Academic calls for society to be more supportive of breastfeeding

Breast is best but not in my back yard – that’s the prevailing attitude to breast feeding in the UK today says a Swansea University academic in a special issue of the journal Trends in Molecular Medicine (TMM).

Dr Amy BrownThe article, by Dr Amy Brown, which considers the many societal barriers women face when they want to breastfeed, is featured in “Nurturing the Next Generation” - a review of the latest advances in reproductive medicine.

TMM Editor Christopher Pettigrew says the special issue aimed to promote constructive discussion about how new advances challenging many of the basic tenets of reproduction. He said: “There is a profound shift underway in our understanding of how the environment and modern technologies are affecting the next generation at the molecular level.”

Dr Brown of the Department of Public Health, Policy and Social Sciences said: ‘We know that breastfeeding is best for babies. We want more babies to be breastfed. We have policy encouraging more new mums to breastfeed. In fact, many mothers actually report they feel too much pressure to breastfeed. But actually our attitude as a society towards mothers when they come to breastfeed is very poor and this is reflected in low levels of breastfeeding in the UK.

In the article, Dr Brown observes that most women will be able to breastfeed but their experiences can easily damage their confidence or decision to do so. She said: “There are frequent media stories about women being told that they cannot breastfeed in a café or a shop and derogatory comments are made towards them suggesting that they are simply exhibitionists or doing something intimate or contaminative that should be kept in private.  Some politicians and prominent figures are also on record as saying that women need to be more discrete when in fact all mothers are trying to do is feed their hungry baby.’

‘Meanwhile, a large proportion of the public appear content with the sexualisation of the female body in adverts, magazines and on music videos. The very same people who complain at the sight of a breastfeeding mother are often found to be idolizing the female body depicted in another form. It is not difficult to see what messages we are sending the younger generation as to the purpose of the female body and why so many women feel too embarrassed to breastfeed in public.’

Dr Brown’s article also comments that due to low levels of breastfeeding, formula feeding now has very much become our cultural norm. When women have difficulties breastfeeding they can have trouble finding the right support or other people such as family and friends simply tell them to stop breastfeeding and give the baby a bottle.

Dr Brown said: ‘It’s as if we spend pregnancy telling women that ‘breast is best’ and they must breastfeed and then we abandon them or even encourage them to use formula postnatally, leaving many feeling like they have ‘failed’.

‘To counteract this problem we need to move from a formula feeding society to one where breastfeeding is supported and encouraged. Countries such as Sweden remarkably raised their breastfeeding rates through very positive and supportive attitudes towards breastfeeding and new families in general. In Sweden breastfeeding is simply the normal thing to do. To change things in the UK we need better support for breastfeeding mothers and recognition that women who are breastfeeding are simply doing the best they can for their baby.’

The article ‘Breast is best but not in my backyard’ by Dr Amy Brown can be viewed here.