Sorry, lactivists, but infant feeding method DOESN’T matter


It’s hard to believe that a three word phrase could provoke such angst, but that’s what has happened with Fed Is Best.

Milky Mommas is the latest organization to spill ink and anger over Fed Is Best:

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Fully fed with formula is just fine.[/pullquote]

It’s because saying “fed is best” is saying that all options are equal, that infant feeding methods don’t matter. That no matter what you choose, it’s all the same, it’s all “best” for baby. And that is scientifically inaccurate.

I’ve got some bad news for the folks at Milky Mommas:

The choice between breastfeeding and formula feeding DOESN’T matter. No matter which you choose, it IS all the same; in industrialized countries formula is as good if not better than breastfeeding.

I’m sorry that this is hurtful for those who have wrapped their self-esteem around the function of their breasts, but frankly, it is no different — and no less inappropriate — to derive self esteem from lactating breasts than from large breasts. Women should not be judging themselves and each other by body parts. That’s the kind of objectification that harms all women.

The beauty of the phrase Fed Is Best, coined by Christie del Castillo-Hegyi, MD and lactation consultant Jody Seagrave-Daly, RN, is that it punches through all the rhetoric to get to the heart of the matter:

Fully fed with formula beats underfed with breastmilk every time.

Like the most successful mantras, Fed Is Best truly resonates. The first time most people hear it, the response is “Of course! I should have realized that.”

Fed Is Best has the ultimate advantage: it’s actually true. That’s what makes it so dangerous for lactivists. Insisting that “breast is best” for all babies, for all mothers, at all times — the hardest of hard lines — throws the fundamental error of lactivism into sharp relief: a process can NEVER be more important than a healthy outcome.

Diane Weissinger, one of the architects of contemporary lactivism realized that:

When we … say that breastfeeding is the best possible way to feed babies because it provides their ideal food, perfectly balanced for optimal infant nutrition, the logical response is, “So what?” Our own experience tells us that optimal is not necessary. Normal is fine, and implied in this language is the absolute normalcy and thus safety and adequacy-of artificial feeding …

Weissinger understood that when you tell women the truth about formula feeding — that it is safe, adequate and normal — they won’t feel compelled to breastfeed. Therefore, breastfeeding must be reframed with lies.

The mother having difficulty with breastfeeding may not seek help just to achieve a “special bonus”; but she may clamor for help if she knows how much she and her baby stand to lose. She is less likely to use artificial baby milk just “to get him used to a bottle” if she knows that the contents of that bottle cause harm.

In other words, contemporary lactivism rests on a deliberate lie; there is no evidence, and there has never been any evidence, that formula is harmful. Yet Milky Mommas blithely repeats the lie without having any idea of its origin:

What we are saying is that there are certain risks associated with formula (well documented in many, many studies) and that it is not a NUTRITIONALLY equal choice to breastfeeding.

There are no risks associated with formula and there never were. Claiming that formula feeding has risks is and has always been nothing more than a marketing tactic designed to promote the employment prospects of lactation consultants. Now Milky Mommas is concerned about the blow to their self-esteem that would come from acknowledging that “breast is best” was never anything more marketing bombast.

What we are saying, is that while we support our members who must use formula, pretending that what our babies are fed doesn’t matter contradicts everything we stand for.

I am sorry — and truth be told, a bit sickened — that organizations like Milky Mommas stand for the proposition that breastfeeding makes them better mothers and women. But the fact that they have chosen to stake their self-esteem on lactating doesn’t strengthen their case; it weakens it.

It’s no different than creationists who feel that evolution contradicts everything they stand for. They reject evolution because it calls their beliefs about themselves and the world into question, but that doesn’t change the fact that evolution is the only scientifically coherent explanation for the world as it exists. Milk Mommas reject the incontrovertible claim that fully fed with formula beats underfed with breastmilk every time because it calls their beliefs about themselves and the purported importance of breastfeeding into question. But that doesn’t change the fact there is simply no population based data that shows that breastfeeding rates have anything to do with infant mortality rates for term babies.

Lactivists constantly invoke mathematical models based on extrapolation from small studies in order to insist that breast is best, but there’s no need to create mathematical models when we have real world data. During the past century, breastfeeding rates have fluctuated dramatically from nearly 90% down to 24% and back up to about 76%. During that entire time, and involving literally tens of millions of babies, there has never been any evidence that breastfeeding rates impact major health indices for infant and children in any way.

Therefore, Milk Mommas is fundamentally wrong in their view of the science and themselves. They claim:

We are here to educate and advocate for the use of human breast milk. We understand the value and importance of human breast milk. That’s the science of health, not a judgement on mothers.

I’ve challenged a wide variety of lactation professionals to provide real world, population based evidence that breastfeeding makes a difference to infant health and they can’t because such evidence does not exist.

So what are Milky Mommas advocating for if there’s no evidence that breastfeeding has a meaningful impact on infant health? They’re advocating for themselves and their desperate desire to believe that they are better than mothers who make different choices.

That’s not science, just an unattractive facet of human nature.