Imagine a woman still adjusting to her new awe-inspiring (and yet all-consuming) role as a mother sitting to pump breastmilk for her infant under the stifling warmth of a muslin blanket draped over her torso. Her hair rests in a messy pile on her head, which hasn’t seen the sight of a shampoo bottle in days. She occasionally winces from the agony of pumping with such sore nipples. She peeks under the blanket to get an estimate of how much breastmilk she’s pumped in the last 20 minutes and if it will be enough to send to daycare and sustain her baby in just a couple weeks.
She sighs, dejected, at the sight of just a few drops that have gathered at the bottom of the bottles.
Many other mothers with different ideologies about infant feeding anxiously wait to share their opinions and resources about infant feeding to frazzled new mothers who face various breastfeeding challenges and are reconsidering their feeding options.
Breast is best! Fed is best! Like most philosophies, there are grains of truth in both approaches.
Breastfeeding advocates known as lactivists point to recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization, which recommends breastfeeding based on documented neurodevelopmental and medical benefits for the child.
Lactivists promote exclusive breastfeeding and discourage formula feeding. Generally, they believe the vast majority of mothers are perfectly capable of breastfeeding and breast is best, so all mothers should do everything in their power to exclusively breastfeed their infants.
For lactivists, formula is an option that should only be explored after all other options, (diet changes, exclusively pumping, supplements, obtaining donor milk) have been extensively exhausted. Formula is not considered an option comparable to breastmilk for those in the “breast is best” camp.
Advocates proclaiming “fed is best” promote safe feeding. These advocates focus on educating new moms about their various feeding options including exclusively breastfeeding, breastfeeding and supplementing with formula simultaneously and exclusively formula feeding.
Fed is Best advocates warn about the dangers of infant starvation, which can occur when an exclusively breastfed infant does not receive sufficient milk intake. These advocates put emphasis on getting adequate nutrition through feeding your baby whether that means using
breastmilk or formula.
New mothers naturally want what’s best for their babies. But with advocates from all sides promoting their preferred feeding methods and new information constantly emerging, mothers are left to wonder what really is “best”.
Is breast truly best and greatly transcends any other option, even if the baby isn’t thriving with an exclusively breastfed diet? Is fed best, or is it simply a minimal standard?
The benefits of breastfeeding for infants are often overstated. Even if breast is best, the long-term benefits are arguably negligible. Even if formula isn’t best, it’s not poison. It’s an absolutely suitable alternative to meet an infant’s basic nutritional needs.
Instead of “fed is best” or “breast is best”, what about “what the mother chooses is best”? You know, the one with the breasts who is often solely responsible for infant feeding? The one who crawls out of bed at 3 a.m. to console her crying infant while glaring at her husband who soundly snoozes with his worthless nipples?
There are many valid reasons a mother may choose not to breastfeed. Medical reasons may have made breastfeeding extremely difficult or impossible. Returning to work and pumping enough breastmilk may be unfeasible. Survivors of past sexual assault may find breastfeeding traumatic.
Breastfeeding may not be compatible with medications needed for postpartum depression and anxiety. Even if breast may be best for the baby, it may not be best for the mother.
Ultimately, the validity of reasons why breastfeeding isn’t a viable option aren’t relevant. It’s perfectly valid for a mother to choose formula simply because she doesn’t want to breastfeed. When a woman becomes a mother, ownership of her body is not transferred. Individual sovereignty doesn’t suddenly terminate. When it comes to choosing whether or not to breastfeed, it is ultimately her body and her choice.