How Policymakers Have Boobed on Breastfeeding Policy – And Formula Companies Cash In

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Before we begin, a get-out clause. If you are not interested in breastfeeding then look away and enjoy your day. I wouldn’t want to chuck any talk of breasts or nipples in your face. Unless, of course, you are involved in public policy which increasingly undermines breastfeeding rates and facilitates commercial exploitation of low breastfeeding success.

To start, how about the personal. Having breastfed my children is something I will cherish until the day I die. Not something I say very often, but, actually, as a human experience of bonding, nourishment and sensuality between two people who love each other, it is right up there with the best.

And now, the political. Two facts to give a flavour of where we are: legislation permits the advertising of ‘follow-on milk’, something formula companies created only in order to circumvent advertising restrictions on the promotion of breastmilk substitutes; and Parliament has failed to update legislation to ensure compliance of foods marketed at infants as ‘suitable from 4-6 months’ with worldwide health organisations’ guidance that solids need not be introduced until around 6 months. That’s right – those jars and rusks can stay on the shelf.

I will stop here and say that, actually, some people get pretty irate at all this: as though talking about the reality of what the guidance is (rather than the merits of it) and what companies who promote products as suitable for a four-month-old are doing and why (rather than a parent’s individual choice to spoon some mush into little mouths) is somehow off-limits. In the field of infant feeding, commercial interests rely on consumer squeamishness about questioning their actions and motives – look at Nestle.

The recent Shared Parental Leave rules have also thrown up issues which directly affect the guidance of the NHS, UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (to name three) that, for optimal health and development of infants, babies should be nurtured exclusively at the breast for the first six months, with continued breastfeeding alongside suitable complementary foods for 2 years and beyond if mutually desired. A TWO YEAR OLD? Yes, that really is the second half of the oft-quoted ‘six-month breastfeeding thing’. AT LEAST TWO. I won’t even go into studies about IQs and the normal milk of our species save to say that the downplaying of the ‘advantages’ of breastfeeding is just one part of the environment which raises artificial feeding with commercial produce to a cultural ‘norm’ and downplays the physiological and evolutionary norm of breastfeeding and human milk – to the huge benefit of companies which exploit low breastfeeding rates.

Why does Shared Parental Leave have anything to do with breastfeeding? Because only the mother has the equipment. Inconvenient, that, in the age of equality.

The promotion of Shared Parental Leave before the baby is six months old manifestly undermines the State’s own health organisation’s guidance – that babies should be nurtured exclusively at the breast during that time – because it encourages mothers to go back to work from TWO weeks postpartum and leave the baby with Dad. It is a direct contradiction in message, let alone ignoring the fact that mothers need time to recover from childbirth and to bond with the baby that lived inside her for nine months. That is before you even consider the pervasive images of bottles on the Government website promoting the idea of the equality utopia, as though its own NHS guidance – and the compelling public health basis for it – does not exist. I have talked before about the State not knowing its bottom from a hole in the ground. When it comes to breastfeeding, perhaps it is more appropriate to say that it doesn’t know its nose from its nipple.

This is a controversial subject. It has already provoked debates on the Internet which sadly descend at times into heartfelt and anguished recrimination from mothers who have felt let down by ‘the system’ which, in their perception, bullies a mother into breastfeeding and then renders her guilty for ‘failure’.

Well, we can do better than that, and the only way to start is by making breastfeeding education (for mothers AND health professionals) and practical support a priority in public policy. Sadly, the opposite is happening.

First, the outgoing Government abolished funding for Breastfeeding Awareness Week. Then it cut funding for the Infant Feeding Survey. Then it closed Children’s Centres at which many breastfeeding support groups provided support to mothers nursing their babies. It oversaw promotion of full female employment as though mothers have no place raising their own children full-time. Now, it brings in a law to encourage mothers to leave their babies in the care of fathers at two weeks old. Through it all, the State relies on women (and I have been one) who devote their own time to train and then volunteer to help mothers and babies breastfeed – but let’s save the State exploitation of unpaid care and work for another time. All that takes place in a commercial context which allows formula companies too great an opportunity to promote their products – their aim? Necessarily the undermining of breastfeeding and confidence of mothers to breastfeed. The result? Quids-in for shareholders.

What next? Forcible mastectomies alongside C-Sections to truly screw up a woman’s chances of nursing her baby?

Well, that’s a bit harsh, I hear you say. Well, yes, it bloody well is.

Because Western culture has got it all wrong. Tits are everywhere, cleavage on show wherever you care to look. But get a woman and child sitting down together in a restaurant to nurse and everyone loses their minds (as that fantastic meme said) or grabs napkins or points out corners or wails crude analogies about other natural bodily functions.

The reality is that public attitudes towards breastfeeding go beyond public perceptions of modesty. It goes straight to the freedom of mothers to mother their babies, to the power of the female body to nurture a child, to the free and environmentally-friendly act of nursing a baby from the breast. To the freedom nursing mothers have from commercial exploitation of paying for an artificial substitute with which to feed their babies. The ‘nursing in public’ side of the debate is the thin end of the wedge – the freedom and support to breastfeed at all without continual undermining and sabotage is the true issue, and one which has been wholeheartedly neglected by public policy and investment.

It all comes down to this: for formula companies to make a profit, and the State to reap the tax, mothers need to fail to breastfeed their babies or believe that there is no value in breastfeeding. Policymakers know it but do nothing to improve mothers’ chances of success.

I doubt we will find that printed on a tin of Aptamil anytime soon.

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photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/33868550@N07/6654951573″>Wide Head Mama with Baby in hammock</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

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6 thoughts on “How Policymakers Have Boobed on Breastfeeding Policy – And Formula Companies Cash In

  1. Oh my yes yes yes!!! I remember reading politics of breastfeeding when my ds1 was still an infant and a lightbulb flicking in my head! I breastfed him for 33 months and I will cherish that forever even with the nursing aversion & diet restriction due to allergies. This time around with ds2, it’s not been easy at all – multiple allergies, PTT & structural issues means we’re taking each day as it comes but we are nearly 6 months in. All this to say the reason we have been able to do this is because 1) we know stuff from reading 2) we have adequate support my hubby, IBCLCs, & my LLL group 3) I work from home which is mighty tricky but so grateful we have that choice.

    My wish is that all mothers to be realise that motherhood is being commercialised but we don’t have to accept it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. YES! My partner and I talk about the issues raised here often and I’ve waited a long time to come across such a post!

    I’ve found nobody seems to want to make any criticisms on shared parental leave whatsoever. As a mother of two, currently tandem nursing a newborn and a 2 year old (much to the horror of many relatives and onlookers) all I can say is thank God I lactate!
    My partner and I are both quite equally paid and he’s very enthusiastic about caring for his kids, he also hates his job! Many times since the new leave policy was announced he has hinted at the prospect of me perhaps handing over my leave to him (let’s face it, it’s not ‘shared leave’, it’s the mother’s maternity leave given to the other half)
    Luckily he has a lot of respect for breastfeeding and having bottle-fed his first child before we met, he knows he benefits in many ways from my nursing, from full nights of sleep to the financial savings, the convenience whilst we’re out, right down to the health of our children and the fact that we so very rarely have to deal with illnesses, and when we do, there’s always a boob to comfort and nourish child!

    I imagine that I’m not the only woman who would feel pressure from her partner to go back to work whilst they stay home. (Many tend to keep the view that staying home = holiday)
    Breastfeeding gives me the space to be able to have a little whinge and let off some steam at the end of the day about what challenges and difficulties I’ve had looking after the kids without then having to hear how I should go back to work whilst they deal with the stresses of childrearing (how kind!)
    I have no doubt that there are women out there who since this policy came in are now feeling unable to voice any struggle or suggest they may be suffering PND because it will be met with a suggestion of swapping roles as the answer. An answer that isn’t for all and as you have explained so well, completely undermines the importance of the breastfeeding.

    I could ramble on about the other aspects you’ve pointed out, which are brilliant and spot-on by the way, but I’ll resist for now!
    I shall definitely be sharing and following.
    Thanks x

    Like

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