt wasn’t on me. What gave these other mums the right to ask me how I feed my own child. I couldn’t breastfeed for medical reasons and so fed is best for us. It’s posts like this that leave bottle feeding mamas feeling shamed.

    • Midwife and Life
      Author
      August 11, 2017 / 1:44 pm

      I’m sorry you feel that way

  9. August 14, 2017 / 12:18 am

    Lucas was formula fed and I used to get so upset and feel so judged for formula feeding him. When people would say “breast is best” and say “fed is not best it’s required” I’d feel so blooming angry!
    He was breastfed for ten days and I had to stop from weight loss and lack of supply! I thought my boobs failed me but it wasn’t until I successfully breastfed Iris that I looked at why I failed last time and the fact I was forced to top him up with formula because he had low blood sugar and the lack of support and knowledge it meant my supply dropped from the top ups filling a feeds place NOT because my boobs didn’t work.

    Breastfeeding Iris has not been easy but I pushed on through the pain and came out the other side… 9 and half months on still breastfeeding!

    I am no better mother to Iris than Lucas because she’s had my breast milk BUT I totally agree that breast is best and fed is required. You can’t starve your child. I have done a lot of research and so many medications are okay with breastfeeding and there’s a lot of people that say they couldn’t feed because of it. That’s down to certain doctors, midwifes and health visitors lack of knowledge though, usually. You can drink alcohol, ect…

    I think there’s a huge problem with lack of support from health visitors and things and not many people know about breastfeeding support groups.
    I have a breastfeeding peer worker tell me she’d take Iris into nicu if I didn’t top her up with formula if she didn’t gain weight in 24 hours. She had only lost 12% and seemed absolutely fine! She’s like her dad and dinky and at nearly 10 months still fits in some 0-3 months clothes! She’s healthy and thriving though.

    I also love the bond I have with her. It could be that she’s a different child to Lucas who loves everyone and daddy! Iris just loves me, she’s always very happy when she’s cuddling me!

    No one is shaming Mum’s for formula feeding. Don’t get me wrong I’d love more Mum’s to try breastfeeding instead of opting straight for formula because it’s such a great, natural thing but I think that everyone has the right to their own choices.

    At the end of the day breast milk is best. Its catered to your child! It’s utter magic and liquid gold. It’s scientifically proven it’s better than breastmilk so I don’t understand why people argue that. That’s not saying “you’re a terrible mum for formula feeding” because that’s not how 95% of people think!
    I know my anger came from my own self guilt and the anger towards health visitors, doctors and midwives who were so eager to push formula top ups on me.

    Breastfeeding is fucking hard and we should absolutely be praised for it. No one complains that gay pride is putting down straight people, or black history month should be history month.

    That was an easy sorry

  10. August 14, 2017 / 5:55 am

    I completely agree with this. At the end of the day, World Breastfeeding week is trying to promote breastfeeding because breastfeeders are in the minority. In Britain we now have the worst rates in the world, which is shocking. 99.5% of people aren’t Breastfeeding at a year which is appalling. We need lactivists badly.

  11. Hannah
    February 23, 2018 / 12:09 pm

    Nothing like a bit of Mum shaming. Ridiculous!

    • Midwife and Life
      Author
      February 23, 2018 / 12:16 pm

      If you read the whole post I don’t believe I’m shaming anyone. I’ve bottle fed and breast fed. I believe in choice, I just don’t think fed is best is a good thing to say.

  12. Liz
    February 25, 2018 / 5:14 pm

    I totally get that there should be a lot of support for breast feeding. It’s ridiculous that anyone should feel bad about doing it in public etc. I do however, feel that there is ALOT of information out thee for breastfeeding mums, and very little for formula feeding ones. It’s crazy that most of the info a formula feeding mum can get is from formula company websites… bias much?
    I was dsperate to breast feed, the first two weeks I was pumping every two hours and feeding every four trying to get my supply up. Midwives came over every two days because my baby had lost so much weight and checked the latch… all was fine! I just kept getting the same line, your milk will come in. Maybe it’s because you had a traumatic birth, just persevere! I was only managing to pump half an ounce sum from both breasts a go and I was saving this up to feed baby at the end of the day.
    It was only when a very kind midwife asked me if my breasts had changed at all during pregnancy that I realised it was probably something wrong with me. They hadn’t. I’m a junior doctor who had no idea that I had tuberous breast deformity, and this has been estimated to be prevalent in upto 15 percent if the population in the UK. Most health professionals know very little about it and multiple midwives had schooled me in breastfeeding without diagnosing me. Hell, I hadn’t diagnosed myself!
    Breastfeeding should be championed, but it SHOULD be two sided. There should be just as much information out there for formula feeding mothers, and we shouldn’t be pushing it so hard that babies come to harm. My baby got neonatal sepsis day 16, and I just wish that I hadnt pressured myself so hard in those first few weeks. All is well now and she is thriving on formula.

    • Midwife and Life
      Author
      February 25, 2018 / 5:20 pm

      That’s great you got a reason it wasn’t working! It’s a great substitute in these cases.

  13. August 7, 2018 / 1:44 pm

    I absolutely agree with you here. It is a scientific fact that breastfeeding is better for the baby (and the mum) but we’re not allowed to say that, for fear of upsetting bottle feeders. And to be honest, I’m sure a lot of bottle feeders who claim they “couldn’t” breastfeed, actually could but the support and information just wasn’t available – breastfeeding week is actually for FOR people like them so that the best information is more readily available.

    I was determined to breastfeed but, stuck in hospital 6 days, I was repeatedly offered formula / pumping by the midwives on the ward, because they didn’t know how to help me improve my breastfeeding technique. In the end, it took my mum coming (who breastfeed me and my siblings) and she had me sorted in a couple of hours. THAT’S the kind of support we should be offering to everyone – advice from real people who have actually breastfeed themselves and believe in it. But the art of breastfeeding is being lost in this country as formula is so readily available, and now even the experts (the midwives) often don’t know how to do it, so how can we expect new mums to do it? Great post!

    • Midwife and Life
      Author
      August 7, 2018 / 2:11 pm

      Thank you x

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