Why do we need a week to celebrate and promote breastfeeding?
As I catch up with the news and tweets in the breastfeeding world it occurs to me that, maybe, mostly, only those interested in breastfeeding will actually be reading them. Are we even reaching a wider audience? It's World Breastfeeding Week - and we have to hashtag, post, tweet and retweet until we are blue in the face (or fingertips). Why, after all, do we even need a world breastfeeding week?
Well, there are hundreds of reasons you could assert....perhaps it is because it is still not the norm to breastfeed in many countries, (thank you formula companies and poor government policy), or because mothers still struggle, even if they initially set out to want to breastfeed - and even if they manage to do it at the beginning of their motherhood journey. Surely a woman who is pregnant, lactating, and has the intention to breastfeed can do so, right? Wrong. #Youcouldnotbemorewrong. Some women can simply not do it alone, and nor should they.
Breastfeeding and its many facets can be extremely confusing and difficult for a first time mother, it's a minefield, just as much for everyone else in the world who doesn't really know about breastfeeding and why it is important. You might be thinking, like most people I'd met before I started breastfeeding, what's all the fuss, breastmilk is like formula - just feed the baby and get on with life. I am always astonished when someone says that now, but I shouldn't be. Breastfeeding was not on our curriculum at school, it is not a discussion at the family table (even if you are lucky enough to have someone in your family openly breastfeeding), it's rarely in the news, and when it is, the polarised arguments and scorn that follows is enough to put even a militant lactivist off course. Kim Kardashian posts a picture of her little girl and gets hundreds of thousands of likes, Thandie Newton posts one of breastfeeding her boy and gets an equal amount of hate comments. It is almost absurd. Though it can be primarily seen as a subject of health, it's not even really been a priority in the public health agenda, even with the undeniable benefits it has on a public scale that has been shown in much research. Even with clear evidence of breastfeeding services helping women, the closest borough to me just had their breastfeeding services shut down as there was no funding allocated from the public health department. They will be reversing that soon.
Just read one or two things, if you want, I don't need to add links to the thousands of studies you can find on breastmilk if you google it. I write studies intentionally, don't read all the other faff has been skewed by people on the payroll of formula companies - and that's pretty much everyone on and off the records. Bloggers too. Enlighten yourself on effect of breastfeeding on any of the following areas, mortality, yes you read correctly, 'death' to an infant - your infant, those around you...from diarrheal morbidity to respiratory infection mortality if fed with non-human, bovine, powdered milk. Then there are ear infections, hospitalization, general infant health, respiratory infection, obesity, and diabetes. Lots of research on intellectual and motor development too. There's more, with the reduced risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer for the women that do breastfeed, and now, as so well highlighted by the Lancet series on breastfeeding, the economic benefits of breastfeeding.
The latter being one of the main drivers for this year's breastfeeding awareness week - breastfeeding actually is one key for sustainable development for a country, imagine that, it actually affects public health and GDP. It is no longer about just your individual choice as a parent, and the too-ing and fro-ing of the breastmilk vs formula arguments and agenda. When smoking got firmly put on the public health agenda you could get uppity about wanting to remain a smoker, but you couldn't argue with the damage it was doing. It is the same here with the commercial use of breastmilk substitutes. Actually, I hate calling them that, you can never, ever have a breastmilk substitute, as it would always be an inferior substance, not a substitute. Breastmilk changes daily, and is catered and tailored for the infant having it. And that is simply not replicable. SO, if you're not keen on breastfeeding, fine, but you can't be offended by facts. When someone states a fact, or relays what the research shows, that's just what it is, information about what is going on - not a judgement call on what you are doing. And the bottom line is that babies and mothers suffer, long term, as does society.
It is insane that it has taken this long to come to the fore, and how much longer do we have to wait for real, life changing action to be taken? How long will it take for the damage of wide-spread formula use to be known? Only time will tell - that and the much needed longitudinal studies, especially into the microbiome (the gut). New research is showing that the gut has is has its own mass communication system, matching the level of the brain, and that actually the bacteria in a gut has a role to play in our mental health, in the choices we make, and even if we are fat. (It's true, read up on it, here's an easily digestible book). And one the main awful things that formula does to little babies? Well, it completely ruins the microbiome of course.
And, despite all this research, bizarrely, it appears that more often than not mothers STILL face opposition and challenges from the get go. From conflicting information, even from health care professionals, to interfering family members, to the trials and tribulations of trying to feed in public. I could go on. And on. So, what I'm saying it, there is such a great deal of work to be done, and that we are not all crazy women who go on about breastfeeding, living in a bubble and cursed with the rock of sisyphus. We are not a silo. What we say affects you too. All of you.
Now, as I end this blog, I could post a picture of myself with most of my breasts on show, and little will be said, but if I post this blog with a picture of me breastfeeding, I'm an exhibitionist sent to the slaughter. I should do it to get more reads. Really, it's just absurd.
We have to talk about breastfeeding, we have to spend a week on an international scale with unified forces to celebrate and promote it, because, quite clearly, formula companies have created the best market to fuel their business, by ruining everything that is to do with making breastfeeding a success, on an individual level, to a societal level to an international level. And as Dr Seuss so famously says in quintessential activist book The Lorax, 'UNLESS. Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it's not.'