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Saying 'breast is best' oversimplifies a complicated issue for mothers

It's on the walls of OB-GYN offices and maternity wards, and on the lips of friends, family and sometimes even strangers in the formula aisle. At times it's all a new mama can hear, even when she's sitting in silence with her thoughts.

When it comes to infant feeding, there is no phrase mothers hear more often than "breast is best" but new research, experts and moms who've lived a different truth say that while this message is amplified with the best intentions, new mamas need a lot more than those three words.

A recently published study, "The best of intentions: Prenatal breastfeeding intentions and infant health," suggests that there is a high societal cost to simplifying the cultural conversation around infant feeding into a three-word slogan.

The study found that moms who intended to exclusively breastfeed but ended up using formula had children with health outcomes similar to exclusively breastfed infants. They also, in many cases, have a lot of undue guilt.

A mom's perspective

When Nicole Rivet-Barton welcomed her first child nearly four years ago she fully intended to breastfeed, but it was a struggle from the start.

"My expectation for myself was that my body would provide what it needed for my baby and when that didn't happen and I had to accept that and transition [to supplementing with formula] I felt like I was failing somehow," Rivet-Barton tells Motherly.

"I felt like less of a person," she explains, adding that whenever she had to have an encounter with a medical professional that wasn't her regular family doctor, she felt judged. On more than one occasion nurses chided her for bottle feeding, telling her "breast is best" without knowing those words were already never far from her thoughts.

"It wasn't the 'best' that I could give her. She was still hungry. My breast milk didn't have what she needed to grow properly," she says.

With the help of a breastfeeding support group and a lactation consultant, Rivet-Barton was eventually able to shift her mindset from "breast is best" to "you do you" and says she felt lighter for it.

"We went to a lactation consultant to help get my milk up and she basically said to me one day, 'You're going to pick your path and you're going to do what's right for your baby. Don't feel guilty.' And I guess I heard her that day, and I let it go," she recalls.

A lactation consultant who doesn't say "breast is best"

Leigh Anne O'Connor is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in private practice. She's not the lactation consultant Rivet-Barton turned to, but she certainly shares the same views when it comes to acknowledging that infant feeding can't be boiled down to three-word slogans.

"I've never embraced that phase, 'breast is best' or 'fed is best.' They're both divisive terms. It creates a division in parenting and it creates conflict," she says. In place of catchphrases, O'Connor advocates for a more nuanced, thoughtful conversation on the topic.

She believes we can have individual and cultural discussions that both normalize breastfeeding and encourage parents to get their baby fed in the way that works for them, whether it's through nursing, pumping, using donor milk or formula.

"It's complicated. It's not one size fits all," she says. "Breastfeeding isn't always all or nothing, and there's a place for supplementation."

When "you do you" is best

For Rivet-Barton, supplementing allowed her to keep breastfeeding as much as she could for six months after both of her daughters were born.

She says that by the time her second daughter came along, she felt more confident in her parenting choices, and gave herself a lot more grace when it came to her infant feeding choices.

"I got into my stride and got confident enough to listen to my gut and not other people," she tells Motherly, adding that she wishes medical professionals and society would use more than three words when trying to educate new parents about infant feeding. "Give them options without putting expectations on them," she suggests.

More research and more support needed 

There is a massive body of research suggesting that breastfeeding is great for babies. That's not in dispute at all. But the researchers behind that recently published study suggest that the link just isn't as simple as "breast is best."

"Our results suggest that formula offers similar health benefits for our relatively advantaged sample of infants, once we take prenatal intentions into account," the study's authors note.

The research suggests that moms like Rivet-Barton really have nothing to feel guilty about.

The authors—Kerri M. Raissian, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Policy at the University of Connecticut and Jessica Su, an assistant professor in University at Buffalo Department of Sociology—explain that it's not actually the intention to breastfeed that makes the health difference, but rather the fact that mothers who intended to breastfeed often have a certain kind of privilege: They're the mothers who have more access to medical care and therefore more access to information about infant health.

Raissian and Su suggest that instead of amplifying the phrase "breast is best" and potentially overstating the benefits of breastfeeding, society would do better to give mothers the support they need during pregnancy and beyond.

This means making sure that everyone has access to perinatal care, and the kind of parental leave that makes it possible to breastfeed in the first place.

"The U.S. is the only developed country with no federal paid parental leave, and only about 12 percent of mothers in the private sector have access to paid leave," Su explains. "Paid maternity leave likely increases breastfeeding success, and also seems to have additional health benefits for mothers and infants. If we have concerns about disparities in infant health we need social policies that support these recommendations and also go beyond simply encouraging breastfeeding over formula."

Breastfeeding is great, but maybe "support for mothers" would be a better three-word slogan.

[This post was originally published October 19, 2018.]

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With two babies in tow, getting out the door often becomes doubly challenging. From the extra things to carry to the extra space needed in your backseat, it can be easy to feel daunted at the prospect of a day out. But before you resign yourself to life indoors, try incorporating these five genius products from Nuna to get you and the littles out the door. (Because Vitamin D is important, mama!)

1. A brilliant double stroller

You've got more to carry—and this stroller gets it. The DEMI™ grow stroller from Nuna easily converts from a single ride to a double stroller thanks to a few easy-to-install accessories. And with 23 potential configurations, you're ready to hit the road no matter what life throws at you.

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Lugging a heavy car seat is the last thing a mama of two needs to have on her hands. Instead, pick up the PIPA™ lite, a safe, svelte design that weighs in at just 5.3 pounds (not counting the canopy or insert)—that's less than the average newborn! When you need to transition from car to stroller, this little beauty works seamlessly with Nuna's DEMI™ grow.

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5. A crib that travels

Getting a new baby on a nap schedule—while still getting out of the house—is hard. But with the SENA™ aire mini, you can have a crib ready no matter where your day takes you. It folds down and pops up easily for sleepovers at grandma's or unexpected naps at your friend's house, and the 360-degree ventilation ensures a comfortable sleep.

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With 5 essentials that are as flexible as you need to be, the only thing we're left asking is, where are you going to go, mama?

This article was sponsored by Nuna. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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When you become a parent for the first time, there is an undeniably steep learning curve. Add to that the struggle of sorting through fact and fiction when it comes to advice and—whew—it's enough to make you more tired than you already are with that newborn in the house.

Just like those childhood games of telephone when one statement would get twisted by the time it was told a dozen times, there are many parenting misconceptions that still tend to get traction. This is especially true with myths about bottle-feeding—something that the majority of parents will do during their baby's infancy, either exclusively or occasionally.

Here's what you really need to know about bottle-feeding facts versus fiction.

1. Myth: Babies are fine taking any bottle

Not all bottles are created equally. Many parents experience anxiety when it seems their infant rejects all bottles, which is especially nerve wracking if a breastfeeding mom is preparing to return to work. However, it's often a matter of giving the baby some time to warm up to the new feeding method, says Katie Ferraro, a registered dietician, infant feeding specialist and associate professor of nutrition at the University of California San Francisco graduate School of Nursing.

"For mothers returning to work, if you're breastfeeding but trying to transition to bottle[s], try to give yourself a two- to four-week trial window to experiment with bottle feeding," says Ferraro.

2. Myth: You either use breast milk or formula

So often, the question of whether a parent is using formula or breastfeeding is presented exclusively as one or the other. In reality, many babies are combo-fed—meaning they have formula sometimes, breast milk other times.

The advantage with mixed feeding is the babies still get the benefits of breast milk while parents can ensure the overall nutritional and caloric needs are met through formula, says Ferraro.

3. Myth: Cleaning bottles is a lot of work

For parents looking for simplification in their lives (meaning, all of us), cleaning bottles day after day can sound daunting. But, really, it doesn't require much more effort than you are already used to doing with the dishes each night: With bottles that are safe for the top rack of the dishwasher, cleaning them is as easy as letting the machine work for you.

For added confidence in the sanitization, Dr. Brown's offers an incredibly helpful microwavable steam sterilizer that effectively kills all household bacteria on up to four bottles at a time. (Not to mention it can also be used on pacifiers, sippy cups and more.)

4. Myth: Bottle-feeding causes colic

One of the leading theories on what causes colic is indigestion, which can be caused by baby getting air bubbles while bottle feeding. However, Dr. Brown's bottles are the only bottles in the market that are actually clinically proven to reduce colic thanks to an ingenious internal vent system that eliminates negative pressure and air bubbles.

5. Myth: Bottles are all you can use for the first year

By the time your baby is six months old (way to go!), they may be ready to begin using a sippy cup. Explains Ferraro, "Even though they don't need water or additional liquids at this point, it is a feeding milestone that helps promote independent eating and even speech development."

With a complete line of products to see you from newborn feeding to solo sippy cups, Dr. Brown's does its part to make these new transitions less daunting. And, for new parents, that truly is priceless.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Seeing your baby for the first time is an amazing experience for any parent. For most parents, the months preceding this meeting were probably spent imagining what the baby was experiencing inside the womb, trying to paint a realistic picture on top of that two-dimensional black and white ultrasound photo.

But thanks to Brazillian birth photographer Janaina Oliveira and a baby boy named Noah, parents around the world are now better able to imagine what their baby's world looked like between the ultrasound picture and their first breath.

While most babies are born without their amniotic sac intact, Noah entered the world (via C-section), still cocooned inside his. This is known as an en caul birth, and while it wasn't the first Oliveira has captured through her lens, it is likely now the most famous of her photographs.

After she posted Noah's birth photos to Instagram, Oliveira's photos went viral, making headlines around the world.

This slideshow is amazing.

In a Facebook post, Noah's mom Monyck Valasco explains that she had a tough pregnancy with Noah, and is so grateful that he did not arrive too early.

Noah is now something of a celebrity in his hometown of Vila Velha, Brazil, but local media reports he was actually one of three en caul babies born at the Praia da Costa Hospital in just one month. Birth photographer Janaina Oliveira actually captured all three en caul births on camera. Little Matais arrived before Noah, and baby Laura came afterward, both en caul.

These photographs are as breathtaking as the babies featured in them and remind mothers around the world that our bodies were once someone's whole world. And now they are ours.

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Alexis Ohanian has made a lot of important decisions in his life. The decision to co-found Reddit is a pretty big one. So was marrying Serena Williams. But right up there with changing internet culture and making a commitment to his partner, the venture capitalist lists taking time off after his daughter's birth as a significant, life-changing choice.

"My understanding of showing up and being present for my wife was taken to a whole new level when Olympia was born. I was able to take 16 weeks of paid leave from Reddit, and it was one of the most important decisions I've made," Ohanian says in an essay for Glamour.

A nearly four-month parental leave is something too few American mothers, let alone fathers, get to take. Even when fathers work for companies that offer generous parental leave packages, they often don't use the benefit for fear of being sidelined or seen as uncommitted. A recent survey by Talking Talent found fathers typically use only 32% of the time available to them.

In his essay, Ohanian recognizes that he is privileged in a way most parents aren't.

"It helped that I was a founder and didn't have to worry about what people might say about my 'commitment' to the company, but it was incredible to be able to spend quality time with Olympia. And it was perhaps even more meaningful to be there for my wife and to adjust to this new life we created together—especially after all the complications she had during and after the birth," he explains.

(The GOAT's husband is making the same points that we at Motherly make all the time.)

He continues: "There is a lot of research about the benefits of taking leave, not only for the cognitive and emotional development of the child but for the couple. However, many fathers in this country are not afforded the privilege of parental leave. And even when they are, there is often a stigma that prevents them from doing so. I see taking leave as one of the most fundamental ways to 'show up' for your partner and your family, and I cherished all 16 weeks I was able to take."

👏👏👏

By first taking his leave and then speaking out about the ways in which it benefited his family, Ohanian is using his privileged position to de-stigmatize fathers taking leave, and advocate for more robust parental leave policies for all parents, and his influence doesn't end there. He's trying to show the world that parents shouldn't have to cut off the parent part of themselves in order to be successful in their careers.

He says that when his parental leave finished he transitioned from being a full-time dad to a "business dad."


"I'm fortunate to be my own boss, which comes with the freedoms of doing things like bringing my daughter into the office, or working remotely from virtually anywhere Serena competes. My partners at Initialized are used to seeing Olympia jump on camera—along with her doll Qai Qai—or hearing her babbling on a call. I tell them with pride, 'Olympia's at work today!' And I'll post some photos on Instagram or Twitter so my followers can see it too," Ohanian explains.

"The more we normalize this, on social media and in real life, the better, because I know this kind of dynamic makes a lot of men uncomfortable (and selfishly I want Olympia to hear me talking about start-ups!)," he says.

This is the future of family-friendly work culture. Take it from a guy who created an entire internet culture.

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Mothers can be found at the top of many professions, and the current generation of fathers are doing more than the dads that raised them, but we can't pretend that working mothers and working fathers are on the same playing field.

We are jumping over hurdles while the men beside us are sprinting down a clear track. This simple metaphor illustrated by a Peruvian cartoonist at La Republica captures the complex challenges faces by working mothers. Thanks to a tweet by Mumbai-based billionaire Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group, the cartoon went viral and has gotten people talking about the hurdles in our lane.

Even now, in 2019, mothers in heterosexual partnerships are often seen as the default parent. We carry a heavier mental load than our male counterparts, work more hours doing unpaid labor, spend more time on childcare and have less time to care for ourselves. Research has actually found that men's leisure time increased after parenthood, while mothers see their workload at home increase.

Mahindra tweeted the image after watching his grandson for a week. "I salute every working woman & acknowledge that their successes have required a much greater amount of effort than their male counterparts," he captioned the comic.

Mahindra is right that we're putting in more effort, but we're certainly not being paid more. When men become fathers they often see their earnings increase, while many mothers get passed over for promotions and report being hit with the "motherhood penalty". And women still make $.80 to a man's dollar in America.

This isn't just bad for moms, but for the men married to us, too. According to a study published in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues, marriages suffer when women feel they are sacrificing their careers and doing more than their fair share for the family. "Mothers in dual-earner households experience greater parenting inequalities than do similarly-situated fathers," the researchers note.

This breeds resentment, and it can also create a situation where dads don't feel like an equal or capable parent. The solution, according to experts, is simple: We need to divide household responsibilities more evenly between partners. Only then will the playing field be level.

This cartoon didn't go viral because it's funny. It's the opposite. But it is relatable to many mothers. The good news is that we can knock down those hurdles, and investments into childcare and paid parental leave can help us do it. Being a working mother is hard, but we can do it.

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The American Psychological Association (APA) has joined the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in taking a strong stance against spanking, telling parents that it is harmful and doesn't work anyway.

The APA's "Resolution on Physical Discipline of Children By Parents" was adopted this month as "research indicates that physical discipline is not effective in achieving parents' long-term goals of decreasing aggressive and defiant behavior in children or of promoting regulated and socially competent behavior in children."

"The use of physical punishment on children has been declining in the United States over the past 50 years," APA President Rosie Phillips Davis said in a release to media. "We hope that this resolution will make more parents and caregivers aware that other forms of discipline are effective and even more likely to result in the behaviors they want to see in their children."

Back in November the AAP issued it's policy statement telling parents that discipline strategies should "not involve spanking, other forms of corporal punishment or verbal shaming."

The AAP's updated statement came 20 years after a previous policy statement on the subject, in which the AAP simply encouraged parents not to spank. But a body of research compiled over the last two decades has AAP strengthening its position on corporal punishment.

"Aversive disciplinary strategies, including all forms of corporal punishment and yelling at or shaming children, are minimally effective in the short-term and not effective in the long-term," the authors of the AAP statement write, citing multiple studies linking corporal punishment negatives outcomes for kids.

"One of the most important relationships we all have is the relationship between ourselves and our parents, and it makes sense to eliminate or limit fear and violence in that loving relationship," Dr. Robert D. Sege, a pediatrician at Tufts Medical Center and the Floating Hospital for Children in Boston, and one of the authors of the statement, told the New York Times.

When researchers analyzed multiple studies on the impact of spanking, it became clear that children don't benefit from it. One study found that kids "resumed the same behavior for which they had been punished" within 10 minutes after a spanking, while another links harsh corporal punishment with reduced gray matter and lower IQ scores.

Researchers also found that spanking traps kids and parents in a negative cycle. Basically, the more spankings a child gets, the more they act out, which leads to more spankings. It's a no-win situation for everyone.

All of the research points to outcomes that are the opposite of what parents wish for when trying to discipline their children. Experts are pleased to see the current generation of parents is less likely to spank than previous generations, and hope the trend towards positive reinforcement and empathy continues, and that parents move away from using physical force, shame and humiliation (because they don't work anyway).

The AAP suggests the following strategies instead of spanking:

Model appropriate behavior and tell your kids what you expect from them.

Be clear and consistent when setting limits for your kids, and explain them in age-appropriate ways.

Explain that there are consequences for breaking rules, and be prepared to follow through (for example, if a child doesn't pick up their toys when asked, the adult will remove the toys from the room for the rest of the day).

Listen. The AAP notes that this step is important. When we listen to our children's problems, we can talk to them about patterns we are noticing in their behavior.

Pay attention to them. According to the AAP, "the most powerful tool for effective discipline is attention—to reinforce good behaviors and discourage others."

Redirect your child if they're misbehaving out of boredom, and plan ahead for situations when you think behaving will be hard for kids. Talk to them beforehand if such as situation is coming up, and let them know what you need from them (for example: "Mom is going to vote tomorrow and you're coming with me. I need you to be really respectful of others at the polling place, and use your library voice."

Take a time-out when needed. According to the AAP, when a specific rule is broken, a quick timeout (one minute per age of the child) can be effective. The AAP notes times outs work best if we warn our kids before they get a time out, and start the time out without using a lot of words or emotion. (Like, "You broke that item after I asked you not to. Now you'll be in time out for five minutes).

Bottom line: Corporal punishment doesn't work. But love, empathy and attention do.

[A version of this article was published November 5, 2018. It has been updated to reflect the APA's Resolution on Physical Discipline of Children By Parents, February 18, 2019.]

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