Why I won’t say “Fed is Best”
There are a lot of people that are beginning to use the phrase “fed is best”. This phrase is meant to demonstrate the non-biased support of a doula or other professional support person in regards to supporting a family’s choice to either breast or bottle feed… and I don’t like the phrase.
I get why the phrase has become popular and I agree with the sentiment in regards to offering support to a family no matter the choices they are making for their family. I also know that breast vs formula is a very hot button topic and of course it is important that no matter what, the baby is fed, but the truth is if we are talking about the feeding option that holds the most benefits for *most babies, it is human milk.
I don’t say human milk is best to put anyone down. I am saying that studies indicate that the benefits of human milk *for most babies* outnumber other forms of nutrition. Lots of people choose to use formula to feed their baby. In fact, I have friends who chose to bottle feed and during a conversation about human milk vs formula I asked them if they have ever felt that I judged their parenting decisions because I often talk about the benefits of human milk and the answer was “absolutely not”. I really don’t care what choice you make when feeding your child but I do give the information when asked. That information says that formula is simply not AS healthy for *most children* as breastmilk. We all know and agree that we can live on lots of kind of food but processed food isn’t a good for us as whole unprocessed foods. Either will keep us fed but one is undoubtedly better for us.
This isn’t a biased opinion but a fact backed by research studies, statements by the World Health Organization (WHO), US department of Health and Human Services, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). I won’t say fed is best because that implies that formula and breastmilk are equally beneficial for a baby and I cannot get behind that.
Benefits of breastmilk
There are countless benefits to human milk and breastfeeding and I cannot possibly list them all here but I can give you some pretty important ones
- Human milk constantly changes to accommodate the changing needs of the baby. From colostrum to mature milk and a sick baby to a healthy baby, the body has an incredible ability to produce the milk that the baby needs at the time the baby needs it including access to the mother’s immune system. Formula doesn’t and cannot change to meet the individual changing needs of the baby throughout its growth and development.
- Human milk protects the baby’s gut by keeping the pH levels low, bad bacteria low, and good bacteria high to crowd out bad organisms. Breastmilk provides antibodies that bind to bad microbes in the gut and prevent them from being absorbed into the body.
- Human milk is ideal for brain growth and development.
- Human milk is made for human babies: Each mammal makes a recipe of milk specific to its species’ needs. Some have higher concentrations of fat, some higher water, some higher protein. Human milk is about 80% water and low in fat and protein. Formula is cow milk based. This means that it is not formulated with the same percentages of fat, water, and protein as human milk. In fact, cow milk contains 3X the amount of protein as human milk. This is thought to cause babies to have higher instances of obesity and diabetes later in life. Some studies suggest the body’s reaction to the formula causes hyperinsulinemia, where the body creates more insulin at each feeding which signals the body to store fat.
- Other benefits of breastfeeding include a 50% reduction in SIDS cases and 14-19% reduction in childhood leukemia.
While breastfeeding isn’t the only way to give baby human milk (they can express/pump and bottle feed, use donor milk, cup or syringe feed, use an SNS system etc.) women who breastfeed have some wonderful benefits for themselves as well! These include
- Breastfeeding helps in your postpartum recovery by releasing the hormones that help your uterus to contract back down to its pre-pregnancy size
- Protection against breast cancer
- Less risk of ovarian cancer
- Less risk of type 2 diabetes
- Women to breastfed for a year or more are 10-15% less likely to develop metabolic syndrome that increases the risk for heart disease and stroke.
- Less postpartum depression
- Breastfeeding doesn’t cost as much. There are no formulas, bottles, sterilizers etc. to buy.
Why some people don’t/can’t give human milk
As I stated above, some people simply choose formula. Some people have to return to work and aren’t able to or choose not to pump. Some have to take medications that prevent it, some have physical limitations, and some have personal histories that keep them from breastfeeding. Some babies cannot take human milk due to genetic allergies! Obviously, for these people, formula feeding is best for them and their babies. My opposition to this phrase “fed is best” isn’t because I think that formula is bad! I don’t. Formula has its place and benefits for many people. But formula has become the default feeding option of our country and many people don’t know that human milk is nutritionally more beneficial to most babies than formula. Some people think it is equal in benefits and some may think there are more nutrients in formula. While I understand the motives behind the “fed is best” campaign, I think an unintended consequence is the implication that we shouldn’t give factual information about the benefits of human milk vs formula in order not to offend our clients who choose formula. It is meant to let our clients know that we are unbiased and don’t have a stake in their decisions. My clients are down to earth, reasonable, intelligent people who understand that giving information that says human milk is preferred and recommended by national and global organizations is the same as saying “don’t eat a ton of junk food while pregnant” or “drink lots of water and stay hydrated”. It is just one more piece of information that can be used or tossed away.
I am passionate about empowering my clients to make informed decisions that they can feel confident in. This is why I am a childbirth and breastfeeding educator. Some people don’t really want the information and that is okay too. But for those who DO want the information they can sign up for one of our comprehensive breastfeeding classes where we go into more detail about the benefits, physiology, anatomy and more.
What you decide for your family is solely your choice. I know that my clients will choose the best thing for their family. If that is formula feeding, then I will give them all the information regarding how to prepare the bottle safely and I will gladly make that bottle and give them the support they deserve knowing that they made their decision from an informed and confident place.