I wasn’t going to weigh in on this, but after the furore of blogs and opinions about Chef Jamie Oliver’s comments about a breastfeeding campaign, I had to say my bit. Feel free to switch off now if you’re tired of the “breast is best” or Naked Chef discussion.
Earlier this week, Jamie Oliver suggested that his next campaign might be about breastfeeding. Why breastfeeding? Because it’s easy, of course!
“Probably the most upsetting thing for me at the moment, and I’m desperately trying to scrabble around to get more information on it, breastfeeding. If you breastfeed for more than six months, women are 50 per cent less likely to get breast cancer. When do you ever hear that? Never. It’s easy, it’s more convenient, it’s more nutritious, it’s better, it’s free.”
He then went on to say that formula is not as good as the companies use some dreadful marketing techniques, before telling listeners on London’s LBC radio that not breastfeeding can lead to everything from “stunting to obesity to ill-health”.
Of course the world has gone batshit crazy over here, with women everywhere fighting over whether his comments were justified or not. Should a man be commenting on how easy breastfeeding supposedly is? Is it not down to personal choice? Is he shaming women who can’t or choose not to breastfeed?
Since making this statement, Mr Chef has since come forward and said he won’t be starting a breastfeeding campaign and that he meant to cause no offence. If I’m honest I do believe him. I think his intentions were probably good, however I wanted to discuss some of my thoughts on why some ladies got so upset about his comments.
From what I know, breastfeeding isn’t easy. Obviously I can’t draw on my own experience because Eden is not and has never been breastfed. But friends have told me varying things. Yes, some of them do find it terribly easy and get off on a great foot and have a lovely journey. Other friends have found it difficult at first before finding their groove and being able to continue. Other friends – and these are the ones that I think about when statements like this are made – have had horrific journeys where they have felt pressured and have endured great personal trauma all for breastfeeding. Have been refused formula whilst their baby screamed with hunger. Have been told that they’re not trying hard enough.
I don’t think people in the UK need to be told any more that “breast is best.” I really don’t. We know. Believe me, we know. Let’s take my experience, for example.
When I got pregnant, at my very first midwife appointment at just seven weeks pregnant, I was given a leaflet about infant feeding. It was about twenty pages about breastfeeding and one page entitled “the dangers of artificial feeding”. Not formula feeding. Artificial feeding. This told me that should I choose to feed my child “artificially”, she would be fat, stupid and would hate me. Research has shown that those things just aren’t true. Obesity, and IQ are more to do with socio-economic background than whether a child is breastfed or not, and whilst I don’t doubt that a breastfed baby has a different bond with its mother, a formula fed baby doesn’t miss out on a bond at all. Eden and I are very well bonded.
Every single appointment (until I changed hospitals) I had “breast is best” rammed down my throat. Every clinic had hundred of posters about how it is “easy, convenient, always the right temperature and always in plentiful supply”. I’m sure the breastfeeding mothers amongst you would tell me that is not always true. It’s not always easy, it’s not always convenient and it’s not always in plentiful supply.
As you know, I was refused formula for Eden when she was in hospital with jaundice. The expectation was that I should just take up breastfeeding. At one point Amy was given an empty bottle for me to express into, even though we had said repeatedly that Eden was bottle fed formula. That was incredibly upsetting and I would go as far as to say I was traumatised by the way I was treated. No one asked why we were formula feeding. It was just assumed that we were stupid and uneducated. No support was offered. They didn’t have my medical records, so for all they knew I could have been a double mastectomy patient, but that hospital didn’t care. It wasn’t about NHS money – I would have happily paid for formula. It wasn’t about the best treatment for Eden. All they cared about was ramming breastfeeding down everyone’s throat without prejudice or thought. It was about “breast is best”.
On the flip side, the hospital that I switched to and in which Eden was born were quite the opposite. The clinics were filled with posters like “have you thought about how you will feed your baby?” We were provided with information about breastfeeding and my midwife actually asked me at an appointment how we were planning on feeding Eden. When I said formula, she asked why. I explained our reasons and she said “ok”. That was it. No judgement. No “but you should breastfeed”. No ramming information down my throat. Our awesome midwife discussed our decision with me, satisfied herself that we had made an informed decision and that we knew the pros and cons of both methods of feeding, and then she moved the hell on.
That’s the way it should be. The vast majority of expectant mothers aren’t stupid. The vast majority of expectant mothers care about their baby from the moment they see two lines on that pregnancy test. Why are we treating expectant mothers and their partners like idiots? Why does the health system assume that it has to hide formula lest women choose it? Why won’t midwives and healthcare professionals talk about formula? Why won’t they talk about bottles? Why do they hide it like it is the absolute worst thing that you could possibly do for your child?
To put it straight, I do believe that people who wish to breastfeed should be fully supported to do so. It is hard and it’s ok to need and accept support. I also think a number of other things too – like healthcare professionals should be realistic that breastfeeding is hard but is worth it if you want to stick with it and that formula is not the devil’s milk and is not dangerous to children. People like to chant “breast is best” at every opportunity and, in my opinion, all that does is imply than anything less than breastfeeding is not best. It’s less. The connotation being that if you bottle feed (whether that be breast milk or formula) you aren’t doing the best for your child. You are not doing your best as a mother. You don’t care about your child. You’re useless and a bad mother. All because of a feeding choice that fairly often isn’t a choice at all. People like to say that only 0.02% of women actually “can’t” breastfeed, but this only covers physical reasons. Psychological reasons are just as real and apart from anything, it is OK to make a choice. It’s fine. It’s your body and your baby and it is your choice to make. Trying and failing to breastfeed is apparently one of the leading causes of Post Natal Depression, which is something worth talking about. How could these women have been supported better? Women like Charlotte Bevan, who walked out of a maternity ward and jumped off a cliff, along with her three day old baby after stopping her psychiatric meds in order to breastfeed. Both of them died. Was breast best in this situation? Or should her individual circumstances have been taken into account and advice tailored accordingly?
This is backed up by the fact that at many hospitals in England, health care professionals are not allowed to give information on formula under the “UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative”. They can talk to you about breastfeeding until you are all blue in the face and you know all you need to know and more, but they will not give you ANY information about formula. Nothing. Not how to prepare it safely – which is super important. Not how often to feed – I had a community midwife tell me “just feed her until she’s sick” when I asked how much Eden should be eating at five days old. There’s no standardised information about formula and in fact a lot of health visitors and midwives claim to know very little about it. Do formula feeding mothers not deserve support and information too?
They will say nothing except how “dangerous” it is. Almost like it’s taboo. Like we shouldn’t be talking about formula. Like we should hide it away lest these “stupid mothers who know nothing” get ideas. In England, you can’t get store points on formula. It’s categorised the same as cigarettes. The same as alcohol. No store points, lest it encourages those terrible “bad mothers“. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know anyone who would choose to formula feed just for the store points! Even the cartons of formula say “breast milk is best for your baby. Please consult a medical professional before using a substitute”. Really? That’s a lovely reminder to a woman who couldn’t breastfeed. Just add a couple more points to the pile of shame there. You can’t access information online about formula feeding without clicking a disclaimer to say that you understand that breast milk is best for babies and formula is less. I don’t know why you would access a formula company’s website if you were offended by information about formula. It’s incredibly difficult to find accurate information about formula.
Indeed Jamie Oliver in his original statement made a point of saying how terrible the formula industry is. Fact is, in poor countries, I agree that formula shouldn’t be encouraged like it was in poor parts of Africa by sales reps dressed as nurses. How do you sterilise a bottle? Where are you getting clean water to make up the formula? All this did was cause women to try to make the expensive cartons last as long as possible and led to malnutrition and children dying – all because those mothers were told “formula is best”. It was disgusting and it was wrong. But in the UK, where we can make up formula safely, we can sterilise our equipment and we can make sure there is enough for growing babies, what’s the problem? A lot of the benefits of breastfeeding are vastly overstated and although you will never be able to replicate the hormones, fats and antibodies that are contained in breastmilk, formula is far from harmful for children. Feeding your child formula is nothing to be ashamed of, but all we do by not talking about it and chanting “breast is best” is make women feel like they are doing something wrong by feeding their children the best way that they can.
Getting back to my original point – we need to concentrate more on education, not pressure. From the moment I got pregnant it was like a pressure cooker. You will be breastfeeding, won’t you? Breast is best you know! Breastfeeding is easy. Breast is best. Did you know that formula fed babies are fat and stupid? Breast is best. BREAST IS BEST. BREAST IS BEST! BREASTS! BREASTS!
Don’t just tell me “breast is best”. How about the NHS produce a non biased leaflet that tells me the pros and cons of all methods of feeding? Give me the whole story. Tell me about the difficulties I might have faced had I chosen to breastfeed, but also reassure me of what support is available in my area. Tell me that if I can’t breastfeed, that’s ok. I’m not a failure and my child won’t hate me. Tell me that feeding my child is the most important of all the things. Tell me that a lot of the myths aren’t true. Formula fed babies don’t necessarily sleep longer and breastfed babies aren’t always healthier. Breastfeeding does sometimes hurt and formula fed babies often still cluster feed. Breastfeeding very rarely comes naturally like some magical Disney movie, but THAT’S OK. Wade through the myths and legends and get down to nothing but facts. Find out WHY women are choosing not to breastfeed and DAMMIT respect the choices of grown adults! But make sure I have all of the information that I need. I’m all for encouraging women to breastfeed, but only if they want to. And only through encouragement, not through shaming. Not just “breast is best”. We don’t need another person chanting “breast is best”. WE KNOW!
Shaming is never best. Breast isn’t always best. Formula isn’t always best. Bottle feeding isn’t always best. Tube feeding isn’t always best. Fed is best, and that’s all we should be worrying about. We’re all doing a fantastic job, no matter how we are doing it. Let’s quit with “breast is best” and start giving women all the information they need, because only telling one side of the story is nothing short of dangerous.
(As an aside, if anyone is having difficulty accessing ubiased information on formula feeding, I recommend The Fearless Formula Feeder’s Website.)
Completely agree with all of your points and you have written it in a way that I wish I had! I wrote an article on it because I was appalled by Jamie Oliver’s choice of language, that it’s “easy” etc. It appeared on the Huffington Post and on the whole people have been very supportive but there have also been some people who really don’t agree and don’t want to listen to why I wrote the article. Never mind I appreciate that it is an emotive subject which is why I think that you have written it so brilliantly here, it is a very measured piece of writing. Like you say I don’t think we need more lecturing instead we should be looking at how to support new Mums, whatever choice they make, as this is sometimes very lacking in hospitals. x
It’s such a hard one as there are obviously prejudices on both sides. And there are also people that will push one side over the other no matter what. Like I said, I think we need ladies to be given unbiased info and be allowed to make their own decision. I wonder if breastfeeding rates would actually rise from women feeling like they are in control and not just under pressure?
Thanks for reading x
This is a very concise and well thought out, well written article. You have really calm and measured views on an extremely emotive subject. Thanks so much for linking up with us. #bigpinklink
Thanks for reading 🙂 It’s one of those subjects that everyone is very passionate about
It bothers me because while people are chanting breast is best in the US women are repeatedly shamed for breastfeeding in public. People post photos of these moms on social media to shame them but then tell moms who are formula feeding they are bad parents. It is amazing to me the conflicting messages out there and the audacity of people to judge someone before they hear their story or how about just don’t judge. As you said majority of moms do their research and make the best choices for them and their families.
Exactly. I don’t think anyone should be judging anyone else. And people should feed wherever and however they like. Kid’s gotta eat!
Very well said! I don’t know how it is in the UK, but here in the U.S., it’s a shit show of “Breast is best, unless you plan to do it in public, then you better hide in the bathroom, because that shit is disgusting, and don’t you dare ask for special treatment at work in order to pump and/or leave work to feed your baby, because breastfeeding is a CHOICE, and so is having kids at all, for that matter!”
Yeah I’ve heard that about the US and it makes me sick. Over here I know ladies have been shamed for BF in public same as I was called “disgusting” a few weeks ago for bottle feeding. People quite frankly need to butt out and feed their own children without worrying how others are feeding, and mums need to be supported however they feed
Ugh with the “breastfeeding is easy” crap. Take me, for example – I had a huge oversupply, I could easily have fed twins and had milk left over to freeze. But my little guy never latched. From the first moment on, he couldn’t figure it out. I was told I had the flattest nipples the lactation consultant has ever seen. I was assured by every lactation consultant I saw that by 6 weeks they would “pop” out as the baby pulls them out. Did NOT happen – not only did I try to breastfeed but I pumped with a hospital grade double pump (Medela Symphony) 8x per day during that time and as soon as the pumping or feeding session was over, those nipples were flat again. Then they told me that my son had a recessed lower jaw which would make it very difficult for him to latch. This wasn’t something he would grow out of. Finally he was also diagnosed with silent reflux which meant that breastfeeding was actually agony for him as he would feed while lying flat and regurgitate the milk right away. The GI specialist then told me that often babies with reflux choose not to latch because it’s painful for them to feed lying down. And yet despite all of this, a woman I know who is a breastfeeding nazi told me that I could “benefit” from the supplemental feeding system (i.e. the little tube you tape to your breast and feed the baby expressed milk or formula out of the tube that comes out next to your nipple so the baby learns to latch while getting milk). Well I was tired of this all so I kept pumping and then eventually moved to supplementing and now he mostly gets formula with me pumping only 2x per day. I need to wean completely in the next few weeks so we can do another IVF cycle, because you can’t breastfeed and do stims.
I’m sorry you went through all of that. It sounds horrendous! You’re doing a great job x
I think you are right I doubt he meant to offend anyone but quite frankly as he doesn’t even has the option to decide to try it!! So he should butt out. As you quite rightly say the last thing we need is more pressure or opinion. As long as baby is fed and loved (which goes without saying) who cares? And those that do really should get a life and worry about something more significant! I did breast feed solely until 10 weeks and then combination until 5 months when I returned to work. I only started combination feeding as I was under pressure from my mother in law who never breastfed and had her own opinions on its place. At the time I wasn’t happy with the decision. This time round (I am due in 5 weeks) I will make my own decisions depending on baby and how I feel, I will be giving breastfeeding ago and I am open to combination again. But one thing I do know this time round is that it will be on my terms and to hell with everyone else, I really think your post will inspire first time mums to stand their ground whatever their decision. Thank you for joining us at #BloggerClubUK hope to see you again next week x
Exactly. I think we should be able to have a conversation about feeding without judgement or people feeling the need to justify themselves. I know too many women who immediately jump on the defensive of how they feed and it’s because of the way they’ve been treated, they feel like they have to. It’s a shame, because we’re all just feeding our babies
My friend who is a GP calls a lot of nurses/midwives the ‘breastfeeding Nazis’. She knows that breast is good and that formula is good. She has empathy and knows (from her own experience) how hard breastfeeding can be, what a drag it is pumping, how hard it was to wean her daughter off the nipple to go back to work. She says she would never push any patient of hers either way; she may discuss with them with sensitivity but would never say they had to do one way or another. She’s a doctor so she knows all the health stuff but she’s also a very down to earth, practical person – and she knows that either way your baby will be FINE. And btw, I agree, Jamie as a man doesn’t really have a right to spout off on this. I can’t imagine ANY MAN I know putting up with what women put up with as regards periods, pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding….
Yeah I think that’s the crux. Women shouldn’t be pressured either way. Your friend sounds awesome.