Back around 50 years ago, you’d give your precious 3 month old a lick of ice-cream, formula or boob, and it really wouldn’t matter much to the majority of people, no-one would bat an eye. Science then told us that breastmilk is, in fact, superior to formula and now everyone is pointing fingers at each other, trying to tell us all what to do.
Do you think that a mom who knows the benefits of breastfeeding but chooses to put her child on formula, cares about her child’s wellbeing less than those who breastfeed?
When the term “breast is best” emerged, it was created to uplift women who felt fear to breastfeed in public and to increase breastfeeding rates but it all turned really ugly when the term was used against moms who formula fed.
So many women struggle to breastfeed, it’s actually not only terribly sad but also worrisome. Latch issues, a lazy drinker, lactose sensitive, reflux issues, low supply and those are just a few issues out of a sea of many. These women who go to doctors and specialists begging for answers but eventually put their babies on formula without a choice in the matter because no woman is strong enough to watch their babies hurt. They are left feeling guilty and not good enough and the only way for them to carry on and not let their feelings over take them is to accept what has happened and move on.
Imagine the Mom who had a terrible breastfeeding experience and couldn’t help it, she then goes online and all she sees is “breast is best”. Not only that but some moms even get called out by other moms for not breastfeeding and I can only imagine how hurtful that must be. What happened to the saying, ‘motherhood is a sisterhood’?
Let me tell you my quick story; my 11-month-old has had no other drink other than breastmilk. I used to think I was the bees-knees by doing what was “best” and I wondered why all moms didn’t just do it that way. I was on such a high horse, sitting at home with my new baby, not really having much interaction with other moms besides what I read online. When I eventually decided to venture out of my new-baby nest, I met a lot of moms who both breastfed and formula fed. I listened to their stories and I saw their pain about not being able to breastfeed and I felt so much shame for ever thinking I should expect all women to breastfeed and I felt privileged for the breastfeeding journey I had so far.
All of this got me thinking, it’s illogical that we fight each other and that we don’t unite. I thought about the term “breast is best” and what it was actually for and why it mattered. I was formula fed as a baby and so was my husband. I know so many formula fed babies that are beautiful, healthy and thriving so why does this matter so much to us? I took a deeper look and found where it truly mattered.
There is a good reason the term “breast is best” exists and it is definitely not directed at the healthy, full term, no-problems baby who has access to all he needs. Breast is best when a mother doesn’t have access to clean water. Breast is best when a mother doesn’t have enough money for formula. Breast is best for a very premature baby with little immune system. Breast is beast for a baby with immunity disorders. If breastfeeding rates increase a little, then 10% of infant deaths can be prevented. This being said, the healthy baby with all their amenities met will probably not fall under this category but yet most of the keyboard-warriors are those with children who are not likely to be affected by the decision to be formula fed or breastfed.
With all this fighting and judging, you’d think we would have found a solution and found the source of the problem. I can’t help but wonder why we have not been doing the one thing that might actually help breastfeeding rates. Why are we not directing our anger at the medical community? Why are we not demanding more? When a medical student studies breastfeeding, it is just one module with no practical work. No wonder so many moms are left feeling destitute when they want to breastfeed but told they are unable to.
Breastfeeding is seen as a non-priority with medical professionals and no research or time is put into breastfeeding to help make it work for moms who are so desperate for answers. This means that a struggling mom is given so little choice about whether she can or cannot breastfeed. We need to expect more for those who are meant to help us. They tell us that breast is best, say we should do it but then cannot help us when we really need it.
So please, let us make motherhood a sisterhood. Can we stop fighting each other and start making a difference where it matters? No woman should feel guilty about the choices she makes with her child and no woman should be shamed either. Let us build each other up, help those who actually need it and expect more from those who can make a real difference.
Nicola Schoeman | @tinytaleofannaleah
Being a single mother I was dead set on breastfeeding, not only because of the health benefits but also because of the financial aspect regarding the cost of formula. I never had a issue with formula feeding as I was formula fed from 6 months due to severe reflux. Before Gabriel came, I was stressed that I would not have enough milk, but was assured by La Leche League that this is not possible. After the birth I suffered with latching issues, bleeding nipples, numerous lactation consultants pulling at my breasts and guiding me. Fast forward a month in, my breastfeeding journey was anything but special and bonding. In my mind I had this image of a mother cradling her baby close to her, as baby fed but in reality Gabriel relatched and delatched permanently, screamed as my milk sprayed him in the face, refused to drink, hated the right breast… It was a disaster. Everyone told me it was a phase. But this phase lasted 6 months. I began pumping every 2 hours, I was literally attached to the pump. I was adamant to make sure that Gabriel got enough. I could not pump enough, no matter how many bowls of oats I ate, how many fenugreek tablets I swallowed… Nothing helped. But I carried on, and fed at night in his sleep. That was the only time he would nurse and not scream, I managed to build up a stash for when I returned back to work but ended up needing to donate it to Milk matters because of a cow milk protein allergy he was diagnosed with at 4 months.
Breast was not best. The elimination diet made my milk plummet even more and I havd to introduce specialised formula.
At 6 months of hell I gave up. I feel like such a failure, but my child just hated the breast. Something so natural was so impossibly difficult. Everytime I see someone nurse their baby, with that excat image I always yearned for, it breaks my heart. I know I tried everything, but it just was not meant to be.
Thank you so much for this! Mothers should support other mothers, it’s so important that we unite and help each other. I also wasn’t able to breastfeed, which led to anxiety and depression. It took me some time to accept the fact, that my little one will be formula fed. Formula nowadays has really high standards, like this one from Europe: organicbaby.la/collections/hipp-formula. Thinking about it now, it was the best decision I could make, it gave me back my sanity and I finally could enjoy motherhood. Breastfeeding didn’t work out for us, but formula feeding did.
Thank you for such an amazing article. Breastfeeding is such a difficult thing to do, I am lucky to still be feeding my 8 month old, but it was a long and difficult journey even with the support of the LLL and my mom who was a breastfeeding councilor when we were younger. I also agree strongly that the medical fraternity needs to educate themselves better to position themselves better to give advice to struggling moms, or refer them to a LLL leader.
We have managed to take what occurs naturally to others and use it as a weapon. A mother knows what’s best for her child. Be it breastfed, bottlefed or mixed. The ultimate outcome is to ensure healthy survival of her offspring
I used to be one of those mommies that were judged for Formula Feeding when no one knew the big struggle i had trying to get my milk supply up… the days and nights I sat crying with my First born & Second born for that matter because I felt like I failed them, like I was taking away from them by giving them something that was man made. I felt angry that something that is supposed to be so Natural and normal could be such a struggle and so difficult. I still today feel so guilty and my oldest will be 5 soon, youngest 7 months old, and it’s not because I did anything wrong but because of that term “Breast is best”!!!!! I do however feel that the “Fed is Beast” term is now the best and healthiest means to go with and I hope that we can all unite together like the sisterhood we should to uplift and support each other.
I am a proud LLL supporter and have attended quite a few meetings over the nearly 3 years I’ve nursed my children…first my son who I weaned at 25months due to being in the middle of my pregnancy (and all of a sudden thanks to hormones I went from barely feeling him feed, to wanting to fling him across the room everytime he latched…it was only then that I fully understood that for some moms this is what breastfeeding ALWAYS felt like – I truly got it!) and now my daughter at 5 months old.
One day a LLL leader, actually discussed the “breast is best” term with us at a meeting and actually confided that even LLL did not like the term (I can’t remember who she said started it). I don’t think I can explain it as eloquently as she did, but I’ll try…She explained that saying “BEST” was basically putting breast and formula on the same tier/level/group and then saying breast is BETTER than formula, which implies that breast is SUPERIOR, but formula is “sufficient/normal/enough” which is fine actually (think of it like…one doesn’t need to win the race to get a medal, you could just complete the race and get a medal too, yes it may not be a GOLD medal but it’s still a medal right!?)… But in reality Breast is NORMAL…its how a human (or any mammal) is biologically, anatomically, naturally (you name it) meant to feed its young, therefore that automatically means formula is INFERIOR as it is below NORMAL. Anyway I hope that makes sense… Here is the link to the article that she quoted when she’d explained it to us…if you have time to read, have a look. The way many breastfeeding things are explained in here is GOLD 🥇 Well worth the long read! http://www.whale.to/a/wiessinger.html
P. S. I definitely think the medical profession and the formula companies are responsible for a majority of women not nursing their young. It’s actually almost become a class issue. It’s classier to bottle feed. Very sad really 😔
Very sad that there is not much support for breast feedings especially when it comes to health care professionals. I was told by the pediatrition I would “obviously” have to supplement because I would never be able to make enough for two babies. I was also told by the nurses on call to take a sleep tablet in the hospital and they will give my babies formula. I also think when you achieve breastfeeding after all the struggles and you manage to push on, that you deserve to be proud and deserve to be told well done. But now we are told to not say anything because the moms who had to take formula will feel offended. This is also NOT encouraging women to continue when they hit a bad spot but rather quit. :-(
Well done for sticking to your guns! It really is so hard. I wish medical professionals would prioritize breastfeeding more because of how many benefits there are for both mom and baby. Well done for trusting your body and I know it’s a very difficult job to breastfeed one baby, let alone two. You deserve to feel proud!
Lovely article. You will find that the Motherhood Sisterhood already exists on the LaLeche league south Africa facebook page. They offer so much support and information gained from experience.
Hi Alex! I agree completely, the La Leche League South Africa is fantastic and helped me with a number of issues along the way. However, it was my mom that referred me to them (she remember the League from her days). So it would be nice if they can even just give you these resources at the hospital. I honestly received nothing from them except one or two uninterested attempts to help me with latching. I left the hospital not having any idea of what to do and it really frustrates me. It is not surprising at all that so many new moms just give up. Surely there is something more that can be done.
I’m so sorry about your tough experience Bianca! You are so right, we are in desperate need of more resources in hospitals regarding breastfeeding. You did the right thing by going to La Leche League for support. I do believe staff at the hospitals should inform new moms of the group.
Yes, La Leche League had given me so much support and love. I hope that one day it would be the norm for doctors to advise new moms to become a part of the group!
This was such a nice take on the term breast is best. I was and am pro breastfeeding, my son is only 9 months old, only had breastmilk even with me at work. However, I’m struggling to pump enough and am now using the freezer stash as well, once that is depleted, I’m going to be forced to give him formula during the day. I actually feel heartbroken by the thought of it.
Well done Michelle! You’ve already done an amazing job getting your baby to 9 months EBF (Exclusively breastfeeding)! As someone who has attended many LLL meetings, after your stash runs dry, day wean your babe and give him the Breast at night. This will still come in super handy when he picks up any bugs or viruses! :-) and still afford you the strong mother-child connection <3
You have made it so far! Well done! Please don’t be hard on yourself as breastfeeding doesn’t need to be all or nothing. There are so many moms who give their babies both bottle and boob and end up with a child self weaning at 2 or 3 years old. You have done the best for your baby no matter what.
This write-up really hit home for me. I struggled a lot with breastfeeding when my daughter was born and was completely shocked at the complete lack of support and advice I received from my healthcare team. To be completely honest, it felt like they were promoting formula because helping me/teaching me to breastfeed would have been too much effort for them. If it had not been for my pure stubbornness I am almost certain I would have given up. I have a friend who has just had a baby and went through the same problems and, due to a complete lack of support from all healthcare professionals involved, stopped breastfeeding at 2 weeks. It makes me furious that the people that are meant to help us really just don’t care. They should be held more accountable.
This makes me so happy to hear! Sometimes we don’t understand the lack of help until we are in the deep end. It is so important for us to educate ourselves on breastfeeding because we know that the medical professionals won’t always have our backs. It’s so sad but my dream is that one day things will change. Well done for being so strong and trusting yourself. That is such a tough situation you were in and you managed to keep head above water and succeed!