A while ago, a study came out showing no real significant long term benefit to breastfeeding, prompting a firestorm of debate. I saw a few people vehemently insist that the benefits of breastfeeding are not overstated- not because of evidence to back it up, but because breastfeeding parents need and deserve support.
I think that’s a pretty sad idea, that we need to prove breastfeeding is better to justify supporting it. Even if breastmilk and formula, bottle and breast, were both quantifiably, objectibly, unquestionably equal- breastfeeders would still deserve the support they need. Parents and families would still deserve to be supported in their choices on how they want to feed their babies. Support for breastfeeding should not be reliant on breastfeeding being “better”.
Formula has improved a great deal over the past century, and it will continue to improve. Since our baby was born, they started adding stages (something apparently common in the UK, helping to address the issue that breastmilk changes as babies get older while formula doesn’t), they started adding probiotics, etc. Given enough time and enough advancement, we definitely could produce a product that is utterly indistinguishable from breastmilk in every way- that responds to the parents’ diet and infant’s needs. I’m not saying this will happen tomorrow, but it certainly can happen. When that day comes- do I expect that everyone will throw in the towel, get mastectomies, and just bottle feed? Not a chance! When that day comes- will lactivists suddenly stop arguing for breastfeeding support? Well, that’s their choice, but they shouldn’t.
Even if somehow we got to the point that formula was objectively better, I would still argue that parents who want to breastfeed deserve support. Because clearly breastmilk isn’t doing too shabby and even if formula were a little better, it’s the parents’ choice whether those benefits are worth it. Just like it is now.
I feel part of this issue is because of the idea that formula feeders don’t need/deserve support- so if formula and breast are equal, then why should we support breast more than formula? Great point. Just goes to show that formula feeders do deserve support. They deserve better instructions than just what’s on the bottle, which can be interpreted different ways- especially be a flustered, upset, emotional, exhausted parent who feels like a failure for being unable to breastfeed.
It’s ridiculous, the idea that something has to be better to be supported. What other situation is that true of? The same-sex marriage debate isn’t based around trying to prove it’s better than mixed-sex marriage. No, it focuses on pointing out that both are valid options, that people deserve to do what’s right for them, and so both deserve to be options and be supported. Which is what should be going on here. The reality is that for some families, the negatives of breastfeeding outweigh the negatives of formula feeding. The reality is that not everyone can breastfeed. The reality is that it doesn’t matter which is objectively better, because both deserve support.