There’s been a lot in the media in the last few days about Jamie Oliver. Having struck a victory over the addictive substance infiltrating young people worldwide (sugar) with the incoming sugar tax in the UK, he wasn’t one to rest on his laurels. While announcing another new addition to the Oliver clan (this will be their fifth child), Jamie Oliver stated in a radio interview that he would look to campaign about the benefits of breastfeeding babies as to hopefully increase the numbers of breastfeeding mothers in the UK. His comments, in particular his description of the task as “easy”, have seen him slated around the various social media outlets and certain publications – he is being demonised for “mansplaining” breastfeeding to women who know better.
But you know, I think he has a point, and his use of the word “easy” isn’t what you should be getting angry about.
He described breastfeeding in positive terms:
â€œWe need to support the women of Britain to breastfeed more anywhere they want to,â€ said Jamie Oliver. â€œBe supported, be informed. Itâ€™s easy, itâ€™s more convenient, itâ€™s more nutritious, itâ€™s better, itâ€™s free.â€
Let’s break it down, shall we? His statement is divided into two halves, the latter getting more of the attention than the main message which is delivered in the first section.
Women need support. Women are not getting the support. Therefore levels of women breastfeeding their babies is dropping, and unless the amount of support changes, that isn’t going to differ any time soon.
As a first time mum in early 2014, I was made aware of the lactation consultant in a rather brushed off way by the midwife who ran through the various how-to-keep-your-baby-alive leaflets before discharging me. It hadn’t been mentioned to me before the birth, and the only real mention of breastfeeding beforehand was at one of my earlier hospital checkups where it was a question on a form “Do You Plan To Breastfeed”. At 22, I wasn’t regularly surrounded by breastfeeding mothers, and hadn’t really had much experience of it – but ever the optimist, I took the attitude of, “Sure, we’ll see how it goes”.
My baby was small. A little scut at just 2.5kg, and practically from the second he was placed in my arms, it felt like the “top up” bottles were being pushed on us. He was being closely watched as he was jaundiced and not great at keeping his temp regulated, so I wasn’t in any fit state to question what the experts were telling me to do. His first night was spent mostly in the nursery while my epidural wore off, and when I got him back I was told he’d been given a bottle. What I wasn’t told was that these early bottle top ups, however well meaning, would compromise the start of my breastfeeding journey with him.
He was a crap feeder for the first two days – he fell asleep after only a minute or two of feeding, but then would be constantly feeding or sleeping, no in between time. I remember one midwife, at nighttime, coming in and helping me with feeding him in a chair and in that moment I felt like this was something I could do – it was working, and I was reassured that she would come back to help me if I needed it. She was the only one though – and it isn’t something I blame the other midwives for, rather an overstretched service with overworked and undervalued midwifery staff who simply don’t have the time to sit for the ages it takes to make sure that a tiny baby gets that latch just right.
In the weeks after, we suffered from no-meals-without-nipple-shields-itis, low (and no) weight gain, and dips in confidence. Initially I was happy to feed in public, had no issue with it but as time went on this confidence fell away and I found myself using the now mandatory top-up formula feeds as my out-of-the-house feeds. How bloody inconvenient. I want to go back and shake that girl and tell her there’s nothing wrong with breastfeeding in public, that nobody cares, nobody is looking at you and all they can see is the babies head. But in those early vulnerable days of motherhood, it felt like the whole world was looking, judging, waiting for this tiny baby to have it’s mother not get it right – so I stuck to what it felt like society was happiest with – baby being fed from a bottle.
I lasted 9 weeks breastfeeding, and after that switched full-time to formula. I had one visit with the lactation consultant in CUMH, an amazing woman who I only wish I’d gone to earlier, who managed to get E off his nipple shield habit (messy things) and was full of encouragement. By then though, the damage had been done. All those top-up feeds had meant there was less demand for breast milk and my supply was suffering. There are so many things I would do differently if I had the time again. Experience and education have changed my views on so many different things, and shared experience with others is a major player in that. Some incredible bloggers I follow are true breastfeeding inspirations to me, and they document their journeys (good, bad and ugly) for all to see. Some of my favourites in this regard are Bumbles of Rice, Mama.ie, MindTheBaby.ie, The Airing Cupboard and At The Clothesline.
We need to get angry that this is the status quo in our maternity hospitals in the UK and Ireland – that isn’t Jamie Oliver’s fault. We need to get angry that the good side of breastfeeding – after the pain, the mastitis, the fussy baby who refuses to latch, the lopsided boobs when you forget which side you fed from last – isn’t being pushed enough in our education system to show that the benefits outweigh the cons. This argument isn’t about putting down formula feeding mums – it’s about making sure that the choice is in the hands of the mother, and isn’t just down to the support not being there for her to make that choice.
I’m sad to see that as a result of the backlash from his comments, Jamie Oliver has reduced the emphasis on a “campaign” to promote breastfeeding – merely stating that it is an interest of his – having seen the great progress he has made in educating the greater public about nutrition for the masses, I feel it’s something he could do real great work in.
Just because Jamie Oliver doesn’t have boobs, doesn’t mean he can’t support them. We need a real change in opinion, in funding and in prioritising women’s and children’s health instead of just going for the “easy option”. Nobody should have to choose a method due to lack of support – it should be their choice to make with all options open to them.
Hopefully this is just the start of a conversation, instead of just another battle in the seemingly endless “Mummy Wars”. We need to make it happen.