We all know the breastfeeding versus formula feeding debate. We’ve all heard the passionate, and often outright hostile, arguments on each side. Many of us probably have an opinion one way or the other. Well, this post is not going to be about mine. No, I am not here to wade into the debate, I am here to ask whether it should be a debate at all.
I think not. You see, in this country (and the rest of the developed world), both breast and formula feeding are valid options. This feeding dilemma is not, in fact, a dilemma. It is a choice. An extremely fortunate choice between two options that are both ultimately safe and acceptable.
Yes, breastfeeding is obviously what nature intended. No, it being a natural process does not mean that all mothers and babies can do it. That is not how nature works. In nature, in all species, there are young who are unable to feed effectively. They die. It is natural selection. We as a species have developed to the point where we deem it unacceptable for some of our young to simply be allowed to starve. As with so many aspects of life, we have interfered in nature and developed alternatives. That’s great. But some of us seem to have forgotten along the way that, of course, not every mother and baby is able to breastfeed just because it is nature. We should appreciate the amazing alternatives that have been developed, rather than insist that all mothers must be able to breastfeed if they really tried.
About these alternatives. So they aren’t natural. A lot of things in modern life aren’t. They have been carefully formulated, used for generations. They are safe. They work. Formula fed babies grow up just fine. Yes, there are certain benefits to breast milk that formula milk cannot replicate but, in the developed world, the difference won’t be life or death, the impact is not significant.
Breast milk is cheaper, it’s quicker, it’s ready prepared. Of course, it puts every feed onto the mother. That is not always very convenient or practical in a modern world. Mothers do not sit in a cave and suckle young these days. They are expected to do things, see people, go out, often work. 2-3 hourly feeds, requiring the partial exposing of body parts, can be a strain. Formula, meanwhile, is more difficult to prepare, costs money, doesn’t benefit the immune system. On the other hand, feeding can be shared with other people, and no one feels awkward about doing it in public. It’s swings and roundabouts. There are positives and negatives to both options.
The key is that we have this choice. We have a choice and it really doesn’t matter which option we choose. Not in the grand scheme of things. Whichever way you decide to feed your baby, there will have been pluses and minuses, and your baby will have received nutrition, will have grown and thrived.
This is not a dilemma. There is nothing to debate. A dilemma is when you are HIV positive (communicable through breast milk), and have no option but to breastfeed your baby or allow it to starve. A dilemma is when formula milk has been aggressively pushed as an alternative by the formula companies, but there is no clean water to make it with, no sterilisation facilities, and you cannot afford enough formula to properly feed your baby. A dilemma is when you are too weak yourself to effectively breastfeed an infant, but have no other safe options available.
The choice we have in Britain is between two non-harmful, acceptable alternatives. Yet, we manage to fight about this choice. For some women in the world, their choices are between which potential cause of death they want for their baby. AIDS? Deadly water borne infections? Starvation? That is a ‘choice’ people should be fighting about.
Arguing over breast or formula, judging and criticising others for making a different – but still perfectly safe – choice for their child, is surely a monumental waste of time and energy. Preaching to another British mother for feeding in a different way from you is pointless. Nothing is achieved. She won’t appreciate your interference. Wouldn’t that energy and passion for the cause be better spent campaigning for those mothers in the world who desperately need help to be able to give adequate and safe milk to their babies? They would appreciate your interference.
Put the effort into a real crisis, a debate worth having. Make a difference. Because irritating Cheryl next door over breast being best isn’t making a difference to anything, except maybe Cheryl’s Christmas card list.