Jamie Oliver’s advocacy is welcome here

It’s taken me a few days to decide whether or not to write something in response to Jamie Oliver’s announcement that breastfeeding is on his mind and that he would like to contribute to it being encouraged and supported.

My initial reaction was “Yes!”. And upon reflection, my reaction is still very much the same.

Last year I co-organised an event at the Bristol Food Connections Festival called ‘Breastmilk, our perfect first food.’ That’s what it is. Our very first food, the foundation of our life-long gut health. (see https://breastfeedingthoughts.com/2015/05/06/the-composition-of-human-milk/)

That a chef who is passionate about how we nourish our children would think of human milk as our first food makes perfect sense. That a father of 4 (soon 5) who has stood by his wife as she nourished their children knows all about the effort and rewards of breastfeeding is a given. That a man should use his voice to stand by us in wanting our children to be nourished with the greatest care possible is awesome. Breastfeeding is not a women’s issue, it’s a human issue. Fathers need to be as much a part of this conversation as us.

Also, it’s now emerging that human milk has a direct effect on our children’s epigenetic makeup. Components in our milk have been found to switch on a gene that produces the hormone Leptin for instance. This hormone is in charge of letting us know when our tummies are full, thus informing us to stop eating. Author and CAPPA Director Laurel Wilson IBCLC gives an astonishing talk on this subject. This is important information. http://www.unicef.org.uk/BabyFriendly/News-and-Research/News/Hear-Laurel-Wilsons-conference-talk-in-full/

Mr Oliver’s thought that any programme tackling childhood obesity is incomplete unless it also opens up a conversation about breastfeeding is a good thought.

I spend a lot of time supporting other women and being supported myself in facebook breastfeeding groups, and not a day goes by without any number of posts from people having been given the most inaccurate and damaging advice you could imagine. From friends and family, but also from healthcare professionals. And not a day goes by without all of us feeling frustrated about this.

There are many of us in the UK passionate about exclusively feeding our children with our own milk. In fact over 80% of us start out breastfeeding our newborns. And this falls to just over 45% by 6 weeks. And you know why? Because breastfeeding is a learned skill that you can either pick up without really realising it from decades of observing the women around you doing it freely and publicly (which doesn’t happen in the UK), or you have to rely on the right support once your baby is born. And this support can be pretty hard to come by. Individual women are not failing, our culture’s support system is.

Any voice that wants to raise this issue and stand for good support for women who want to breastfeed their children is welcome here.