World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) (#WBW2017) takes place from 1 – 7 August 2017. It is an initiative led by The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), supported by UNICEF, the World Health Organisation (WHO), and many breastfeeding organisations worldwide. It is now in its 25th year and it is all about working together for the common good.
In 2016 WABA started the journey to achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by demonstrating the importance of breastfeeding to each SDG. However, these goals cannot be achieved without strong partnerships at all levels. The theme of SDG 17 is “Partnerships for the Goals”, which highlights the vital importance of partnerships between all organisations working towards a sustainable future. This partnership theme echoes WBTi’s own emphasis on the importance of building partnerships and collaboration. #WBW2017 calls on all those involved to forge new and purposeful partnerships. The objectives for this year’s campaign are Inform, Anchor, Engage and Galvanise.
By Laura Godfrey-Isaacs
Picking up on this year’s campaign themes, a group of midwives at King’s College Hospital in London, including the Director of Midwifery, specialist midwives in Infant Feeding and myself, have come together to devise a campaign to support and celebrate breastfeeding at the Trust, and beyond.
Our ideas are based around the social media phenomenon of the ‘brelfie’ – a breastfeeding selfie. Celebrities and women of all backgrounds have posted these, often in defiant response to breastfeeding shaming in public. Many have gone viral, and last year WHO declared that the brelfie was a significant tool in normalising and empowering women to breastfeed. This is something that would be highly desirable to see in the UK where we have some of the worst breastfeeding rates in the world, and little acceptance of it in public. This was highlighted recently in a disastrous advertising campaign by the skincare brand Dove (owned by Unilever) which featured posters that appeared to endorse negative public attitudes towards breastfeeding, stating “75% say breastfeeding in public is fine, 25% say put them away, what’s your way?” which received much push back on social media.
Embarrassment about breastfeeding in public
In addition the TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson outrageously equated breastfeeding in public to urinating, suggesting women should go ‘to a little room to do it’, presumably the toilet, and Claridge’s Hotel famously asked a woman to cover up while breastfeeding in their restaurant. Breastfeeding women have to endure these and many other ‘everyday’ incidences that include negative comments and looks, despite breastfeeding in public being protected in law by the Equalities Act since 2010, and our culture being saturated by women’s breasts being used to sell newspapers, promote music and advertise countless products – an environment, that, as performance poet and birth advocate Hollie McNish puts so well, in her award-winning poem ‘Embarrassed’ is ‘covered in tits’.
What I have also experienced first-hand, as a midwife, is many women telling me they feel nervous about breastfeeding in public, which highlights the lack of cultural support and acceptance that inevitably has a negative impact on women’s ability to sustain the practice, with all the constituent results for both her, the baby and society. More and more evidence points to the importance of breastfeeding on a cultural, public health, psychosocial, ecological and economic level, and the need to support, protect and promote it in all aspects of healthcare and society, as well as asserting breastfeeding as a human right for both babies and women.
The WBTi report identified many barriers along a mother’s breastfeeding journey. Among these there is a disconnect between exhortations to mothers to breastfeed and a prevailing negative attitude towards breastfeeding in public. This can lead to women feeling they are to blame for ‘failing’ to breastfeed, and over 80% give up before they want to. Cultural factors need to be addressed, which is where the power of the brelfie and social media campaigns can – and do – have a really positive effect in shifting attitudes and encouraging activism on the issue.
#KingsBrelfie campaign for #WBW2017
The #KingsBrelfie campaign links to Indicator 6 of the World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative Report, which calls for community mother support for breastfeeding, as it will open up discussions with women about their own, and society’s attitudes to breastfeeding. It will help us encourage, support and signpost them to online and healthcare provided sources of information and facilitation, such as our King’s Milk Spot centres in the community. Our campaign will use images of King’s midwives breastfeeding, which also points to our commitment as a community of women together – midwives and women – and hopefully steer away from some of the negative feelings around midwives’ use of ‘advocacy rhetoric’ which women can unfortunately sometimes experience as pressure and judgment. As highlighted in WBTi’s Indicator 7 (communication and information) which calls for a national communications strategy around infant feeding, and for promotional activities including World Breastfeeding Week, we are directly exploring new ways to use communication strategies, that are women-led, to address the cultural barriers to breastfeeding in the UK, through an inclusive social media campaign.
The #KingsBrelfiecampaign is an invitation to all women to post a brelfie on social media during World Breastfeeding Week using the hashtag to help change attitudes, support mothers and assert the right to breastfeed wherever, and whenever women want or need to.
So let’s create a social media storm and celebrate women and breastfeeding together!
King’s midwife and birth activist