Breastfeeding: a feminist issue (lurkers ahoy)(590 Posts)
I am a huge breastfeeding advocate and have BF both my DC but there are elements of the whole BF "culture" (for want of a better word) which are at odds with my identity as a feminist.
In terms of breastfeeding support, well what support really? In our NHS trust funding was withdrawn from the BF charity working in children's centres/hospitals etc at the same time as these hospitals were going for the Baby Friendly initiative. A new (for profit) company was brought in to provide the support previously offered with a detrimental effect. Women were told that breastfeeding is the ideal but in real terms support was dramatically withdrawn.
It also has socio-economical repercussions. We are living in an area of social deprivation with a much higher % of younger parents than the national average. Support, therefore, is very much needed but was withdrawn. Young families are struggling to afford the milk they need for their babies, milk they have to buy in because they were under supported with breastfeeding. These families are the ones who do not qualify for the vouchers that help with buying infant formula, they are just above the cut off mark. These mothers have been let down by the very system that bangs the "breast is best" drum.
I'm not very coherent this morning as I'm full of cold but I hope that make sense?
I agree, it seems to me that the NHS approach is that "well we've told you what is best why are you still whinging?" as if a few leaflets can adequately explain how to latch, what to do if it hurts, and yes breastfeeding can be fucking uncomfortable or painful (I still have the scars to prove it) I mean your nipples have never been through that kind of treatment before!
The NHS needs to realise that it's actions not words that will help, all the glossy leaflets and posters in the world is not going to improve things when physical support has been withdrawn with the cuts being heaped on the system.
Breastfeeding support in my area is pretty good, but it is all provided by volunteers - most of them SAHM whose previous careers and commutes were incompatible with motherhood.
These volunteers go out into the hospitals and local community, supporting mums, giving referrals for tongue tie division and manning telephone support lines. The hospital refuses to even reimburse parking expenses or a bus ticket.
Charities shouldn't be providing this level of NHS support.
I'm passionately pro breast feeding and was fortunate enough to give birth in a hospital and area with excellent bf support- expert midwives and visitors, Nct help, hospital even offered for me to stay in for a week after an easy birth to have help on hand if I had wanted! But this felt like a team of local pro bfers who happened to work in the nhs rather than reflecting the nhs culture IYSWIM - in terms of leaflets and posters, all I saw was the 'breast is best' message and the chart which shows the benefits of bfing over the first few weeks, implying to me that I was expected to give up after that guilt free.
And thanks for enticing me to post btw- I lurk here every day!
It would also help if drs and midwives and health visitors had proper training on bfeeding and had to keep it updated.
The amount of wrong and damaging information I received from them is appalling.
But yes in my area there is some support but again it's all volunteers. There is a bfeeding group that meets every second Thursday at a health centre in town. Only one health centre offers this, my local ones don't. And when you have a newborn and are struggling you can't wait til a week on Thursday!!
I am thinking I may volunteer once madthing5 starts school but when I last looked the training times etc were not great for anyone with children. And yes I would have to get to the hospital etc.
How do you expect the NHS, which is underfunded and has many other more pressing priorities, to successfully promote a message which contradicts the infinitely better funded anti-breastfeeding messages?
Also the huge misinformation re medications and bfeeding, the book says no.., yet there is plenty of research now and the drugs/bfeeding helplines etc and yet Drs don't bloody know about it and if you question them...
There is very much an oh you have done it for a few weeks why would you want to continue.,, and then once you are feeding an older baby or heaven forbid a toddler well then you are just wierd!
Plus the standards society has for women who have babies to get life back to normal, to get baby sleeping through the night etc. To get your figure back, your sex life back on track..
We live in a culture that isn't supportive to bfeeding, fgs Fb are still removing photos of bfeeding despite saying they won't. Women ate still frowned upon for feeding in public etc.
It is, as you already know, a class issue.
The mc women who don't breast feed often feel very guilty, the wc women who do breast feed are often isolated or unsupported.
I'm not sure how you could help one group without alienating another.
There are a few discussions in philosophy of the politics of breast feeding which link to feminism.
This not a research area I am familiar with, I got these links from a quick search, but if anyone is interested in this kind of discussion I can ask amongst colleagues for more references.
Marking my place.
I agree about lack of gp knowledge being a huge issue.
Also, because the volunteers are often Sahm, what support there is often grinds to a halt in the school holidays. Shit if you give birth on 25th July!
I gave birth in a baby friendly hospital and was in for a week as DS had an infection. I got loads of support with bfing as DS struggled to latch on and I know if I'd been sent home I'd have probably failed. I'm incredibly grateful for this support and when I had my second and she had (lesser) issues, I was better placed to solve them myself. However, I have seen exactly the same support I gratefully received (boobs being manhandled, formula not being mentioned) criticised on here as a hideously invasive experience and too much pressure to breastfeed. So what I wanted and needed is what others say shouldn't be happening.
How can you address that?
I have a real problem with the pro-breastfeeding posters that are plastered all over the walls of the community centres, childrens centres etc especially the step by step posters that I have seen that show a baby and a huge, looming breast (totally detached from the person it belongs to) or a hand expressing milk from a breast. I was also really riled by the large "you are welcome to breastfeed here" posters that were also displayed.
I don't have time for a proper analysis so please excuse stream of consciousness here but:
a) When I had my babies, I was already feeling really weird about the extent to which my body wasn't my own any more - I had to get my breasts out whenever a shouty little person told me to, whether or not it was convenient or how mortified I was about the lack of privacy etc. These disembodied breasts on the posters kind of reinforced the idea that the person who owned them didn't matter any more? Equally, as a frumpy, overweight, tired-looking SAHP I was/am acutely aware of how invisible I am.
b) I recently had to speak at a local constituency meeting held in room in a community centre that had these posters on the wall. I felt really uncomfortable about standing up and trying to speak authoritatively about something with these breasts behind me - like I would be associated with that and taken less seriously iyswim? Similarly, I attended a tutorial in a local college that had these posters on the wall. In a tutor group of mainly men I felt very weird, like I should 'know my place'.
c) the idea of being 'given permission' to breast-feed pissed me off hugely. Partly I think because it was in the context of a childrens centre that had recently changed hands and has really strict rules about what you can and can't do e.g. no hot drinks, no juice for kids. Yes, there are very sensible health reasons why these rules are in place, but it just contributes to the way in which your life is constricted as a parent (mainly mothers).
d) The childrens centres near us seem to be obsessed with bloody pamper parties, the posters for which are sometimes a bit dodgy (eg one had what looked like a silhouette of a very thin, busty, naked women in high heels) which contributes to the problem.
I breastfed all 3 DCs (and co-slept with 2 of them) and hated it most of the time, but am glad I did it. I think it's really hard from public health perspective as of course these public health initiatives are then situated in a context in which women's bodies are objectified, where bodily autonomy is limited and women are discriminated against because of their bodies and it's difficult to see how these posters etc can challenge that alone.
Would you say it was true that most women have probably never, or at best rarely, seen another woman they know well breastfeeding successfully? I probably would always have wanted to breastfeed (MC, lentil weaver) but also had the huge advantage of having seen both my sisters EBF two kids each, and my best friend EBF three. So I had a good model of successful BFing. For some reason, I was also completely unaware that BFing is supposed to be troublesome and difficult - if it had been difficult for me, I would have been completely blindsided.
I also had a reasonable level of support for bf in hospital, though as for giraffe I had to stay in for a few days. Sufficient afterwards too, though not fantastic I must admit. In fact my 2nd was born in Belgium, and blood hell if you think the NHS is not supportive... an informed friend told me they did everything that they could wrong (I didn't particularly notice as fortunately I'd done it before and knew I could).
I wonder about the funding, funding levels were bad enough when I had my first and then all these austerity cuts came in hard. Would posters be willin to say WHEN they had their NHS experiences? My first was 4 years ago.
Bluestocking may have a particularly good point for us older mums... my own mum tried bfing, couldn't do it immediately, got thrown bottles at her straight away because they 'were just as good'. So no family history for me and in fact influence the other way. That was just the way they did it in the 70's and 80's, blimey we very nearly chucked out millenia of good practice!
I think the breastfeeding message from the NHS is meaningless bullshit.
You can promote breastfeeding antenatally all you like. You can refer to formula feeding as "artificial feeding" on hospital tours... BUT if you provide no meaningful help at all to women who are struggling to breastfeed postnatally, then it's all utterly pointless.
The NHS need to walk it like they talk it.
And it has fuck all to do with "anti-breastfeeding messages" (seriously, what is that?) being better funded. It's about the NHS paying lip service to breastfeeding promotion, and not much more.
Support is crucial, but I think what support comes down to is believing what women have to say. I think a lot of the difficulty I had getting started with DS (prem) could have been avoided if they had just believed me when I said I was still feeding DD2 and could express until he was strong enough to latch on. As it was, they didn't believe me until I spoke to the bfing counsellor who was lovely and she advocated for me. Lo and behold, once they let me express and feed him, he began to get better! But maybe he wouldn't have gotten so ill if they had listened to my experience.
Personally I see it as a society issue. Better support for new mums from minute one is needed and needs better organisation. It needs a leader for starters. A board or group to try to unite the entities in a common goal. There's money there but in an every group for themselves kind of way making it hard to find information so you stumble across things rather than know where to go.
That said no woman is interested in any of this stuff basically before she's pregnant. Then it's all rushed and new and confusing. It probably should start in senior schools.
But who would coordinate? How? It's easy to see where it's wrong but far less easy to do anything practical to change.
And often the only ones capable to do so actively are sahms. So maybe a bit less snippiness there? They are doing something.
For me in particular I had never seen anyone breastfeed until our NCT class. I knew I would try but had the tin of formula in ready (partly because that is the norm where we are as mentioned above). As it was I did persevere and with some amazing support from my own Mum (again not something everyone has) I was able to carry on. I then BF my second although for a shorter time due to lip tie and biting issues.
I used to volunteer in my area with the charity that had its funding withdrawn and our groups were stopped when the for profit organisation was given the contract instead. There are now no groups, all BF is in hospital on one morning a week so if you miss that tough.
My DSis is expecting her DC1 and intends to BF, she has said that by seeing me and her SIL openly breastfeed she feels more confident to try (and knows she has us on hand if needed).
My last DC was born 2012. Although the midwife who supported me during labour was fab, the support afterwards was non-existent, to the point that I thought "sod this" and decided to go home. I then got no end of grief from the staff who tried to scare me, they gave me a leaflet so when at home I could identify whether I thought 19hr-old DC was getting ill which consisted of questions such as "think about how much your baby normally feeds/sleeps in a 24hr period, are they following their usual pattern?" !!
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