Why Fed IS Best



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?

Rachel Stewart

Rachel is the founder of Parenting Central. She is raising two children, boy and girl, with her partner. Rachel is obsessed prams, car seats, carriers and all things baby. She has worked in the baby industry for several years, for both suppliers and also in a retail setting and has developed a passion for connecting parents with the right products to make their lives easier. When Rachel isn't playing with prams she's enjoys crocheting, drinking coffee (sometimes wine) and spending a little too much time on Facebook.


  1. So agree with this. I dealt with massive supply issues for the first 6 weeks of my daughter’s life until I finally decided to start supplementing with formula. Once she had her first ever full tummy, she and I both decided that “fed is best!”

  2. I was always “breast is best”. Then I had a child who is now 5. Anecdotal evidence has provided no links between immunity, allergies or a ‘closer bond’. I know science says it prevents bugs etc but my friends who have exclusively BF kids are the parents who end up with sickly kids. Thus is obviously anecdotal. My child bf for like a week. She’s never suck. She doesn’t have allergies. She eats anchovies, blue cheese, broccoli etc.

  3. I think fed is great but it’s obviously not best. Ideally you should give human milk for two years straight from mum. Or straight from the donors breast. Or your milk expressed in a bottle. Or donor milk in a bottle. Or formula. In that order is ideal to least ideal. Ideal is best. But we have bodily autonomy and you shouldn’t suggest a woman should feed if she doesn’t want to. But that is what a donor is for. I formula fed my first two, from 9 months and 6 months respectively. But with my daughter I knew better and am still feeding her at four (full term – not extended). You do the best you can and with the knowledge you have but this fed is best I think makes people happy to give up when we need determined women who will push through obstacles and continue feeding until they’re ready to stop. You’re not a bad mum if you formula feed. But it’s obviously not ideal. And ideal is best.

  4. Fed is best implies that all food is equal. It also implied that some ‘good (breastfeeding)’ mothers don’t feed their children. It’s an insidious and damaging attack on breastfeeding and breastfeeding women who are often told they are under feeding their children. If all children were breastfed there would be 20% fewer cases of childhood leukaemia. Not breastfeeding doubles a mothers chance of getting g breast cancer. Formula feeding is not only killing mothers and babies it’s creating a whole environmentally damaging industry that is 95% unnecessary. As a society we have chosen to use cows to feed our infants rather than support women to breastfeed. Let Alison explain to you why fed is not best; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2812877/

  5. I don’t like it. I think it reduces the importance of feeding and why feeding matters. I’m also really worried about the foundation that has adopted it.

  6. No I don’t. Obviously you’re not going to let your kid starve but breastfeeding is still important and it is still optimal for a baby. This is not to cast judgement it is simply a fact. Formula just is not the same, you cannot match breastmilk.

    1. It sounds obvious not to starve your child, but in practice, when you’re being pushed on all sides to avoid formula and you’re in the midst of the dreaded feed/pump/repeat schedule, unfortunately some mums won’t allow themselves to admit “failure” to admit that breastfeeding isn’t working and their child is not getting what they need.
      In this case, if breastfeeding = not fed and formula= fed, then absolutely fed is best.

  7. “Fed is best” isn’t denouncing the fact that breastmilk is the most beneficial for baby, it’s simply helping mothers out there who CAN’T feed their child (whether physically/emotionally/mentally) not be hard on themselves or develop PPD because of all the pressure on them to breast feed. Yes- breastmilk does have the most benefits for baby. But at the end of the day, a baby with a full tummy is the outcome everyone wants. Formula or not

  8. I think fed is best is great if they’re also going to normalize donor milk and make it universally available. Babies deserve breast milk but mothers deserve sanity. So support the mothers! And for the small miniscule amount of women who literally can’t breastfeed no matter what support they’re getting (or who don’t want to for reasonable reasons that are like they suffer emotionally for doing it, donor milk being available and understood to be safe and healthy, would suffice. In the meantime, mothers having bodily autonomy is great. But I worry that fed is best is making it easier for lots of mums to not bother, not try, not push through early difficulties. It’s like saying fed is best for older kids. No. You should give them healthy food not just maccas. But hey fed is best they’re not hungry right? Not getting nutrition they could be either. Education is key here and I’m not sure it’s happening! We’ll have a few more generations of babies who most aren’t breastfed to age one let alone two. Which leads to problems with them having normal breastfeeding rates and their children too. It’s scary wall-e style.

  9. I don’t like it. I don’t like the term “breast is best” either. Get rid of the word “best”, it’s not a bloody competition!

  10. “fed is best” gives women who can’t or choose not to breast feed a little light to head towards. we are constantly told we should do this, or not do that, and this is best, or that is wrong. there is so much guilt and shame forced on parents, who are trying to do right by their families. “fed is best” can be empowering for women struggling to make a decision either way, to make a choice for THEM and THEIR babies, not what someone else tells them they should be doing (and it most certainly goes both ways here) we all want whats best for our children. but we don’t all use the same scales to weigh up what that is. the freedom to make the choice for ourselves is awesome, because we should be able to make the choice ourselves, and not feel bullied buy a bunch of strangers online or in the media. For me at least, “fed is best” is not formula pushing, it’s empowering women to make their own choices for their situation.

  11. Yes, I like it and support it. Considering that in a first world country the perceived benefits of breastfeeding are minscule, I think we need to normalize all methods of feeding (breast feeding, bottle feeding, tube feeding) and all adequate sources of infant nutrition (breast milk, formula or a combination) and just get on with feeding the babies.

  12. What about we stop debating the method by which babies are fed? Provide free support for new parents to establish and support biologically normal feeding which is breastfeeding. Where parents choose to feed their baby in some other way (pumping and bottle feeding EBM, donor milk, mix feeding, formula) support them in that choice. End of story.

  13. I love that you’be set out a very balanced opinion here.

    Personally I am not a fan of the slogan at all. I agree with every point you’be made, but not with the use of those three words.

    I agree that it’s very important for mums to feel good about the way they feed their kids, especially when it appears they only have one choice. Being fed is important. Mum’s feelings matter. Parents deserve encouragement and support regardless of how they feed their babies and no one should feel guilty for circumstances that are out of their control.

    I think we would find a lot less friction in discussions about breastfeeding if we talked about how we truly feel without using catch-phrases or slogans that don’t accurately reflect our situation or the truth. Slogans like ‘fed is best’ and ‘breast is best’ were created to cause division among parents. If we’re capable our own words to talk about how we feel, the slogans are completely unnecessary.

  14. If you are able and willing to breastfeed, awesome! I wish you all the best for you and your baby. If you want or need to use formula, awesome! I wish you all the best for you and your baby. If medical constraints require tube feeding, I’m sorry, I wish you all the best for you and your baby.
    So long as your baby is fed, in the manner that works best for those *directly involved* it’s nobody else’s business.

  15. Having had a baby who has had to be tube fed since 10 months old. I know fed is best. He was breastfed, then bottle fed and now is tube fed. Fed is best. There is nothing worse than having a baby admitted to hospital because of a “failure to thrive” as a mum we n lame ourselves for so much. We don’t need to blame ourselves for ensuring our babies have what they need to grow.

    My cousins wive is pregnant with her first baby and recently was at my sons 2nd Birthday. My sister and cousins all told her our experirances with breasyfeeding and told her it isn’t always easy but the biggest meassage we had was do what works for you and bub, and that doesn’t jist apply to feeding.

Related Articles