The I Support You Movement is very aware that breastfeeding where there is no access to a safe water supply and sterilising equipment can be life saving. As Mums we are furious; by 2017 there should freaking well be clean water and sterilising equipment available for every baby and child on the planet, but sadly there is not. In those places, breastfeeding is the one of the only things that women can to do try to protect their babies and we are absolutely behind initiatives, such as World Breastfeeding Week, that highlight the importance of breastfeeding for children in areas with limited access to clean water.

In the UK however, things are a bit different and we want to focus on how World Breastfeeding Week went down here. We had hoped for something new and fresh but are left with the feeling that it’s gone a little stale, like yesterday’s loaf. 

Today we live in an increasingly non-binary world, no longer is there a ‘norm’, we don’t have to be limited by our biology or by what is ‘natural’. Sexuality is to be celebrated within the bounds of consent, respect and personal preference. We strive to accept our differences, we celebrate them and we teach our children to stand up for the right to be different.

Yet World Breastfeeding Week 2017 asks us to champion the ‘norm’ and ‘natural’ and asexual.

We knew that a celebration of all infant feeding would be unlikely, but we had hoped for at least a celebration of breastfeeding. Instead negative attitudes towards breastfeeding were given a platform.  We heard of children who found breastfeeding ‘yukky’. The thing is, children think broccoli is yukky, not because they have societally-driven pejorative messages about the yukkiness of broccoli but because they are children. Pretty much anything except Lego cards and Minecraft is yukky.  Shining the spotlight on the old-fashioned, minority attitudes that we want to eradicate risks normalising them. Instead we should shout loudly about the laws that protect breastfeeding women and lay out our vision for the camaraderie and kindness that could be the future of infant feeding.

Infant formula and those who use it again faced the implication that they are uneducated, victims or active opponents of the ‘biological norm’. That their use of infant formula is risky and harmful and a result of ignorance.  These attitudes won’t win people over but only alienate them further.

The phrase ‘more support’ is ubiquitous. More funding for more support, that’s all we need. But at a time where we can edit genomes and transplant entire faces, it is astonishing that we still know very little about the functioning of the human breast – and how to fix problems when things go wrong.

While societal pressures/barriers may well exist, the reason that women most frequently cite for early cessation of breastfeeding is pain – but there is shockingly little proper science about how to fix a sore nipple! When we can’t even decide on the what the incidence of undersupply is, whether it be temporary or chronic, how can we hope to address it? Estimates range from 2% to 44%, but again, the available research is sparse. As a result, peer support in its current form has struggled to show its worth and this needs to change.

Here’s what we propose at ISY:

The I Support You Movement wants every family to feel comforted, supported and confident in their infant feeding choices. Every time you go to feed your baby in public and at home you should feel like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. For us, this means following these three steps:

  • Celebrate all families and feeding methods: not everyone has breasts, not everyone wants to or can breastfeed, not every baby can either. For some breastfeeding is a hard-won battle and for others it’s a dream. We should celebrate all of this; the new normal is that there is no normal.
  • Prioritise funding to good quality research studies, targeting areas where we lack knowledge.
  • Make a commitment to LISTEN to the women who are disappointed with their infant feeding services and address their complaints so that we can make things better.

Let’s make #WBW17 a lesson for next year; we need 2018 to be an Infant Feeding Week with real purpose and commitment and that starts now.