Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Breast is best, unless it's someone utterly witless beating theirs...

I've been pointed at a story about the "last great supermodel", Gisele, and her bizarre proclamation that people should be banned by law from bottle-feeding their children.

Here we have a woman who is world-famous for having a pretty face and a great body. Nothing up with making the most of those free assets in a world where they can make you rich and famous, I guess. But it hardly gives you the right to start telling everyone else what to do.

If you are a celebrity, what you say publicly has an impact. By all means use your influence to advocate for a good cause! Support for breastfeeding is one I fully endorse too. But if you're going to get involved in politics, please don't do it by clamouring for bans of everything you don't approve of! It's lazy, and it does more harm than good.

There seems to be a myth in the minds of certain anti-formula campaigners that it's easy for all women to breastfeed. Let me tell you, even for those of us who are blessed with fully-functional adequate mammary glands, it's never easy. It's painful at times, it can be psychologically arduous, it affects hormones and therefore mental health the whole time you do it, not to mention the fact that appropriate places to semi-disrobe and start feeding are too few and far between. And that's those of us who *can* do it. Plenty of women find that much as they'd like to give it a go, they can't. One of those things that is affected by genetic variation, I guess. Some women are very fertile, others have to try for years before they can have a baby. In much the same way, some women produce enough milk and some to spare for their babies and have no problem getting the baby to latch on, and some just aren't that lucky. Imagine how you would feel if that were you and you started using formula milk.. possibly some combination of misplaced guilt and reduced self-esteem, hormonal blues and worry.

To my mind, there's nothing wrong with choosing to feed your child formula even if you can breastfeed, either. Scientific advancements to make our lives easier, in action! Once upon a time, the only way a busy woman with a life of her own outside raising babies could continue to be busy after giving birth was to find a wet-nurse. Nowadays researchers and companies have laboured for years to bring us balanced nutrition for infants. Brilliant! OK, so it's not the ideal but for some parents the advantages make it the best way for them to make sure their children are properly fed. Again though, the option comes with a burden of misplaced guilt, thanks to the ever-vocal 'breast is best' lobby.

If you're a new mum feeling hormonal, low and guilty... I think pretty much the last thing you need is the approbation of a perfect supermodel, who was allegedly making pancakes the morning after giving birth, and back into superhuman shape within weeks - amazing how that seems to be so much easier for people with endless pots of money at their disposal, isn't it?

There are positive measures that I believe we should take as a society, to encourage women who want to, to breastfeed. Basically, I agree with Sue Jacob of the Royal College of Midwives, who is quoted in the BBC article linked above:

"We need to have a debate about how to create a society which is going to accept breast feeding wherever women want to do it - in cafes, parks, public spaces and at work, if that's what they choose"

Couldn't have put it better myself.

Instead of using the blunt tool of legislation to restrict women's choices, can't we start by using it to enshrine new rights, so that women can breastfeed in public whenever they need to? Why always the banning? Please, Gisele, next time you want to help, try thinking first. Thinking is so important.


Anonymous said...

I've been following your blog for months now and find myself wholeheartadly agreeing with everythings you've thus far said.
Breastfeeding isn't a topic I've given a lot of thought to (being a 22 year-old guy!) but you've really opened my eyes to some of the issues I'd previosuly been unaware of (for example, woman being unable to breastfeed).
Thanks Steph, keep up the brilliant work!

Joe Otten said...

Dead right.

And I give my kids chips sometimes, so I'm in no position to complain that some other child is getting ever so slightly less than optimal nutrition.

Caron said...

I agree. You can't possibly encourage breastfeeding by legislating against mothers. You do, however, need measures to control the promotion of artificial baby milk.

I also think that there's no point promoting breast milk as the optimum food for babies, which it is, unless you give mothers proper support. I spent 8 years as a volunteer breastfeeding supporter and I was on many occasions shocked at how little health professionals knew about how to manage issues.

In my experience, most breastfeeding problems have a breastfeeding solution, but mothers are being told that "breast is best" and then feel guilty when they can't overcome the problems cs there's no proper support. That's not fair. I always liken it to giving people a bowl of soup and a fork to eat it with.