The truth is, breast is not best; it's normal. It's the normative, expected way to feed our offspring. A whole penis is not best; it's normal. It's the normative, expected way for the male genitals to develop and function. An intact immune system is not best; it's normal. It's the normative, expected way for the body to develop immunity and regulate disease. An intervention-free birth is not best; it's normal. It's the normative, expected way to give birth, which is nothing more than a positive control mechanism of the body. (I could go on, but for the sake of brevity will just toss out the most common examples).
If we measure the above situations as best, then we make formula, vaccines, birth interventions and circumcision the average. Why is this damaging? Because human nature is to strive to be the best but settle for the average. The Best Campaign is a call to failure!
What if we aren't doing our best, but merely functioning as expected by our bodies and babies? They expect to receive human milk when they are hungry, to be comforted to sleep and through the night, to be whole and not amputated or marked, to have their cries responded to throughout the day, to be raised free of violence, fear and separation. What if these are basics and not ideals?
Does it sound a bit shocking to say human milk is normal and therefore, milk from another animal (or plant) falls below expectations? Does it sound strange to you when you hear, "Formula feeding decreases IQ" as opposed to the common twist in our society, "Breastfeeding increases IQ?" If breastfeeding is the biological norm expected for our species, then those who are breastfed are developing normal IQ levels. Not better ones.
What would we sound like if we went around to people in wheelchairs and told them, "Did you know legs are best? Walking is best for the body! I chose to walk because I want to do what's best for me and my health. I made the best choice." I think that deserves a rare, "HOLY SHIT." Sounds pretty weird and messed up, right?
Now what about when mothers go around to other mothers and tell them, "Did you know breasts are best? Breastfeeding is best for the baby! I chose to breastfeed because I want to do what's best for me and my baby. I made the best choice." You've heard that before. Probably thousands of times. Maybe you've even said it.
This is why the "I did ____ and my child is fine" movement came into existence. Yeah, well, I have a friend who lost both legs in a car accident and his life is more fulfilling than many other people I know who have legs. That doesn't mean we should fall all over each other in our desperation to cut off our legs. Legs aren't best, but as long as we frame the issue in a best/worse light, that's how the fight will end. "Well, I'm fine! My child is fine!" The discussion turns from a useful one to a personal judgment.
In the context of the "breast is best" campaign, then, we see why mothers focus on judgment. To claim breast is best is to subtly say, "I'm better than you." Is this what we want to say? Is this our goal? Parenting is not a chest pounding contest. Although defensiveness will still exist, moving to the correct verbiage will help with a paradigm shift.
The thing is, it's normal to breathe air, normal to have a whole body with ALL organs, normal to use your legs, etc. If human milk has the benefit of lowering your risk of cancer, then breathing air has the benefit of lowering your risk of asphyxiation. Yes, some people can't breathe air, don't have all their organs or full use of their legs. We don't get in their face and say, "LEGS ARE BEST!" We accept that they needed additional intervention and we stay out of their business unless they discuss it.
You're saying right now: But, Guggie, some people didn't need that intervention! I know people who are just doing all this stuff willy nilly! Circumcising their healthy boys! Formula feeding because they didn't want to try breastfeeding. It'd be like using a wheelchair instead of learning how to walk!
If we use our words correctly, we achieve two things at the same time. First, we give respect to the informed mamas who needed intervention. Their hard work or careful decisions are reduced when others make light of "formula is a choice" and "formula is comparable to breastfeeding" or "my circumcised son has a nicer penis" and "I got a tummy tuck with my c-section" etc.
Suddenly something very difficult such as having your legs amputated due to a car accident or choosing a c-section after over 60 hours of hard labor (as one of my awesome friends just did) is reduced to a "lifestyle choice" AND THEN juxtaposed as not best and therefore worst. How devaluing is that?
Second, though, by changing our words to reflect the biological default, we take a stab at the slick marketing and bias for interventions in our culture. A mama who hears that breast is best might think she isn't good enough for best. But formula is for the average so that's good enough for her. What if she heard that breast was the bare minimum, the default, the expected? Who wants less than the minimum? Suddenly, breastfeeding isn't an ideal.
So watch your language!
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