The Dangers of the "D" Word (Part 1)

27 06 2008
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There was an interesting article today in a UK newspaper, about the Vatican calling for the return of paintings depicting the Virgin Mary, with Breast & Baby, to the Church collections. The article highlights that as Reformation influences swept through Northern Europe, Mary got to be covered up, literally. In terms of her nursing the infant Jesus, a blanket was put over her body, and off to the cellar she went. It was a moment in Art, where the female breast, suckling a baby, stopped representing purity, nurture and love, and perceptions of shame and sexuality appeared. So off the the darkness went Mary, and off the breast came Jesus. Paintings of Jesus at Mary’s breast tend only to be seen now, in museums. The Churches they were painted for, no longer display them.
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The point to be made here is not that the sexualisation of the breast superceding the normal function of the breast is pretty modern. It’s to point out that the perception of the female body, and the breast, is a cultural construct, and that culture changes regularly. A misconception always abounds when paintings such as these are highlighted: that women regularly fed their infants in public, as they are seen doing so in paintings. Nothing could be further from the truth.
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Women weren’t allowed in public spaces at all when these images were painted. Working class women, peasant women, would have been in the fields, but these were extensions of their domestic spheres, and roles as wives and daughters of peasant men. Equally, the lower class working women in the streets of towns and cities, were controlled and chaperoned by their men, unless they were powerful and rich widows, and even they had to follow rules. Upper class women were simply not in the streets at all. Women’s bodies may have been naked and glorified in Art, but this was not a reflection that they were naked and glorified in day to day life. They were covered tip to toe in most places, most times. With the entire body being seen as something to be hidden, and the breast no more nor less ‘hidden’ that ankles, elbows and shoulders. Bare shoulders have actually been more scandalous in more cultures, more often, than the swell of the breast has been. Hair has usually been tightly controlled too, and some of these works are signalling domestic spheres by showing uncovered hair! Hussies!
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Neither were these women nursing their babies at home, in front of guests. They were nursing them in their closed female quarters, if the household was rich enough, and negotiating their presence with male visitors in any event in smaller houses, nursing baby or not. Women were simply not free to be around male relatives and visitors in the home, without appropriate control and supervision. The addition of a baby didn’t make any difference. Many women, in many periods, were not even nursing their babies themselves, as several complex systems of wet-nursing and hierarchy evolved in many areas at different time. The Queen sent her baby to the Duchess, the Duchess suckled the Queen’s baby and sent hers to the Lady. The Lady suckled the Duchess’s baby and sent hers to… and on downwards, ’till the farmer’s wife was lucky enough to keep hers, and get someone else’s too. Whilst the poor Queen got pregnant again.
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So such pictures are not a social documentary of how it was to be a women, suckling a baby, in these times, not in that sense. Not in the “it was totally normal and accepted to nurse in public” sense, which is how they are often cited. “See,” the cry goes up “Mary didn’t need to be discreet, no one minded her breastfeeding in… ” But such arguments are fallacy, at least as Europe is concerned. Portraits such as these are not social documentary. They are a stylised visual language, where symbolism tells a very complex and understood story of the time. The purity of the breast, the innocence and love of the mother, the angelic breast with its virgin nipple of perfect rose tinted hue… all constructing an image of motherering, and motherhood, and suckling a child at the breast as a sign the child is of the flesh. An important theological point about the “God made flesh”. God’s love for mankind, in expressed in this physical mother’s feeding God’s Child from her flesh. He is flesh too, and grown from her milk. Her milk is a sign of God’s healing love:
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“Little breasts of the Mother Mary
Shining like little torches
Offering milk to the Son
They are little sparks of nourishment
Through which sins are abolished
Smelling of perfume.”
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These are metaphorical breasts, with metaphorical powers of sanctity, sometimes made flesh in their own way. (Vials of the Virgin’s Milk were traded around Europe as Holy Relics, and were proven cures for all disease and sin.) So it’s important not to over-romanticise what these images say of women’s roles, and of how society and culture viewed them. The History of Art is not the History of People’s Lives. After all, when in 1563 the Council of Trent censored all naked images of sacred subjects, and started the great cover up, the women weren’t suddenly banned from breastfeeding the babies. Breastfeeding just stopped happening in the paintings as a representation of God’s love, and disappeared from the Church walls entirely. Jesus was magickally sustained on thin air for the next few centuries.
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Where these paintings are important in terms of social documentary, however, is in their revealing of the day to day mechanics of nursing a baby – this is where they are representing reality. These were real models, and real babies, in the main. These images depict the actuality of nursing, with the women in public view on canvas. Nursing an infant was a normal event in the privacy of the households, and this is reflected in the fine detail in the artwork. Some beautiful and very realistic touches are in them, that many a modern mother responds to.
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We have clear depictions of milk coma and nipple twiddlers, for a start. And many a long and loving glance between mother and child, as the eye ball staring of the infant and the nurturing mother is replicated frequently. We also get a sense of how often mothers just slipped the breast up and out of her clothing, as well as clothing that had laces in place to allow the breast to be released. We also have a wonderful range of ages. None of these babies are tiny newborns, they are all quite strapping and well on the way to head control (and finger control) and some as beyond toddlerhood and are clearly young children.

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I’m no Art Historian, and so there is probably a whole slew of levels of symbolism I’m missing in the paintings with the older infants. I can see clearly that there is a presentation of personality in all the Jesus figures – not really possible in a tiny and delicate newborn. Just as I can see that Jesus reaching out to the breast and releasing it, can be about Jesus eagerly reaching for God’s Love etc. But as a mother of a nursing 3 year old, I can also see the actuality in the older child’s pose, as he settles on the lap with one leg bent at the knee, and the other spread out. It’s a pose I see, and feel, every day. The sense that these are real children nursing, has a powerful resonance if you’ve ever nursed a child. I personally respond to that, and to the everyday nature and detail of the reality of nursing, more than I do to any notion that this is representing God’s love. One wonders if the mothers depicted, would see the mothering, before the theology too? And although it would have been very repressive to live in these times, as a woman, at least it was a repression that honoured the idealised breast, and did not condemn it. (Well, until 1563, at least.)
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There is also a huge sense of release, and relief at looking at these portraits, because of the feeling of normality that I get from them. They depict nursing in a pure sense, a mother’s breast and a suckling child. No sense of censure or disapproval. No apology over the body, the breast. No matter that it is idealised, there is just a wonderful sense of energy from looking at all those breasts and feeling comfortable that others are comfortable looking at them too! That the feeding is on display, not the female body (as such). That a breast can be nurturing and is not automatically sexual.
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In our fruitless quest to feed our hungry children without approbation from others that we are indecent, indiscreet and wantonly flaunting our shameful flesh, portraits showing the reality, that breasts get shown when nursing children, and this is no big deal, are very welcome. On this level, the paintings are incredibly liberating, which is totally ironic given the restrictions in the real lives of the models. But they do hold up as an ideal, a situation that most nursing mothers yearn for – a day when no one would look twice at a nursing child. When it would be about the baby and the feeding, not about the breast. When the baby and the feeding was all that was of comment. To mention, or draw attention to the breast at all was to merely talk about how wonderful it was that it was feeding the baby!
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A time when the use of the word discreet was applied to the viewer upon the scene, not the participants…
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For the modern day mother, there is a wonderful fantasy held in these ancient portraits. A fantasy of a nursing relationship free from the imposed constraints of sexualisation. A fantasy that many respond to, and ache for, particularly as their infants age, and the burden of being discreet begins to rest upon their children, and not themselves. For as head control, and Independence emerges, so, quite often, will the mother’s breast. The acquiescent 2 months old, soon becomes the squirming bundle of the 8 months old, and then the boisterous and unstoppable 12 month old. And onwards to the 18 months old, running up and asking for some mother’s love. Faced with the realities of moving growing and independent children, many a mother has weaned rather than face the horror of being accused of being indecent. These portraits, in their innocence, allow us to dream that one day, we too could nurse in such an unconscious, and natural, fashion. Where we could have such happy and healthy babies, and bountiful breasts with no slurs upon them of sexuality and shamelessness.
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But just how realistic is this, as an ideal? In a world where the female’s body is still hidden under the shroud of the Council of Trent – were all female flesh is inherently sexual, could such a paradise ever exist? Well, certainly, the call from the Vatican to reclaim this history, and to uncover Mary’s breast in the Church, is a very positive sign. The world is changing, and just as Mary is coming out from the cellar, could other mothers come out from the back bedroom, safe in the knowledge that the world outside is happy to let her child feed? Could we shift the honus on being discreet to the watcher, not the watched? Well, just lately, help has come on that issue, from an unexpected source, not a million miles away from these paintings… but I must leave my musings there for the moment, as I’ve discovered that blogger has a memory limit, and this post has reached it! As they say… more later!
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Breastfeeding Picnic 2008

25 06 2008
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Join Us!

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A Breastfeeding Picnic at Parliament Square
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And A Regional Centre Near You!
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Monday July 21st, Noon Onwards
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R.S.V.P
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You can also attend online if you cannot physically make an event:
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Monday, July 21, 2008
12:00pm – 4:00pm
Bournemouth Eye (opposite it!)
Lower Gardens
Bournemouth,

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Hinckley Picnic
Hinckley Breastfeeding group are
planning a smallish picnic in Hinckley,
Argents Mead on the 21st at 12,
all welcome please RSVP.

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Birmingham Picnic
21 July, 12 Noon onwards
Colmore Row
(near Snow Hill Train Station)
Wet weather venue to be confirmed

RSVP appreciated
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Durham Picnic
Monday 21st July, 2008,
12pm – 2pm
Palace Green,
Durham

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Oxford Picnic
Monday July 21st
1pm to 3pm
Oxford Park
(near Keble Rd Entrance)
email for copy of marked map
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Camberley Picnic
Monday July 21st
12:00pm – 4:00pm
Frimley Lodge Park
Sturt Road,
Frimley Green,
Surrey GU16 6NS
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Colchester Picnic
21st July
Colchester Castle Park
Near the Bandstand
1-3pm
Bring your own picnic
Boob-like fairycakes provided!
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Protect my baby, protect me
(tune: It’s a long way to Tipperary)

Please protect me, protect my baby, at our breastfeeding time,
for it keeps us both fit and happy, and it should not be a crime.
We ask the nation’s leaders injustice to reject;
please protect me, and protect my baby, and show us respect!
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©Alison Blenkinsop July 2008
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Parliament Square, Westminster, London
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Parliament Square is, essentially, a very large roundabout. A very large roundabout in the middle of very very busy traffic. London Traffic. 🙂
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Therefore, a few pointers for those who do not know the location, and how to survive it with children of the walking type. 🙂
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The Palace of Westminster is the right hand side of the Square as you are looking at it above – St Margaret Street
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Technically, we are having the picnic on the tiny stretch of pavement you can see here, facing onto St Margaret Street. In reality, we will be on the grass in the centre of the Square. No one will mind, as long as we don’t breaks the rules. So please don’t bring homemade banners or anything.
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At the ‘back’ of the square, is a concreted area with statues and benches, and some nice shady trees. Centre of the green, however, will be safest, as it’s the furthest from the road in all directions.
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Transport
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Buses come into this area from all around. 3 and 87 stop on St Margaret Street. The nearest Tube is Westminster. Which is a few hundred yards away, down Bridge Street. Westminster Tube is disabled accessible, so it has lifts from all levels, up to street level. The final little lift up to the street, is the Bridge Street exit. So buggies and strollers are fine from that approach. You literally emerge under the shadow of Big Ben. (And there will be tourists taking photos.) You emerge into a very narrow and crowded pavement – so grab children by hand first. You turn right down Bridge Street.
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You can see all this in very good detail, on Google Maps, if you input SW1A 2LW and click to ‘satellite’. Zoom in, and you will see that the Underground is very close. You will also see the trees and paved area on the Square.
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Car parking is very expensive and street parking lethal to try and get into. Disabled badges are not valid for double yellow lines etc, in Westminster. However, if you park across the river, you are in Lambeth, and blue disabled badges are valid there.
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Crossing into the Square is very dangerous. Presumably, for security reasons, the corners of the crossing areas all around the square, have railings that close off access to the Square at the corners. So the safest approach, especially with buggies or prams, and wheelchairs, is to cross over in the middle section at the top of this map (Great George Street). We will have people to help, but the nice policemen there will help too. Given we are at the centre of Government, and right next to Downing Street, there are a lot of nice policemen on the ground.
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And on the roofs. 🙂
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Amenities
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Above Westminster Underground Station as you emerge into Bridge St, in the shadow of Big Ben, is a Tesco Express. It is a long thin corridor, stuffed with food, drink, crisps, chocolate, sandwiches and MP’s ‘run around people’ elbowing the tourists out of the way. The queue is awesomely long looking (the length of the shop) but there is 5 or 6 tills at the end, and it goes fast. No mother should be in Westminster, and not know it exists. Equally, the danish pastries are at toddler grab height.
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There are no public toilets in Westminster. The best bet, is Central Hall, which has a lovely cafe and nice toilets. It’s in Storey’s Gate, on the left of the above map, directly ‘behind’ us. It has a lot of fancy stone steps, so if you have a buggy, go for the disabled access entry. The cafe is ground floor. Most of us will end up there for tea and scones afterwards.
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Ironically, the nearest toilet and cafe, and a lovely ‘wet weather’ area is actually inside Parliament. Westminster Hall is a wonder to behold, big enough for toddler freedom, has toilets and a cafe at that level, and is level access if you ask to be escorted down to the far door. Anyone can enter Westminster Hall, but you have to go through police security. If you have never been in, it is worth a look. If you appear to be part of the event on the Square, they may refuse you. So don’t try and enter with banners, badges etc. But if you have time to go through security (anywhere from 3 to 30 minutes) it is well worth a look. You can use a camera in there too.
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Rules of Engagement
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It is illegal to protest, demonstrate or hold a rally within half a mile of Parliament. It is not illegal to have a picnic, celebrate breastfeeding, and raise awareness of issues as long as you have received the proper permissions from the police. So, we are celebrating, and in doing so, raising awareness of an issue close to our hearts – our breasts! 😉
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So we ask that no one bring homemade placards or banners. We don’t know what will be written on them, and if that’s likely to be seen as ‘protest’. We have permission to have placards, and we will be using them for photo-shoot purposes only. If you wish to bring something to wave and have fun with, could you please bring any UK National flags you might have. Scots, English, Welsh, Northern Irish. We need them for the photo-shoot! And they will not be seen as a ‘protest’. If you have no such flags, please print off one on a nice clean bit of white paper. (Especially if you have a large sized printer!!)
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We’d like you, if possible, to invite your MP to the picnic.
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Things You Might Need
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The Square gets hot and baking in the sun, and there is no shelter in the rain. So prepare for both. We will be sticking to the Square in the rain, but you can shelter in either Central Hall, or Westminster Hall, or explore the options at Westminster Abbey, if it gets too much for you.
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Bring your picnic, and something nice to sit on the grass with. Bring a rubbish bag, for clearing up.
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Bring cakes!!!!
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If are a baby wearer, babies and younger toddlers best strapped to you. Older toddlers and young children will need one adult to one child for eye-keeping on (traffic) or need to be tied to an adult with reins, rope, or a Houdini type fastening. We will have adults without kids there, and we will endeavour to help with games and letting them run about for part of the picnic, but we cannot stress enough that keeping the children safe is a priority. This sounds harsher than it is, for there was no problems last year, but it’s important to stress that you will need to be vigilant.
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Do not bring balls, Frisbees or anything likely to cause a child to run after it. Small kites would be cool!
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Bring cameras and take a lot of photos for our photo album. Learn the words to the song, and join me singing it!
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I’ll be wearing a Garden Party hat. But I don’t think I’ll manage the cotton gloves and pearl necklace. 😉
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Modus Operandi
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The picnic is officially from noon, although there should be organisers there from about 11.30ish. Depends on traffic etc. We’re looking for the main part of the picnic to build up to about 1pm, when press will have been invited to attend, to give people time to relax from the trip. Although we’ve said until 4pm, the reality is that by about 3 pm, most of us will be dead on our feet, and we will pack up and decant over to the cafe at Central Hall around 3pm, for tea and scones. So if something dire happens to your transport, and you turn up after 3, look for us there! Unless, of course, we’re mobbed by a long queue of MPs coming over for tea and a chat, in which case we’ll still be there. 🙂 (EDIT: At least one MP due to arrive at 3.30 – so we’ll still be there!. 🙂
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If you have any particular special needs (such as knowing you are bringing a couple of walking kids and there is only one of you) email us and we’ll give you our mobile phone numbers in case you need help etc. breastfeeding.picnic@googlemail.com Also email if you can offer to help.
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On that, if you are coming and you are an adult without kids – please let us know! We need a dedicated band of adults watching out for the kids like a hawk! 🙂
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See you there!




Protect My Baby, Protect Me

25 06 2008

There has been a huge explosion in the battle to get legal protection for hungry babies in the UK this past week. Whilst Scotland has had protection for hungry babies for years now, hungry babies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have no protection from being hassled, intimidated, or made to stop feeding if they are in public spaces. There have been many attempts to bring the rest of the UK into line with Scotland, and to introduce protection. The UK Gov has stated it will do so, and it was all being taken care off in the proposed Single Equalities Bill.
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The Bill is a catch all bill, designed to even out Equal Rights for sections of the population facing different types of discrimination. It’s been set out for consultation for some time. The problem with this, is that breastfeeding is not mentioned in the consulting paper. So the UK Gov have asked for feedback, but not mentioned what they intend as far as breastfeeding. So, nothing in writing, just a lot of ‘talk’. More details can be found here.
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Now, when a Private Member’s Bill was first mooted for protecting hungry babies in England and Wales, it was roughly on the lines of the Scottish Bill – simply stating that is was illegal to try and stop a mother feeding her hungry baby milk, if they were in a public space:
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“Make it an offence to prevent or stop a person in charge of a child who is otherwise permitted to be in a public place or licensed premises from feeding milk to that child in that place or on those premises”
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Which is exactly what is required. After all, and this might be a shock to many readers, it is not illegal to breastfeed in public in England and Wales. Therefore, we don’t actually need a law to state you can breastfeed – you can anyway. But just as there is no law saying you can’t breastfeed, there is no law stating you can’t harass, intimidate, or try to stop a mother feeding her hungry child milk. And that’s what we need a law to do.
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We need a law to protect against ignorance and bigotry. We need a law to state that any hungry baby, that is being fed milk in any public space where they have a right to be, can be fed without that feed being interrupted. Protect The Baby. We need a law to state that any caregiver in charge of a child can feed it bottled milk, or any mother can breastfeed it, without fear of harassment, intimidation or that feed being interrupted. Protect The Mother.
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Women bursting into tears and being shouted at by angry and defensive officials (police officers, cafe owners, etc) and being told to stop what they are doing with a hungry and distressed baby in their arms, is not something that can be condoned in our society. But it is something that happens again, and again, and again.
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And it’s something that has had huge amounts of energy, time, political lobbying and money thrown at it. Money handed over by Mums, and Mums’ groups, to help promote equality for hungry babies. Money spent in phone calls, bus fairs, petrol and living expenses in attending meetings and events. It’s a huge drain on the breastfeeding support organisations, and on the Mums, to keep battling at this again and again and again. And we keep going, because somewhere, there has to be a voice for our babies. Our hungry babies have to be heard! Oh the irony, that making them wail in hunger as we collect out bags and red faced, are escorted to the door, or thrown out of the shopping centre! The sheer irony that people complain about the thing that will keep a hungry baby quiet – food!
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So what we need is clear. And the UK Gov said it was listening, and it would act.
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And what do we have?
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Chaos and farce, that’s what we have. Apart from anything else, the chaos of articles and opposing views this week, is all based on smoke and mirrors. For although there was, apparently, a media briefing at Downing Street stating that the Bill would cover to protect breastfeeding mothers as long as their babies were six months old and under… there still is nothing in writing in the published versions of the proposed Bill. There is a reply to a question raised on the Downing Street petition site, that illuminates the thinking that clearly underpins the role of the Bill, and the intent on breastfeeding:

“For example, if a mother who was breastfeeding her baby in a cafe was asked to leave, she could bring a claim of direct sex discrimination against the proprietor, providing her baby is not older than 6 months.”

And this is total farce. Utter utter farce. It’s a back-ended attempt to shoe horn breastfeeding protection in under amendments to maternity rights in the Sex Discrimination Act via the Equalities Bill! Maternity rights? As in, a baby can be fed as long as Mum is still under maternity rights legislation? Doh! What about the baby’s rights? What about the right to food when you are hungry? The implications of trying to shoehorn this in as part of maternity provision issue are just endless, and utterly bizarre!

Think about it – think of the logistics. A breastfeeding baby, out and about with Mum, gets hungry. Mum is having lunch at the local cafe. She starts to feed baby, and the owner demands she leave. What does she do? Well, she has no option but to leave, for there is nothing here to protect her right to stay and finish the feed. She can’t phone the police for help, and explain she is being harassed and prevented from feeding her hungry baby. So she has to leave and go find a lawyer.
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Yes. A lawyer.
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She goes off and finds a lawyer and asks them to sue the cafe owner under the Sex Discrimination Act. And her proof is….? And how long will that take…? And can she hack the stress and the costs… ?

And this is protection for hungry babies?

Oh wait, it gets better. Two Mums are out shopping with breastfeeding babies. One baby is six months old, one baby seven months old. Both babies get hungry, and both Mums feed them. Cafe owner comes over and demands they stop. Feisty number one says “You can’t do that under the Sex Discrimination Act I will sue you if you throw me out with my baby.” And cafe owner says “They are both much older than six months old, out you go.” And two hungry babies, wailing and screaming, are thrown into the streets with two red faced and bursting with fury and humiliation, mothers… and one can sue and the other can’t. Oh dear oh deary me.

Who thought this up? No, seriously, just who took the above wording to the proposed Private Members Bill, and turned it into this? The mind boggles. And the implications just keep coming…

Are we going to have to pay for identity cards, to prove our babies are young enough for a feed when we threaten people with lawyers and suing? Or just carry Birth Certificates around? And who do we sue in a public park? The council who own the park? The park warden who asked us to leave? The bigoted silent individual who wandered over to the park warden and said it was obscene to feed a baby milk near the playground?

As I said, utter farce. And patronising farce to boot! As if mothers would think this was appropriate, or desirable, legislation? How stupid do they think we are? Clearly quite stupid, as they’ve managed to do all this without actually committing ink to paper! It’s still all smoke and mirrors. And worse, much worse, all the fuss over this is creating the idea in people’s minds that it is actually illegal to breastfeed in public spaces in the first place. And that will just encourage bigots to be louder and more obnoxious. “I don’t care what you say, that baby is too old to be fed! Take it away! It’s illegal to feed that baby as it’s older than six months!”
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The inclusion of breastfeeding in this Bill has to stop. Breastfeeding has to be removed from the Single Equalities Bill. It cannot be allowed to continue in this vein. A proper breastfeeding protection bill must be put in place. A Bill that protects babies and protects mothers. A Bill that makes it illegal to hassle, intimidate or try to stop a hungry child being fed milk. We have to make this clear to Government, and let them know we will not be fobbed off by this nonsense.
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One women who has already tried to do this, is Emily Pulling. Last year, Emily held a Breastfeeding Picnic at Parliament Square, outside the Palace of Westminster – that lovely stretch of pavement in front of the grass. She got about 60 breastfeeding babies, toddlers and kids, and their Mums, and had a lovely Summer picnic, raising awareness of the need for protection for both the children, and the mothers. Bottle feeding Mums came too, as this is a milk and hungry babies issue, and this affects us all. Emily is not a professional activist. Not a paid official. Not an organisation. Just a Mum with a computer in the kitchen, bringing together other Mums with computers in their kitchen. Mum to Mum support.
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She had been talking about doing a country wide Breastfeeding Picnic next year, but this week’s chaos has brought the timetable forward. And she’s roped me in! So here it is, the official announcement of how you can help make it clear to everyone, that Mums need protection, not patronising:
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Join Us!

A Breastfeeding Picnic at Parliament Square

And A Regional Centre Near You!

Monday July 21st, Noon Onwards.

“Protect My Baby, Protect Me”

R.S.V.P
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It’s illegal to protest or demonstrate outside Parliament, but it’s not illegal to congregate and feed your hungry babies milk. Your hungry toddlers milk. Your hungry children milk. Here’s hoping no one threatens, intimidates or harass us. Here’s hoping no one demands we stop.
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Emily has organised this before, in this space, so is on top of the legalities. She’s also organising regional breastfeeding picnics, for those who cannot attend London. On 22 July, Parliament goes into Summer Recess, and the MPs sitting on July 21st, will be heading off to their constituencies. So it’s fitting that the constituencies will also hold such a celebratory picnic. So far, we have volunteers to organise simultaneous picnics in Edinburgh, Plymouth, Cardiff, Cambridge.. it’s a long list!
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And it will be totally fascinating that those hungry babies and their mothers in Edinburgh, outside the Scottish Parliament, will be protected from abuse and threat, and we, in London, outside the Mother of Parliaments, will not.
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If you want to help volunteer to run a local picnic on that day, or help with the London one, or need more info, or to interview Emily, you can contact her on Emily breastfeeding.picnic@googlemail.com You can also comment in the next entry, Which will just have all the details as they unfold. We will update it as we got.
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If you are also running events or blogs, or anything to do with protesting this silly proposal, you can comment here, and I will try and give you support and publicity.
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Everyone who can see the innate nonsense of trying to use the Single Equalities Bill in this way, and who can see the need for a proper separate law to protect babies and their mothers, write your MP.
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The really good thing about this week’s fuss… the only good thing about this week’s fuss… is that the Government have still to actually make all this official. As I said, it’s smoke and mirrors and closed briefing and snippets here and snippets there. So with Luck, and a fair wind, and lots of letters.. the Government can easily say this is all a Great Big Mistake. Without it being their Great Big Mistake, for a change. They can say “Hey, we never said that, this this is what we really propose…” After all, every child matters.
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Here’s hoping! See you at Parliament Square! 🙂




Bottle Vs Breast, A Mother’s Story

2 06 2008

The following is a testimony about having experienced the bond of mothering a formula fed child, and of experiencing the bond of a breastfeeding baby. It is written by a mother who formula fed 5 children, and finally got the support she needed to breastfeed her 6th and onwards. I’ve always believed that only mothers who have done this – raised a child fully with both methods – are qualified to speak to us of the differences.

The courage shown here is even more remarkable when you read of how she now feels about her ‘ff’ kids. And how much it hurts her that she didn’t make it for them.

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Whilst we often hear health benefits cited as a reason to breastfeed, many supporters are hesitant to discuss bonding; despite sound scientific evidence. This is hardly surprising, because whilst many formula feeding mums can acknowledge their child might have more colds or minor infections – the suggestion they may not be effectively bonded with her infant is likely to provoke a hair raising reaction in most quarters.

Bonding is of course a complex issue and fathers/aunts/ siblings/grandmas etc bond with baby too. Unlike illness, beyond the science aspect – for most parents it’s extremely hard to quantify. You can’t measure feelings, nor compare to what someone else is feeling. Formula feeding mothers love and care for their infants and cannot understand how this would be different if they breastfed.

The only people who can truly compare bonding between breast and bottle fed babies, is mothers who have done both. Even one of each is not really reliable, due to all the other possible influencing factors.

As a mum of eight; five formula fed and three breastfed – I want to share my experiences with you in this article, as you can imagine it has taken a lot of soul searching on my part to ponder the question; what is the big deal about breastfeeding and bonding?

If breastfeeding is considered just as a method of transferring milk into baby, then on the surface there does not seem to be that much difference. One could argue that bottle feeding mums have the advantage as their babies can look straight into their eyes, something that most newborns correctly latched on will not manage to do until they are older.

As a breastfeeding mum it can be easy to feel just like a milk machine and that is all baby wants you for. Everyone else can get a cuddle and the minute baby gets close to you, all baby wants is milk and will not settle until you feed him. You may be sore, you are probably leaking milk everywhere and well it can all be rather undignified to start with. A far cry from the rose tinted pictures of mum breastfeeding baby happily that you imagined! Rather then looking adoringly down on your newborn, you are probably busting for the loo, as you haven’t managed to get off the settee for the last few hours!

I am deliberately painting a negative picture, because breastfeeding can be blooming hard work to start with and that’s when all is going well. Throw in a baby who is not latching well, thus causing mum to be in pain, mastitis, thrush, cracked nipples etc and it can be a relief to go over to bottle. You often hear it don’t you, I only started bonding with my baby once we had switched to formula and the pain stopped. I was dreading feeding him as it hurt so much…

I can relate to that, because I have been there, done that. It was a relief at the time, the regrets come later. When you raise your head out of its sleep deprived state, when you ‘have your body back’ when your baby is not in your arms constantly anymore, when those chubby hands are caressing a plastic bottle instead of your breast. When baby gets excited at the sound of the bottle lid coming off, rather then you lifting your top. When your baby, breastfed for six weeks simply doesn’t smell like your baby anymore after just one bottle of formula (given on the advice of health professionals) causing you to break down in tears at the loss of your baby and the inevitable route to full formula feeding yet again!

When you stand with your seriously ill baby on your shoulder and you look at a breastfeeding display in the children’s ward, citing all the things that breastfeeding protects against, all the things that are making your baby so ill and you know that you have failed that baby.

If only you had tried harder, the pain wasn’t really that bad if only, if only, if only…

Of course none of us have a crystal ball, breastfed babies do get ill and hindsight is a wonderful thing. And of course you love your baby. You would challenge anyone who dare suggest that you could love your baby anymore were you still breastfeeding. But still, you see other mothers breastfeeding and you are simply green with envy. You justify it to yourself that they obviously had a much easier ride then you. Their baby could not possibly have been as hungry as yours. They do not have other children to take care off. Their skin is not as sensitive , whatever was the problem or was perceived to be the problem you have a justification for having to give up.

And at the end of the day it’s just milk right. You love your baby just as much, you know your baby just as much. A happy mother = a happy baby! Formula is not poison, ok breast milk is best but formula is good enough…

Putting aside the obvious health issues here, you are deluding yourself. It does matter, and it matters a great deal – but you do not know that, because you have been robbed of your nursing relationship before it even started. And how could you know really? You simply do not know what you are missing, as you have not been able to experience it.

Now fast forward a few babies. Quite a few babies in my case. You seek and find the right support whilst you are still pregnant. You listen, you learn, you surround yourself with other happily breastfeeding mothers and it is beginning to dawn on you that actually they did not have an easier ride then you. They had support when it mattered! So you grow quietly hopeful that maybe, just maybe you will be able to feed this baby yourself. Maybe it will not all end in tears, regrets and recriminations.

And then your new baby girl is here, born at home surrounded by all your loved ones and she latches on beautifully, so far so good. There is no pain, as you both know what you are doing. You have the confidence to co-sleep from the start, making night feeds so much easier. You have your breastfeeding counsellor on speed dial, lol, but really you do not need her as it just works. And you fall hopelessly and utterly in love with this little bundle. You treasure every moment you have with her at the breast. You love that drunken sailor look she gets all the time. You love the fact that she only wants you and all you have to do is lift your top and let her disappear under your jumper and she is happy.

And you simply cannot bear to be parted from her. Even when she is fast asleep in her basket you need to move her from room to room with you or you feel as though your right arm has been cut off. You know when she will want feeding as your milk will let down seconds before she wakes up. You put her at the other end of the bed to give yourself some room to sleep and you wake up seconds before she does and you realise that you haven’t moved but your newborn has managed to wriggle across until she is right next to your boob! You cannot stop sniffing her because she smells SO good. So familiar and sweet and you get such a kick out of seeing her grow. Knowing that it is all your milk that has caused those chubby dimples. And then you get the first smile as she is coming off the boob, your milk dribbling down her chin. And then the first raspberry blown that has you both in fits of giggles. Chubby hands stroking your breasts, a little mouth contently glugging away and you just feel on top of the world.

Your older children imitating you by breastfeeding their dolls, suggesting baby needs feeding so they can get on with their play and then your toddler coming up to you and asking to have some too. So you end up with both of them at the breast and of course your toddler does not know what to do, but you feel such a rush of love and it heals so many wounds, wounds you never even knew you had.

The conversations you have with your teenager, as to why she was not breastfed, did you not love her enough? Ouch! How do you answer that one???

And through it all those breastfeeding hormones are working their magic. Everyone around you is surprised at the change in you. The kids and your husband are commenting on how much calmer you are. “Mum you are a much nicer person you know!” From a friend:” What has happened to you, you have really changed!” (Incidentally that friend ended up breastfeeding her last baby for 3 years, having f/f the first 4!)

And what about you? You gain a new self belief. You at long last feel comfortable in your own skin. You are WOMAN hear me roar! Your milk has superpowers it must have. Your baby grows into a toddler and tells you so, so it must be true! And you discover another thing about breastfeeding that you never knew. It is such a brilliant parenting tool when you have a toddler. How on earth did you ever manage without it before?

There are hardly any tantrums, you have the perfect tool right there, strapped to your chest and you use it willingly and gladly. And there is such joy, such indescribable joy. You are finally doing what you were meant to be doing. It’s natural and all of a sudden you are the one who other mums come up to and tell their breastfeeding story of pain and failure and justification and you see yourself and how you used to be.

And you feel sad, so very sad that these mothers will not be experiencing the joys and the sheer magic of breastfeeding. And you get angry too, angry at the system that lets mothers down, angry at the health professionals who robbed you of your own nursing relationship with your older children and you vow to do something about it. You become a breastfeeding counsellor yourself and you have come full circle really.

Breastfeeding it makes a difference it really does!

Doris O’Connor, LLL Leader. England, UK

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I’m printing this to say two things about this situation: one thing to the mothers, another to their friends and family.

No mother who tried, and didn’t make it, failed. They were failed. Failed by the system around them. Not enough support. not enough knowledge. Not enough courage by the health care professionals. Not enough. If you’ve been failed like this – go straight to angry at the ones who let you down. Do not pass guilt, do not enter the labyrinth of getting angry at those women who made it, and have the courage to keep telling you breastfeeding is worth it. Write complaints to the hospital, complain to the midwives, complain to your MP, demand better treatment.

Even if the actual breastfeeding went well, you may have been failed by indifference in your family, in your support. Comments about not putting yourself out, getting enough sleep, letting others take feeds. Every comment ever made like that, wears you down. Don’t blame yourself, and don’t beat yourself up. Guilt is a useless emotion. Allow a moment of regret, and then move on. There are better things around the corner.

If you are the friend or family of a woman who has been failed – keep the above words in your heart. Let in the devastating loss that this mother felt at the time, and remember it. Honour your friend, or wife, or sister, when she tells you she’s devastated that the breastfeeding didn’t work out. Listen to her. Acknowledge her loss. Don’t demean her by telling her it doesn’t matter. Don’t lie to her by telling her there are no risks to the formula she must now use. Don’t dismiss her tears and longing. Give her your strength by accepting the magnitude of the loss, and comfort her in it. Stand by her as she grieves. If she came to you and told her a family member had died, would you tell her it didn’t matter as she had lots of others?

Women suffer immense loss when breastfeeding fails, and most know it deep inside. And they are often surrounded by an eager team of supporters who unwittingly make that loss deeper and sharper, by constantly denying it exists at all. “It doesn’t matter!” “Look at how healthy mine is, and he’s never had a drop of breastmilk!” “Formula is fine, those fanatics are just crazy.” “Now you can share the feeding.”

Every comment another nail in the coffin of letting the mother grieve for herself, letting her come to terms with it on her own.

And more importantly, every comment preventing anything changing. No outraged friend to pick the phone up and call around for help. No support in writing letters to the hospital demanding to know why the midwives didn’t give a pump when the tongue tie was found. No threats of letters to the Chair of the PCT complaining about the lack of basic care when she was told to put up with pain and cracked nipples. All of the action that could be taken, to prevent it happening again, swallowed up in telling the Mum it didn’t matter, and no problems, formula is fine, no matter.

Don’t demean her loss: honour it. Stand by her grief, don’t deny it. It does matter. It matters a great deal.