I have to admit even as a breastfeeding advocate I have a soft spot for “Fed is Best”. I’ve always interpreted the phrase to be a bit of an olive branch. In three little words “Fed Is Best” acknowledges all the different ways we can feed our babies that might be best for our circumstances. Whether it’s breastfed, formula fed, tube fed, mix fed, and so on… Fed is best acknowledges that what is best for our family might be different to what is best for another – and that’s okay.
Fed Isn’t Best – It’s Minimum
I get that fed isn’t best, it’s “minimum”. We all feed our babies. It does seem a little redundant to get a round of high fives for meeting our child’s most basic physical need. And I totally agree that breastfeeding matters. We absolutely do need to talk about the fact that breast milk and formula are different.
I also get that sometimes “Fed is best” is used to minimise the feelings and experiences of mothers. When a mother is struggling to breastfeed, rather than being offered the support she might need to meet her own breastfeeding goals she’s told “Fed is best” – as though breastfeeding doesn’t matter.
And it does matter – ESPECIALLY if it matters to her.
We Need Safe Spaces
I think there needs to be space for women to talk freely and safely about formula feeding – or all kinds of feeding – without being constantly reminded that formula is not equal to breast milk.
It’s usually really obvious when is a good time to talk about fed not necessarily being best, and when to leave it be.
For example if women are talking about their experience of being unable to breastfeed, or being shamed for choosing not to breastfeed, and they’re using “Fed is best” to mean that they ultimately did what was right under the circumstances someone coming along and say “well, actually, no it’s not – because *reasons*” is only going to antagonise people.
It just drives a bigger wedge between mothers based on something as innocuous as how we feed our babies. Important yes, but it shouldn’t be a reason for so much judgement and shame!
Timing and Tact
It doesn’t matter how good the message is, how well intended, how right it is, how backed up facts, science and leading health authorities – without a little bit of sensitivity the message probably isn’t going to get very far.
You don’t have to agree with it. In your mind “Fed is best” might be the worst thing that’s happened to breastfeeding since Nestle! I’m not saying we can’t talk about the reasons that phrase is problematic. Just that it’s not helpful to do it in direct response to other people talking about being okay with how they feed their babies.
It Goes Both Ways
On the other side of this, when people are talking about health benefits, risks, concerns, and consequences of infant feeding they’re not doing it to make you feel guilty. Even if they are talking about why they don’t agree with “Fed is best” in a broader context. As long as they’re not directing it towards individual parents then it’s not appropriate to tell them they’re not allowed to discuss it.
If you do come across this kind of conversation online and it’s making you feel bad – then maybe you need to be gentle on yourself. Remember; it’s not about you. And it might be a good idea to keep on scrolling.
The Problem With Our Culture
I truly believe if women were not so intensely scrutinised for what we choose to do with our own bodies – at all stages of our life, from what we wear, who we sleep with, how we birth, whether we breastfeed, even how we age – these conversations would be a lot easier! I think we’d all feel a little less braced for a fight. And a little less judged.
I wish we lived in a culture where mothers were not criticised, shamed, and discriminated against for how we feed our children.
I wish there was never even a reason to say “Fed is best”, because nobody was ever made to feel like how they fed their baby was wrong!
We need to remember that a lot of mothers have intensely raw feelings about how they feed their babies. So many women share horrifying stories of the treatment they’ve received from midwifes and other health professionals, because they chose not to, or were unable to, breastfeed.
If “Fed is best” gives those mothers some comfort then I think it’s wrong to tell them not to use that phrase.
I think we can support, promote, and encourage breastfeeding while also being sensitive to the feelings of others.
What do you think? Is “Fed is best” a fine slogan, only under certain circumstances, or is it too problematic?