Let me just start this post by saying, if I actually manage to write this without it just turning into a string of expletives I’ll be impressed.
It turns out Jamie Oliver is so fired up on the “success” of his sugar tax, that now he wants to go after those awful awful mothers who don’t bother breastfeeding. What a knight in shining armour that man is, what would us silly little women do without him? <simpers>
This gives me the rage for so many reasons.
Look, I’m trying to be restrained, but I can’t help it.
He is, in case it’s passed him by, a man. He will never breastfeed. What’s more, there are a lot of women out there working hard to make sure that new mothers have access to help with breastfeeding. Obviously there work means nothing to him, because they are only women and he’s a Man, therefore much better placed to talk about breastfeeding than those women. Plus, there’s some good publicity to be had, and god forbid he might shut the fuck up for once.
This shows his level of ignorance, and the erasure of women who do work hard all the time to help other women.
Never? What utter bollocks.
I know that during both pregnancies I was given multiple bits of literature with that information (plus other information on the positive benefits of breastfeeding) alongside being told it by a range of women both before and after giving birth.
He’s never heard it? Well for one, why would anyone tell him? It’s not him that’s going to be doing it, and I think it would be particularly dodgy to be trying to convince the male partner on the benefits of breastfeeding, when it won’t be their body it affects. Secondly, he’s obviously been paying little to no attention to what his wife has been told during her multiple pregnancies – attentive partner there.
Breastfeeding is hard
I have no idea how his wife has coped with breastfeeding, so maybe he has seen how hard it is, but his comments suggest otherwise.
It is hard. I tried with both mine, and had to give up. I know so many women who tried as hard as they could and subsequently had to give up. And I don’t know a single one of them who made that decision lightly, or without guilt. The guilt is so hard to bear.
When my daughter was in the Special Care Baby Unit I could do so little for her, I could barely hold her, I could only dress her and change her nappy at appointed times. The one thing I could do, in theory at least, was produce milk for her. The hospital lent me an electric breastpump, an endless supply of sterile bottles and spent as much time with me as I needed to try and help me manage it. The amounts I produced were pitiful, at that stage she was only drinking very small amounts (due to her size) and even then they had to top up the milk I gave them. It just wasn’t enough. I was even put on drugs to help boost my supply, but still no improvement.
I tried and I tried, I seemed to spend more time hooked up to the pump than anything else. So much that my breasts ached. The final straw was sitting in the expressing room in SCBU and producing one single droplet of milk from each breast. I walked back into the Intensive Care Unit empty handed and promptly burst into tears. Luckily the staff there were wonderful, and reassured me that my daughter would be fine without breastmilk.
Some might look at that and say, “well that’s exceptional circumstances, we didn’t mean women like you”, but supply isn’t the only hard thing about breastfeeding.
With my son I also struggled, I’ve no idea if there was a supply problem, because what we mostly struggled with was the latch.
If you don’t know much about breastfeeding it’s easy to think that, because it’s a natural process, it should come naturally to babies. And for some it does, my daughter latched very well from the first time we offered her the breast. Being preemie it was expected that she’d struggle, but she had no problem at all. My son on the other hand.. he just would not latch. Or he’d latch for a couple of seconds and then lose the latch.
I studied the illustration above, and ones like it, over and over. But my son was having none of it. So many people tried to help me, but he was hard work. And the longer it took to get him on the breast, the more he freaked out, and the harder it got.
Eventually I was getting so worried about how upset he was getting, and whether or not he was getting enough, that I stopped and moved him on to formula.
The problem was, at the time I had a Health Visitor who was pro-breastfeeding to such a point that I was scared of telling her I’d stopped. I know from talking to others that this isn’t a unique experience. There’s enough guilt and worry being a new mother without the added pressure of feeling like you’ve let yourself and your baby down by turning to formula.
These are just my experiences of breastfeeding, there are many other reasons why women might not breastfeed. Here’s just as few..
- It hurts. Yes, it does, if your child isn’t good at latching it can get very painful. There’s nothing quite like sore, cracked nipples that hurt any time anything touches them.
- Mastitis. I shouldn’t need to say any more.
- Needing to go back to work. While you can, and some women do, pump milk for when they are at work, it takes time which is is short enough supply.
- Wanting to share the load. As you’ve just been through nine months of pregnancy, plus childbirth, sometimes you just need to rest and recuperate. It’s nice to be able to take turns at feeds with a partner.
- Medication. This was a factor for me, there are certain drugs (in my case anti-depressants and painkillers) that you cannot take whilst pregnant or breastfeeding, and while there are replacements they do not necessarily work as well. One of the advantages to stopping breastfeeding was that my children ended up with a mother who wasn’t in horrific pain and struggling with mental illness.
- Lack of help, like I said before, breastfeeding isn’t the easiest thing, and not all women have access to help. I know the first night in hospital with my son I ended up bawling my eyes out after attempting to feed a screaming newborn for 3 hours without help because they were so short staffed.
- Struggles with the body. It is surely not news to anyone that women often struggle with body image, which does make it harder to do something like breastfeeding. Whether it’s that they’ve been fed the idea that their breasts are purely there for the enjoyment of men, and so are seen as sexual not motherly. Or that they feel a disconnect or even disgust with their breasts. It strikes me that mothers are often not seen as normal women, with normal body issues, somehow motherhood is meant to transcend this. But we aren’t saints, we are still human and subject to the same pressures and fears as non-mothers.
- Food allergies. Cow’s milk intolerance in babies does happen, which means the mother needs to drop it from her diet if she’s breastfeeding. At the same time women are more at risk of bone problems than men, so benefit more highly from calcium in the diet. For some women this will mean that it’s important to make sure both are feeding well.
- They just don’t want to.
Bodily Autonomy Matters
Not wanting to is allowed. Yes, it might be better for the child to breastfeed, but formula isn’t actually poison. There are areas where formula can be harmful, but these are areas where it is difficult to boil the water and prepare the formula safely. For the most part, this isn’t something that is relevant to the UK. And if that is the concern then campaign for better awareness of how important it is to prepare formula safely.
We are allowed autonomy over our own bodies, something that I think a lot of men take for granted. How often are men expected to give so much of their bodily autonomy up? The act of carrying a baby to term is quite an eye opener in terms of realising how little say you are actually expected to have over your own body.
Whether it’s strangers thinking your bump is public property, well meaning people telling you what you are and aren’t capable of, or doctors performing procedures without your informed consent. A pregnant woman is often seen, and treated, as just a container.
If a woman decides not to breastfeed then that is her choice. She will still be doing her best for her child, but in a way that she is comfortable too.
How many children will look back and think that the most important thing their mother did for them was breastfeeding? How many formula fed children think they were let down by their mothers purely because of not being on the breast?
Then look around you and try and guess which people were breastfed and which weren’t.
Is it worth shaming women and adding more pressure on to new mums for this? There is already enough pressure to breast feed. Just because Jamie Oliver hasn’t experienced it doesn’t mean it’s not there. He should leave it to the experts – the women – who he has conveniently forgotten in his quest for more press.