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My Honest Judgement of ‘Fed is Best’

It’s World Breastfeeding Week. And despite having already written about the subject twice during the last few days and having a very busy week on the blog, here I am at 6.30am furiously typing on my phone. Because as I was finally getting my head down last night I saw something which required an urgent response.

Black and white photo of a little girl with her hand over her mouth.

There have been lots of lovely posts about breastfeeding this week. Some have been about the research released by UNICEF and WHO; some about the desperate need for better access to support.

And quite a few claiming ‘Fed is Best’, specifically how we shouldn’t shame bottle feeders and suggesting that rather than using this week to perpetuate the polarisation of those with babies, perhaps we should consider making it more inclusive.

Formula has its place, without a doubt.

Why We Shouldn’t Celebrate Formula Feeding

I can only agree with one part of that last sentiment:

Of course we shouldn’t shame bottle feeders; anybody who finds it acceptable to shame somebody else has a label in my book: they are a bully.

Formula has its place, without a doubt. It saved the life of my first daughter while she was being tube fed after being born early. But should it be viewed as equal to breastfeeding? I don’t believe so.

So, do I judge bottle feeding? I do, but not how you might think. 

For a start ‘judge’ has several definitions. Taken from the Cambridge Dictionary, the two we’re interested in for the purpose of this post are:

1) To form, give, or have a an opinion, or to decide about something or someone, especially after thinking carefully.

2) To express a bad opinion of someone’s behaviour, often because you think you are better than them.

Why I Judge Formula Feeding

I judge that these women have been let down on an astonishing scale.

To be really, unmistakably crystal clear, I judge the parents using formula based on the first definition only:

I judge that many of the women who’ve turned to formula are disappointed – or even devastated – that they’ve attempted to breastfeed but it sadly hasn’t worked out.

I judge that these women have been let down on an astonishing scale. I judge that a lack of funding and resources have ultimately led to insufficient support.

And sometimes I judge that a small minority of those parents using formula have an attitude which is uneducated at best and ignorant at worst – some breastfeeders equally guilty of this!

That’s a strong assertion, and not one I make lightly. I’m confident it is a minority, yet they sadly do exist as you can read all about here

Breastmilk Is Desirable Because It’s the Biological Norm

Conversely, I judge and have a bad opinion of the companies pushing formula, and its largescale use in the UK.

Breastfeeding is not currently the norm.

This problem – because that’s what it is – has led to an unprecedented shift in culture making it seem acceptable to denounce mothers feeding their babies in public should they dare to do so in the way nature intended.

Breastfeeding Myths

I generally try to be diplomatic. I promote kindness and compassion and I abhor spite. And while I applaud the intention behind many of the posts I’ve read over the last few days, I despair over the subtle subtext.

I’m sure that the people writing those articles were intending to fight for the cause and do their bit to end stigma and the divisive nature of breast versus bottle – all of which I encourage.

But what those types of posts actually achieve is to reinforce a very real issue facing our nation:

Breastfeeding is not currently the norm.

Formula does not need any more promotion.

Breastfeeding Is Legally Protected For A Reason

In terms of statistics, it’s currently roughly equal to bottle feeding. There are many reasons for this and, while I do not wish to demonise those parents using formula, I absolutely think it’s necessary to address this.

Breastfeeding is not intended to be equal to formula feeding.

Formula does not need any more promotion (especially not by hijacking this critical week) – in fact it’s prohibited by law.

Just as there’s legislation in place to prevent prejudice against sex, age, race, etc – when it comes to the subject of breast or bottle feeding, the message is clear:

Breastfeeding is protected. It is not intended to be equal to formula feeding.

The research released by UNICEF and WHO this week is quite clear: improved breastfeeding rates would benefit the mother, baby and even the economy. It would save lives.

So I’m sorry if this offends anyone, but sometimes diplomacy is not appropriate.

We Need Breastfeeding Education in School

We need to be piling on the pressure and demanding access to these essential services, without which nothing will change. Every woman and baby deserves the right to as much support as they require to establish breastfeeding.

Education beginning at school age is required to make positive change.

And if they actively choose against it without even trying? We have to ask ourselves why. I suspect culture plays a huge part in the decision.

I confidently suggest it’s due to education, specifically the lack of education provided about this subject, which sadly, ultimately, translates into fewer people wishing to nurse their babies.

Societal expectations and attitudes inevitably influence this choice. Therefore education across the board (ideally beginning as early as school age) is required to make positive changes to the culture surrounding breastfeeding.

So yes, I judge formula feeding – or more specifically the inadequate education and support for breastfeeding which often leads to formula feeding.

And if we’ve any hope of turning this dire situation around, you should too.

Kaylie Riley

Thursday 22nd of July 2021

I'd just like to point out that it's a very privileged position to be in for one to judge how another mother is able to feed her baby. I greatly appreciate the tact you used, however, just as it is not my place to tell you breastfeeding is wrong, it is not your place to tell me that formula feeding is wrong. If you aren't someone's doctor, you have no idea what's going on. I can barely make nutrients for myself, I'm not going to starve my baby with my nutrientless water milk just so that other moms don't make me feel bad. And I'm not going to starve myself so that my baby gets my milk, we both deserve to be fully fed.

Kate Tunstall

Saturday 24th of July 2021

Hi Kaylie,

You're entirely right and I'm very sorry if that's how the post came across. The intention was not at all to judge how other mothers feed their babies, but the fact that there's insufficient support available - and even more so the unscrupulous companies that take advantage of this fact.

The post was written a long time ago, I've made a quick update to try to reflect my support of all mothers and my belief that formula absolutely has its place. When I'm not so pushed for time I'll be planning to spend more time improving the post.

Thanks for commenting and all the best.

Kate Tunstall

Monday 7th of August 2017

Thanks for sharing your experiences, I think the situation of having small children alongside a baby, or having to return to work, etc, does shine a light on other issues. That said, really it all comes back to support, and culture. These are both areas where there's work to be done.

I wish every mum would at least try, I can't pretend otherwise. But it's not them I have a problem with if they choose not to. My point (though it appears to have been lost on many sadly) is that the culture surrounding breastfeeding *must* be relevant to why many women choose not to try. With sufficient support to establish breastfeeding and adequate support in the workplace, improvements would be made, I'm sure. Yet there will be no changes unless people care more, and the only way to make progress there is with education and a shift in culture.

Samantha Sharon

Saturday 5th of August 2017

What upsets me is people want to argue about how to feed babies and yes Breast is better and offers so much that formula can not but there is a stigma around both forms of feeding. I never produced a single drop with my first 2 kids and with my third I finally did but due to medications I was on I was not able to breast feed. I was bashed and cruley judged by people because I had to formula feed. I am all for breast feeding, it is natural and should not be criticized but formula feeding is not the worst thing either and should also never be criticized. So I will continue to say fed is best because I dont believe on continuing this shaming of formula feeding mothers with breast is best. Which is how it feels to me and no one ever takes in to account how the formula feeding mother feels only the breast feeding mothers. That has been my experience as a mother. I know some may not agree, however this is what I have learned in my journey through parenthood.

Kate Tunstall

Monday 7th of August 2017

That's really sad but I don't think it's necessarily a reflection of the way things truly are. I expect we will see trends depending on who we seek support from, etc. And since we'll join different support networks and be exposed mostly to those who are in the same situation, this unfortunately perpetuates the division between bottle and breast.

susielhawes

Saturday 5th of August 2017

In terms of education, where I live in Norfolk the NHS antenatal class (which I went to) was very pro breastfeeding. As was the NCT which I did. The problem I found was that after my baby had lost only 6% of weight in the first week (admittedly dropping twice in a row) I was encouraged to formula feed by the same midwives that ran their NHS antenatal class. It was like I didn't tick a box straight the way so this was the suggestion. However they did give further advice about feeding 2 hourly (argh!) and we turned a corner. But in hindsight I think the level of concern they put on me as a new mum with a 5 day old baby losing weight was actually unnecessary and it would have led me to go to formula if it wasn't for my NCT breastfeeding counsellor who was fantastic and encouraging and provided far more information, books, web links and reassurance. I do think there is inconsistency in the "breast is best" message prior to birth and the follow up in terms of support and understanding about establishing it, after wards.

Kate Tunstall

Monday 7th of August 2017

Exactly my point! As per above comment, the *correct* support is so important!

And I absolutely make you right - if the message is going to be pushed, then it needs to be backed up with proper guidance, practical help, and whatever form of support is required afterwards too.

Kat

Saturday 5th of August 2017

I’m disappointed in this article. If you don’t think there is enough pressure on women to breastfeed you should sit on the ward I was on after having my little boy. I didnt sleep one moment the night after having him, instead I spent minute after minute, hour after hour, trying to get him to latch on. I allowed a midwife to repeatedly handle my breasts and physically place them in my sons mouth. All because I was told, after spending 5 days of contractions in hospital before an emergency section, that I would not be discharged until he latched on and fed for a full 3 minutes or i gave him formula. More pressure is the very last thing I could’ve done with. I am not uneducated. I know the benefits of breastfeeding and would always support women to choose this method. But I wouldn’t pressure them. It can be just as uncomfortable having to feed your baby with a bottle around a group of breastfeeding mothers, believe me. And these women can be just as judgemental as those people who have problems with breastfeeding in public. So yes breast is best, but pressure is cruel

Kate Tunstall

Monday 7th of August 2017

Pressure IS cruel, but that was not my intention. Neither was I suggesting you are uneducated.

It sounds to me that you did not have proper support in hospital. Being ignored or offered zero help is not the only way to be unsupportive, and it sounds like you had a pretty awful experience.

I'm sorry you've read my post as additional pressure on you. That was the opposite of my intention - I'm frustrated that more more women like yourself are not offered what you need to establish breastfeeding, ie. practical help and gentle encouragement for as long as required.