Right, I’m going to come out and say it, I breastfed both of my children.
Phew, glad to get that off my (fairly well used) chest.
To discuss breastfeeding is such a prickly subject and one which I’ve stayed away from as it can invoke some very strong feelings.
However, ever since Jamie Oliver adopted the ‘breast is best’ campaign for his own, I’ve begun to seethe a little. He has been so drastically anti formula feeding that his argument is, I believe, lost before it began. He, and his wife Jools may have had only positive experiences of breastfeeding, but like anything, it’s not the same for everyone.
He appears to be approaching it as if ‘breast milk’ is the high class option on a supermarket shelf, like organic chicken or free range eggs, a lifestyle choice for those educated enough to want to do it.
Yes, breast milk is free, yes it has amazing nutritional qualities for your baby and yes it really is the most magical substance for the impressive things it can do (did you know that breast milk is tailored to your baby for that particular time of day? It can fight germs specifically to your baby), and yes, it is available on time, any time at the right temperature.
If you can do it.
What Jamie O has managed to overlook is the huge amount of women who can’t (not through lack of trying) feed, or just don’t want to. For every woman I know who bottle feeds her baby – and I do mean every – they have an underlying sense of guilt that they didn’t do the best for their child.
And for every woman who breastfeeds (at least the ones I’ve spoken to so far) whilst there is an amazing sense of achievement that they’ve nourished their babies from day one, it comes with its own price. If, like me, expressing just didn’t pan out as you’d hoped (ah, the glamour of being milked like a cow), that means the baby is reliant on you, and only you – every time they need a feed. So those night feeds when Daddy can step in so you can catch up on sleep? That can’t happen. Those growth spurts when you’d eagerly give your baby to ANYONE to take yet another bottle, impossible. Instead you spend an entire day on the sofa, unable to do anything because the baby is sucking you dry.
Breastfeeding is hard work. And at a time when you need to look after yourself I don’t believe it’s the right answer every time. If I could have talked to me a few years ago, I’d have told me that I didn’t need to breastfeed exclusively to be a good mother.
To have someone as high profile as Jamie O, telling women the only way is breast, is to ensure that the pressure which is piled on as soon as you’re pregnant is increased 100% (I mean really, serious pressure to breastfeed when pregnant. Followed by pressure on the ward as soon as you’ve had baby to do it. And then health visitors marking it in the evil red book if you’re having problems ‘mum’s considering dropping feeding, advised her not to’…).
By all means educate women in the choices they can make. But make sure it’s clear it is a choice. ‘You have breasts you must use them’, is like saying if you don’t have a vaginal birth you haven’t done it properly, or if you don’t wean your babies on anything less than organic pureed vegetable, you suck as a mum.
Everything we do as parents is a choice. No one needs to dictate what is best for you.
Because what might be best for baby, may not be best for mum, which in turn means it won’t be good for the child either.
Breast is best, sometimes. Bottle is best, sometimes. Instinct is best, all the time.