I hate the phrase “breast is best.” It’s one of those alliterative, simplistic phrases that strangers love to bestow upon new mothers like it’s the fucking Hope Diamond. You know what it really is? A dog turd wrapped in tinfoil. As cynical as I know I can be, I truly believe that these people have good intentions. Elderly grandmothers aren’t walking around thinking, “Aww, look at that precious new baby! Let me go over there and make that mom feel like shit!” But breast is not “best” for everyone. Blasphemy, I know! They might revoke my lactation credentials for this, but it’s the truth, and I promised no bullshit. Here is a list of women for whom breast is not always best: women with insufficient glandular tissue, women with preexisting medical problems, women prescribed certain dangerous medications, women who have been the victims of assault, women who drove themselves to the brink of insanity trying to breastfeed through low milk supply, oversupply, cracked and painful nipples, mastitis, or any other of the multitude of problems that can crop up and they just can’t do it anymore. Or…wait for it…women who just don’t fucking want to breastfeed! Part of the beauty of the 21st century, mamas, is that you have autonomy over your own body. If you just carried around a parasite the size of a watermelon and you’re not digging the thought of sharing your body with the cute little alien life form anymore, that’s your prerogative. We’ve got formula for that.
To say our society sends mixed messages to mothers about infant feeding would be a tremendous understatement. I hear stories of my friends shamed for bottle-feeding their kids, just like I hear stories of my friends shamed publicly for breastfeeding. “We encourage women to breastfeed their children because of the numerous health benefits of breastmilk, but breastfeeding is experienced in a social and cultural context (1). Incidents of breastfeeding mothers who are scorned for feeding their children in public places are reported frequently on local and national news outlets. This public outcry is a testament of American cultural views that breastfeeding is an unacceptable practice that should occur only in private spaces” (Spencer & Khaki, 2015). So here is what society is really saying: breast is best unless you’re going to do it in front of me, in which case you’re a disgusting attention-whore, and you should just give that baby a bottle before I glimpse some mommy side-boob.”
I became a lactation consultant because after struggling through the early days with my first daughter who was a month premature, I made it my mission to learn everything there was to know about breastfeeding. It was fascinating to me. Our bodies create this life-sustaining fluid that is perfectly designed for our babies by thousands of years of evolution. It becomes more individualized to each baby’s specific needs with every feed, demonstrating the beautiful connection between mother and child that happens on a microscopic level.
It was empowering for me to see, when I trusted my body, what it was capable of. But I’m not so self-centered as to think that my experience applies to everyone (which is why I rely on research to shape the advice in this book). I believe that women who choose to feed their babies this way should receive all the support they need to meet their goals, because as much as society loves to chime “breast is best” they don’t do much to help mothers succeed. I also believe that women are intelligent, autonomous individuals who should be armed with accurate information and then allowed to make their own choices. Whether you decide to breastfeed or bottle feed, make the decision that is best for YOU and YOUR BABY. Leave all the advice and expectations your in-laws, your friends, and society has out of the picture. Fuck that noise. And please, I am begging you, never think of yourself as a failure for feeding your baby formula. Babies thrive on formula too. Let’s change the mantra from “breast is breast” to “mama knows best.”
Spencer, B., & Khaki, A. (2015). Whose breasts are they anyway? International Journal of Women’s Health and Reproduction Sciences, 3(2), 75-76. Doi: 10.15296/ijwhr.2015.13