“Fed is Best”

I saw this on a thread talking about the formula versus breast milk issue.  It had a lot of likes and support from people on both sides of this often decisive debate – breastfeeders and formula feeders.  Why not?  It sounds great, doesn’t it?  I mean, why discuss things like the relative merits of what we feed our children so long as we’re feeding them?  If we focus on the fact that our kids are actually getting food, we can all give ourselves a big pat on the back and go to sleep thinking what awesome people we are.  We like that in our society, don’t we?

Credit: Flickr/Jes

Credit: Flickr/Jes

I’m going to take a slightly different stance.  I’m going to say this is one of the all-time stupidest comments I’ve ever heard.  It’s so full of stupid I’m struggling with the fact that I’m feeling that I have to actually write something here because of the overwhelming support this message had.

Fed is not best.  Fed is a large part of what keeps us from going to jail as abusive and neglectful parents.  Fed is doing the bare minimum and nothing more.

If you believe that “fed is best”, I can only imagine you also believe that “not killing someone” is “the best”.  Or that “not beating your child until they are black and blue” is “the best”.  I struggle to believe anyone actually believes these things yet they are right on par with “fed is best”.  At no point does simply not screwing up or not being neglectful to the point of seriously endangering your child constitute anything even close to “the best”.  No child who receives only the bare minimum can say that they received “the best”.

This idea that “fed is best” also is a huge slight to parents everywhere.  It presupposes that we are so incompetent that we need to celebrate simply showing up.  The fact that we haven’t killed all our children en masse is something worth being proud of.  Fuck that.  I expect more from myself and every parent around me.  I expect us to care about our children, to do what we can to help them not only survive, but thrive.  I expect us to look at what children need (and not just our individual kids, but all kids) and do what we can to fight to make changes that make the world a better place for them.  Not just a place in which we celebrate not killing or abusing or neglecting them, but actually loving and caring and supporting them.

the matrixAre people really so stupid as to really believe “fed is best”?

I actually don’t think (hope?) so.  I think the vast majority of people who use this phrase aren’t ones who deep down believe this, despite giving lip service to it.  I mean, if you used this same analogy for a child who was slightly older, I doubt a single one would still say the same.  For example, faced with a toddler who is fed nothing but McDonald’s, I sincerely doubt a single one would say “That’s okay because fed is best!”  No, they would decry the systemic issues that may lead to a family only feeding their child in this way and they would acknowledge that there are, indeed, differences in what we feed our children while maybe acknowledging that at least the parent is giving food and not starving the poor child (or they may judge the fuck out of those parents whilst ignoring the issues that have given rise to this situation; that seems pretty common these days too).

However, somehow in the formula vs. breast milk debate, many on the formula side have taken the odd stance of putting their product up as equal to breast milk when it suits them, but have also downgraded it to such a degree that this type of comment seems normal when defending formula feeding.  It’s illogical and frustrating, to say the least, as you can’t have a product that is both amazing and so weak that we need to celebrate it as the minimum.  When one says “fed is best”, they’re really saying the product is so piss-poor that one needs this lowest common denominator to be considered “best”.  Is that what you believe?  Would you really stand up and say that you have so little faith in what you feed your child that you can’t allow any type of comparison in terms of what our babies are fed?

The real problem here is that feeding your child formula is not akin to “fed is best”.  Not by any stretch.  (Even in developing nations “fed is best” holds very little water for infants as there are approximately 800,000 babies each year that are technically “fed” using formula that is prepared with bad water and not sterilized and ends up killing them.)  In developed nations where we have more choices, there are still babies being given home-made “formulas” that don’t provide nearly enough nutrition for a baby to thrive or sometimes live.  There are babies being given formula cut with water to make it last longer which can lead and has led to infants’ deaths.  There are babies being given things like rice cereal well before they should be because it’s cheaper and will “fill them up” longer.  These are the babies who are “fed” but by a standard that no one can consider “best”.

The fact remains that if you have the privilege each month to not only buy enough formula to last you said month, but last when used properly, and the means to ensure each and every bottle is prepared safely, you are going above and beyond just “feeding your baby”.  Or if you have the skills and resources to produce home-made formula that is healthy and meets the nutritional requirements your child needs, you are going above and beyond just “feeding your baby”.  We still have economic hardships and systemic problems that prohibit all babies from being fed adequately.  So when you try to spout out “fed is best” it reeks of privilege and ignorance about the plight of so many families that it just comes across as fucking stupid.  It ignores the battles that still need to be waged to ensure families either have access to breastfeeding support if they want it or to enough formula to properly prepare it for as long as their child needs it.

So I say to you: Grow up.

Is formula equal to breast milk from a health perspective?  No.  Sorry, but it’s not.  Is it akin to simply “just” feeding your child?  No, it is more than that because it’s an acceptable substitute when you have the privilege to prepare and use it properly, even if it’s not “the best”.  You can do a lot worse and many families are forced to do a lot worse so don’t try to minimize their situation because someone said something you didn’t like.

Fed is not best.  It is the absolute minimum we should expect to do as parents.  And when we see families who struggle to do more than just feed their child what they can, we should be horrified and fight for change.  Not sit back and diminish their fight in order to pat ourselves on the back for being able to do more.