Did you catch Channel 4’s Dispatches “Breastfeeding Uncovered” this week? The half an hour programme was fronted by Kate Quilton, who has recently given birth to her own child and experienced the challenges and emotional labour that comes with establishing breastfeeding a newborn.
The programme began by covering the science behind what is in breastmilk. I found myself nodding and saying “Yes!” out loud when the researcher explained that there was a fatty acid in breastmilk called arachidonic acid and one of its many uses when absorbed by a newborn was as a natural painkiller in babies. From my own experience I would say that my boobs were magic as they acted as a cure-all for almost any ailment with my girls. If they were tired? Stick ‘em on the boob! If they were teething? Stick ‘em on the boob! If they had a cold/hurt themselves/were frightened? You guessed it, stick ‘em on the boob! Breastmilk is so complex and amazing.
Kate then moved on to focusing on the support and facilities available for women who are breastfeeding. In an interview with Emma Pickett, chair of the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, Emma highlighted that as a country we are promoting women to breastfeed at a time when cuts to public services meant that crucial support services were being closed.
“To promote breastfeeding and not be able to support you to do it – that is inhumane”.
Public reaction to breastfeeding was also explored, with vox pops from people on the street. Views included “I don’t really like the thought if breastfeeding, it kind of grosses me out a bit”, “it might make some men feel uncomfy because men are a bit obsessed with things like that these days” and “I don’t think it’s something to be shared with the rest of the world. It’s a personal thing between a mother and child and it’s not a spectator sport.”
As I watched these people say those things I got angry. Really angry. I shouted at the television with the following responses:
If it grosses you out, don’t look.
Women should not avoid breastfeeding in public because it might make men feel ‘uncomfy’. Those men who can’t cope with thinking that breasts might serve more than purpose can not look (and also grow up).
Should a woman only breastfeed in isolation or with no one else around? Hell no! That person was right about one thing. Breastfeeding is not a spectator sport. That means that people can look, see that a woman is feeding her child and look away. Leave the mother and baby in peace to get on with what has to be one of the most natural things in the world.
As a society, we must support breastfeeding women in a variety of ways. We must demand government-funded structured support from people trained and skilled to work with women with feeding difficulties. I have signed myself up to a Breastfeeding Peer Supporter course to begin my journey in being able to work with women to succeed at breastfeeding.
As individuals we can encourage and acknowledge those women who are breastfeeding in public. It might seem ‘un-British’ but a simple smile, or “keep going, Mama!” may give that women the boost of confidence and acceptance that she needs. I’ve just purchased a set of cards from Hello Treacle to use when I see a woman breastfeeding.
I’m so ready to start the training later in the year and excited to start using the cards.
So, did you watch the programme? What did you make of it? Do you think my solutions above will work? Please share your thoughts with me, I’d love to know!