Belfast Telegraph

Why it’s right to fight the breast is best brigade

By Jane Graham

The deputy editor of Mother and Baby magazine has caused a right rumpus by describing breast-feeding as “creepy” and saying she “couldn’t be fagged” to try it because she wanted to retain the sexual status of her “fun bags”.

Kathryn Blundell’s comments have outraged mothers and medical professionals alike, attracting complaints to the PCC and inspiring a 500-strong Facebook campaign group demanding an apology.

Now I’ll admit that some of Blundell’s throwaway lines seem designed to cause offence. Any doting mother who’s spent months lovingly gazing down at her latched-on baby is going to be wound up by a description of what is clearly an entirely natural process as “creepy”.

It’s especially annoying if you’re a breast-feeding mum who’s had to endure disapproving looks from pass-remarkable ignoramuses in coffee shops up and down the land (Ireland, north and south, is particularly busy with these frosty, judgmental types).

However, if Blundell’s frank honesty goes some way to combating the notion that breast is not only best, but morally superior, then I have to welcome it.

Because for too long midwives and health visitors, as well as know-it-all friends and family members, have used NHS guidelines as an ethical basis with which to bully new mothers reluctant to breast-feed, and it’s time the rug was pulled from underneath all of them.

When I had my daughter, complicated circumstances meant that for the first few days, she was drip-fed. All around me, I could hear the sounds of women being pushed into breast-feeding. Some of course, were very keen and took to it well. Others however, just could not get it right, and within a couple of days were worn out, suffering with sore, blistered nipples and battered self-esteem.

The midwives were generally unsympathetic, and some were genuinely aggressive, threatening these fragile, scared new mums with the terrible “likely” health consequences for their babies if they refused to keep trying.

I heard the first-time mother across the aisle from me — a young girl in her early 20s — in floods of tears on the phone to her husband one night.

She was exhausted, dizzy with guilt and hugely intimidated by the ward staff who would not allow her to consider bottle feeding while she was still under their care. It was the least comforting or optimistic environment to bring a new baby into I could imagine in a civilised country.

In the end I bottle fed my own baby when she came off the drip (I escaped from hospital the same day). I had what I can only call a blissful few months with my newborn, while watching some of my new mum friends struggle with breast-feeding — the pain, the fatigue, the anxiety of “not mastering it” — until they veered close to depression.

Some of course sailed through it — but a common side-effect I noticed arising from that experience was a smugness about the automatic superiority as mothers they believed it afforded them.

One woman informed me that she took great comfort in the knowledge that she was a better parent than those who “selfishly” refused to “do the best” by their children by breast-feeding them.

The fact that she had left her baby in care from 8am until 7pm every weekday since she was three months old was clearly of less significance to her.

If Kathryn Blundell’s article goes some way to undermining delusional fools like her, I’m all for it.

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