NHS Start4Life Slammed For Advising Breastfeeding As A 'Weight Loss Hack'

You don't need to "get your body back" after giving birth. It hasn't gone anywhere.
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The NHS has been telling new mums to breastfeed in order to lose weight and get back into shape after giving birth. Yes, really.

On its Start4Life website – a programme that supposedly supports pregnant women and new mums – the health service told women about ‘seven things you might not expect when your baby’s born’.

Number seven on the list was the fact that you might look pregnant for a while after giving birth.

“It can take six weeks for your womb to go back to the size it was, and even longer to lose any extra weight,” the site said. “Breastfeeding is a great way to get your body back, as it burns around 300 calories a day, and helps your womb to shrink more quickly. Also try to eat healthily and take gentle exercise.”

The advice sparked outrage online after it was shared by London-based writer Maggy Van Eijk, who has a three-year-old daughter and is 38 weeks pregnant with a baby boy.

“Toxic AF from the NHS’s week by week pregnancy guide,” she tweeted ”[Breastfeeding] is not a weight loss tool. Your body never went anywhere – you don’t need to get it ‘back’, it’s just changing, evolving and growing and it will keep doing so until you’re deceased.”

HuffPost UK contacted the Department of Health and Social Care about the criticism and the wording on the NHS site has now been changed.

Still, it’s worth asking how something like this made it onto the NHS website in the first place.

Speaking to HuffPost UK, Van Eijk says she’s found most of the week-by-week guide helpful during pregnancy, but it was “such a shock” to see Start4Life include breastfeeding as a “weight loss hack”.

“It was such outdated language, really steeped in diet culture which new mums especially really don’t need,” she says. “I did breastfeed with my first but it was hard work and I pumped at first because I was so adamant to keep trying. The pumping and feeding became an obsession.

“Instead of letting go and opting for formula I filled my fridge and freezer with milk. Basically equating the amount I could produce with how good of a mother I was being. It wasn’t healthy and there are so many other signifiers of good parenting we should be showing new mums. Not how you feed your baby and especially not what your body looks like.”

Other women share her view, with many on Twitter pointing out that this “tip” only added to the shame some women feel if they can’t breastfeed.

Start4Life was initially a Public Health England initiative, which now falls under the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). Start4Life content is published on the NHS website, with NHS-branded leaflets also given to pregnant women.

HuffPost UK contacted each of the bodies, as well as the Department of Health and Social Care, for response to the criticism.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The Start4Life website provides guidance and advice for new and expectant families.

“Our insight has shown that some women find this information helpful, however, we keep the wording of public health initiatives under review, and in response to some of the feedback received we have updated the website today.”

The Start4Life advice now reads: “It can take six weeks for your womb to go back to the size it was. Breastfeeding can speed this process up as it makes your womb contract. Find out more about your body after the birth on the NHS website.”

Still, the response from women is clear: new parents are already under enough pressure to be “perfect mums” and “snap back into shape” after giving birth. The language used by a publicly-funded initiative really does matter.

Keeping a tiny human alive is a huge achievement – it doesn’t matter what size you are or how many packets of biscuits you consume in the process.

Update: This article has been updated to reflect that the Start4Life website has amended its advice.