As a soon-to-be mom, and after being inundated with the phrase "breast is best" for over nine months, I believed breastfeeding was more than just a way to feed my baby: it was the only way to be a good parent. So, when I couldn’t produce enough breast milk I felt inadequate; like I had failed right out of the gate. Fortunately, in the years since I first became a mom, I learned a new mantra — fed is best — and it saved my life.
I’m not alone, either. The "breast is best" mentality was programmed into a lot of us new moms, so if we wanted to supplement, were unable to exclusively breastfeed, or had babies who couldn't latch, we were made to feel as though we were bad parents; a feeling that, of course, wasn't based in reality.
The phrase "fed is best" can make us new moms feel empowered and qualified to make choices about our bodies and our babies. It acknowledges that there is more than one good way to feed your baby, and in a society that often wants to push an "all or nothing" narrative when it comes to parenting (and, let's face it, everything else). In other words, fed is best doesn't leave breastfeeding moms out, but rather includes them in a wide variety of lived experiences. This realization has helped so many breastfeeding moms like me, including the following:
"My husband stayed home with my son while I worked. I was only able to pump about 8-9 ounces of breast milk. Breastfeeding advocates told us that should be plenty for him, but my baby and husband said otherwise. My baby was starving every day.
[Deciding] to supplement with formula made life a million times better for all three of us. I felt less pressure, and my husband and baby were happier and healthier. I continued to breastfeed almost two years with the help of formula. I believe it saved my literal sanity and possibly my marriage."
"My son was admitted to the NICU on day five with hypernatremic dehydration and jaundice. I had fully bought into 'breast is best' before I was even pregnant. I tortured myself triple feeding and spent hundreds [of dollars] on supplements desperately trying to breastfeed.
Finding 'fed is best' helped me understand that my body not producing enough milk does not make me a failure as a mother, and that formula will not make my child any less. If anything, our bond is stronger because I've been able to tackle my postpartum depression and anxiety."
"My kid was starving. People visited, remarked about how she was eating constantly, and offered advice on how to breastfeed better. Then, my step mother-in-law came and essentially gave me permission to try formula. It changed my life. I finally got to see my baby. Turns out, I produced skim milk: it was basically blue/translucent with zero fat.
She starved for over a month, due to the lie that 'formula equals laziness' and the masochistic idea that if I could try hard enough, and withstand the suffering, it would eventually work and I was a half decent mom who cared about my baby."
With my second baby, I had postpartum anxiety. I was obsessed with exclusively breastfeeding him. It was stressful, because his sugars and his bilirubin were borderline. I obsessively charted everything he did — feedings, diapers, sleep. He was a chomper and it took weeks of tongue exercises to correct this, much to the suffering of my nipples.
When I had my daughter, I was able to enjoy the newborn period without this immense, unrealistic pressure. Seeing her eat from a bottle was actually very reassuring for me. She had to be readmitted to sort out her oxygen needs. Supplementing her early on gave me the bandwidth to handle the stress of a readmission, because I was not stressed about feeding her."
'Fed is best' is the only reason I'm breastfeeding my second child.
"I breastfed for three months. At first I made a lot of milk, but my preemie baby wasn’t latching properly or getting enough milk, so I had to supplement with formula so we could monitor how many ounces she was getting.
I was not properly informed about supplementing at first and was told 'breast was best.' I realized afterwards how dangerous it was that my daughter wasn’t getting enough breast milk and losing weight. Formula saved her life."
"With my first I had no supply. I pumped as long as I could, but still never got more than 2 ounces in a whole day. I retired my pump, but really struggled with it. I had looked up ways to re-lactate, and when someone posted about their breastfeeding journey, I'd cry thinking I had failed my son.
I came across the Fed Is Best Foundation one day. Realizing that it was OK to give my son formula and hearing that I didn't fail him finally allowed me to move on and just enjoy him without the guilt. 'Fed is best' is the only reason I'm breastfeeding my second child."
"Knowing that supplementing on the second day wouldn’t endanger breastfeeding saved me so much anxiety, and my baby so much hunger and sadness. With my first, we really struggled not wanting to endanger breastfeeding. I had difficulty with latching, and he didn’t sleep because he was so hungry and lost dangerous amounts of weight.
With my second, we breastfed, and if he still gave hunger cues we supplemented, and it was vastly less painful for everyone. He also lost less weight. It made the whole process so much healthier for my healing and keeping baby fed."
We have a good exclusive breastfeeding relationship now because I stood up for me and my baby in the hospital and made sure she was fed first.
"Feeling true support and not toxic moral/social pressure to breastfeed at all costs to myself and my child helped alleviate some of the severe postpartum anxiety and depression that I developed during my early breastfeeding struggles. Affirmation that feeding a baby is feeding a family bond and that it has to work for everyone. The mom matters, too, and infant feeding should be loving, not suffering, for all parties."
"I produced breast milk — a ton. With my first, I soaked through those pads and three layers of shirts constantly. But sleeping was not a thing invented for a breastfeeding mom. If I wanted a full night's rest, I needed to supplement. I was being sucked dry and I needed sleep. Sanity means that fed is best."
"My oldest child narrowly avoided the NICU twice, due to 'baby friendly' policies and lactation consultants harping 'breast is best.' I exclusively pumped for a year to the detriment of my own health, because I couldn’t let go of the idea that I would hurt my child.
I found ''fed is best' before I became pregnant again and was educated and confident enough to supplement as needed. We have a good exclusive breastfeeding relationship now because I stood up for me and my baby in the hospital and made sure she was fed first."
If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety during pregnancy, or in the postpartum period, contact the Postpartum Health Alliance warmline at (888) 724-7240, or Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773. If you are thinking of harming yourself or your baby, get help right away by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or dialing 911. For more resources, you can visit Postpartum Support International.