#BeBoldForChange International Women’s Day
Mothers have been boldly calling for change, change in the support they need to breastfeed their babies, change in the conversation around breastfeeding. Fathers, partners, health professionals and volunteers have been boldly speaking up in support.
2016 and 2017 has seen lots of activity in the “breastfeeding world”; not that this is a mythical place where breastfeeding is seen as the norm. It’s a real place, just sadly a relatively small world at the moment. We’ve seen a new books on the subject published, we’ve seen campaigns launched, groundbreaking research and reports published, adverts made and most recently a new Bill proposed in Parliament. Any why so much action? Because breastfeeding should be the norm – I’ll go all Biology teacher here and state the obvious – we’re mammals, we have mammary glands in order to be able to feed our young. The breastfeeding world should be everyone’s world.
In recognition of International Women’s Day today, now is the time to #BeBoldForChange (International Women’s Day 2017). Everyone should know about breastfeeding, everyone should feel happy to talk about it, and everyone should feel properly supported about how they choose to feed their baby.
8 out of 10 women stop breastfeeding before they want to (McAndrew et al 2012). There are many reasons for this but Unicef only last week highlighted yet more research showing that breastfeeding support can increase the duration and exclusivity of (Unicef 2017). The World Breastfeeding Trend Initiative UK report (WBTi UK 2016) published in November last year reinforced these findings by identifying a key gap with many mothers lacking access to skilled breastfeeding support. So if mothers aren’t getting support from skilled and trained volunteers or professionals, where is their support coming from?
The current reality is that we live in a society with a formula feeding culture. What does that mean? It means our society sees formula feeding as normal, “just as good” as breastmilk. This is further entrenched in our minds through the media, online, in papers, on television. Families just don’t get the opportunity to make fully informed decisions about how they wish to feed their child because expectations and methods of infant feeding are so ingrained in our culture. “Helpful” friends and family want to support a family’s choice in how they choose to feed their baby but often they have not breastfed so advice can often undermine a family’s breastfeeding journey. Our formula feeding culture is not through the fault of any individual mother or indeed individual healthcare professionals. It’s the result of government not listening to society’s needs; it’s the fault of unscrupulous formula and bottle companies with some pretty amazing marketing strategies. I used to work in marketing – these formula campaigns are ruthless! The Politics of Breastfeeding (Palmer 2009) and Breastfeeding Uncovered (Brown 2016) are fabulous reads if you want to delve further into the impact of politics and commercial interests on breastfeeding.
So what change do we need? On International Women’s Day?
Fundamentally we all – families, supporters, employers, health professionals, politicians – we need to listen to the woman’s voice, the mother’s voice. The mother asking for support and the mothers who can offer the support. We need to celebrate the voices and the hard won wisdom of mothers who have had successful breastfeeding journeys, who have managed to overcome the many challenges they faced. Families who plan to breastfeed need to know what is normal. Many breastfeeding mums ARE happy to talk about their experiences and support and help other mums. But many shy away for fear of stimulating the breast vs. formula debate, the “mummy wars” that are so often fuelled by both the strong feelings of mothers who have been let down, and the deep pockets of the baby feeding industry. Very often the mums who formula feed have done so because they’ve been let down by gaps in the support around them. As mentioned before 8 out of ten women give up breastfeeding before they are ready to and many are not happy about it; this can even lead to an increased risk of postnatal depression (Borra et al; Brown et al). It’s not their fault but the guilt can lead to defensive conversations about how they feed their baby. It therefore shuts down the conversation around breastfeeding and we’re back to square one. These issues are what inspired UNICEF’s ongoing #changetheconversation campaign launched last year (Unicef Baby Friendly Initiative 2016).
Social media is full of private groups where breastfeeding mums have a “safe” place to share and support each other in their breastfeeding journeys without fear of upsetting mums who are not breastfeeding. But why should this be done in private? Why shouldn’t breastfeeding mums shout from the roof tops? It’s great to see that the government’s Start4Life campaign have recently requested to hear from breastfeeding mothers about their stories (Start4Life 2017). It’s a small step but one that may prove powerful. What we really need is to educate our children and our society on breastfeeding. I’m not just saying this because I’m a teacher, but if our children don’t know about it, what hope have we got to normalise it? Breastfeeding families also hold a special role, not shying away from sharing their experiences, but being bold for change and sharing what’s normal in the hope that we can normalise breastfeeding and make our “small” breastfeeding world everyone’s world.
Let’s celebrate the strength of mothers everywhere.
Borra C, M Iacovou and Q Sevilla 2014 New Evidence on Breastfeeding and Postpartum Depression: The Importance of Understanding Women’s Intentions Matern Child Health J DOI 10.1007/s10995-014-1591-z
Brown A, J Rance and P Bennett 2016 Understanding the relationship between breastfeeding and postnatal depression: the role of pain and physical difficulties. Journal of Advanced Nursing Volume 72 (2):273–282 DOI: 10.1111/jan.12832 [Accessed 6/3/2017]
Brown, A. (2016) Breastfeeding Uncovered, Pinter & Martin Ltd 2016
International Women’s Day 2017 https://www.internationalwomensday.com/
McAndrew F, Thompson J, Fellows L, Large A, Speed, M and Renfrew M (2012) Infant Feeding Survey 2010. The Information Centre for Health and Social Care. Available at http://www.esds.ac.uk/doc/7281/mrdoc/pdf/7281_ifsuk-2010_report.pdf
Palmer G 2009 The Politics of Breastfeeding: When Breasts are Bad for Business, Pinter & Martin Ltd.; 3rd Revised edition (29 April 2009)
Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative 2017 Supporting Breastfeeding https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/supporting-breastfeeding-make-it-happen/
Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative 2016 https://353ld710iigr2n4po7k4kgvv-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/babyfriendly/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2016/04/Call-to-Action-Unicef-UK-Baby-Friendly-Initiative.pdf
WBTi UK Report 2016 [ONLINE] Available at: https://ukbreastfeedingtrends.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/wbti-uk-report-2016-part-1-11-12-16.pdf [Accessed 30/12/16]