Why We Need Lactivists

The UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world and when we think about it, it's not rocket science to understand why that may be.

The UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world and when we think about it, it's not rocket science to understand why that may be.

Although I am tempted to harp on about the benefits of breastfeeding, I won't. I'm a passionate breastfeeding mother of one with another in the oven and being your typical yoghurt knitting middle class stay at home mum (if you take on board Katie Hopkins mass generalisations) it will probably come across as though I think that breastfeeding is a piece of piss. Which, unfortunately to far too many members of the general public it (NIP) is certainly viewed as tantamount to having a wee in the street (or cafe).

But like most women, I had hurdles to jump too. I didn't start breastfeeding until my daughter was eight weeks old, despite being told by Health visitors that I couldn't, that my nipples were too small and that some babies just don't want to breastfeed. Nobody helped me. You could say well, why didn't she go on Google and look for a lactation consultant? But I had never even heard of them, had no idea where to begin and was pouring coffee into my eyeballs direct in order to put one foot in front of the other, at the time. It's a complete post code lottery as to what kind of help, what standard of help and what, if any signposting you get from those most women put their faith in; The NHS.

Health visitors even told me that one leading brand was the best formula (rubbish, they are all the same) and that it didn't really matter in the long run, I had tried and sometimes it's not for everyone. I'm not alone in being being misled by those meant to help but luckily for me, I rescued my breastfeeding relationship, something that if I hadn't have done, would have significantly harmed my emotional health.

It's hard to imagine that there's no specialist breastfeeding training across the board for ALL midwives, health visitors or doctors. Sure there's training here, training there, often sponsored in some part or way by formula companies (!!) but nothing compulsory for all. Irresponsible considering these professionals are in direct, immediate contact with vulnerable new mothers.

What happens when the midwife hasn't got time (because of drastic cuts and lack of midwifes to go around) or the Health Visitor misses a tongue tie? Shouldn't we be grateful that a growing group of informed, passionate women (Lactivists) are on hand to, for example, comfort a mum sobbing in pain at 4am and saving dad a trip to Tesco for formula?

Less than 2% of women physically can't breastfeed. However, a cursory glance at a Facebook page or blog with breastfeeding as the topic and you'll find it saturated with stories of perceived failed breastfeeding journeys. Not mums who chose to formula feed. Not mums with medical issues that made breast feeding unsafe or impossible. No, instead, you'll find mums who have tried their best, who desperately wanted to breastfeed who have been told that they have failed. Scratch the surface and a hefty amount of mums haven't failed at all. Far from it. Mothers do NOT fail at breastfeeding. They are FAILED by society that with one hand giveth (information pamphlets saying you must breast feed) and with the other hand taketh away (National Breastfeeding Awareness has ceased to exists due to funding cuts which coincided with the first significant drop in breastfeeding rates in the UK this year). Quite simply, it's Lactivists who are picking up the slack from the Health Care Professional's overwhelmingly patchy, inconsistent support with incessant failure to sign post to the breastfeeding experts (by which I mean La Leche League NOT Nestle funded Clare Byam Cook. But that's another blog entirely.)

Not a week goes by without someone flouting the anti-discrimination laws that protect nursing mothers, which is why Midwife Virginia Howes has pioneered the creation of a petition to bring UK laws in line with Scottish law, making discrimination of breastfeeding a criminal offence. (Please do sign the petition at the bottom of this blog!) At present, the law applies everywhere, including swimming pools. One look at the comments section following any article on the subject and you could be forgiven for stumbling onto the comments section of the ubiquitous Daily Mail. It seems majority of Joe Public are disgusted by breasts unless they're on page three or jiggling merrily on the lovely Holly Willoughby. I wonder if they would appreciate Holly's boobs in quite the same way if she had been papped feeding her baby in Costa Coffee?

The media gives airtime to writers and personalities who claim, once again, that breastfeeding is only for the middle class, that you must be 'divorced from work' for six months, bottom moulded to chair, feeling miserable. Hasn't Grace Dent (http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/offering-poorer-mothers-200-to-breastfeed-is-barmy-middleclass-lactivism-8935416.html) heard about electric breast pumps and that thing called the law that protects nursing mothers in the workplace?

How can breastfeeding be seen as normal when even big old friendly household favourite Tesco Baby Club pretty much says there's little difference between formula and breastmilk? (http://www.babyfeedinglawgroup.org.uk/sites/babyfeedinglawgroup.org.uk/files/tescobuyingguide051113.)

Women not breastfeeding their babies is a public health problem. We need a gargantuan shift in cultural perceptions of what's normal, not vouchers for shoes to entice a mum to give it a go.

Sadly, whilst keyboard warriors insist breastfeeding mums should cover up, sit in toilets and organise themselves better by using bottles of expressed milk to appease strangers, acceptance of NIP (nursing in public) simply won't move any further forward. With intermittent to no real support from the NHS we will continue to have angry let down mothers accuse breastfeeding mothers like me of making them feel guilty, or judged. These same mums who feel guilty and judged attack Lactivists who are simply standing up for the cause for our future generations and who only want to help mothers who aren't getting the best out of their breasts due to lack of support or knowledgeable health care professionals. If Lactivists didn't exist, who would challenge formula companies when they break the law? Who would write to big conglomerates and urge them to correct their information and remind them of current best practice? Who would stand up for breast feeding mothers who are being discriminated against on a daily basis? We need Lactivists because they are the movers and shakers, the pioneers of breastfeeding awareness. As the Dalai Lama says, "Be the change you want to see."

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