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The Problem with “Fed Is Best”

The Problem with "Fed Is Best"

Fed is best, right? On the surface, “fed is best” seems like a positive slogan. Upon delving deeper into the statement and website I immediately uncover significant problems with the movement. Fellow mom blogger Mama Banana’s Adventures ignited a firestorm yesterday with her post “The Truth About Fed Is Best.” In her post, she criticizes the Fed Is Best website for fear-mongering by overshadowing information about infant feeding with breastfeeding horror stories. After taking a look at the website myself, I must agree. Fed sounds best, but the website is a far cry from a useful source for parents who more than enough to worry about without the added fear of newborn starvation by breastfeeding.

One of the biggest problems with the Fed Is Best is that too many people fail to put the word best into context. The dictionary defines best as “of the most excellent, effective, or desirable type or quality.” When one says that breast is best, one does not mean that breastfeeding is the only way to feed an infant or that formula feeding is the worst. On the contrary, scientific research and evidence confirms that the breast milk produced by human mothers is the best food for human babies. Exclusive formula feeding and a combination of breast milk and formula are alternative ways to feed human babies. But breastfeeding is generally the best for human babies. According to World Health Organization (WHO), the latest systematic review of the evidence on breastfeeding, which included two controlled trials and 18 other studies conducted in both developed and developing countries, found that exclusive breastfeeding of infants with only breast milk, and no other foods or liquids, for six months offers many advantages over other infant feeding methods.

Second, the counterargument to “fed is best” is “unfed is best.” No one worth listening to argues that babies should go unfed. Anyone who does argue that unfed is best is a monster who has no place in a discussion about infant feeding, let alone a place among decent people. “Fed is best” attempts to provide a counterargument to “breast is best” but fails miserably. Breastfeeding advocates do not want to see any babies starve but rather promote breastfeeding as the best feeding method for human babies.

Aside from the problems with the “fed is best” slogan in general, a quick glance at the Fed Is Best website reveals significant problems. The mission of the website reads, “The Fed is Best Foundation believes that babies should never go hungry and mothers should be supported in choosing clinically safe feeding options for their babies.” Sounds good, right? But scroll down the homepage a little and you find two horrifying statements from the founders of the website: (1) “I am absolutely pro-breastfeeding. I am absolutely AGAINST starving a child to achieve it.” and (2) “My mission is to teach mothers how to breastfeed their babies safely to prevent unintended and accidental infant starvation from exclusive breastfeeding practices, especially during the first several days of life.” Based on the homepage of Fed Is Best, infant starvation must be a huge problem!

Then go to the About page of the website. Rather than providing information about infant feeding methods, the About section lists arguments against exclusive breastfeeding. The website even cites some questionable statistics. For example, the About page states, “While mothers and health professionals are taught that it is rare to have insufficient breast milk, insufficient breast milk production affects at least 1 in 5 women in the first days of an infant’s life,” and links to a 2003 article published in Pediatrics entitled “Risk Factors for Suboptimal Infant Breastfeeding Behavior, Delayed Onset of Lactation, and Excess Neonatal Weight Loss.” If I were a new mother-to-be planning on breastfeeding, I would be terrified about reading that “statistic.” Of course, Fed Is Best fails to mention that the cited research contained only 280 participants (meaning the results are far from representative of the almost 4 million females in the world) or that early lactation success is strongly influenced by potentially modifiable factors including use of non-breast milk fluids. Scare a new mom into thinking that she cannot produce enough milk for her newborn and she may choose to supplement with formula, which then decreases her breast milk production, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy. She may also truly not produce enough breast milk due to anxiety, which can also negatively affect milk production, about insufficient milk production. A website that believes that fed is best should not scare women into sabotaging their own breastfeeding efforts.

If you continue looking around the Fed Is Best website, you might click on the Resources for Parents link, thinking that you will find information about the different infant feeding methods. The page opens with the statement that you will find a “variety of materials intended to support you in best feeding your newborn.” Instead of information about breastfeeding, formula feeding, and methods in between, you will find a letter from the founder about her experience with breastfeeding during which her child “fell victim to newborn jaundice due to insufficient milk intake from delayed milk production in the first days of life.” Where are the stories about successful exclusive breastfeeding? For that matter, where is the information about different infant feeding methods?

A legitimate “Fed Is Best” website would provide unbiased information about the different methods for feeding human infants including breastfeeding, formula feeding, formula supplementation, and donor milk. I would quote authoritative health organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and WHO. For example, the AAP, WHO, and March of Dimes recommend that babies should exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development, and health. (WHO additionally closely follows new research findings to ensure that recommendation are based on the best available evidence and free from conflicts of interest.) In regards to formula, the AAP currently recommends that infants who are not breastfed or who are only partially breastfed consume iron-fortified formula from birth to age 1. I would then provide factual information about the various methods for feeding human infants. And, by factual, I mean free from the fear-mongering horror stories found all over the Fed Is Best website. Baby feeding stories have a place, but anecdotes are just that, anecdotes, not evidence. In fact, if you want information about infant feeding, I recommend HealthyChildren.org from the AAP.

“Fed is best” seems like a positive sentiment, seeking to unite breastfeeding and formula-feeding mothers and all parents in between. Fed, however, is a minimal standard. All babies should be fed, and the “fed is best” movement simply furthers the lack of support for breastfeeding and mothering in general. Saying that “breast is best” is not the same as saying “formula is worst.” Yes, feeding a baby formula is preferable over starvation, but the fact remains that human breast milk and breastfeeding are ideal, i.e. the best, for human infants. Education and support are vital for breastfeeding success, but, in the effort to make parents who chose not to breastfeed not feel bad, the “fed is best” movement further disinvests in breastfeeding.

My problem with the Fed Is Best website and slogan is not pro-breastfeeding or anti-formula. My problem is with the fear-mongering and lack of adequate information on all methods of infant feeding. Arguing that “fed is best” is frankly silly. Who worth their salt argues that unfed is best? Bottle feeding, formula supplementation, and formula feeding all have a place in infant feeding. Breastfeeding is ideal for human babies; fed is adequate. We as a society should not accept the minimal standard as the best.

References

AAP Policy on Breastfeeding: https://www2.aap.org/breastfeeding/PolicyOnBreastfeeding.html
Breastfeeding Is Best: http://www.marchofdimes.org/baby/breastfeeding-is-best.aspx
Choosing a Formula: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/feeding-nutrition/Pages/Choosing-a-Formula.aspx
Exclusive Breastfeeding for Six Months Best for Babies Everywhere: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/statements/2011/breastfeeding_20110115/en/
The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK52688/
Why Fed Will Never Be Best: The FIB Letting Our New Mothers Down: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/amy-brown/why-fed-will-never-be-bes_b_12311894.html

Image Credits

The Problem with “Fed Is Best”: https://www.flickr.com/photos/44068064@N04/9304765828/ (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) and https://www.flickr.com/photos/cabarney/1417682772/ (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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