Why I’ll Stick To Saying “Fed IS Best”

By Jessica Martin-Weber

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“You may have heard the phrase ‘fed is best’ and while it may be true, feeding your child is best, it is scientifically proven that breast is better. This is not a shaming statement, it is factual.”

I came across an image boldly making this statement recently and I’ve seen others like it and in the infant feeding support group I run on Facebook I was accused of not really supporting breastfeeding because we don’t permit formula bashing or shaming and discourage the use of the phrase “breast is best” (a marketing tool developed by formula manufacturers, no less).  

Reading that phrase above it strikes me that it sounds a lot like when kids are trying to one-up each other with “well, blank is better!”

But children are cute and a little silly and often don’t grasp the concept of “context.”

“Fed is best” is a big thing here in this space. TLB is a community that holds to this view in how we support (did you know breastfeeding is not our first passion? Read here to see what is.). “Fed is best” isn’t a perfect phrase but then there is no such thing as a perfect phrase. Words are limited, expressions are clumsy, one-liners are inept. But as far as words and phrases go, this one leaves room… for the personal story. The narrative, the humanity, the journey.

And oh how those narratives, that humanity, those journeys, matter.

Science is only one piece of this particular pie. Or rather, the science that looks at the composition of breastmilk is only one piece of this particular pie. But there are other sciences that factor in as well. Sciences that aren’t proven by looking through a microscope. These are the sciences where the evidence is gathered by listening, caring, and respecting the stories of the ones living them.

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The science that gives evidence that for one particular mother- who could be any one of us- breastfeeding is a trigger for her sexual assault trauma and having a person, even one tiny being she loves so deeply, have the right to “demand” her body sets anxiety burning inside. Every time she must feed her baby. This science proves that for this mother and her baby, maybe formula is better. Maybe it is best.

The science that gives evidence that for a couple that could not biologically reproduce on their own, loving a child with abandon still requires that they have access to safe and suitable nutrition for their baby. This science proves that for these parents and their baby, maybe formula is better. Maybe it is best.

The science that gives evidence that infants removed for their own safety from the arms of their parents and placed into the arms of others, willing to love forever yet holding them temporarily hoping for reunification of this child’s family – this family dynamic and this baby still require access to safe and suitable nutrition for their baby. This science proves that for these parents and their baby, maybe formula is better. Maybe it is best.

The science that gives evidence that sometimes, for any number of reasons, there is pain and before it can be resolved there is less milk and stress and fear and even less milk and concern and doubt about milk from another. This family and this baby still require access to safe and suitable nutrition for their baby. This science proves that for these parents and their baby, maybe formula is better. Maybe it is best.

The science that gives evidence that the mother with a floundering endocrine system is unable to physically produce the milk her infant needs and requires reliable access to a safe and suitable nutrition option for their baby. This science proves that for this mother and their baby, maybe formula is better. Maybe it is best.

The science that gives evidence that the mother whose breasts never quite developed fully (and who knows exactly why), does not have enough glandular tissue to actually manufacture breastmilk, and needs reliable access to safe and suitable nutrition option for feeding her baby. This science proves that for this mother and their baby, maybe formula is better. Maybe it is best.

The science that gives evidence that the mother with a physical condition that requires a medication contraindicated with breastfeeding must choose between her health and her child’s access to breastmilk. This mother and her baby require reliable access to a safe and suitable nutrition option for feeding their baby. This sciences proves that for this mother and her baby, maybe formula is better. Maybe it is best.

The science that gives evidence that the mother who had no choice but to return to work a mere 5 days after the birth of her baby, was intimidated into not fighting for her right to adequate pumping breaks, found she didn’t respond well to the pump, but her baby was hungry and while she tried to find donor milk that was another full time job she didn’t have time to manage, and still she required reliable access to safe and suitable nutrition option for feeding her baby. This science proves that for this mother and her baby, maybe formula is better. Maybe it is best.

The science that gives evidence that the mother who once was a very young woman with a back that ached daily, and shoulders that bore gouge marks from her bra, and her breasts the unwanted hot caresses of men she knew and didn’t know, and so she chose in those days when she couldn’t imagine all that motherhood would entail to have her breasts cut into to make them less… less noticeable, less painful, less identifying. What she didn’t know or couldn’t imagine is they would also be less able to feed her Someday-Baby in her arms today and she too is in need of reliable access to safe and suitable nutrition option for feeding her baby. This science proves that for this mother and their baby, maybe formula is better. Maybe it is best.

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This could go on and on, the stories of real people are endless. The sciences of the heart and the mind, of society and work, of privilege and trauma have volumes upon volumes. Psychology, and social sciences – these are sciences too. And sometimes those sciences, under the individual microscope of the ones living life, show us that science isn’t all there is. Science observes and studies but it raises more questions than it answers. And it respects the chaos even as it notes patterns. We learn from science but not so science can rule us. Which is why we can look through a microscope and be in awe of the living organism that is breastmilk, and still, with all the sciences together, understand that breast may not always be best or better. With science, but even more with caring, we can see how fed is best. After all, the first rule of lactation support is “Feed the baby.”

When we say it isn’t shaming, is it because it isn’t shaming to us and we can’t, for a moment, apply some empathy and see how the intent may not be to shame but the experience from a different journey than ours could experience it as shame? When our language is woefully deficient, can we not adjust our words to hold space for the unique lens of others’ personal stories? Or is being right most important of all? Is having one particular science the only facts that matter? Is the only understanding we’re capable of the understanding that aligns with our experience and our personal passions?

Don’t get me wrong, breastfeeding is a huge priority here at The Leaky Boob. We believe that better support, access to care, and changing societal attitudes around breastfeeding is crucial for public health and truly supporting families. There is no doubt that the evidence of breastmilk as the biological norm for human infants is solid. But there is so much more than science involved in our real lives and so there needs to be more than science involved in our support. The stories, the living, breathing stories of the people living in them is what determines best outside of the laboratory, in real life. In spite of the inadequacy of our language to express these ideas and reality in full, we stumble along looking for language that leaves room for what can never be fully articulated in our stories: the heart.

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Jessica Martin-Weber

Drawing from a diverse background in the performing arts and midwifery, Jessica Martin-Weber supports women and families, creating spaces for open dialogue. Writer and speaker, Jessica is the creator of TheLeakyBoob.com, co-creator of BeyondMoi.com, and creator and author of the children’s book and community of What Love Tastes Like, supporter of A Girl With A View, and co-founder of Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference. She co-parents her 6 daughters with her husband of 19 years and is currently writing her first creative non-fiction book.
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Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this post. I do plan to BF (via exclusively pumping), but will supplement with formula if necessary. I have multiple reasons for my choice, but the biggest factors are that I have sensory processing disorder, and that I was sexually abused. It’s not easy to talk about, especially with the shaming. Articles like yours truly make it a little easier. Thank you.

    • Thank you so much for sharing April. I hope breastfeeding is healing for you, some women find that it is. It’s really great that you’re already figuring out what you need to do to respect your needs while caring for your little one. All the best! ~Jessica

  2. Life saving post. Thank You!!!!

  3. Loved this!
    Even after having my ideal homebirth with my second child, lactation consults, LLL meetings, and everything being set up for breastfeeding….it still didn’t work for me. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out/isn’t the best choice for that dyad. And that’s ok.
    http://underthyroof.blogspot.com/2016/11/we-need-to-talk-about-breastfeeding.html

  4. Thanks for the article. I decided to add one more story to your list. I have 3 kids and though never felt pressured into breastfeeding in the first place I have still felt pressure and stress due to breastfeeding. My oldest I breastfed exclusively for 10 months and then decided to start supplementing/weaning because I didn’t feel my supply met her demand. When it came to my second (6 years later) I was no longer a stay at home mom. I breastfed when i was with him and pumped to supply him when i wasn’t. I truely believed breast is best and I felt the pressure (self inflicted) to feed him only breast milk for at least as long as his sister. I got to the point where I was pumping 5 times a day, 7 days a week, 30 minutes a pump. 2 of the punps during tge work week were while I was at home 1 was right after feeding him and 1 was 2-3 hours after he went to bed. If I missed ine pump even on weekends he wouldn’t have enough milk. I was exhausted, dehydrated and stressed. I started feeling inadequate. I finally gave in and started having him supplemented at daycare because I couldn’t keep up and stopped entirely at 11 months when I found I was pregnant with my youngest. With my youngest I said I wouldn’t stress if he needed to bw supplemented because I could not go at the pace I did with my second. He started needing supplementing at 3-4 months. I didn’t stress it but did what I could. At 8 months I realized that he didn’t seem any heavier than the month prior when we had a weigh in after he dropped to the bottom of the weight chart at 6 months. I weighed him at home and realized my suspicion was correct. No weight gain in a month. I decided to give him a bottle after breastfeeding to see how much he was getting. I knew he usually drank a 6 oz bottle when at daycare and occasionally 8 oz. So I made a 6 oz bottle and when he was done with me gave it to him. He drained it. I realized that he was such a happy baby that as long as he got some foos you could make him happy and unless you offered the food he wouldn’t complain. 2 weeks of this and he already seemed to gain 2 pounds. I am all for breastfeeding but I realized that it can be really tough to know when your baby is getting enough. My son still had wet and poopy diapers and my only indication that he wasn’t getting enough was a mothers intuition/fear. I was so glad that I acted immediately instead of waiting till his nect doctors appointment. With rach of my kids my experience was different but I really like the phrase fed is best because though I am a true believer that your child benefits the most from breastfeeding the pressure of breast is best can cause you to feel inadequate and depressed. I have definitely gone through both in my breastfeeding quest.

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