“I hesitated to get help with breastfeeding but it doesn’t really matter how my baby feeds, right?Because bestfed is best." Nothing is more dismaying than hearing a new mother who is pumping every 2-3 hours to provide breast milk for her baby, dismiss her efforts or her need to get her infant who is currently exclusively bottle feeding to the breast so she can stop pumping 24/7 and get more sleep. For those of you who haven’t heard the term bestfed, it means whatever feeding method is easiest for you or your baby or both. This term became popular because some mothers felt they were publicly shamed for using formula and to stop this huge problem, the term bestfed was coined on a blog and caught fire from there.
But is that really true? Do the numbers of breastfeeding women outpace the numbers of formula feeding women in our country? According to the CDC 2014 statistics, at birth 82.5% of babies are exclusively breastfed but by day two 15.5% are supplemented with formula. So in just two days the rate of exclusively breastfed babies has dropped to 67%. So clearly breastfeeding is winning right? Hold on by 3 months only 46.6% babies are exclusively breastfeeding, with 27.8 % of mothers supplementing with formula daily. By the beginning of the six month only 24.9% of babies are exclusively breastfeeding. These statistics become even grimmer for African American mothers with only 64.3% breastfeeding at birth. Drop off rates and early breastfeeding cessation rates are much higher than in other ethnic groups. So why as midwives, doulas, child birth educators and lactation consultants, are we not doing more to stop this new trend to devaluate breastfeeding?
Because it doesn’t hurt anybody. Is that true? Dr. Google is the primary source for most women’s breastfeeding information. The 2016 Ed of Clinical Lactation, Issue 2, Vol 7 had an editorial by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, PhD, IBCLC, RLC, FAPA about the problem of stock photos of breastfeeding infants. Almost every stock photo shows a baby with a shallow latch, poor positioning or both. Companies who sell stock photos buy photos because they are cute not accurate. Yet, the same photos are used over and over again in online magazines and blog articles about breastfeeding. Most of the articles are written by staff writers or by the bloggers who “research” topics using the same Dr. Google, seeing the same poor images and rereading the same poorly written articles and reusing their information.
What does this have do with bestfeeding? It supports all mothers but does it? Most people look at the CDC breastfeeding rates and applaud our efforts but there is one big glitch in that data. The term “exclusively breastfeeding” should be changed to exclusively feeding at the breast. Because of inadequate support, a good proportion of women are exclusively human milk feeding by three months not breastfeeding. According to Baby Milk Action, Cambridge, England; Center for Breastfeeding Information, Schaumburg, IL, the actual rates of exclusive breastfeeding are 57% at birth and 20% by six months. A large number of women choose not to nurse their babies at the breast because they are afraid of starving their babies or want to insure they receive the same amount of food every feeding Some choose pumping over breast feeding because of social and family pressures to use a bottle because it looks “more natural” than nursing a baby at the breast. Also fears of nursing in public. Most of women don’t even realize they are not breastfeeding but doing something much, much harder. Human milk-feeding. Is it any wonder most stop after a few months?
According to the CDC, 60% of mothers do not breastfeed for as long as they intend to. How long a mother breastfeeds is determined by many factors:
Problems with a painful latch and damaged nipples
Fear the baby is not gaining enough weight or her milk is not as nutritious as formula
Short maternity leave and no standardized work place pumping protocols
Fear of going against cultural norms and lack of family support
Unsupportive hospital practices and polices
Unsure which breastfeeding sources to trust/ overwhelmed by too much information
As you can see only the first two factors are within her control and the second is highly debatable because of a lack of good information available about breastfeeding.
The internet is loaded with articles and blogs about “how to breastfed”, and dealing with breastfeeding problems. Tucked in with these articles are amateur blogs about how breastfeeding is unsafe, how formula feeding saved my life, my sanity and my marriage. And lately the most damming is bestfeeding. So if a mother is struggling with breastfeeding, she now hears inaccurate information that formula provides everything your baby needs except for a few immunological compounds.
So what, why is this a problem? Mothers can easily tell biased information and junk resources from factual ones. But can they? I receive five or six new breastfeeding articles from Flipbook every day because I tagged breastfeeding as an interest for me. I read new article after new article and only find may three or four in one month that are helpful, unbiased, with factual updated information. Most are a mixture of the same of tired breastfeeding myths and outdated information we are all use to seeing that have been around for decades.
"Quotes found on the internet are not always accurate." ~Abraham Lincoln
But now there is a new myth” bestfed is best”. This can translate to a new mother as if you are struggling with breastfeeding, then you are being silly and causing unnecessary hassles for yourself and possibly harming your baby. Breastfeeding is put on the same level with formula as a lifestyle choice. Not the biological norm for human infants that provides complex immunological support and customized nutrition. We are sending mixed messages to mothers when we add best fed to an article about the benefits of breastfeeding or breastfeeding information.
As breastfeeding educators, lactations, midwives, doulas and childbirth educators, we should stop using this term in our blogs and articles. It doesn’t help all mothers feel accepted and is dismissive of the real struggle women have living in a bottle feeding culture trying to breastfeed their babies. You think it’s harmless because you understand all facets of infant feeding and assume all mothers are making an informed decisions from the same point of reference, not from a point of cultural isolation, and misinformation.