3 Moms Are Reminding Parents That 'Fed Is Best' & That's Not Up for Debate

Three mothers feed their babies different ways
Felicia Saunders Photography

With National Breastfeeding Month now full swing, chances are you've seen more than a few #NormalizeBreastfeeding posts popping up across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. But amid the sea of breastfeeding stories making their way across social media, one singular photo is standing out, reminding us of a simple, yet comforting adage when it comes to the breast vs. bottle debate: at the end of the day, fed is best.

  • The message comes courtesy of Felicia Saunders, a Nevada-based photographer and self-proclaimed mom of "two rambunctious boys."

    "In honor of National Breastfeeding Month, I just want to say that no matter your choice of feeding you are absolutely amazing!" Saunders wrote in her August 1 Facebook post

    The image that accompanied it features three mothers in long flowing dresses, cradling their babies in their arms. The photo is warm and maternal, but it also immediately draws the eye to one unmissable fact: Each woman is feeding her child in a different way -- either by breast, by bottle, or by feeding tube.

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  • Saunders says the inspiration behind the photo was born from a lot of the pressures she herself felt to breastfeed.

    "I had ideals from social stigmas that I was to only breastfeed, or else I would be considered a failure," she tells CafeMom. 

    And so, she tried ... and she tried ... and tried. But no matter what she did, breastfeeding just wasn't working. 

    "My baby had a condition which prevented him from latching properly," she explains, recalling how she tried every method in the book to get him to latch -- including meeting with a lactation consultant, using breast shields, and using a supplemental nursing system (SNS). She even tried special lactation drinks and cookies, but still, nothing was clicking.

  • Unable to feed her baby, Saunders says she was "overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and shame."

    "Because I didn’t fit the mold, I was unable to do what the videos and mommy blogs told me I should do," she tells CafeMom. 

    She reluctantly began to bottle feed with formula -- and all at once, she says those gnawing feelings of guilt, shame, and failure started to fade. 

    The first time she watched her son become "milk drunk," her heart leapt. And when she saw him putting on weight, she was overjoyed. 

  • Saunders left that experience with a valuable lesson: That "what is best for my child and I is not always what may be best for the next family."

    It's a lesson she still carries with her today, and feels others could stand to learn, too. 

    "When I let go of the stigmas, I realized I was not a failure and I was able to enjoy my child and motherhood," she says. 

    The bond that inevitably forms between a mother and her child while feeding is an incredible one, she says -- but it's one that happens in many forms, not only for breastfeeding moms.

  • Just like Saunders, each of the women in the photo have their own story when it comes to feeding.

    Mykel Cooper, whose 10-month-old daughter, Marlee, was born a month premature, spent the early days of motherhood shuttling between her home and the NICU. While she breastfed Marlee the first day she was born, she soon had to transition to pumping, and continued to pump exclusively for seven months. 

    Still, reading the endless barrage of "breast is best" literature only made her feel like a failure. So she started digging around for research on other ways babies are fed. In the end, that gave her the solace she needed.

    "It really gave me a positive outlook on the fact that we are all mother's and we all have times where we feel like we're not doing our best," she says. "As a community we should supporting one another and giving encouraging words in times of struggle. No one besides another mother will ever feel the emotions you do towards your child and it's something we can all stand together on." 

  • Courtney Espejo, who posed for the photo with her 3-month-old son, Isaac, also knows that breastfeeding has its benefits. But it's not the only way.

    The mom of four tells CafeMom that she's been privileged to breastfeed all of her babies for 15 months, and loves the bond that's created while feeding a child  -- as well as the look of comfort you see on their faces during those special little moments.

    Still, she knows it's not always possible.

    "If you can breastfeed, great!" she says. "It's such a special bond and so good for baby, but a baby will have a special bond with their mother even if you aren't able to breastfeed. Just nurture your baby the best way you are able!"

  • Perhaps none of the women understand that sentiment more than the third mama in the photo shoot, who wished to remain anonymous for privacy.

    She tells CafeMom that she was honored to represent the special needs community, as well as bring awareness to another way mothers nurture their babies, by posing with her 19-month-old son.

    "My son was born extremely premature," she explains. And while he did receive donor breast milk for the first nine months of his life via feeding tubes, he now gets blended foods through his G-tube. "His tube allows him to get all the nutrition he needs since he still is not able to take anything by mouth," she explains.

    Now that the photo is going viral, her hope is that more mothers can be "open and supportive" to all ways of feeding.

    "I hope they understand not all moms have the opportunity to feed their babies the 'traditional' way and they shouldn't have to feel guilty," she shares.

  • By the looks of the comments on Facebook, it seems the message has certainly been heard -- loud and clear.

    "I love love love this," wrote one woman. "Absolutely beautiful. As an aunt of a tubie (someone with a feeding tube), and nurse, I just LOVEEEEE this!"

    "Thank you for this amazing photo," wrote another. "I love how it shows that no matter what way you feed your baby you can have precious moments to foster feeding relationship."

    For another woman, it seems she came across the photo at the perfect time: "I have been struggling feeling like a failure because breastfeeding hasn’t been working out for me," she said, after also thanking Saunders. "I love that you’re honoring all moms."

    Indeed, Saunders says that's her only real mission here.

    She says she knew that August would bring with it a lot of posts and articles promoting breastfeeding, and that "there would be a lot of mothers who would be feeling like failures or experiencing 'mom guilt.'" For those mothers, she says she wanted them "to know that they should be proud about how they feed their children and that they are equally as impressive and strong."

    It seems they definitely got the memo.

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