Most in today's "mom culture" believe" breast is best" when it comes to feeding babies. What does "breast is best" even mean? "Best" is not a medical term, and it's not something that we can measure (at least not at an individual level). When you consider the exceptions and situations where breastfeeding or breast milk are absolutely not the "best" choice or option for a parent or baby, it starts to sound more like a moral judgement than a fact. So, honestly there are so many times when "breast is best" just isn't even remotely true.
I am not saying that breastfeeding isn't a good or healthy choice for you and your baby, or a great choice for many families. Not at all. I breastfed both of my babies to varying degrees and absolutely loved breastfeeding my son. This isn't to downplay the benefits of breastfeeding and breast milk, which have been well-documented. Highlighting situations in which a well-used phrase simply isn't true doesn't downplay the other situations in which it is; it simply tries to uncover the truth: what's "best" for one mom or woman or baby or person, isn't "best" for all moms or women or babies or people.
Before I had babies I bought into the "breast is best" philosophy, too. So hard, in fact, that it was absolutely devastating for me to not be able to exclusively breastfeed my babies, and I actually thought I was harming them by supplementing with formula. I now know that breast is only best, you know, when it is.
I am going to repeat myself: breast is only best when it is best.
Which means that there are times when breast is not best at all. It's kind of mind-blowing when you are forced to challenge your values and pre-conceived notions about the world. I totally get it, but hear me out. In the developed world, there are two safe and healthy options for feeding and nourishing babies: breast milk and formula, and there's more than one way to deliver the goods. So, when it comes down to it, breast is not best for everyone or every situation. In other words, and in my opinion, it's time we stop using that phrase.
I realize it might take some time to wrap your head around this, because it's so different than what we've been told all along. So, I am going share a few examples to help you get there. #fedisbest
When You Can't Breastfeed
There are hundreds of medical diagnoses that make breastfeeding hard, if not impossible. In my case, I didn't make enough breast milk due to insufficient glandular tissue in my breasts. I was doomed from the start, and no amount of trying was going to make my breasts produce more. Of course, I didn't know this until I had already bought into "breast is best," and consequently, not being able to breastfeed was devastating. For other people everything including breast surgery, cancer, PCOS, insulin resistance, and other medical conditions can impact their ability to breastfeed. Breast isn't best for them.
When It Hurts
We have to get past the idea in our culture that all pain is worth it, especially when it comes to pain felt predominately by women. Life shouldn't mean suffering. For some women, the physical and emotional pain of breastfeeding is so not worth it.
I can tell you from experience that thrush, bleeding nipples, bite marks, clogged ducts, pumping blisters, and mastitis were horribly painful. For some people that pain might be worth it, but who am I to say what other people should have to endure?
When You Don't Make Enough Breast Milk
Not making enough breast milk, combined with some bad medical advice, meant I accidentally starved my baby. I will never get over the guilt of my daughter having to be re-admitted to the NICU for dehydration, jaundice, and losing 20 percent of her body weight. Thank goodness she was OK and thrived once we gave her formula.
Later, when my son was born, we knew what to look for and had no problem supplementing with formula to make sure he got enough to eat.
When You Need To Take Medication
Your health matters, too. Seriously. You need to put on your own oxygen mask first before you can assist others. Breastfeeding should not be considered more important than taking care of your own health or taking life-saving medications when they are not safe for breastfeeding. You can't be your best for your baby if you aren't healthy.
When Your Baby Can't Latch
Not all babies are born knowing how to breastfeed. Some babies can't latch, or in my daughter's case are too sleepy from jaundice to effectively transfer milk. Other babies have physiological problems latching or their tiny mouths are too small. Whatever the reason, it's important to get help from a professional and no matter what, to feed your baby.
When You Are A Survivor Of Sexual Violence
While every survivor is different, and some have no problems breastfeeding and even feel empowered by the experience, others can find it triggering or terrifying. As a survivor, I can tell you that I need to be able to have control over my own body. Taking that choice away or shaming a survivor for not breastfeeding is wrong and harmful.
When You Don't Have Breasts
Breast isn't best when you don't have breasts or aren't able to lactate. Let's not diminish the amazing families formed through adoption, surrogacy, or foster care, or the role of dads, transgender parents, and other caregivers who can't or don't want to breastfeed, by saying "breast is best."
When You Are A Cancer Survivor
I was chatting with a friend the other day about "breast is best" and made the statement, "Of course, people wouldn't harass cancer survivors about not breastfeeding." She sent me this article. Unbelievable. Come on people. Are we so wrapped up in our own realities that we'd actually say "breast is best" to a person who's had a double mastectomy? Stop the planet, I want to get off.
When Your Baby Is Sick
This photo breaks my heart. I honestly had a hard time posting it. This was my daughter the day we took her to the ER at 6 days old. I had been trying to breastfeed her and a series of events (my milk not coming in, jaundice, insufficient glandular tissue) and some really poor medical advice (just keep nursing, it's normal for a newborn to sleep that much) resulted in her losing 20 percent of her birth weight. She is now a healthy, vibrant 7 year old, but not all babies are lucky and not all babies are healthy enough to breastfeed.
When You Have To Go Back To Work
In the United States we have horrible parental leave policies and some improved protections for pumping moms, not all moms can take time off during the work day to pump or pump enough breast milk to feed their babies, while they are at work. Breast is not best for all working moms.
When You Are Depressed
Many women have to cope with postpartum depression and other mental health concerns. For me and many other women, my depression became so much worse when I obsessed about was and wasn't coming out my breasts and was shamed about it. Being able to breastfeed is not worth someone's health or life. It's just not.
When Your Baby Can't Have Breastmilk
So many people I know have had babies with allergies to their breast milk. Breast is certainly not best for them.
When You Consider The Science
Do you even science? In the developed world, when all other variables are held constant, kids fed breast milk and formula do equally well. Breast milk is good, but it's not magic. It doesn't do all of the things we previously thought it did, like preventing disease and making kids smarter, It does not reduce the risk of obesity, asthma, allergies, cavities, or ADHD. That doesn't mean it's not great, it just means that it's food, and might not be best for all babies or all families. Why are we still saying "breast is best?"
When You Can't Afford To Breastfeed
People who say "breastfeeding is free," clearly are blinded by their own privilege. Sure, breastfeeding might be free for someone who has the privilege to stay home and wants to spend their time breastfeeding, but that's not the case for all women. Breastfeeding is only free if you don't value a woman's time and the opportunity cost of spending time breastfeeding. I personally spent thousands of dollars to breastfeed on lactation consultants, supplements, medications, pump rentals and purchases, supplies, etc. Breastfeeding might be free for you, but check your privilege.
When You Are So Tired It's Not Safe
A recent review of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, which promotes exclusive breastfeeding for babies after birth, has revealed that sometimes moms are too tired to breastfeed safely, and the initiative has had some pretty horrible unintended consequences. Babies have died from accidents, suffocation, and Sudden Unexpected Postnatal Collapse at hospitals who are pushing "breast is best" at the expense of new moms getting the rest and time they need to recover.
When You Don't Want To Breastfeed
You don't have to breastfeed. Seriously, you don't even have to try. It's OK to not breastfeed. It is. Your feelings on the subject matter more than other people's opinions.
When You Hate It
People shouldn't be forced to do something they hate. Period. If breastfeeding makes you feel like dying, makes you feel trapped, is painful, is triggering, or just simply not your thing, breast is not best for you.
When It's None Of Your Damn Business Why Because It's My Body You Are Talking About
If you haven't gotten it my point, yet: life is relative. No one can say that "breast is best" for you or your baby except you, and it could be way different the next time around. Saying "breast is best" for everyone is saying that you know what's best for all other situations, people, and families, and that's not even remotely true.
Saying "fed is best" doesn't diminish breastfeeding mothers, it simply acknowledges that feeding your baby is a personal choice and what's best for one family may not be best for another. That's not saying that breastfeeding isn't awesome (it is) or that breastfeeding moms don't deserve support (they do).
Just feed your babies, because #fedisbest.