It is a historical fact that, breastfeeding was not favoured amongst the middle and upper classes of the 19th & early 20th Century, and wet nurses from the working classes were employed to feed their offspring. Believing I was living in a more enlightened age, I was somewhat horrified on Monday to read about an article that deputy editor Kathryn Blundell of Mother and Baby had written in their July edition, titled, I Formula-fed. So what?, in which, she describes breastfeeding as 'creepy'.It has caused quite an explosion of condemnation from both the pro-formula and pro-breast quarters. Before I go into the nitty-gritty of what she said, and the tone of what she said, let me first say categorically, that an expectant mother should be able to make her own decisions about the environment in which she gives birth, and provided she has been made aware of the pros and cons of a home birth, as an example, she should then be fully supported and encouraged in her decision. Following the birth, and baby has arrived safely and soundly, then he or she has to be fed! Mum has probably already made her decision, as to whether she is going to breastfeed or bottle-feed, in the weeks leading up to the birthing event. Again, whatever her choice, she should feel secure and protected, having been given all the information required to make an informed decision.
Young mums, particularly during their first pregnancy, have really no idea what to expect, even with all the best intentions of ante-natal prepping. The perpetrators of this 'magazine advising age' that we are living in, really do have a moral responsibility to, at least, endeavour to get it right! Now of course, Kathryn Blundell is entitled to her own point of view re the merits or otherwise of breastfeeding, but as deputy editor of Mother and Baby, not unlike the newscaster reporting, for example, on Afghanistan or Iran, whose remit is to present the news impartially, should in her position of considerable influence, in my opinion, give both sides of the 'breast is best' debate. There are always two sides to any debate, and this particular argument is no exception. Ms Blundell, in mine and in the opinion of thousands of other women, not only crossed that line of impartiality, but she did so in a tone of language that defiled not only motherhood, but also, the essence of being a woman.
Pablo Picasso's Breastfeeding
The benefits of breastfeeding are well-known, containing just the right amount of sugar, fat, water and protein for the healthy development of the child. The World Health Organization says the following:
"The vast majority of women can and should breastfeed, just as the vast majority of babies can and should be breastfed. Only under exceptional circumstances can a mother's milk be considered unsuitable for her infant. For those few health situations, where infants cannot, or should not, be breastfed, the choice of the best alternative - expressed breast milk from an infant's own mother, breast milk from a healthy wet nurse, or a healthy milk-bank, or a breast-milk substitute, fed with a cup, which is a safer method than a feeding bottle and a teet - depends on individual circumstances."
Yes we are human, but we are also mammals with breasts that produce milk for the purpose of feeding our young offspring ... the most natural thing in the world! However, judging by some people's ignorant reactions to mothers breastfeeding in public places, who would have no problem ogling pictures of naked women in the daily tabloids or top shelf magazines, reflects a distorted view and a certain discomfort towards women's sexuality and sensuality. In my opinion, this perception held by many men, and even more disappointingly, many women, is not well-served by articles of the nature, penned by Ms. Blundell. Unfortunately, I don't feel any of this will change, until women feel more comfortable with their own bodies and their own identities, and stop seeing themselves as an extension of the 'man' in their lives.
In her article, Ms Blundell says, 'I wanted my body back. (And some wine) ...I also wanted to give my boobs at least a chance to stay on my chest rather than dangling around my stomach. They're part of my sexuality, too - not just breasts, but funbags. And when you have that attitude (and I admit I made no attempt to change it), seeing your teeny, tiny, innocent baby latching on where only a lover has been before feels, well, a little creepy.'
Inspite of being fully aware of the health benefits, she continues: 'There are all the studies that show it reduces the risk of brest cancer for you, and stomach upsets and allergies for your baby. But even the convenience and supposed health benefits of breast milk couldn't induce me to stick my nipple in a bawling baby's mouth.'
How in the name of intelligence, did the editor of that magazine allow that piece of sad, fear-mongering writing to be published. It beggars belief and has left me feeling quite astounded and outraged. That's where the cynical side of me clicks in. Is this just a publicity ploy to entice more people to buy the magazine, or is it a way to bring the whole breastfeeding debate back on to the table? If it were the latter, then I would forgive to a certain extent, but I still find the whole tone of the article rather sad. Here we have a seemingly intelligent woman referring to her breasts as 'funbags'. Surely descriptions like that should remain in the domain of freudian-fixated men, who find it difficult to use the word 'breast', because of a need to differentiate from the breast of their own mothers, resorting therefore to derrogatory terms like, 'tits', 'rack', 'Bristol cities' ... and so on.
Some would argue that she is placing her sexual needs before those of her child. I would say, why separate them at all!
I am in no way bashing those women who make a well-informed decision not to breastfeed their babies. As I said, earlier, women should be allowed to make all their own decisions. However, even without the pre-requisite of scientific evidence, you do not have to be an 'Einstein' to realize women were given breasts, which lactate following childbirth for a REASON. And perhaps that reason might just be ... feeding their baby!
I breastfed both my daughters very successfully, with no drama or bloody nipples! (I'm sorry I didn't have any photographs taken of those very close moments of bonding). I made up my mind very early on in pregnancy that I was going to breastfeed my baby and even though I didn't make ante-natal classes, I managed to get to Laleche League meetings, who promote and support breastfeeding mothers. They were absolutely wonderful. I used to dream about breastfeeding, I was so determined. But then, I adored being pregnant and took an extremely relaxed view about the whole thing. My neighbour, who passed away quite recently, and I loved her dearly, would come across to give me advice, after all she had had 11 children herself. My mother was in another country, so I think Mary somehow felt responsible for me. However, she often told me about the gruesome things that could go wrong, but, not being particularly impressionable, I kept myself going by reminding myself that millions of women all over the planet were giving birth at that particular moment. Some, whilst holding onto a tree, and then going about their normal daily tasks. I was extremely naive about it all. I had never seen a nappy, nevermind put one on, until I had my own baby, but my intuition told me, that pregnancy and childbirth is a very natural process, and that if something went wrong, someone would help me.
Granted, there is much more information out there in relation to pregnancy, childbirth, pre-menstrual tension, menopause etc. and for some people that is a good thing, but sometimes, I wonder whether all this talk and hype demystifies the magical nature of woman and motherhood.. I adored being pregnant, breastfeeding, taking my children everywhere with me, and dreaded the summer holidays being over, and indeed, would have liked more children, but it wasn't to be. I never, for one moment, felt they stopped me from doing anything. I love being a mother and am so, so looking forward to being a grandmother, when the time is right.
We are living in an age of 'designer-style' birthing, where more and more mums are resorting to unnecessary caesarian deliveries, rather than facing into the prospect of a hard labour, and indeed some have even succumbed to the idea of surrogacy, to avoid the changes in their body shape etc., that pregnancy necessitates. Freedom of choice is essential, but there is a prevailing sense of 'going against nature' when these procedures are performed unnecessarily.
I want to say to any expectant mums or younger friends of mine that might read this blog, that the birthing process was no picnic, but was so terribly worth it! When I was able to hold my babies so close, and feeling their suckling of my breasts, in the knowledge that I was giving them the very best start in life, was one of the most magical parts of my life. Don't be put off by the horror stories. Listen to your intuition ... it will seldom let you down!
And on a lighter, perhaps even ironic note, I came across the image below, on the internet, whilst searching for lovely images of breastfeeding mothers. It is a painting from Honore Daumier (1808-1879), who was a French printer, caricaturist, sculptor and painter. His many works provided an often satirical commentary on the social and political life of French life in the 19th Century. This piece is called 'Republique'
So, Ms Blundell, whether you breastfed or bottle-fed your baby is not the controversial part of your article. More the message you are sending to thousands of readers, that a woman who does make the decision to breastfeed, faces the prospect of bloody nipples, a drama-filled world, feeling asexual, with breasts that sag all the way down to her navel, in a manner that can only be described as cringeworthy!.
Pet names for our sexual organs and erogenous zones reside quite healthily withiin the erotic fantasia of love-making between two individuals. Its quite another thing, however, for a woman to describe her breasts as 'funbags' to thousands of other female readers. Perhaps, I'm quite simply, an old-fashioned kind of gal!
But girls, let's just call our breasts, whatever the shape or size, ... BREASTS!
BREASTS ... WOULD BE NICE!
Ciao for now!