Sunday, January 23, 2011

End the Best Campaign

Can you help me end the Best Campaign?

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!

For additional reading:
"The truth is, breastfeeding is nothing more than normal. Artificial feeding, which is neither the same nor superior, is therefore deficient, incomplete, and inferior. These are difficult words, but they have an appropriate place in our vocabulary."


  1. Wow, that was really powerful! Thank you.

  2. Thank you for this! I have had a similar post brewing in my head for weeks because the "Best campaign" makes me so frustrated. Because of it, we can't talk openly about the fact that there are things that are simply normal (such as breastfeeding) & that some "choices" are actually inferior to what is normal. You are correct that we need to be careful to not condemn, but we should also encourage people toward what is normal and biologically expected over and above what is easy or a "choice."

  3. Beautifully put Guggie. I get tired of all the "fighting". Respectfully stating your case is always more likely to get people thinking. For years I felt like I was being judged because I couldn't breastfeed my son - that is physically unable. The Breast is Best campaign grated on me so badly. The idea of what I had to do being worst. It's only a word, but words have weight, believe me. Thanks for stepping up and saying what needed to be said, and saying it so eloquently.

  4. I agree with MOST of what you say except calling breastfeeding 'normal' makes me NOT normal because I physically could not. And believe me, I am not alone in this situation. Breast is Best I agree with. Yes, it is best. But I couldn't give the best in this case. You should feel blessed that you could. How differently would you feel if you hadn't been able to?

    1. I also wonder how all the lactivists would feel if they COULDN'T breastfeed, no matter how hard they tried.
      Then what?

  5. I like your asphyxiation analogy.

    But what SHOULD we say about it if not "breast is best"?

    As a fitness instructor, when people come to the gym, I don’t say, “Being sedentary & eating processed food INCREASES your risks of cancer & heart disease.”

    Everyone says, “Exercising & eating whole grains & fruits & veggies DECREASES your risks of cancer & heart disease.”
    & I see nothing wrong with that.

    When communicating with people, you should consider their FRAME OF REFERENCE – where they are coming from. Why would we act like we’re on another planet where formula-feeding is rare? What good does that do?!

    While technically, scientifically, it IS true that the formula-fed babies have increased risks of disease, if our GOAL is to ENCOURAGE BFing (which, let's face it, is NOT easy), it makes sense to promote in this way (i.e. "benefits"/ "added value" of BF).

  6. I agree that you have to think about people's frame of reference. I was also physically unable to produce enough milk and I am still breastfeeding at over two years even though I didn't make enough milk for my child. Poeple with disabilities don't enjoy being called deficient and inferior. There is a whole movement against it. People want to be accepted as normal no matter what their bodies are like. It's what's inside that matters. You are very insensitive. I understand that you are against the poeple who metephorically "choose to use a wheelchair when they can walk" with breastfeeding. But it's happening. Being hyper critical is not going to win poeple over who are making the choice not to bf, and so there's no benefit because it's certainly not going to make IGT or low milk supply mothers feel good.

  7. And you don't have to get in somebody's face and say "LEGS ARE NORMAL" either, but that is exactly what you are suggesting we do to get poeple to bf...

    1. Oh please, that is not what this post is saying at all. It's pointing out that rolling over quickly demeans mothers and restricts their choices. Saying something is an ideal, the terribly close to saying average people aren't good enough and a little hardship makes it beyond our means.

      Going back to legs...this is what the best campaign does to breastfeeding mothers: "Eh, legs are the best but a wheelchair is comparable. Don't bother getting a second opinion. Don't try other options. Don't try physical therapy. Don't give it time. Just take the wheelchair and be happy about it."

      Boobs and legs are normal with expected functions. If they aren't functioning, people have a right to seek out multiple opinions, to give it a go, to try new ideas, to hang in there even when it's hard. The "best" campaign discourages all of that with the simple paradigm shift of making something into a marketable status that only the perfect and elite can obtain.