Mothers across the UK are celebrating “the most natural thing in the world” — following a Channel 4 investigation into the stigma of breastfeeding in public.
The documentary, “Breastfeeding Uncovered”, which aired on Monday night, has sparked a wave of joy that the topic is being normalised and spoken about openly.
Women have been flooding social media with images of themselves breastfeeding, and sharing stories about times they’ve felt discriminated against just for feeding their child.
Presenter Kate Quilton, who gave birth to her son in May, said in the show that, “you get lots of raised eyebrows, a few people tutting…whispers.”
“Seems totally bonkers,” she added.
What a refreshing change @C4Dispatches! For anyone who didn't see their fantastic program #BreastfeedingUncovered featuring our chair @makesmilk amongst other breastfeeding royalty, follow this link to watch on catchup https://t.co/mHFKJH6j2Apic.twitter.com/Erpk9Nzl5v— ABM (@AssocBfMothers) July 30, 2018
The UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world, according to UNICEF. A report released earlier this year showed just 34% of babies are getting breastmilk at six months, compared to 62% in Sweden.
According to UNICEF, however, increasing breastfeeding rates would have a “profoundly positive” impact on child health. It could, for example, cut the incidence of common childhood illnesses such as ear, chest, and gut infections and save the NHS up to £50 million each year.
In 2016, Dr. Amy Brown, of Swansea University, published a book also called “Breastfeeding Uncovered” — for which she surveyed around 300 women who had stopped breastfeeding in the first six months.
She found that around 80% cited pain and difficulty as contributing; 40% said public attitudes had affected their decision; 60% cited lack of support from others; and 20% blamed embarrassment.
“The vast majority of women who are having problems, it isn’t really to do with a primary inability to breastfeed, it is to do with their experience,” Brown told the Guardian. “Eighty percent of women who stop breastfeeding in the first six weeks do not want to. They want to keep breastfeeding but they feel that they can’t.”
Other mothers also took to social media to criticise the show, for “shaming” mothers who use formula rather than breastfeeding.
“My baby is 10 weeks old and I was too ill to satisfy a bigger than average baby,” one woman wrote on Twitter. “Blood loss during labour & 2 transfusions left me opting for formula. I don’t need a tv show making me feel bad.”
Another added: “How can you say the programme isn’t about criticising mums who don’t breastfeed, right after your ‘expert’ has just said our kids are ‘at risk’ of cancer. Nice. Mum shaming and guilt-tripping at its best.”
Can’t believe what I’m watching. Think of all the mums that can’t breastfeed and your telling them formula isn’t as good as breastfeeding and breastfeeding stops illness like cancer and diabetes #breastfeedinguncovered— ♡ louisa ♡ (@louisastace) July 30, 2018
World Breastfeeding Week is the first week of August, and the slogan for this year's campaign is “breastfeeding: foundation of life.”
Ahead of the awareness week, UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO) released a report warning that 60% of babies — an estimated 78 million around the world — aren’t being breastfed within the first hour of life.
This puts the babies — most of whom are born in low- and middle-income countries — at a higher risk of death and disease, and makes them less likely to continue breastfeeding, according to the report.
@Quilton Well done Kate. Great exposure for this subject. Watching with my 11 week old. Successfully fed his 2 older siblings also. Persevere ladies. You CAN do this! It’s in our nature! Push through the wall and reap the rewards! #BreastfeedingUncoveredpic.twitter.com/KKmzLUfqf2— Elle Page (@isItWarmYet) July 30, 2018
Babies who are breastfed within the first hour, however, are “significantly” more likely to survive.
Breastmilk includes something called colostrum, the first form of milk produced by the mammary glands following the delivery of the newborn. It’s also known as baby’s “first vaccine” because it’s so rich in nutrients and antibodies, according to UNICEF.
“When it comes to the start of breastfeeding, timing is everything,” said Henrietta Fore, the executive director of UNICEF, in a statement following the launch of the report on Tuesday.
“Yet each year, millions of newborns miss out on the benefits of early breastfeeding and the reasons — all too often — are things we can change,” she added. “Mothers simply don’t receive enough support to breastfeed within those crucial minutes after birth, even from medical personnel at health facilities.”
Reggie is 10 months old on Wednesday and breastfeeding him still is easily the proudest achievement of my life 🤱🏻it’s so important society talks about and accepts breastfeeding much more than we do. Here’s Reggie getting lunch on our honeymoon! #BreastfeedingUncoveredpic.twitter.com/OqJdwyBeUn— Natalie Pike (@MissNataliePike) July 30, 2018
Among the reasons for delay cited in the report, entitled Capture the Moment, were:
- Feeding newborns food or drinks, including formula — common practices such as an elder feeding the baby honey, or health professionals giving the baby sugar water or infant formula, delays its first critical contact with its mother.
- A rise in elective C-sections — a study across 51 countries found that newborns delivered by caesarean section are less likely to be breastfed early. In Egypt, for example, just 19% of babies born by C-section were breastfed in the first hour, compared to 39% of babies delivered naturally.
- Gaps in the quality of care provided to mothers and newborns — in many cases babies are separated from their mothers immediately after birth and guidance from health workers is limited.
“Breastfeeding gives children the best possible start in life,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “We must urgently scale up support to mothers — be it from family members, health care workers, employers, and governments, so they can give their children the start they deserve.”
Consumer watchdog Which? highlights that women have the right to breastfeed their child in public under the Equality Act 2010. If you feel that you've been discriminated against, you can use this letter to complain.