The nearest I've ever been to Mummy Wars was two of us reaching for the last sachet of tartar sauce at fish and chip lunch after playgroup one week. Obviously, we both backed down, and after a lot of, "no you have it", "no you were there first", "no really you have it", someone else lent in and picked it up leaving us both fuming with impotent self righteous, now we'll have to make do with salad cream, rage.
Mothers don't sit at playgroup on opposing sides of the room breasts and bottles primed and ready for battle. We sit together, older, younger, glam, scruffy, pondering sleep deprivation and potty training, lamenting election results, discussing schools or plotting occasional child free nights out. Some of us breastfeed, some bottle feed, some spoon feed infants from jars of mush and others delight in baby lead weaning. We don't sit in judgement over one another, we listen to and learn from each other.
So, in support of all mums and our thriving families, a few shocking truths.
Shocking truth number one, women do support other women (whatever you've read in the tabloids). The confidence I've gained from, and absolute respect for other women, since having my daughter has been a joyful revelation to me, we so can multi task!
Shocking truth number two, it's rare that women get criticised for breastfeeding in public. I had one comment about nursing (and one about wielding a bottle of formula), and other than that was offered hot drinks, a comfy chair, cake, chocolate and if I wanted it access to a quiet room. Once I'd got over the first time, I found it empowering, the idea of nurturing another person whenever and wherever she needed it, and necessary, the baby's needs come before other sensibilities.
Shocking truth number three is serious, in the UK some 81% of women start breastfeeding at birth only 1% breastfeed exclusively in line with WHO and UNICEF recommendations at 6 months (only 34% nurse at all at 6 months), most give up during the first four weeks. This does need to change. The benefits of breastfeeding are well documented and undisputed, for mother and child, and the issue of post natal depression being more prevalent in women who wanted to breastfeed but were unable to is very real. We need to get to the bottom of what causes this massive drop off and understand the reasons why.
I put myself under pressure to breastfeed, it was hard, incredibly hard (tongue tie, nose tube, poor latch, mastitis etc), but we combination fed, we both cried (a lot), we persisted, we got there. I consider us fortunate. I asked for, and was given, help time and time again.
Shocking truth number four is also very real, there is a huge amount pressure (social and professional) on breastfeeding mothers to turn to formula, "you look so tired", "putting her on formula would get her to sleep better", "let someone else feed her" and so on from well meaning friends and family, and from health professionals. I was advised to stop breastfeeding completely and switch to formula by a health visitor at 4 1/2 months when my daughter wasn't sticking exactly to the centile growth curve (advice I stressed about, subsequently ignored, and of course she's absolutely fine). Trust your body and your baby, and ask for help if you need it.
Photo credit: Paul Clarke Photography
The key issue is that Mums need knowledgeable calm support (and to know that help is available and where), to start, establish and continue breastfeeding. We also need support if we're are unable to or make an informed choice not to breastfeed. While phone helplines are great, it's the face to face support and advice that makes the difference, and increasingly (back to women being nice to each other again) peer to peer support Mums get from many online forums.
I want my daughter to grow up in a society that doesn't send mothers to war over bottles and breasts, but one that celebrates families and encourages them to support each other, and gives us the courage to look for and find support when we need it... and despite the many column inches dedicated to making people think otherwise, in reality, I think she is.
You can do your bit (however you were fed or you feed your child)! Raise your children with an understanding that breastfeeding is perfectly normal and not to be sniggered at or shamed. Don't hide breastfeeding mothers under napkins, or make them feel self conscious, enjoy their joyful brelfies, and also help bottle feeding mums if they need boiled water or their lid has rolled out of reach under the table (I remember almost toppling off a chair trying to reach one and not drop my baby). Smile, offer a glass of water or better still chocolate and say something encouraging, mothers will welcome it.
Bugger the Mummy Wars. Be nice, eh, we all want our families to flourish and thrive!
Ellie Stoneley's first book MilkyMoments won the Children's Book of the Year in the People's Book Prize 2015/16, and is published by Pinter and Martin, http://www.pinterandmartin.com/milky-moments.html.
Follow on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/MilkyMomentsBook.
World Breastfeeding Week runs from 1st - 7th August.
Find support for breastfeeding from La Leche League International http://www.llli.org/