This evening I saw the most beautiful image of a baby breastfeeding. It was in pastels I think – the kind of picture that jumps out from your Facebook feed. Just stunning.
It was posted with the words… “If it’s important to you, you will find a way. If not, you will find an EXCUSE”.
I am so incensed by the tainting of that image that I’m struggling to express the many levels on which it is wrong:
If breastfeeding isn’t important to you, then why would you bother making excuses? It’s not a priority for you. No need to justify.
If breastfeeding is important to you and it doesn’t work out, then whatever it was that you couldn’t handle, be it mental or physical is a reason, not an excuse. No need to justify.
The percentage of women in the UK who give up breastfeeding before they wanted to is high. So chances are they’ve tried bloody hard to make it work – probably harder than some women who manage to breastfeed for longer. Nothing they tried worked. No need to justify.
Some women actually can’t breastfeed. Yes, we know that it’s a tiny number. But it doesn’t matter how important it is to them, they won’t “find a way” to feed their baby themselves. No need to justify.
Some women could have breastfed, but needed support. Sometimes the right support isn’t forthcoming even when you know to ask for it. In that scenario, you may as well be physically unable to breastfeed. No need to justify.
The bottom line is, there is never any need to justify. We all know that breastfeeding has benefits for your baby and breastfeeding supporters will do everything they can to help you succeed. But if you don’t feel it’s right for you, or you hoped it would be and it doesn’t work out then so be it. It is your decision and your right to make that decision without guilt or fear of judgement.
I am SO fed up with seeing health reports watered down through fear of upsetting people.
We’re used to seeing the benefits of breastfeeding qualified so as not to be seen to â€œbullyâ€ or â€œguilt tripâ€ mothers who didn’t manage to breastfeed. People who dare to suggest, based on endless scientific studies, that formula is not equal to human breastmilk as a source of nutrition for human infants are villified for making vulnerable new mothers feel pressured.
But research does not bully or blame. People do that.
As a result of this endless tiptoeing around the facts, many mums are unaware that the World Health Organisation guidelines not only recommend exclusive breastfeeding to 6 months, as the NHS guidelines, but also to continue breastfeeding alongside solid food up until 2 years. The WHO makes no comment on practicality or achievability of this target. It’s just cold hard facts â€“ this is what the evidence shows is best for babies.
It’s not just breastfeeding advice that gets diluted so not to offend. Did you know that research suggests we should actually be eating at least 8 portions of fruit and veg per day, not just the 5 that are recommended in the UK? The nutritional guidelines don’t mirror the research because 8 portions is considered unachievable for the average person here and they don’t want to set targets too high in case we don’t try at all.
Because that’s the obvious reaction isn’t it?
Eight portions? I’ll never manage that…. If I can’t meet the target I just won’t bother eating veg at all. Lets have chips instead!
Is it really necessary to baby us like this? Can’t they just give us the facts and let us work with them?
At the moment even breastfeeding up to 4 months is unachievable for a lot of women in the UK. Some of those choose to stop. Some struggle and eventually give up. Some don’t get enough support. Some feel empowered, some feel guilty… Being aware of the WHO guidelines might make you feel angrier about lack of support, but I don’t think is going to make you feel any worse.
Realistically, I don’t think that having the full facts would change the statistics much. The majority of women know the benefits of breastfeeding. Those who give up early on are not doing so easily or willingly. There’s no doubt that more support and less blame is the way forward in improving breastfeeding rates.
But I don’t understand why that means ignoring or diluting the facts. If research proved that eating homemade bread daily had massive health benefits for you and your child, wouldn’t you want to know, even if it sounded like an unachievable target?
If you had never made bread before and no-one would give you the recipe, would you feel guilty when you gave up after a few days of trying? If kneading the dough gave you repetitive strain injury and infections, and no-one was there to help, would you feel guilty about stopping? What if you had to go back to work and didn’t have the time or energy to bake bread for your baby to eat at childcare?
Even if it didn’t work out, wouldn’t you still want to know that the bread you did manage to bake was worth it? That those days when you cried with tiredness and frustration meant something?
And what if you discovered you were good at baking bread? What if you enjoyed it? Would you be marginalised and made to feel guilty because you continued to bake when others couldn’t? Would you be looked down on for letting your child eat your homebaked bread in public when there was sliced bread available?
Making bread is an art. Some people find it easier than others and others need lessons and practical help. If you decided that homebaking wasn’t for you, or after a while of trying your best, you made a decision to use sliced bread (an effective and much-needed substitute, but without the same long-term health benefits) would you feel guilty? Maybe you would. But would you take issue with the research itself, just because the target was unachievable for you? Would you feel bullied by the facts? I don’t think so.
It sounds ridiculous. So why is it so different if you are talking about breastfeeding instead of breadmaking?
There are a lot of obstacles to breastfeeding up to 2 years in our society, not least combining breastfeeding with working. In a lot of cases it is, effectively, unachievable. But some of us do get there, either through intention or accident. And we’re made to feel abnormal, or told we’re â€œsmugâ€ for succeeding at something that others haven’t. Watering down the evidence doesn’t make more mums try breastfeeding, it doesn’t help more mums continue, and I doubt it reduces the guilt when breastfeeding doesn’t work out.
In the real world, parenting means compromise and there should be no blame or guilt attached to the way you feed your child. Modern lifestyles are not always optimised for health.
But if everyone was aware that breastfeeding was recommended up to the age of 2 or more, maybe the minority who already breastfeed longterm wouldn’t be be marginalised and made to feel guilty either. Maybe those who currently feel pressured to give up at 6 months because â€œthose are the guidelinesâ€ would feel empowered to continue until they are ready to wean.
Health research is about evidence, not judgements. It provides us with the information we need to make the best decisions for ourselves and our families. It is not always possible to do it all, even when you are aware of the benefits. But if we don’t even have all the facts to start with, how can we feel confidence in our choices?
Of course they’re right on one level – the NCT is ridiculously middle class. But I don’t get why they think it’s their stance on breastfeeding that is the problem. I would have thought it was the “about Â£200” cost that stops people on lower incomes attending classes? Just maybe? Hmm??
Where do the NCT think that their “pregnant 15-year-old living in central Manchester” is going to find Â£200 for antenatal classes? Even if you have that sort of money available, it might not seem like the best use of your time and money (and yes, I do know that you can get NCT courses free through the NHS… but I didn’t until I read the article. Enough said).
Isn’t it a bit insulting to suggest that just because a mum isn’t earning a good salary, they will think that breastfeeding, something which medical research suggests has a hugely beneficial effect on future health and wellbeing, is just for “posh people”. That income has an effect on your ability to take in information and make the decision that is best for you and your child? The decision to breastfeed isn’t always a pious one – do the NCT even know how much formula costs and how much that can hit a low income?
As for the racial mix, doesn’t that suggest that there is something else going wrong too? I’m no statistician, but this 2006 study concluded that UK breastfeeding rates were considerably higher among black and asian mothers. So… Possibly not the breastfeeding that’s putting so many women off the NCT?
Having attended NCT classes myself, breastfeeding is a very small part of the mix, and in my experience, the teaching is factual not evangelical. There is certainly an assumption that most people will try to breastfeed, but as in the last Infant Feeding Survey UK mums overwhelmingly knew the benefits of breastfeeding, that’s not an unreasonable assumption to make for a charity concerned with child health and pregnancy.
I don’t think the classes made any difference to the way we fed our babies when they arrived. But they did give us a reality check on what to expect if we did breastfeed – knowing about latching, the signs of mastitis etc. was really useful.
I don’t think that mums who choose to bottlefeed should be villified, and anyone who does can leave now. But equally, I don’t think that they should be lied to. Mums have to make decisions every day about what is best for them and their family, and there are lots of factors that come into the equation. If organisations like the NCT don’t stand up for the things they believe in, and give us the facts without frills or apologies, then who will?
Perhaps before they start getting all “discreet” with their breastfeeding campaigning, and assume new mums can’t make informed decisions, the NCT should first see whether the more accessible and cost effective classes they are proposing help to win mums’ hearts and minds.
MilkChic was born of pure frustration at the lack of clothing choice for breastfeeding mums. Although very pro-breastfeeding at a personal level, I had been blissfully unaware of the wider breastfeeding debate.
Since the website launched, I have become far more aware of the language used to describe breastfeeding and the emotion it can provoke, I have found I have had to decide what my stance is and why.
For instance, I described the breastfeeding techniques I use as “discreet, but I have learned that this can be an extremely emotive term – it is seen to imply that breastfeeding should be hidden away in order to be acceptable. While I stand by “discreet” as an accurate description, this is not a view I would want to be associated with.
Equally, I don’t agree with the breastfeeding activists who believe that by choosing to cover up, you are somehow colluding with those who believe breastfeeding should be only done in private. Surely, the key word is choice? If the aim is to support more women to breastfeed, a woman breastfeeding, however they choose to do it, is a success story.
Of all the descriptions I’ve heard, the one I like best is “breastfeeding with confidence“, as it covers both the physical and emotional aspects of breastfeeding. It doesn’t matter whether you feed with a cover, discreetly under clothes, with no cover at all or anything in between, having the confidence to feed whenever and wherever your baby needs is the holy grail.
For most women, to breastfeed long term they need to be able to feed in front of others, which means choosing clothing which not only works, but gives them confidence and makes them feel good about themselves. Searching for clothing that you can feed in easily is incredibly depressing. I ended up buying nursing clothes that I didn’t even like because they were practical, which did nothing for my self-esteem.