Is breast best?

November 12, 2013

In this world that we live in we basically thrash around on our own figuring things out as we go along, until that is  you become pregnant and motherhood beckons, this of course is when women become public property and everything you eat, drink, wear, touch and breathe will be commented on and criticised and you will have more advice than you can handle and with so much of it contradictory it’s quite possible your head may explode. For example on today’s news a new initiative was announced; £200 of shopping vouchers would be offered to Mums to encourage them to breast feed for six months, this would happen in a few selected areas, areas of deprivation. all I could think when I heard this was ‘Oh FFS!’ More guilt, more pressure, more interference. Isn’t information giving meant to be about empowering women to make their own decisions? NOT about emotionally manipulating them to agree with you?

Perhaps before I go into rant mode about the rights or wrongs of breast-feeding I should give you my credentials, I have none, I’m not a health professional I am just a Mum. However I remember when pregnant at 18 my boyfriend told me that I should breast feed as it would be best for our baby and I still remember the abject horror I felt, I remember arguing with him, I remember crying with revulsion at the thought and telling him it wouldn’t happen. I was always self-conscious about my body and already hated my big breasts, I did however research breast-feeding because I never seen it, if anyone I knew had ever been breast-fed I never knew it and it was never generally discussed. I was a bottle fed baby and I was a perfectly healthy individual what difference did it really make? my Mum and her generation were sold formula milk and bottles as the clean, hygienic option also as the option where you could guarantee quality and quantity, you could see that your baby was being fed the correct amount, also breast feeding causes saggy boobs is still a belief and regardless of the attitude of health professionals now these ideas sold to those past generations of women still persist today. Anyway eventually I changed my mind and decided to give breast-feeding a go at least for a few weeks (this was in 1985). It was six months later when I stopped breast-feeding and I went on and breast-fed all my other children for six to eight months each.

As it turned out breast-feeding for me was an extremely rewarding experience though not without its issues. Initially I looked like I had two over inflated footballs down my top and nothing fitted me, it was very uncomfortable and feeding was very difficult, but after five days it had settled down then for the first few weeks as my uterus contracted feeding increased the frequency and intensity of my contractions, causing me pain and discomfort, this could put many Mums off. My breasts filling (the milk coming in) with milk also caused me breast pain, unfortunately for me this pain never went away, the pain only lasted for about five minutes until the baby started to feed properly but it was every feed for the whole six months. For many women this pain only lasts for the first few weeks but once again can put many off in the first few weeks. I also suffered cracked nipples, Mastitis (with my first), leaking, and to be quite frank giant boobs which aren’t great, they’re heavy, uncomfortable and intrusive, forget jogging or exercise to regain fitness. When the six months was up and I gave up breast-feeding there was a certain amount of regret and sadness but there was also a sense of relief at getting my body and my time back, but not just that but the ability to go anywhere at any time, because whipping out a bottle to feed a crying baby is far less problematic than your breast.

How can £200 in shopping vouchers address these issues? How can £200 solve the problem that breasts first and foremost are seen as sexual objects? Look at page 3 it’s out there every day a clear indicator that breasts are for others to look at and that they should look a certain way, the breast shape, the nipple and areola need to be neat and perfect, slight variations are allowed but not much and the bigger the breasts are the more likely a woman is seen as ‘sluttish’ so where does that leave the breast-feeding mother? In my experience and of those I’ve talked too, they are desperate to hide themselves; but of course that is very easy to do in a society where they want you to hide away in public toilets, changing rooms and the occasional feeding room which frequently has an uncomfortable dining room chair, if you can find which member of staff has the key to that room in the first place that is and they’re not knocking on the door after five minutes asking you if you’ve finished, also assuming you can get your pram in there in the first place, Mummies you will struggle when you leave the house on your own because the outside really is trying to exclude you. Health professionals may say ‘breast is best’ but the world outside don’t want to see it and if people never see it why would they then emulate this so-called breast is best behaviour? Health Professionals all recognise that new Mums can become isolated and that this is a problem, can they not also see that breast-feeding can compound that isolation? Where is the support? Where are the places that are safe from gawking and judgemental eyes and where are the other Mums that breast feed?

Basically breast-feeding is easier if you never leave the house and you have a 100% supportive partner, because take it from me breast-feeding is extremely time-consuming; this leads to the other issue with breast-feeding; time, time taken feeding, time taken whilst out to prepare for feeding and the time that society allots women for getting back to ‘normal’ both physically and in lifestyle. for example women are applauded when they recover their ‘figure’ and the quicker the better if you read media headlines and then of course maintaining the perfectly clean and tidy home, continuing the perfect career and of course returning to the bedroom just as sexy as before; sorry to say this but breast-feeding gets in the way of all this. Dear health professionals £200 in shopping vouchers doesn’t address these issues. What that £200 does is imply that breast-feeding is a class and cost issue, it implies that lack of breast-feeding is an education problem, the truth is none of these; Because indirectly and directly women are bombarded daily by messages of how they should look and be and it isn’t compatible with the image of the breast-feeding Mum. In the majority of cases Mum’s Mothers and Grandmothers didn’t breast feed and these are the people Mums will look to for advice before the Health Professional and ultimately when these Mums are healthy can you blame them for questioning advice? Has being bottle fed disadvantaged me? How can I tell? How can a Health Professional really tell?

Don’t get me wrong I would recommend breast-feeding, I enjoyed it and in the main I found it easy and convenient but there are advantages to bottle feeding and Health Professionals need to acknowledge this; there is far too much pressure put on Mothers to perform correctly, there too much guilt and blame attached to Mums who don’t tow the party line, women are individuals with unique lives, they have many people to please, needs to be met and goals to reach so why should they listen to a stranger who waltzes into their lives uninvited? Women may not be able to breast feed they may simply not want too, they may try and then give up, maybe they are just tired of everything being their responsibility and bottle feeding means that they can share it? But whatever their reasons isn’t it time that we respected their decisions? And maybe if Health Professionals really want to bring about change maybe looking at page 3 and the media and the facilities and support for Mums needs to be the things that they try to change first?


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Caroline Criado-Perez

A Pox on the Patriarchy


Lady things, explained.


"I have long argued that the giving of offence, and even hate speech, should be a moral matter but not a matter for the criminal law. That is as true on the football pitch as on the streets. We should always challenge racism. We should also always challenge attacks on liberties in the guise of faux antiracism." Kenan Malik

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