In 2012 Cherry Healey presented a program on BBC3 entitled, Is Breast Best? In it she asked a various number of women about their experiences of feeding their babies. The most memorable part of this documentary for me was one pregnant teenage girl saying, "Boobs are for sex and showing off. That's what they're there for". I fear that too many people hold this attitude and millions of babies are missing out on the benefits of breastfeeding as a result.
At the time the documentary was aired I was volunteering as a breastfeeding helper at a children's centre. Any breastfeeding families were welcome to come along and receive help and advice from the volunteers and from other breastfeeding mothers. This week Cherry's documentary dominated the conversation and I remember one mother saying, "if only they put pictures of breastfeeding mothers in the newspaper, instead of pictures of women looking sexy". I agree and think a lot more women would attempt breastfeeding if breasts weren't presented as purely sexual on Page Three.
In England only 24% of women are fully breastfeeding at 6 weeks* and breastfeeding rates among teenage pregnancies are incredibly low. I find this alarming and I'm sure I'm not the only one. I don't want to put pressure on women to breastfeed because I know there is a lot of that around already and I don't think it's particularly helpful. But the benefits of breastfeeding cannot be denied and if women are being put off before even trying, then I think there is something fundamentally wrong with our society.
In a UNICEF pamphlet on breastfeeding, it is stated that 'the breast's sexual connotations in the UK,'** can form a hindrance to how people feel about breastfeeding in public. The UK's biggest selling national newspaper prints a picture of bare breasts on page 3 and this kind of sexualization of the breast can 'make the sight (of a woman breastfeeding) shocking to those lacking in experience or understanding'. If breasts are seen as fundamentally sexual then the idea of putting one in a baby's mouth can be shocking. If breasts are understood as the producer of nourishment and comfort to babies then the sight of a woman breastfeeding in public may become more socially acceptable.
Heather, mum to one-month-old baby Lily, said she found breastfeeding in public to be "tricky". She said, "there's still a bit of a stigma about it" and when I asked her if Page Three made the stigma worse, she said: "I do think that breastfeeding is something that needs to be spoken about more (especially in the media), as it seems like people would rather just not look/not be around it. I do think that Page Three makes the situation worse. I haven't experienced being in a cafe where a man is reading Page Three, but I can imagine that being an environment where I wouldn't feel comfortable breastfeeding". I feel a real sadness thinking about new mothers who want to breastfeed feeling uncomfortable about doing it. It is a primal instinct to want to nourish a hungry infant, why should mums be made to feel uncomfortable for doing so?
On a personal note, I experienced many problems when I was breastfeeding that I felt completely unprepared for.*** If breastfeeding were more socially acceptable and more women breastfed in public, perhaps I would have been more aware of the problems you can encounter and would have heard possible ways of dealing with them.
As Unicef state, "attitudes to breastfeeding are not going to improve if the level of knowledge and understanding among the general population is not raised".**** Page 3 creates a barrier between women and breastfeeding as it sends out a harmful message to society that 'Boobs are for sex,' when primarily boobs are for babies.
Please sign the No More Page 3 petition. www.change.org/nomorepage3
***You can read about my experiences of breastfeeding here: www.listentothechorus.wordpress.com