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. It went on to say:

“A hospital trust has been criticised for describing mothers who use formula milk as “artificially” feeding babies.

Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust made the comment in a letter that said it would no longer provide formula milk in its maternity units to mothers who had decided not to breastfeed.”

The following letter was also sent out from the hospital in question to soon-to-be parents ahead of giving birth.

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?

I’m not going to mess about with this one. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the term artificial feeding. Mainly because the baby is being artificially fed. It’s FORMULA milk. 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 artificial.

I’ll admit, that I’m probably being a little bit facetious with this. I know people don’t like the term. And sure, I can see why. But if you want to argue on a technical level, then of course the hospital is correct.

Should they really use the term ‘artificial feeding’? Probably not. If their aim was to convince mothers to breastfeed then they probably did a poor job on that one.

Does it Matter?

Does it matter? No. It doesn’t. At least not to me. But people love to get pissy. 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 you 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 necessarily use the term. 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.

It doesn’t cast judgement, at least not to me, and it isn’t meant to make someone feel like a bad mother for not breastfeeding. It’s just a factual statement. If you feel bad about not breastfeeding, then that’s something you have to personally deal with. I can’t tell you why you feel that why, I can’t tell you not to feel that may. But this term shouldn’t have any affect on how you feel. And just because a person is offended, it doesn’t mean they’re right. Although I’m not saying I’m right either. All of this is opinion.

Should a Maternity Unit Provide Formula Milk?

This is a much more important question. But again, I’m fully in agreement with the hospital. They 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.

Among other reasons, midwives are on hand to help support someone with breastfeeding. They don’t really need to help someone with using a bottle, as it’s a lot simpler. The only reason they should really have formula is in case of emergencies or medical reasons. Maybe someone has to stay in longer and therefore needs formula. I dare say they should have some stock just in case.

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. And I’m pretty skeptical of the “I physically couldn’t do it” argument anyway. There are lots of factors in play and you can just read this other post if you really want to.

Personal Choice

This brings me to the notion of a person choice. A mother is perfectly within her rights to choose to formula feed. There’s nothing wrong with making that choice. But if you’re going to do it, then feel free to come prepared. You know you’re going to do it, so you can easily pack formula with your hospital bag. If you forget it, then maybe that’s when the hospital should provide it. Or you could just breastfeed until you get the formula.

Even if you want to bottlefeed you really should consider at least giving your baby the breastmilk whilst the colostrum is still there. As the BabyCenter say “It’s full of antibodies and immunoglobulins, which not only help protect newborns as they come into our world of bacteria and viruses, but also has a laxative effect that helps them expel the tarry first stools called meconium.”

But again, no one’s forcing you. And hopefully no one’s judging you if you don’t want to. But they might just try to encourage you to try. That’s their job after all.

I’m Not Here to Judge

Look, I don’t care what option a mother picks. But a maternity unit should be on hand to support with breastfeeding. I don’t feel like they should be on hand to give out formula milk. If you want to do it, then fine. But you’re going to have to get used to being prepared and having formula with you. So start early and bring it to the hospital.

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. It is a lesser form of breastmilk, which is clearly the case as they literally try 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. And if a mother has a nasty crack addiction then breast probably isn’t a good idea. I’m just working off generalisations and scientific research.

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


I’m a 26 year old married father of one. I started blogging after suffering postnatal depression when Isabelle was born. These days I talk about much more than just that.

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