Fed is best? Intolerable!


How dare The Leaky Boob advocate tolerance!

Jessica Martin-Weber of The Leaky Boob wrote an ode to tolerance of infant feeding choices Why I’ll stick to saying “Fed IS Best”. In it, she chides lactivists for their intolerance of tolerance, lactivists who say things like “…[I]t is scientifically proven that breast is better. This is not a shaming statement, it is factual.”

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]For lactivists, the question is not what is best, but who is best.[/pullquote]

came across an image boldly making this statement recently and I’ve seen others like it and in the infant feeding support group I run on Facebook I was accused of not really supporting breastfeeding because we don’t permit formula bashing or shaming and discourage the use of the phrase “breast is best” (a marketing tool developed by formula manufacturers, no less).

Reading that phrase above it strikes me that it sounds a lot like when kids are trying to one-up each other with “well, blank is better!” …

“Fed is best” is a big thing here in this space… “Fed is best” isn’t a perfect phrase but then there is no such thing as a perfect phrase. Words are limited, expressions are clumsy, one-liners are inept. But as far as words and phrases go, this one leaves room… for the personal story. The narrative, the humanity, the journey.

It leaves room for tolerance. For lactivists that is intolerable.

Witness the comments on TLB Facebook page:

of course babies need to be fed, however promoting fed is best undermines breastfeeding. fed is not best, fed is the minimum…


Saying fed is best really undermines breastfeeding. Saying fed is best makes people feel that the other option is starvation. People shouldn’t be having babies if they can’t feed their children…


This is (the now classic) “cover off every angle so you don’t upset anyone” social media post when we all just need to be real and understand what we put into our bodies matters and especially from birth… [W]hy is it that we can’t focus on the wonders of breastmilk??????? It’s also free!!! Let’s not undermine breastfeeding!

And my favorite:

Oh whatever. Sell out.

It’s instructive watching Sanctimommies strenuously defending their sanctimony.

Why do they find tolerance intolerable? For a very simple reason: ego. For lactivists, the question is not what is best, but who is best. If “fed is best,” they’re not best.”

I’ve quoted sociologist Stephanie Knaak (Contextualising risk, constructing choice: Breastfeeding and good mothering in risk society) on this topic in the past:

…[T]his discourse is not a benign communique about the relative benefits of breastfeeding, but an ideologically infused, moral discourse about what it means to be a ‘good mother’ in an advanced capitalist society.

When lactivists say “breast is best,” they mean “I am best.”

…[T]his association of breastfeeding with ‘good mothering’ and formula feeding with ‘not so good mothering’ has been argued to be a key characteristic of today’s dominant infant feeding discourse. In large part, this can be attributed to the fact that pro-breastfeeding discourse is organised and mediated by: (a) a moralising public health ideology; and (b) the ‘ideology of intensive mothering’, today’s dominant parenting ideology.

Militant lactivism shares some ugly traits with racism. Racism is fundamentally about boosting one’s self-esteem by declaring the inferiority of another group. Racists use all sorts of empirical claims about the supposed deficiencies of non-white people (they’re criminals; they’re terrorists; they’re stealing our jobs) but those are just dog whistles to other racists. Lactivists make all sorts of empirical claims about the supposed deficiencies of formula, but those are based on weak or non-existent science, and primarily serve as dog whistles for other lactivists.

Both militant lactivists and racists feel themselves under siege even when they’re not. They always portray themselves as long suffering victims who will suffer further if anyone dares acknowledge the humanity of those who are different.

Militant lactivism is also ableist.

According to Stop Ableism.org:

Ableism – a set of practices and beliefs that assign inferior value (worth) to people who have developmental, emotional, physical or psychiatric disabilities…

An ableist society is said to be one that treats non-disabled individuals as the standard of ‘normal living’…

Militant lactivism is a set of practices and beliefs that assigns inferior value to women who do not use their breasts to feed their babies. Despite the stark scientific reality of lactational insufficiency affecting up to 15% of women or more, lactivists aggressively insist that it is so rare as to be unworthy of consideration. And as we can see from the comments above, it treats breastfeeding as the standard of “normal living.”

Which leads to an important question: how could another woman’s choice to breastfeed hurt the children of lactivists? It’s not like vaccination where individual decisions can harm the entire community.

It couldn’t. But it hurts the egos of lactivists and that’s more important.