A recent piece on Romper got me incensed. The author, Fiona Tapp, had given some thought to the "breast is best" mantra. Given the backlash she'd experienced, Tapp considered the facts behind "breast is best". In the end, she decided that saying "breast is best" is "perfectly OK". Tapp proceeded to offer 9 reasons to support her conclusion.
It's been a while since I have tackled this topic on the blog. But I talk about it often so it feels like a good time to revisit why I hate, yes hate, this term. Here are 11 reasons why "breast is best" makes you wrong.
1) Baby cared for and protected is more important than what baby is fed. Need science on that? Look at the ACE Study (here or here) or any other research on the affects of early childhood trauma and neglect. An especially good resource is Dr Nadine Burke Harris' TED talk. That's here.
2) Let's get this out of the way. Yes, formula is manufactured. And it's also medically necessary for many babies. Formula may be* the only option for babies who have a congenital deformation, some forms of hypoglycemia or babies who have lost too much weight. It's not common but some babies are actually lactose intolerant so they must formula. Medically necessary or not, babies need to be fed. If that's confusing, see #1 above.
3) 1 in 3-4 women will be survivors of sexual abuse in their lifetime. Some sexual abuse survivors are not willing or able to breastfeed. Feeding on demand, even in the middle of the night, and often in bed can be triggering for a survivor of abuse whose body has been controlled by someone other than herself.
4) Low income moms are at a double disadvantage with breastfeeding. A) They are more likely to work low wage jobs which don't leave money for breastfeeding supplies. Supplies (from nipple shields to single use bags to a dependable pump) can be expensive! B) Poor moms are also more limited in childcare options. They may need to rely on an unethusiastic caregiver who isn't knowledgable about breastfeeding because of affordability or access issues.
5) Not all parents have breasts! The breast cancer survivor, two dads, foster parents or adoptive parents may not have breasts or be able to lactate.
6) Some moms cannot breastfeed, no matter desire, it's just not happening. This is something that I have heard for years. But last week I reached out to a Facebook group and asked about it. One woman, “Laura”, shared this ---------->
7) Breastfeeding isn't "natural" or "intuitive; it is learned. For topics that aren't covered in school (breastfeeding, healthy relationships), we rely others' experiences. Breastfeeding may remain a mystery if mom, sister or friend didn't do it. Support from an breastfeeding professional can be expensive and time-consuming.
8) Speaking of which...breastfeeding can save money but it can cost money. Time away from your work, even to breastfeed, generally means time you are not paid for. The United States is the only industrialized country without paid family leave. I asked a group of women how long they took off from work after their first baby. 90% of women said that they went back before they wanted to.
9) BF can also be scary for women who have struggled with body image issues. Here's how Fearless Formula Feeder Suzanne Barston describes it in her book, Bottled Up., having swollen, enormous leaking breasts was not only physically uncomfortable; it brought back every dark thought, every weird insecurity from a ten-year struggle with anorexia." (92)
10) Every day 3 women are murdered by their boyfriend or partner. These women usually aren't safe in their own homes. An unsupportive / abusive partner can see time with baby as time away from them. Formula feeding can stave off abuse, distract and/or get help around baby.
11) Some moms don't want to breastfeed. It doesn't matter why. Leave them alone already. Unless their baby is in imminent danger, just walk away from your judgment of their life.
Bottom line: Breastfeeding is a privilege. Some of us are more privileged than others. Until we right the wrongs mentioned above and add:
milk sharing programs;
donor milk programs that are actually free;
access and education for all families who want to breastfeed;
and so much more, breastfeeding will remain a privilege.
Slogans like "Breast Is Best" make us wrong but maybe that doesn't bother us. But what should bother us is the marginalization and isolation of new parents. BIB comes out after the presents are open and the freezer full of food is empty. It's bandied around at a time when some some moms don't have a moment to themselves to shower. When the partner has gone back to work and mom is alone for at home with a crying baby. When new parent policy is more endangered than ever, we need to strengthen the ties that bind us, not encourage further divisiveness.
We’re better than this.
*I say "may be" on this because expressed milk is also an option. Milk banks are banks and are usually too expensive to be sustainable long-term for even the most resourced families.