When I first started breastfeeding, I had no idea an innocuous statement like "breast is best" could upset another mother. That was, of course, until a monumental argument erupted within my group of mommy friends. Despite the showdown, however, I still believe it's perfectly OK to say "breast is best."
My experience of breastfeeding started off with a multitude of problems, including latching issues, low supply, having to be (what felt like) permanently plugged into a breast pump, and eventually ending with (what turned out to be a necessity) supplementing with formula. However, never during any of these trials did I dispute the term "breast is best" because, well, it's just kind of a fact. Breast milk is superior to formula, and in a multitude of ways that I think are important to remember. It's a totally natural product, designed for your individual baby, can change based on your baby's needs, is (almost) completely nutritionally perfect, is portable, always at the right temperature, needs no preparation, and is pretty much free of charge.
Of course, I don't think there is anything wrong with formula (after all, I gave it to my own baby) and I would never judge a mother for ever choosing formula. And, of course, I would never tell a mother that she absolutely needs to breastfeed, regardless. There are so many instances in which breastfeeding is not the right thing for a mother or a baby, including but certainly not limited to: when the mother is a sexual assault survivor and breastfeeding is triggering, when the mother cannot produce enough milk to sufficiently sustain her baby, when the mother physically cannot breastfeed at all, and when the mother straight up just doesn't want to. At the end of the day, it's the mother's body so it is always the mother's choice. Always.
No-one should ever be shamed for the decisions they make regarding their own child's health, and breastfeeding will always be a personal decision the mom has complete control over. However, what's so wrong with saying, "Breast is best, but I choose to formula feed and I am happy with my decision"? Why, in order to feel better about our decisions, do we need to tear down the decisions of others? Just because one choice is optimal, doesn't make the alternative harmful.
For me breast is best, but formula is an acceptable alternative that comes a close second and is a very important, very necessary, very vital necessity for so many women. So, with that in mind, here are just a few reasons why it's perfectly OK to say breast is best. You're not shaming other mothers. You're not judging other mothers. You're just stating a fact, while supporting all mothers in whatever personal decisions they make.
Breast milk is better than formula. If you can't breastfeed or choose not to (which is perfectly fine and always you're choice to make) it doesn't change the facts.
The benefits of breast milk include an almost ideal combination of vitamins, fats, proteins, and essential disease fighting antibodies, and in a more easily digested formulation than artificial milk. Breastfed babies have lower risks of asthma, allergies, respiratory illnesses, ear infections, and stomach bugs. On average, they also make less trips to the doctor or hospital.
Artificial milk formulations get better every year, to be sure, and some of the benefits of breastfeeding have been over-exaggerated. Still, human breast milk remains the optimum choice for babies.
Anytime breastfeeding moms extol the virtues of breast milk, they are snidely called "lactivists" or labelled judgmental, pushy moms. However, when multi-billion dollar formula companies push their products, it's called advertising and it's "fair game."
I so wish we weren't pushed into two different camps, especially because the choices others make are not always clear cut (or really anyone else's business, to be honest). Some moms breastfeed and give formula; some moms plan to breastfeed and can't; some moms don't want to breastfeed at all. All of those views and opinions are valid and admitting that breast milk is the superior product doesn't take away from your unique circumstances and decisions.
Replacing "breast is best" with "fed is best" doesn't really do the job, in my opinion. By saying something is "best" we're, essentially, making a comparison. When we say "fed is best" the alternative being compared is not feeding your child at all. Of course, there isn't a mother in her right mind that would think about starving her child, so the choice to feed your child should be the default choice of every parent.
In my opinion, a term like, "My child, my choice," makes more sense.
Formula is the "new kid on the block" compared to natural mother's milk, so why breastfeeding mothers feel the need to constantly put breast milk to the test is beyond me.
Breast milk is the normal, natural food for an infant. If it isn't available (or providing it for the baby is detrimental to the mother) then formula is the next alternative food. However, I don't think there's anything wrong with saying formula comes in second place.
The proof that "breast is best" is possibly in the concerted effort in research and development to make formula more like breast milk. Companies spend a great deal of money and time ensuring their product is as close to mother's milk as possible, precisely because it is the superior product.
I am a feminist and I believe strongly that no one should ever feel compelled or manipulated into doing anything with their body that they don't want to do.
However, breastfeeding is certainly not the only part of mothering that requires a woman to share her body. Conception, pregnancy, and birth all involve (at their core) a willingness to give something of yourself; to allow your body to be utilized for a purpose. So, honestly, I am not sure why breastfeeding in particular, is singled out. Anyone with a toddler knows you can still feel touched out once your child is out of the baby stage, too.
Formula is really expensive. When we first brought my son home from the hospital and unexpectedly had to supplement, we couldn't believe the price of formula, amounting to $1,733.75 per year.
People like to claim that breastfeeding is expensive because there are a lot of nursing related paraphernalia available to buy, but of course much of this includes unnecessary products that are usually only purchased by people who can afford them. Case in point, I was gifted a hand pump, borrowed an electric pump through a city run scheme, bought one pack of breast pads at $5.99 and then found I didn't need them. I still have half the pack left in the bathroom cupboard.
In 30 months of breastfeeding the whole endeavor cost me a total of less than $6. Bargain!
Breastfeeding is hard and that's if you don't encounter any problems at all. It's hard because you face shaming and judgement (I guess all moms do), you can feel like others can't help with the burden of feeding the baby, and it's common to feel touched out by the constant demands on your body.
That's why breastfeeding moms often need to hear that they are doing a good job and that "breast is best," to remind them why they are making what can sometimes feel like a daily sacrifice. That's also why lots of breastfeeding mamas post nursing selfies, not because they are "showing off" or being an exhibitionist, as some claim, but because they are proud of their significant achievement.
Only 22% of american mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies through six months of their baby's life. Whether or not you agree that "breast is best," you can't possibly refute that "breast is normal." However, across the country women are shamed for feeding their babies with their bodies. They are encouraged to view this special time as akin to defecating, as they are both bodily functions (!) and are sometimes even forced to feed their babies in the washroom.
By correctly stating that breast milk is the superior food, we are aiming to change these societal myths and normalize breastfeeding for the benefit of everyone.
Breast might not be best for every mom, but the phrase "breast is best" is a perfectly OK way to promote breastfeeding as the first choice for most moms and babies.