I’m here today with another discussion type post, this one is around the term Fed Is Best. This is a term that I’ve come to hate with a passion.
And it’s not because I’m anti-formula feeding. I believe that a mother should be able to decide how to feed their baby. But that decision should come from a place of knowing all the facts about breastfeeding, formula feeding and everything in between. It should also come from a place of having access to the support should a mother want and need it.
It’s because the risk of postnatal depression is 50% less among women who breastfeed. But a flipside to this is that women who planned to breastfeed and were unable to breastfeed have DOUBLE the chance of struggling with postnatal depression. You can read more about this study in this article here.
It’s the struggle of those women who want to breastfeed but cannot that concerns me. Because most of the time, the problem can be fixed when there is guidance and support.
- Feeding choices
- My breastfeeding knowledge pre-baby
- Nutritionally speaking…
- Antibodies in breastmilk
- Breastfeeding problems
- Breastfeeding myths
- Emotions behind feeding choices
- Access to support
- Sometimes it’s too much
- Final thoughts
Often, the decision on how to feed a baby isn’t a simple one. But the term Fed Is Best simplifies something that is much more complex and something that often carries a lot of emotions.
Sometimes women feel bullied into making feeding decisions without the correct support or knowledge. And sadly, many midwives, doctors and health visitors are not experts in breastfeeding and are often not up to date with the latest information.
My breastfeeding knowledge pre-baby
Before I was pregnant, I was very much all about ‘Fed Is Best’. I had little knowledge about breastfeeding and I thought formula feeding was just the normal thing to do. I thought I would feed my baby some bottles. I thought it had the same benefits as breastmilk. The Fed Is Best campaign was a catchy phrase that aligned with my views. My views that people can to do with their babies and bodies what they pleased when it comes to feeding.
But what it didn’t do was encourage me to learn more.
To me, the Fed Is Best movement made it sound like there’s no difference between formula and breastmilk. But that’s just incorrect. ‘Fed is Best’ overshadows the benefits of breastfeeding, these are often totally eclipsed by horror stories of sore nipples, midnight feeds and no rest. It encourages formula feeding to those who want to breastfeeding.
From a nutritional and health standpoint, breastmilk is the best thing for a baby (please stay with me here – I’m talking nutritionally speaking). Breastmilk is perfectly designed for a baby and easily digested by their little tummies. It contains antibodies to prevent and fight infections and illness. Breastmilk changes when a baby is sick to help them recover quicker. It changes consistency when needed, being more watery on hotter days to support hydration. It even changes in the night to contain the hormone melatonin to help the baby sleep. It promotes bonding and closeness between the mother and baby, the And they are just some of the short term benefits.
Like I said – from a nutritional standpoint.
Antibodies in breastmilk
The antibodies in breastmilk that prevent illness and help babies get quicker is a great benefit, but let’s be realistic here. We live in a modern world now. Medicine exists so illnesses can be treated, babies are offered vaccines. We have clean homes and have access to healthcare. We also know more about how to serialise and clean bottles containing formula so it’s safe and low-risk.
Most of have access to good diets and can start to wean our babies onto solid food with lots of fruit and veg from 6 months (alongside breast or formula milk).
There are many things that can get in the way of breastfeeding. Such as cracked nipples, postnatal depression, exhaustion, tongue tie, low supply, lack of weight gain in baby, feeding aversions, Mum needing to spend time away from the baby. I just want to point out that I’m talking about the women who WANT to breastfeed. Many don’t and that’s their choice and there may be many reasons for that, too.
The issue I have is that breastfeeding education is appalling in the UK and that, paired with the saying ‘Fed Is Best’ leads to many women opting for the formula before having the correct information.
When I talk about correct information, I mean information about:
- nutirtional value of breastmilk vs formula
- normal behavoir of a breastfed baby
- how a baby natrually inceases supply
- what can reduce supply
- issues with poor latch and how to correct
- baby having a tongue tie
- slow weight gain or weight loss
- beastfeeding myths often cited by relatives
- long-term benefits of breastfeeding
- colostrum collection
- how to use colostrum iafter birth
- when to introduce pumping
- causes and prevsion of mastits
- forth trimeter
- how partners can bond
Instead, women are bombarded with ‘Fed Is Best’ messages, told the negatives of breastfeeding and the positives of formula. They are not mentally prepared for the first few weeks of being awake at all hours with a velcro baby, so they quickly move to the bottle, or decide not to breastfeed at all.
I was always under the impression that women who formula fed were often shamed by others. But you know what, I’ve had so many comments by people about breastfeeding. I think people love to comment and put their nose in how others parent their children. Especially the older generation! There is a lot of ‘I did it this way, therefore it’s the best way, and if you don’t do it this way then you’re doing it wrong or insulting my parenting’.
There is also a lot for ‘suvrvior bias’ around parenting, too. Which I hate!
The unsolicited advice, options and judgement on anything to do with having a baby is just insane. It is often hidden underneath a ‘just trying to be helpful’ guise when it often feels passive-aggressive. But I’m going to try and not get too carried away by this subject because we don’t want another 3000-word blog post, right?
Here are some of the things people have said to me:
You need to get him onto a bottle.
This was said when Leo was only a few weeks old. It seems that many people think you only need to breastfeed for a few weeks then move your baby onto the bottle. This isn’t true – you feed your baby as long as you want to. Whether that’s two hours, two weeks or two years. It’s not really anyone’s business.
Give him a full bottle every four hours
There is this idea we need to get a baby into a strict routine as soon as possible. Feeding a baby a full bottle at set times, rather than when they cry for food.
As adults, we don’t make ourselves go 4 hours without food or a drink if we’re hungry or thirsty. We go and get a drink. Some days we are hungrier than others and babies are the same. Feed on demand, comfort your baby!
Breastfed babies actually have a lower risk of SIDs than formula bed babies, as formula bed babies drink more at once, resulting in a fuller belly and they sleep longer and deeper. Babies are meant to wake up often for regular, small feeds.
You don’t have enough milk for him
This was said to me when Leo was about 5 weeks old and was cluster feeding.
Cluster feeding is when babies want short feeds often. So he would feed for 5-10 minutes, then stop. Then want more after. This is normal breastfeeding behaviour, especially in the early days. As long as the baby is having enough wet and dirty nappies, there is no need for concern. I knew this, but imagine if I didn’t? I’ve seen many women in breastfeeding support groups on Facebook asking how to stop breastfeeding because they don’t have enough milk. Because it’s not satisfying the baby and they are wanting to feed for what seems like hours on end. It’s normal.
It’s actually very rare for women not to be able to make enough milk and is usually something people believe is happening when a baby is cluster feeding.
If you are concerned that your baby isn’t getting enough milk from you, the amount of wet and dirty nappies should reassure you. But if you are still concerned, request a weigh in with your health visitor.
He’ll be breastfeeding until he’s 18
A baby is very dependent on their mother. That’s normal. They want to be close to us, to smell us, to feel our warmth and be near the smell of milk. We have this westernised view of having to get a baby to be independent ASAP. Sleep on their own. Not be held all the time. Get them off the breast.
I practice baby-led parenting, where I pick up my baby if he cries, feed him if he’s hungry and hold him close while he sleeps so he feels safe.
Emotions behind feeding choices
This topic can because heated because there are generally lots of emotions around infant feeding. So many women are left feeling guilty because they ‘gave up’ or ‘didn’t push through the pain’.
It’s not about giving up or pushing through. It’s about having the right information and support to carry on if that’s what you want.
It can escalate quickly if you don’t have those things.
For example, it’s day three of babies life and the mother’s milk hasn’t come in yet, she feeds formula until it does. This means colostrum and milk are not getting removed from the breast by the baby, so more isn’t made which leads to low supply and we get stuck in a trap of giving formula and not increasing breastmilk production.
Another example could be the partner wants to feed and bond with the baby. Mum is exhausted so welcomes the rest. A bottle is introduced each evening. The baby doesn’t have to work as hard to get the milk from the bottle. Mums breastmilk production goes down due to the missed feed and the baby prefers the bottle as they get more milk easier and rejects the breast.
The Fed Is Best Movement seems like a positive term, but it oversimplifies infant feeding. Instead of Fed is Best or Breast Is Best, I prefer:
Informed is best.
Supported is best.
Empowered is best.
Breastfeeding is hard. I have so many friends that have stopped feeding or not even tried because of myths or running into complications and not having the support.
PND, feeling touched out, tired, cracked and sore nipples, exhausted, mastitis, tongue tie, lack of sleep, lip tie, shallow latch and did I mention EXHAUSTED?
If a woman who wants to breastfeed runs into these problems and decides to switch to formula, then that’s fine if she has the information and access to support if she wanted it.
The issue lies in the women who would love to continue but feel overwhelmed, upset, lost, confused and in agony. Someone who has reluctantly stopped when they could have carried on with that support.
- tongue ties can be fixed
- supply can be increased
- mastitus can be treated
- so nipples can heal
- latch can be improved
- co-sleeping ease tiredness
- someone with PND can be supported
Access to support
Another issue we face is accessibility to this support. It’s often quicker to find a private lactation consultant or get a tongue tie fixed yourself than go through a long referral process via the NHS. Especially during COVID when it was hard to even get seen by a doctor.
It’s one thing having the education around breastfeeding, it’s another to get the required help and often means you have to pay for it yourself, which not everyone is able to do. I know a few women who have gone down this route.
It shouldn’t be this complicated. I know you’re probably thinking there are more important things for the NHS to spend money on, more life-threatening things. But if more people breastfed their babies, then it can save the NHS millions each year in fewer hospital admissions thanks to the benefit of breastfeeding.
Calculations from a mere handful of illnesses where breastfeeding is thought to have a protective effect revealed potential annual savings to the NHS from a moderate increase in breastfeeding rates of about £40 million per year. The true calculations are likely to be much higher.Unicef
This report: Preventing disease and saving resources: the potential contribution of increasing breastfeeding rates in the UK goes into more detail.
So it would be a worthwhile investment.
Sometimes it’s too much
Breastfeeding is intense. When you have a baby, it’s a huge trauma for your body and an even bigger one for your brain. You are exhausted and in love and in pain and overwhelmed. You want to sleep but there is a baby on you all the time. You want to shower but he cries for you and won’t let you put him down. All you want is a few hours of unbroken sleep, a shower and to eat a proper meal. Your nipples pour milk and you feel utterly trapped.
It’s the constant touching, feeding and never getting anything done that is difficult. It can lead to mental health problems and dread towards feeding time.
There is support there to allow women to continue their breastfeeding journey. If they really want to.
I believe it really does need to be an informed choice and something that is welcomed. Not something that is done because a mother feels it’s the only option.
So, let’s say it again:
Informed is best.
Supported is best.
Empowered is best.
That goes for breastfeeding, formula, pumping, combi feeding, cup feeding or any other way to feed your baby.
What I am trying to say is – how you feed your baby is your choice. It also is nobody else’s business. You do what is right for you and your child.
But what saddens me is the number of women who want to breastfeed, come across obstacles that can be overcome with the right support, yet simply do not have access to this support. They are told ‘Fed is Best’ and offered a bottle. This is great if you are happy with this alternative to feeding your baby, but it’s not so great for those mothers who DO want to breastfeed and are left feeling sad and distressed.
If you are struggling with breastfeeding, or plan on breastfeeding yourself, I strongly suggest you join the Facebook group: Breastfeeding and Lactation Support UK. This group has trained lactation specialists that can answer any questions and offer support to guide you in the right direction.
I joined that Facebook group when I was around 25 weeks pregnant and read the experiences of other women. I believe reading other peoples stories and problems helped me align my own expectations around breastfeeding and how difficult it would be and hugely contributed to my own successful breastfeeding story.