Breast is best – isn’t it?

June 17, 2016

I unwittingly became embroiled in a Twitter debate about breastfeeding the other day, after posting a tweet about finally not feeding guilty about bottle feeding my baby in public in a group of other mums who were all feeding from the breast. I didn’t mention that it was expressed breast milk. In fact, the only reason I shared was because I was so pleased with the emotional progress I’d made since writing this post earlier in the week.

Anyway, it somehow started off a debate about breast vs bottle. I feel almost stuck in the middle of this equation as I’m doing breast via bottle. The sticking point of the conversation came when someone commented that, ‘fed is best’ – and someone else (a breastfeeding advocate) replied that, ‘fed is the minimum’.

Naturally this is a very sensitive issue and I’m not really sure where I stand on it. Obviously, breast milk has amazing qualities that cannot be replicated by formula and is what babies are, by design, meant to drink. However, for women who choose not to or cannot breastfeed, formula is nutritionally appropriate and babies can thrive on it.

Much is made of the stigma around breastfeeding and how breastfeeding mothers are often made to feel uncomfortable when breastfeeding in public, but in my opinion, the stigma around formula feeding is far greater.

I have heard stories of midwives and health visitors to be hugely unsupportive of mothers who have chosen (for very good reason) to formula feed.

In my experience, I have found my midwife and health visitor to be very supportive of my choice to express rather than feed from the breast, and the health visitor in particular has been very supportive over the fact that I know that at some point, I may have to top up with formula or even move to formula feeding entirely. The message has still been, “but you’re still giving her the good stuff” (in response to my worries over expressing) and, “I can’t recommend formula feeding but I will support you.”

This last comment particularly stung, especially given my fear of being judged on any level. Did my health visitor say that because she’s not allowed to recommend formula in her professional capacity? Or did she say it because she doesn’t want to? Hard to know. But it doesn’t escape me feeling judgement over potentially formula feeding.

I don’t know when I’ll introduce formula but I’m sure it will happen eventually. I’ve already had a couple of nights where Little M’s chugged so much milk she’s completely depleted my stores in the fridge and I’ve had a panic and frantically pumped to produce more. One day I’m sure demand will outstrip supply and on that day, it will be better to feed her formula than let her starve, and in that sense, fed is best.

I also think that this debate completely ignores the emotional well-being of the individuals concerned. Breastfeeding isn’t easy. It isn’t. No matter how natural it is, lots of women just find it too difficult. And if it’s too traumatic (and only the individual concerned can decide that, not anyone else) then surely it’s better to formula feed and have a positive relationship with your baby? I’ve spoken to women who have been brutally honest and said that trying to breastfeed simply made them resent their baby. Surely a happy and securely bonded mother-baby relationship matters more than whether or not the baby was breastfed?

For me, that’s the bottom line. I don’t think breast is best, nor do I think formula is best. A positive mother-baby relationship is best, and whether that’s accomplished through formula or breast milk, so be it.

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

33 responses to “Breast is best – isn’t it?”

  1. This is a great post. I definitely relate to it. I formula feed and had great difficulty when attempting to breastfeed. I did what was best for my baby – I fed her. She was jaundiced. It wasn’t clearing up because she wasn’t eating when I tried my meager attempts to breastfeed her. I’m happy with my choice. A lot of women breastfeed here in Denmark and it does feel odd being seemingly the only formula feeder around, but my child is healthy and happy. That’s all I can ask for.

  2. Mama Penguin says:

    Yes. Just, yes. This.

  3. Katarina Ramsden says:

    I came close to a nervous breakdown, with the pressure I put on myself to breastfeed. Once I decided to stop doing to myself and commit to formula, much much better

    • Jules says:

      There is so much pressure around breastfeeding. It was suggested to me that I put the pressure on myself, but I don’t agree when all the messages we are given suggest we are letting our babies down if we don’t breastfeed.

  4. First off lovely, with regard to your HV, they’re not allowed to recommend formula so please don’t worry about judgement because the fact that she’s said she’ll support you is really positive! You’re doing great and this whole debate really winds me up. I breastfed and expressed for 4 long, rough months with Toby and it damn near broke me. With my mental health suffering I couldn’t be the best number possible to a vulnerable baby who was in constant pain, so I stopped. With Martha, I’m finding breastfeeding really simple after a tricky start and I’ll be expressing soon so that I can have the odd time away from her (my 30th!) but hope to continue to breastfeed to the 6 month mark. No two mums, babies or experiences are the same xx

    • Jules says:

      Thank you. I’m not sure how far I’ll get with the expressing, but hopefully by the time I stop some of the emotions of the early days will have left me, making the transition to formula a bit easier x

  5. Sarah says:

    This post is in a similar vein to one I posted last week – it also got me unwittingly involved in a Facebook spat after an obstetrician who blogs about parenting pseudoscience posted a link to my blog on her page. Hilariously I got 747 views Monday versus my normal of about 5! Luckily the people who commented were only supportive but the FB post was getting a bit out of hand with extremely critical people spouting off. Lucky I am anonymous because I really felt the hatred. I was only trying to do the best for my child, as you are. I was heartbroken not to breastfeed but so so relieved when I could finally stop her being hungry. I think loving your baby is far more important than your feeding choice. But to some people the mere mention of formula is like saying you plan to feed your child vodka. In the end they all end up licking the carpet as soon as they can move anyway…

    • Jules says:

      Haha re the carpet! It’s such an emotive subject, isn’t it? I don’t really understand why people can’t just mind their own business over how someone else feeds their child. I think sometimes, some people who found breastfeeding straightforward themselves believe that it is a choice for others to formula feed, but it often isn’t that simple. I am happy expressing for now but at some point I will have to move to formula and I shouldn’t be made to feel badly about that.

  6. Rebecca says:

    Well said! A fantastic post! You are so right. I still breastfeed by 21-month old and I am a breastfeeding peer supporter. But I would NEVER judge anyone for the way in which they choose to feed their child. As you say, the most important thing is a healthy relationship and a happy Mum and baby. People need to live and let live. All I would say is I wish there was more support and information for Mummies wishing to breastfeed as often you find they have changed to formula because they couldn’t get the help they needed. Well done you for pumping! That shows huge dedication and patience as it is time-consuming. #KCACOLS

    • Jules says:

      Thank you. It is very time consuming but I’m finding it manageable at the moment. I’ll see how long I manage to keep going for! x

  7. Kat says:

    Such a great post! I could only manage exclusively breastfeeding for two weeks when my daughter was born. I was underconfident and I’m very top heavy, feeding in public would never have been discreet for me and I just don’t have the confidence to do that. I then moved on to combo feeding for ten more weeks so i’m really glad I tried and I will do again in the future. What is best for mum is best for baby, happy mum, happy baby however they are fed, do what is best for you, your situation and your family, #kcacols

  8. the frenchie mummy says:

    I totally agree with you that it can be difficult for some women. New mummies are under such a pressure, I feel that it’s insane. It our body and we should do whatever we want with it! Don’t feel guilty, plus anyway you give your baby your own milk… #KCACOLS

    • Jules says:

      Yes, I do give her my own milk at the moment, but that may change in future and I don’t think any woman should feel guilty to not give their baby their own milk.

  9. laura dove says:

    I don’t think that anyone can say what is best for your children other than YOU. For me, breast most definitely wasn’t best as I completely believe that due to my struggles breast feeding it triggered my PND and I had a horrific experience with it all. I felt so guilty when I eventually introduced formula and with my youngest three I felt HUGE pressure to breastfeed, even when it wasn’t what was best for ME. You know your baby and what is right for you as a Mummy, don’t ever feel guilty. #KCACOLS

    • Jules says:

      Thank you for sharing your experience. Breastfeeding isn’t easy for a lot of women and I agree that for some (and I would include myself) it can be traumatic. I’d rather have a loving bond with my daughter than resent her every time she was hungry.

  10. This is a point I have stayed clear of so far on my blog. People get charged up very easily on the breast vs bottle debate. There are plenty of reasons behind why mums choose one or the other. I think you are doing a great job – you are doing what works best for you & your family & that’s what counts. #KCACOLS

    • Jules says:

      Thanks – I know it is such an emotive topic but I think you’re right, it’s about what works best for each family and it’s not for someone outside that family to decide what that is.

  11. krissi says:

    Whats best is whats best for you and your family. Im very pro breast feeding and actually teach about it for a living but also struggled with it. Not being able to do what you teach just about killed me emotionally. it look a long time before i didnt cry every time i fed formula to my baby. eventually you realize thats its ok and your baby doesnt really care; they love you no matter what! #KCACOLS

  12. Maria says:

    I struggled with breastfeeding both my boys and ended up expressing for about 8 weeks before I switched to formula. The guilt I felt was horrendous and I agree that there certainly does seem to be more of a stigma attached to formula feeding than breast (in my experience anyway)

    At the end of the day we all do what’s best for our children.

    Thank you for linking up to #KCACOLS and I hope to see you back again next week x

  13. This is a great post and I 100% agree with you that it’s all about the mummy and baby bond. I have a friends who has really bad psoriasis and when she fell pregnant she had to stop her medication till she stopped breastfeeding. Her psoriasis got so bad that when she was breastfeeding she would literally be crying because of the pain, this to me takes away from the whole point of breastfeeding, she would dread it and being made to feel guilty added to the stress. In the end her husband intervened and told her to switch to a bottle, but how bad that she felt guilty and judged even though she was in pain. I on the other hand combination fed my little boy and again like you said out of all the health visitors I had visit me only one supported my decision and said the main thing was baby being healthy. Mummy’s need to do what’s right for them and nobody else I say. Good on you for doing it for as long as you have and whenever you decide to switch to formula you definitely shouldn’t feel guilty about it and tell anyone who tries to make you feel bad to sod off! x #KCACOLS

    • Jules says:

      Thank you! I’m still going 5 weeks in but Little M is starting to guzzle more than I can produce! x

  14. The Speed Bump says:

    Yes. I can’t say enough how much I agree with this. Sorry to hear you got caught up in a debate; they never end well unfortunately when it comes to infant feeding. #KCACOLS

  15. I actually got a bit emotional reading this, especially the part about your health visitor saying she can’t recommend formula feeding. I had a similar comment from my midwife who told me ‘as a midwife I’m saying keep going with breastfeeding, as a mother I’m saying give him some formula’. I was so thankful to her for that, for speaking to me as a person and as a mother, but it really bothered me that her profession doesn’t allow her to recommend what is clearly best for the mother. My son ended up on formula after 2 weeks, and I have no regrets about that decision. It was the best choice for us. Then my daughter ended up being breastfed for 13 months. Again, that was what was best for us. There are no hard and fast rules in my opinion, every mother and child is different and I’m in complete agreement with your last point. x #KCACOLS

    • Jules says:

      Thank you. It’s a topic fraught with such emotion. Thank goodness there are some health professionals out there prepared to be human! x

  16. Mrs Lighty says:

    Great post, and I couldn’t agree more. I think I’ve already sent you my post on how breastfeeding affected my mental health to the point whereby I didn’t want to pick up my newborn baby, so as you say it is more complex than breast or bottle, as your breast via bottle has shown. Good for you for continuing to express, it sounds like you’re doing a fab job xxx

  17. Amen to this! When my little one was 8 weeks, I decided to formula feed because breastfeeding wasn’t working for us…cue Q’s from NCT friends whether I had consulted a breastfeeding counsellor, maybe I should just give it time. I felt like a complete failure. Now looking back I can see that breast isn’t always best, and as you say neither is formula. It’s your family and only you know what is right for you. Fabulous post, I relate to all of this and think you’re doing wonderfully xx

    • Jules says:

      Thank you, I’m still pumping away but when the time comes, whenever that may be, formula will be the solution x

  18. Mrs H says:

    I totally agree with this. And bravo for writing it. I know it takes courage when feeding is concerned. I have never fully shares Little Miss H’s feeding story because I have always been worried about being judged. But essentially she was combination fed. Unless you are the mother you don’t have a right to an opinion about how a mother feeds her baby. There are few mums who would argue that breast feeding or breast milk are wrong or be anti-breast feeding. But every woman experiences pregnancy and child birth differently and every baby is different. But one thing is consistent. Babies need feeding and they need love. Only you can decide how you want to give your baby both those things and no one has the right to judge you. Hugs Lucy xxxx

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