Why have people been so annoyed with Jamie Oliver?

When asked what he was going to do next now the sugar fax has been introduced Jamie Oliver said he was concerned about breastfeeding rates being so low in the UK. He admitted he was still researching it, but he made the following points:

  • “We have the worst breastfeeding (rates) in the world”
  • “If you breastfeed for more than 6 months you are 50% less likely to get breast cancer. When do you ever hear that?”
  • “It’s easy, it’s more convenient, it’s more nutritious, it’s better, it’s free”.
  • He went on to suggest that improving breastfeeding rates would help tackle childhood obesity.

Ok so saying it is "easy" was a red flag, but I have to agree with him: once breastfeeding is established it is easy. And I say that as someone who spent months in tears of pain feeding their baby, as someone who had to walk around the house topless for weeks due to the open wounds on my nipples which hurt too much to have anything touch them. And who went on to breastfeed my daughter into toddlerhood.

I'm not writing this as a righteous mother saying "I did it, you can too if you try hard enough" because I don't believe that. I recognise that for a while variety of reasons breastfeeding isn't for everyone, but it frustrates me that the facts about breastfeeding always have to be said with caution for fear of upsetting people. Why do people get so upset?

There are a number of women who choose never to breastfeed their babies. I have a friend who knew she would never try because the idea made her feel queasy. The relationship between mother and child is hugely important and if breastfeeding is going to have a negative impact on that it is sensible to choose another option. Those who decide breastfeeding isn’t for them after starting also fall into this group.

These ladies shouldn't have a problem with information improving to help new moms make an informed choice or those struggling to breastfeed getting better support. They've made their decision and they should own it. Everyone else should respect their decision.

I choose to continue to eat too much sugar and too much generally with the knowledge that this will have a negative impact on my health. It's my choice and I accept the consequences.

There is another group of mothers, a very small percent, who are believed to be genuinely unable to breastfeed. It's not known the exact figures but it's thought somewhere between 2 and 5 per cent of women can't produce enough breastmilk to sustain their baby. This group needs sensitivity, but they shouldn't feel any guilt. They had no more control over their milk supply than over their eye colour. These women should be helped to accept the situation if they need support, something which would probably be provided if breastfeeding support was better funded.

The 3rd and largest group of women who I suspect have an issue with conversations about breastfeeding are those who wanted to breastfeed, who tried, but had to stop for a reason outside of their control.

Through volunteering as chair of my local NCT branch, blogging and generally talking to a lot of mums I have heard a lot of stories about why people stopped (or were never able to start) breastfeeding and they make me angry. I sit there silently seething. The women have a huge range of emotions about it from feeling totally ok to really upset, from guilty to feeling a failure, but I feel just one: anger. Ok maybe I feel a bit sad too.

The reason for my anger is that in their stories I can often hear the little things which were said which made their journey more difficult. Actions or words by others which undermined the new mum’s ability to get feeding established. Midwives, doctors, health visitors, friends, family and advertising all have a huge impact on if a new mum can establish breastfeeding successfully. Comments such as "he's a lazy baby, he can't be bothered to suck", "he's not following his weight percentile", "try stopping breastfeeding for a week" have all been told to new mums by professionals. Even the question "how often does she feed?" feels loaded. What's the correct answer? Replying "I feed my baby as often as she wants it, sometimes that's 3 hourly, but in the evening or in a growth spurt it can be hourly or more often" has been met with the loaded "as long as you are ok with that?". My baby’s behaviour is normal, very normal, but the question makes me feel I'm doing something wrong. Why? Because ultimately there isn't enough information out there about what is normal. 

If you are feeding frequently it's so easy to feel your baby isn't getting enough.

If your baby is waking frequently at night it is so easy to think that they aren't getting enough.

If they are fussy or crying for hours at a time it is so easy to think the cause is breastmilk or a inadequate supply.

With these concerns the suggestion is often to supplement or move completely to formula. Why is it that rarely the response is: "let's work on increasing your supply and see if it helps?". 

Those struggling to get breastfeeding established will seek advice from doctors, midwives, health visitors, peer supporters and breastfeeding consultants, but often the problem can be subtle and in the hugely complex world of breastfeeding a couple of days training may not be enough to help these providers to identify the problem. Do you know how much training they had on breastfeeding before providing that advice? It can be as little as a day and may even have been provided by a company which sells formula. How much research have these companies done to try and ensure women successfully breastfeed.

So I'm angry because while there is a lot of "support" out there, the number who have enough training to help complex problems is not enough. There also isn't enough support available at the right time (the first 24 hours and when the milk comes in) meaning that by the time help is asked for minor issues may have affected supply and become more significant. 

When I had my second child a couple of months ago the midwives were very busy and the 4 new mum's were left over night to themselves unless they called the midwives away from someone in labour. One mother was crying by the early hours and begging for formula because she hadn't got the support she needed. No mother should be in that position, but things won't change without a huge investment. The sort of investment a campaign by a well known figure could help support.

While Jamie Oliver has said he doesn’t plan to start a breastfeeding campaign (and who can blame him given the backlash) I think everyone should support the view that breastfeeding support and education needs more investment in this country. The long and short term benefits to health are huge.
To breastfeed or not? A personal choice, but one which should be respected 

Every women should make an informed choice and have that decision respected. They should feel confident enough in their decision that they are not upset or sensitive to conversations about breastfeeding. Every new mum should get the support needed to make that decision. The mother's who didn't get the support they needed should feel angry and join in to  campaign to change this so other women aren't in the same position. Every mother wants the best for their child and no mother should feel guilty for doing their best based on the information and support available to them. 

Side note: dad's play a huge part in getting breastfeeding established successfully, but the worst emotions and pressure are often on the mother alone hence my focus in this post.

No comments

Thanks for your comment (unless it's spam in which case, why?)