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

By Jessica Martin-Weber

fed-is-best-image-1

“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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The Pumping Birthmom: Pumping for the Baby I Didn’t Take Home- Talia’s Story #MyStoryMatters

by Talia

Talia, guest post, leaky to leaky, open adoption

My son Yeshua was almost two when I realized I was pregnant again. But this time instead of tears of joy I cried tears of fear and disbelief. It wasn’t the right time. I called Journeys of the Heart and this is where my adoption process began.

I had never even heard open adoption before but Beth, my adoption counselor at Journeys had me convinced that it would be the best situation for me and the baby, so I was immediately on board. I found a nice couple that already had three boys and things moved forward fast. We had visits, Yeshua started playing with their kids, and Nikki (the adoptive-mom-to-be) even came to ultrasounds with me. We would have lunch and write deep sounding lovey fluffy emails to each other expressing our feelings about this crazy open adoption process we had entered together. Everything seemed perfect…until I was 36 weeks.

Now I’m a breastfeeding fanatic. Yeshua hadn’t had a drop of formula and I pumped at work for him like a dairy cow. I’m all the way crunchy. I even put my breast milk in my own ear when I got a sinus infection (I would have put it in my son’s ear too if he ever had one! But he never did, because he was breastfed). With all that being said, I was determined to pump and send milk to the adoptive family after this new baby was born as well. Even though I knew Zachary wouldn’t be coming home with me, I still wanted to give him the gift only his birthmother could give: breast milk a.k.a. liquid gold.

At 36 weeks it was time to sit down and make a “contract” that would set expectations or guidelines for how our open adoption relationship would play out once Zachary was born. I considered my expectations to be quite low, but one of them included sending milk that I had pumped. I never imagined in a million years that someone would turn down liquid gold for her newborn child. This couple refused. They gave no explanation for why, but they simply stated that they “preferred not to take it.” So I said, “Well they prefer not to have my child then.” Beth and I were onto a search for a new family that was right for me.

I fell in love with a parent profile that I had overlooked earlier with a couple named Robin and Jeff in it. Before I met them though, I asked Beth to call them to ask them their feelings about me pumping milk and sending it to them. Not only were they ecstatic about the idea, they actually already had a freezer full of frozen breast milk waiting for them from a friend whose toddler would no longer drink it. It was truly meant to be. We met and three weeks later I gave birth to Zachary Isaiah.

I was afraid to latch him to my breast. I was afraid to fall even deeper in love than I already was and I knew that many promised adoptions were ripped to shreds once the baby latched and the birthmother changed her mind. But I also knew I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t have those holy sacred moments with my perfect 6 pound newborn baby.

guest post, leaky to leaky, tail's open adoption story

I was sad and afraid that it was breaking Robin’s heart to watch me nurse the son she would take home the next day without being able to feed the same way, but she supported me and made me feel loved. I secretly asked her to forgive me in my mind. Leaving the hospital the next day without Zachary was the hardest moment of my life. I mourned the loss of a living baby which is so strange and distinct, but what was even stranger was that I was able to go home and start making milk for him right away, just as if he was right in my arms. A month after that I moved 5 hours away but that didn’t stop me; I kept pumping and froze the milk. In the meantime Robin’s friend with the freezer milk spent a small fortune mailing the milk over dry ice and between the two of us Zachary was an adopted baby that drank breast milk exclusively for the first 6 weeks of his life. I pumped for about three months but eventually I got a full time job and the supply was less and less. I lamented deeply as it all diminished.

I was able to visit with Zachary and his parents several times within his first few weeks of his life. The hardest part of those visits were holding my baby and smelling him and my body’s natural response was for my milk ducts to let down and say, “hey lady, it’s time to feed your baby.” I longed so badly to nurse him when I visited at their house, but I knew to request something so absurd would be crossing the line and I would never want to make Robin and Jeff uncomfortable because we had a beautiful open adoption. So instead of nursing him I went home and pumped and labeled the milk baggies “I love you Zachary.”

birth mom breastfeeding adoptive baby

Two years later Robin shared with me that because of our unique situation, Journeys Of The Heart had created new guidelines for new incoming adoptive parents. Now they tell adoptive parents that if the mother wishes to pump it is “highly recommended” to accept it. I felt honored by that change and hope to be an inspiration for birthmothers in the future to be encouraged to give a beautiful gift of milk that only they can give.

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What do you think of breastfeeding and adoption? 

Do you have any experience with breastfeeding and adoption?

Share in the comments below your thoughts on adoption and breastfeeding.

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If you are a birthmom or know a birthmom looking for support or a community, On Your feet Foundation is an excellent resource. They have retreats, case management and an amazingly supportive community just for birthmoms.

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If you’d like to share your story with a larger audience, submit your story, photos, and your bio, with #MyStoryMatters in the subject to content @ theleakyboob.com (no spaces).

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guest post, leaky to leaky, Talia's open adoption story 
Talia lives in southern Illinois with her fiance and son.  After having an intense all natural birth with her birthson Zachary, she realized her dream is to be a midwife and help other women empower themselves through having the birth of their dreams as well.  She currently works as an OB RN and prenatal massage therapist, with plans in the near future to start midwifery school.
 
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A Birthmom Raises the Question of Breastfeeding and Adoption- #MyStoryMatters: Vicki’s Story

by Vicki

Kevin and Vicki

I am birthmom to Kevin. What is a birthmom you ask? That means that I did not raise him. I gave him to a family to raise. I was lucky though, open adoption was just in its infancy and I have known Kevin and his family his whole life. They are part of my family! When I got engaged I called my parents, my soon to be husbands parents and Kevin’s parents.

He is now the age I was when I had him. He is 21 years old and I could not imagine him raising a child at 21, just like I could not imagine myself doing it then. It is crazy to think I have a 21 year old kid when I am still like only 30 years old! Math can be weird that way. To me, being a birthmom means that Kevin is my son, but I am not his mom. He has a mom. The mom that raised him. The mom that tucked him into bed every night. The mom that he does not call or respond to while he is away at college! (No respect!)

Kevin photo

For years after I placed Kevin I worked as an expectant mom counselor. I helped moms make adoption plans for their unborn children. The reason why parents choose adoption is as varied as the reasons people have kids, but the main reason is wanting more for their child than they feel they can provide. A better life!

Breastfeeding and adoption has always been taboo. On both sides. But I do not think it should be and I hope it changes! And how do we change it? By talking about it and sharing our stories! I wish I had considered breastfeeding Kevin. I would have loved having that special time with him the first few days after he was born. And knowing I had provided him with milk for the first however-many-months would be a joy to me, even now.

Expectant moms are not encouraged to breastfeed when considering adoption. It is not even part of the conversation. The fear is that it will make placement harder for them. Having that intimate connection will make saying good-bye more difficult. So the perspective adoptive parents and counselors would not suggest something that they believe may encourage the mom to parent. But the truth is, it cannot be harder than it already is to give your child to someone else to raise. I know a few moms that breastfeed or pumped and sent milk. And it is amazing. I hope it continues to be more and more common.

On the flip side of the coin is induced lactation for adoptive moms. This is also taboo. This one is harder to put my finger on. There is some odd belief that breastfeeding a child that is not biologically yours is somehow gross or odd. (Crazy!) But there is also an emotional aspect for the birthmom. As a birthmom, once your baby is gone, what you have left is the knowledge that your body sustained the baby, there is connection that no one can ever take away. And the fear is that breastfeeding will somehow lessens that connection. The adoptive mom’s body is also sustaining the baby. And that makes the birthmom less important.

Of course neither of these things are true. It will not be harder to place your baby if you breastfeed (and if you decide to parent, good for you!). And an adoptive mom feeding her baby is not weird and will not lessen the birth mom bond. The important piece in all of this is doing what is best for the baby. Even if emotionally it is hard for you, we all need to step back and remember is not about us.

First and foremost, of course, feed the baby! However that looks. But my hope is that breastfeeding can be part of the adoption conversation, wouldn’t that be awesome?

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What do you think of breastfeeding and adoption?

Do you have any experience with breastfeeding and adoption?

Share in the comments below your thoughts on adoption and breastfeeding.

____________________

If you are a birthmom or know a birthmom looking for support or a community, On Your feet Foundation is an excellent resource. They have retreats, case management and an amazingly supportive community just for birthmoms.

____________________

If you’d like to share your story with a larger audience, submit your story, photos, and your bio, with #MyStoryMatters in the subject to content @ theleakyboob.com (no spaces).

 ____________________

vicki's headshot
 
Vicki lives in Palatine, IL with her husband and 2 cats! After having Kevin at 21 she suffered from secondary infertility and is unable to have more kids biologically and has decided to live child-free. Vicki has always worked in women’s issues and currently works as a community manager at Ameda, a breast pump company where she loves helping moms meet their breastfeeding goals.
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TLB Comic: Fed With Magical Soul Rainbows

by Jennie Bernstein

 

TLB comic, funny Friday

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