Written by Annika Eade

In The News

Breast intentions

Jamie Oliver should keep his opinion on breastfeeding to himself, right? Wrong, says Annika Eade.


Photo by Scandic Hotels, shared under CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Did anyone else join me in the brace position when Jamie Oliver’s sweeping statement about how all women should breastfeed hit the headlines last week? Did no one warn him making sweeping generalisations, packaged as advice, would instigate a backlash of tsunami proportions?

However, when this article flashed up in my newsfeed, I have to confess, I breathed a small sigh of relief. What could be so great about Jamie Oliver, who I can definitely vouch has never breastfed, getting in on a decision that should rest solely with a mother and no one else? Perhaps he read the open letter published in the Lancet last month signed by every birth-related healthcare professional you can think of, calling out the government for letting UK mothers down.

For many who try to breastfeed (of their own volition, not because they felt they had to) it can be far from easy and to succeed, good advice and support is essential. But what if there is no help, then what?

I remember the first night in hospital with my newborn son, trying to feed so unsuccessfully that by the time the epidural had worn off, so had the skin on my nipples. I remember deliriously asking anyone who came near my bed for help.

Three midwives and a rather shocked hospital cleaner later I was finally told a breastfeeding counsellor would come and show me what to do. After a 10-minute explanation I went home and continued to try to feed, miserably and with the same thought going round in my head: ‘How could something natural feel so excruciatingly unnatural?’

The day my second son was born there wasn’t a breastfeeding counsellor on the maternity ward. I waited several hours and eventually went home. I trawled the internet and persevered and I did get there, but only through hard work and sheer luck.

“Anyone who read Jamie’s wife Jools’ graphic account of mastitis in her pregnancy book will know that he comes to this as a supportive partner with good intentions.”

The short of it is that initially 81 per cent of UK mothers are choosing to breastfeed. However, the rates of continued breastfeeding drop off, placing us the lowest in the world.

Any ‘breastfeeding crisis’ is down to the lack of support in place to help mothers continue to breastfeed. With £200m of cuts to public health spending to be made, local health authorities are finding every possible saving, with breastfeeding drop-in clinics the first on the hatchet list.

Yes, Jamie Oliver’s phrasing was undoubtedly ill-judged and something he hastily apologised for. However, anyone who read his wife Jools’ graphic account of mastitis in her pregnancy book will know that he comes to this as a supportive partner with good intentions.

I don’t mind admitting, I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Jamie, ever since he first slid down a fireman’s pole into our televisions as The Naked Chef, leaping onto his moped to go and purchase produce at the farmers’ market (a cookery show opening not dissimilar to a questionable porn film). Then how he swiftly matured, establishing his restaurant Fifteen, supporting and providing opportunities to disadvantaged youths.

I’m not sure anyone could have predicted he would go on to convince Tony Blair to pledge £280m (over three years) to improving the nation’s school dinners. This is a man who, when it comes to something he is passionate about, can behave like a dog with a bone and he won’t stop until he gets results.

I am no member of the ‘breastapo’ and, if I could, I would change the NHS mantra of ‘breast is best’ emblazoned across all their advice leaflets with ‘do what YOU think is best‘.

But just imagine if a game-changer like Jamie Oliver could shine a light on the continued cutbacks in breastfeeding support services? Imagine a future where sensible breastfeeding support is offered, not shopping vouchers, and where a mother feeding her baby in public would no longer be headlines.

If someone with previous in sparking debate and spreading awareness can give breastfeeding mothers the help and support they need, then I say come on in Jamie, join us!


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Written by Annika Eade

Annika is a mother and a writer, specialising in blogging and graphic novels. Caffeine essential.