What to say when somebody tells you that 'breast is best'.

Bottles have never been safer.






There is evidence that fifty-four per cent of babies who are bottle fed die. Oh wait, no, that was seventeenth century Britain.

Research indicates that out of 132 orphans who were bottle fed, only five survived. Um, no, that was eighteenth century France.

Oh, that’s right, this is the year 2013. Feeding babies properly manufactured and prepared formula, from a bottle, doesn’t tend to kill them.

“But BREAST IS BEST!” I hear you say. Yes, it certainly is, and so is exercising regularly, not watching any television in the first year of life, avoiding artificial colours and flavours, eating organic, vegetarian, unprocessed food, wearing natural fibers, using renewable energy and avoiding anything that may be carcinogenic (alcohol, smoking, the sun, donuts, processed meat, car pollution, plastic food containers, french fries, crackers, etc…).

Okay, so breast is best, you’ve convinced me. Perhaps we could do what our noble ancestors did when a mother couldn’t or wouldn’t breastfeed her own child: reintroduce wetnursing.

Wetnursing was very trendy in the seventeenth century among wealthy mums who allegedly complained that breastfeeding ruined the figure, stained their clothes and interfered with their social life (sound familiar?). Unfortunately the wetnurses didn’t necessarily take such good care of the babies.

Bec Bowyer

One countess Elizabeth Clinton sent away eighteen of her children to be wetnursed: only one of them survived. Funnily enough, the decline of professional wetnursing in the second half of the nineteenth century correlated neatly with the improvement of artificial milk for babies.

Given there was a fair to good chance your baby would die if you didn’t breastfeed it back then, it was probably fair enough that mothers who chose not to breastfeed because they wanted to retain their youthful figure were subjected to much criticism (in Sweden they were fined by the government).

But today? In Australia? Let’s put it in perspective. Our infant mortality rate in 2012 was 4.55 per 1000 births, which means that more than 99.5% of babies born in Australia now live beyond their first birthday.

At the end of the nineteenth century the Australian infant mortality rate was over 100 per 1000 births. That means there was about a 1 in 10 chance your baby would die before you got a chance to put a candle on its first birthday cake.

I breastfed my first son for sixteen months. Why? Because it worked for both of us. He took to feeding with great gusto and my body was happy to oblige with an oversupply of milk.

My second son started out well with breastfeeding but at some point around four months decided he’d had enough of this caper and would just yell and come off the breast repeatedly. Every feed was a struggle, but struggle we did until he was five months old, I’d tried everything and we’d both just had enough. From then, he drank formula from a bottle during the day and breastfed at night (when he didn’t fight me) for another few weeks. Five months on, he’s fully bottle fed and we’re both happy and thriving.


Breastfeeding is a wonderful thing if it works out for both mother and baby. It’s convenient, cheap and healthy. Sometimes, though, it’s not possible and there are too many Mums who are criticised, or feel guilty, for not breastfeeding “long enough”.

Instead of putting yet another burden on new Mums, let’s celebrate the fact that we now have a really great back-up if breastfeeding doesn’t work. Let’s be excited that we have the luxury of nitpicking over the question of whether formula has any negative effects on child development: one study suggests exclusively breastfed babies could be more likely to develop nut allergies; another study links formula feeding in infancy to obesity in later life (though I suspect that obesity in later life also has a strong correlation to excessive consumption of refined sugar and saturated fat when baby has grown up and left home and mum can no longer supervise the weekly shopping).

Sure, breast is best but compared to the “good old days” bottles have never been safer.

Happy, healthy mums and babies are the best thing of all.

 Bec Bowyer is a Melbourne writer and Mum with two inquisitive non-stop preschoolers, a loving husband and a deep desire to spend a month in the south of France sipping champagne. She deals with the hilarity and hysteria of raising kids by blogging at

Did you breast or bottle feed your baby?