Artificial Feeding: Offensive Term or Are People Easily Offended?

In an article posted by the BBC, a hospital has been criticised for using the term artificial feeding in regards to how people might want to feed their baby after the birth. Not only did they refer to feeding a baby formula milk as artificial feeding, but they also used the term ‘artificial milk’ several times throughout the letter.

If you want to see the letter in full, then here it is:

Artificial feeding: Offensive term or are people easily offended? This is the letter sent by hospital staff at Worcestershire hospital that referred to formula milk as artificial and the process as artificial feeding

So I’m here to ask two simple things. Is it wrong to criticise the term artificial feeding? And should a maternity unit actually provide formula milk?

Is the term Artificial Feeding Actually Offensive or Are We Easily Offended?

Before I start this, I will say that I don’t get offended very easily. And offence is entirely subjective; we are all different as to what we find offensive. But just because something might be considered offensive, doesn’t mean that it is wrong and should be stopped.

To me, the term artificial feeding isn’t really offensive because on a technical level it’s kind of right. Let’s be honest, formula milk is artificial. If you want the dictionary definition, then the term artificial literally means: made by people, often as a copy of something natural.” That doesn’t just perfectly describe the term artificial, but it also perfectly describes what formula milk is.

The NCT literally describes it as “Infant formula is usually based on processed, skimmed cow’s milk. Added ingredients include vitamins, fatty acids and prebiotics (carbohydrates that can stimulate the growth of ‘good’ bacteria in the digestive system).”

In other words, they artificially add extra ingredients for the formula milk to better resemble breastmilk. It’s technically artificial.

Should a Hospital Really Use the Term ‘Artificial Feeding’?

Whilst the term is technically correct, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily something that the hospital should have used. I’m not sure what the aim of this letter was. Perhaps it was to try and encourage more women to breastfeed. The mere fact that they don’t want to provide formula milk would indicate that. But is using a term that will inevitably irritate people the right way to go about it? Probably not.

They could have simply done what everyone else does and just used the term formula milk or formula feeding. But at the same time, does it really matter?

Should We Really be Getting Offended by the word Artificial?

Does it matter that the hospital used the terms artificial milk and artificial feeding? No. It doesn’t. At least not to me. But people love to get offended.

Look, if you want to formula feed your baby, or felt like you had no choice, then that’s fine. But let’s be bloody honest with ourselves. This milk has been artificially made so women don’t have to breastfeed. Science is a wonderful thing. And having a scientific body, like a hospital, describe something as it’s scientifically known is perfectly acceptable.

I wouldn’t use the term myself. It would sound slightly strange saying “do you breastfeed or artificially feed?” but I don’t see a problem with a hospital using the term.

I don’t believe it casts any judgement and it isn’t meant to make someone feel like a failure for not breastfeeding. It’s just a factual statement and a scientifically accurate term.

Do I Understand Why People Would be Offended?

Absolutely. I’m a man. So I will never truly understand the feeling of not being able to breastfeed when you wanted to. I also have a wife who took to breastfeeding rather well. So I’ve not had much involvement with someone who was unable to do it.

But I still understand why someone might not like this term. It doesn’t sound the nicest and almost feels like you’re doing something unnatural with your baby. But at the same time, technically, formula milk isn’t actually natural. We made it. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just is what it is. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Besides, just because a person is offended, it doesn’t mean they’re right.

But that’s not the biggest issue that people should have with this letter. This isn’t about the term that they used, it should be about the fact that they don’t want to provide formula milk on the maternity unit.

Should a Maternity Unit Provide Formula Milk?

This is a much more important question. To a certain extent, a maternity unit shouldn’t really have any need to have formula milk in stock. But then they do have a medical responsibility to anyone in their treatment. So stocking formula milk does come under that obligation. They simply have a duty of care to everyone in the hospital, so not stocking formula milk is a violation against that duty.

Among other reasons, midwives are on hand to help support someone with feeding the baby. Whilst I don’t think they really need to help someone with using a bottle, they should still be on hand and they shouldn’t make a mother feel bad about that choice. But should they actually provide the milk? I’m torn.

Of course they should stock it at least in case of emergencies or medical reasons. Maybe someone has to stay in longer and therefore needs formula, so they need it for that. But what about the women who know they want to formula feed anyway? Should they stock it for them?

On the one hand, of course they should. Like I just said they have a medical responsibility to the child in their care. But I also feel that if someone knows that they’re going to formula feed their baby, then surely you should have that packed on not just rely on the hospital.

What About Women Who Can’t Breastfeed?

I know a lot of people say they couldn’t breastfeed, but there is no way they can make that judgement so early into a babies life. Generally, you don’t really spend that long on a maternity ward anyway. So I don’t see how you can decide that you physically can’t breastfeed whilst on the maternity ward. Even more so if you’re just there for a day.

The NHS is already struggling when it comes to money, and perhaps they should be a little bit tighter with what they provide. I don’t even think you should be able to get paracetamol from your GP, so maybe formula should be a little bit more restricted too. But, with all that said, I still feel that a maternity ward should be there to support a mother with her choice, and therefore they should perhaps stock formula milk.

I’m Not Here to Judge

Look, I don’t care what option a mother picks. Whilst I feel that a maternity unit should be on hand to support with breastfeeding, I guess they still need to support someone who is bottle feeding. Even if that is something that is far simpler and likely needs less support.

As for the term artificial feeding. If you’re offended by it, then simply ask yourself why? Do you see it as a derogatory term? Does it make someone feel guilty for formula feeding their baby? I honestly don’t see how that is the case. It is artificial. The whole point of formula milk is to artificially replicate breastmilk! Most formula companies even happily admit that breastmilk is better.

But I won’t judge a person for eating unhealthy as an adult. So I’m not going to judge someone for picking a slightly unhealthier option when it comes to feeding the baby. I know it’s more complicated than that. I know breast isn’t always best. But if we’re going off go generalisations then generally speaking it is the better option. If a mother has a nasty crack addiction then breastfeeding probably isn’t a good idea. But there are always outliers that go against the suggestions of science and research.

But welcome to the modern world! We have that little to complain about in the Western world that we manage to get pissed off with something as stupid as artificial milk being called artificial. Genius.



I’m a 27 year old married father of one – soon to be two! I started blogging after suffering with postnatal depression when Isabelle was born. These days I just talk about my life as a dad.

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  1. Hmmm
    11th September 2018 / 9:02 pm

    The role of health care providers is to empower new mothers by facilitating informed choice.

    If a mother chooses to breastfeed, having been given information about the benefits of breast milk, her choice should be respected. And not merely tolerated.

    Her choice should not be delineated as “less than” or inferior. The term “artificial feeding” is inherently judgemental.

    Babies must be fed and a mother that provides her child with infant formula achieves this. There is nothing inferior about that. Her desire to nurture her child is the same as a breastfeeding mother’s.

    Presevation and respect for women’s choices aside there are medical reasons for providing formula milk. Low milk supply is one.

    Low milk supply can be associated with guilt. I expressed 8-10 times as day for 6 months and still couldn’t provide enough for my son, so his feeds were topped up with dietician prescribed formula.

    I felt like a failure and being told that I was artificially feeding my son would not have gone down well, at a time when I was already beating myself up. In short it would have had a negative impact on my postpartum mental health.

    Women that have undergone bilateral mastectomies are also unable to produce breast milk. Should they be stigmatized?

    My son couldn’t breastfeed – NOT through lack of trying: I saw a lactation consultant and speech and language therapists. In the end he was diagnosed with severe reflux and was prescribed medical grade formula.

    Babies may also require medicalised formula if they are allergic to lactose ingested by breastfeeding mothers which makes it’s way into breast milk.

    Finally and most dramatically: if you don’t feed a baby – breastmilk or formula, they become hypoglycaemic and have seizures.

    These examples cause one to look closer at the statement that formula is an “unhealthy option” don’t they?

    Formula feeding can be either a choice or a medical necessity. Either way labelling it as artificial feeding is divisive and can be interpreted as derisive. We shouldn’t be shaming mothers who simply want to feed their babies or labelling them as “other”.

    If health professionals will begin refusing to provide formula, this should be made clear at women’s booking and antenatal appointments. It should be discussed as part of thier birth plan. So they know the intention and attitude of those they are entrusting their care to. And can make an informed choice about where they choose to give birth.

    • Ross
      12th September 2018 / 1:03 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to read the post and to give such a detailed comment on it. I really appreciate anyone giving up their time to challenge my views and hopefully I can always take something away from what that person has said.

      I agree with you on some of what you have said. A mother’s choice should be respected. And I understand that there are medical reasons for formula feeding among plenty of other reasons for the choice. Not that I feel this post is about why someone might bottle-feed.

      The examples you have given are fair, but I would still argue that in a generalised sense that breastmilk is the healthier option. The mere fact that companies still try to add more ingredients to better replicate it has to indicate that it’s still better.

      Of course that’s not accurate for everyone, but you can always find examples that contradict the norm. People have been saved from car crashes purely because they weren’t wearing a seatbelt, but it’s still the safer option to wear one.

      I guess a lot of offence is subjective. I think artificial feeding is technically an acceptable term to use, but I wouldn’t use it myself. The dictionary definition of artificial literally means: “made by people, often as a copy of something natural.” Which perfectly describe formula milk.

      With that said, I still don’t feel like the term should have been used in the letter, but at the same time I don’t get offended by anything, so I really wouldn’t care.

      I am currently going through this post and re-writing some of it. This was written several months ago and my views and perspective are always changing.

      Again, thank you for reading and commenting and giving me a reason to check this post and rethink how I want it written.

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