22 Mar 2016

Infant Feeding

I've written about breastfeeding before, once or twice, but Jamie Oliver's gaping maw has popped into my newsfeed at least once an hour in the last few days and prompted me to write about it SOME MORE.

So, Jamie Oliver, King of Sugar Tax, is having yet another child, and has decided that his role of father to many and Britain's unofficial dietary watchdog means he is the perfect man to spearhead a pro-breastfeeding campaign. He wants British breastfeeding rates to rise because 

"It’s something that’s very natural to us - it’s easy, it’s more convenient, it’s more nutritious, it’s better, it’s free."

I'm sure Jamie has lovingly and easily breastfed every single one of his children, and will do again. I'm sure he thinks nothing of whopping a boob out in the middle of the night to feed the screaming baby, of sitting in Sainsbury's café feeding his child with vigour. I'm sure he has suffered the perils of mastitis, and engorgement, and sat weeping because of cluster feeding on many occasions. After all, Jamie knows, man, he just KNOWS how easy breastfeeding is because he's done it four times now.

Oh wait, hang on, no that's Jools who's done all that. Likely while Jamie makes yet another stupid torn up salad out of ham and figs and pomegranate and shouts pukka, after which Jools, weeping, scrapes it into the bin and silently makes beans on toast for the children who won't touch those funny bits of seed, while Jamie leaps around his garden, ejaculating over his broad beans.

I have breastfed for five years and seven months out of the last seven years, 71% of my parenting life has been spent with a baby or toddler attached. One of them had a formula bottle once, but otherwise, it's all been me. Sometimes it has been like the antenatal literature tells you, all magic and beauty and skin to skin and love. Sometimes it has been so shit, I have cried, I have ranted, I have considered jumping out the window, I have BLED, I have been infected, I have been sore, I have dripped milk all over my clothes, I have had to feed a screaming baby on a toilet. Breastfeeding is in no way, shape or form easy. It is rewarding. It is even lovely. But easy? Fuck off, Jamie. Have someone hanging off your chest all day and tell me it's fucking easy.

Now I grant you, it CAN be very convenient. My youngest has been ill for the last few days and all he has wanted is milk, often at 3am while running a very high fever, and I have been able to just flop out my boob in bed, and go back to sleep. I am lucky, I have gigantic boobs that allow me to do this. But can I go out with my husband for a meal, or the cinema, or the pub? NOPE. Is it convenient to START breastfeeding when you've just pushed a whole fucking person out of you, or had major surgery? Is it convenient to be awake for thirty six hours straight after doing that because you don't know what the hell you're doing? Nope. Breastfeeding needs to be established before it can be realistically regarded as convenient, and establishing breastfeeding is where the nation's breastfeeding statistics fall down. It is hard. You get shit, contradictory support when you get it at all. The support, emotional and physical, is often not forthcoming. 

Nutrition is a thorny issue as well. The problem with infant feeding studies is that they are frequently biased in favour by whoever commissioned them. There is ample evidence to suggest both formula AND breastfeeding are better than the other. Plenty of breastfed babies are plagued by illness and allergies, and vice versa. I would like to think breastfeeding is healthier, and the WHO supports this, but the easily available information (i.e. non-academic reports of studies) is on the fence.

Is it better? Well, that's also a thorny issue. Oft have I mentioned that I was formula fed because my mum had supply failure and NOBODY SPOTTED THIS. For ten weeks, I got a tiny bit of foremilk with every feed, lost over a pound in weight and nearly bloody DIED before I finally went to see a paediatrician who recognised I was starving and switched me to formula. This is very rare, very very rare, but it happens. 
And is it natural? Well yes, but regardless of how natural it is, a lot of women find breastfeeding physically very demanding, if not impossible. Theoretically, every woman can breastfeed, with some very rare exceptions, but we do not live in theoretical land. Women on certain mental health medications cannot breastfeed, and have to choose to either run the gauntlet of perinatal mental health without medication or while trialling something else. That's a difficult and potentially dangerous decision to make. Most women find breastfeeding intensely painful at least once during the early days, and if they can't cope because they're in pain everywhere, who can blame them for stopping? If your nipples are flat or inverted, you have to be told a thousand conflicting opinions on whether or not to use nipple shields, all the time feeling shittier about the whole thing. And then there are tongue ties, which sound like a made-up-thing, but is a condition where babies can't latch because their tongue is stuck to the mouth, and is either inflexible or too short. This should be dealt with at birth, but often isn't. There are myriad other physical problems, from persistent mastitis, to undersupply, to oversupply, to milk allergies, to other food allergies. 
There are literally thousands of things all women's bodies are supposed to be able to naturally do, like menstruate and conceive, and walk, and talk, and see, and hear, and give birth, but we accept without question that some women cannot. Why not breastfeeding? When was the last time you heard someone tell a blind woman that she SHOULD be able to see because seeing is NATURAL? Precisely. 

It's free. Well, yes, emotional, social and psychological costs aside, it is free. Does that make it better because it doesn't put money in anyone's pocket? What if Jamie released his very own Jamie Oliver's Well Pukka Innit Formula? Would that be better?

You see, Jamie seems to have an issue with formula advertising. I won't lie to you, dear reader, I also have a massive problem with formula advertising, but mainly because it's so fucking TWEE, and full of LIES, as well as suggesting that IF ONLY YOU WOULD STOP THIS LUDICROUS EXTENDED BREASTFEEDING OF YOUR BABY, you could have the LIFE YOU HAVE DREAMT OF! 

I don't know if Jamie is aware that it's illegal to advertise formula for babies under six months old, but even if it wasn't illegal, every single mother gets to choose (at least to begin with) how to feed their baby. Women are not stupid. Women know if they don't want to try breastfeeding (and lawd knows you're given enough bollocks if you formula feed from birth), they are not swung by shiny adverts. Literally the only attention most women I know give to brands of formula is whether or not their baby will actually drink it. 

Jamie thinks formula makes you fat. There IS a study that links birthweight and placental size ratio to later obesity and hypertension (Southampton Group Longitudinal Study), but the main things that make you fat are your lifestyle, your social status, your wealth, your health, your access to a variety of affordable food, and your access to exercise. We don't magically make thin adults through breastfeeding. 
But this is how Jamie works. Sugary drinks makes us fat: let us tax sugary drinks and thus people will magically become thin. Breastfeeding makes us thin: let us encourage breastfeeding, and lo, people will become thin. If it was as simple as "breastfeeding is easy, let us breastfeed", the rates would be far higher.

But the biggest thing that has struck me about Jamie Oliver and his Thoughts On Breastfeeding is how often infant feeding is seen as a moral judgement. 

You are not a bad mother if you choose to formula feed from birth.
You are not a bad mother if you choose to breastfeed from birth.
You are not a bad mother if you end up formula feeding anyway.

You might be a bad mother if you feed your baby nothing but ground glass and methadone, but otherwise 

Every newborn baby has to be fed. They have to be. You don't have a choice. You have to get something in to them eventually, even if you struggle for the first few days. Babies can survive a surprisingly long time without food, but eventually, food must be given. Regardless of what some blogs may make you think, you don't win any prizes for breastfeeding. And if you feel the need to publicly criticise women for formula feeding, then you are proof that breastfeeding does not necessarily make you a good person. 

So think on, Jamie Oliver.