You may have seen the publicity surrounding the latest breastfeeding report in the media today. The study, in Brazil, looked at the effects of breastfeeding on babies over a long term period – 30 years – and concluded that breastfeeding is better for them in the long run, especially when it come to matters of intelligence.
I’m never quite sure what these studies are supposed to achieve. Even if you accept the basic premise and don’t have issues with the research itself (there are apparently some problems around the use of IQ to measure intelligence, how well they factored in class and income and so on) there’s no real sense that the researchers themselves now know what to do with their result.
And immediately the ‘whataboutery’ started. Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you these things don’t matter. I know there are women who find it medically or physically difficult/ impossible to breastfeed. I also know that women from lower incomes breastfeed less and a lot of that is down to not being able to take the time needed to stay off work due to money worries or inflexible employers. I know that a lot of those women were also not breastfed themselves and that there’s a cultural issue to deal with. Neither of those things will be solved quickly (or at all).
My problem isn’t with either of those things. My problem is with the rest. When I was in the labour ward with E, one of the main reasons (apart from being naturally anti-social) I didn’t mix with the other mums is because I kept overhearing their conversations about breastfeeding.It was something unnatural. Something they would do while they were in hospital that would keep the midwives off their backs. Like any midwife would have the power to change a woman’s actions in her own home. Every time there’s a debate in the media about breastfeeding this lot start carping on. I call it the ‘ick factor.’
There is a lot we as a society can do to help support new mums with feeding. We can work better with corporate formula makers to ensure safe practices, the latest research and responsible marketing are all taking place – to give mums who don’t breastfeed the assurance they need. We can stop guilt tripping people, whatever their choices. We can definitely give more resources, time and money to overworked midwives who can’t offer as much support as they might like. But I really think the biggest thing we can start to do is to remember to trust our own bodies.
I fed E exclusively for 8 weeks, and apart from some night feeds she was mostly breastfed until she was 6 months old. I didn’t stop breastfeeding in the evenings until she bit me (inadvertently) when she was nearly one. By then our bond over feeding had faded anyway. I am really proud that I did that. I didn’t find it easy – at times it was painful, boring or uncomfortable – and I hated it for much of the early period. I did it anyway because I believe it was best for her and that it was the most basic thing I could naturally do for her.
I’m not going to turn all breastfeeding nazi on you – there are huge issues with how we talk to women about this that don’t take into account circumstances, culture or physical ability. We shouldn’t shame women who can’t breastfeed for whatever reason. But we should start to reclaim what we can from the corporations, from the pursed lip brigade, from the “more than a handful’s a waste” page 3 fans and from the Farages of this world. Let’s just start simple yeah?
I fed her. I did it. I didn’t need to rely on some company to provide powder, I didn’t have to faff around getting bottles ready, I didn’t have to rush back to work. I was lucky. I know that. But for those women who are lucky like me, we really should have something that shows them how brilliant it is that your body can help you out as much as possible.
And for a first time mum, I think there is something to be said for the confidence it gives you, being able to provide, to do a basic nurturing job. I know it helped me.