Today I was blessed to be able to play host for The Big Latch On in Farnham, with the support of wonderful mamas who came together to beat the world record for mother’s breastfeeding at the same time.
On the 1 – 7th of August every year, to raise awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding and the need for global support, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action organises World Breastfeeding Week. World Breastfeeding Week celebrated in 120 countries and marks the signing of the WHO/UNICEF document Innocenti Declaration, which lists the benefits of breastfeeding, plus global and governmental goals.
To mark this occasion on Friday 2nd and Saturday 3rd August 2013 at 10:30am thousands of breastfeeding women and their babies or children across the world will gather in their own communities to take part in the Big Latch On, a synchronized breastfeeding event in multiple locations.
The first Big Latch On took place in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2005 and was introduced to Portland, Oregon in 2010 by Joanne Edwards. It has now taken off globally and in 2012 8862 children were counted breastfeeding as part of the Global Big Latch On.
In 2012 the Farnham, Surrey Big Latch On event had 12 mothers nursing 13 babies. This year we had 24 mothers nursing 25 babies (we had one tandem feeding dyad at each event).
Just this week I had someone on Twitter ask me why I felt the need to have a breastfeeding picture on my profile, and said that it offended them. I replied to her that that was exactly WHY I had a breastfeeding picture – so that it will become normal to see a woman breastfeeding, and will no longer be offensive. I simply can’t imagine any of the older siblings at the event today ever turning around and saying they find breastfeeding offensive: they’re growing up with it as normal. Mothers! We’re changing the world, we’re changing the future. We’re doing great!While I was running around trying to keep an eye on my toddler while at the same time making sure everyone knew what was going on and all the official bits of the Big Latch On were adhered to, I did stop at one point, and just watch. We were a community. A community of mothers and women. I didn’t know everyone who attended today, but it didn’t matter, because we were there for a common aim, and with a common goal.
I love breastfeeding events. They unite us at a base, fundamental, instinctive level. Breastfeeding events are a celebration, a peaceful demonstration, a communal drinking at the wellspring. Breastfeeding events buzz with excitement, with energy at the knowledge of making a difference, and with taking a stand, drawing our line in the sand, enjoying our right and our freedom, as women, and as mothers.
Do we rally in anger? Do we shout and condemn, and criticise? Every mother in this group has walked a path. It hasn’t been natural and easy for everyone. It’s come at a cost to some. It’s come at tears for others, it’s come as the most natural thing in the world to others still. It’s been an active, conscious decision to others. Everyone has a story to tell about how and why they are here.
Today we feed our babies, we raise our hands, and we are counted.
A huge thanks to Paula from La Leche League Farnham and Krishna from IPEN for being our witnesses today. Another huge thanks to Sara for helping me with the lucky draw and to Wendy and the Natural Birth and Beyond Team for the helium and balloons.
I want to give a very special thank you to a group of businesses that never shy away from supporting the events and competitions I offer through this blog and today at the Big Latch On. Your prizes were loved today:
I spent yesterday evening at the Philips Avent #Breastdebate – a round table event to discuss a few issues around breastfeeding and returning to work. This post has a two-fold purpose. I hope to simultaneously share the details on the discussion, and address the Twitter response. Before I even start to tell you about it, however, I want to make a few things very clear:
The first question I received when I said I’d be attending the event, was ‘why is a bottle manufacturer running a breastfeeding event‘. I had the same question initially, because we all know about the Boobytraps, and how companies represent and misrepresent facts and ‘help’ which can send people on a one way path to giving up breastfeeding.
It is my personal view that the hashtag #breastdebate was badly chosen.
For one thing, it wasn’t a debate, but a discussion. There were no opposing sides. We were all in agreement over most issues. If anyone wasn’t, they certainly didn’t voice it.
Secondly, it wasn’t really about breastfeeding, as in nipple-to-mouth. Yes, the question of ‘should mothers be ‘allowed’ to feed without a cover’ was asked – and raised a few heckles on Twitter, as it does for me, but it wasn’t one of the main talking points of the night. With varying levels of experience with nursing covers – from real covers to napkins – we agreed it’s up to the mother-baby dyad. Also, Cherry Healy, who tweeted that, posted this after the event:
Thanks for fantastic breastfeeding feedback & stories yesterday – using word ‘allow’ in my tweet was unhelpful so sorry about that
— cherry healey (@cherryhealey) June 19, 2013
The questions we spent most of our time on were:
1) Do you feel attitudes to nursing in public have changed over the last 20 years.
Some of the panelists said no, they didn’t think so. Health journalist Jo Waters felt that it had changed and people were more negative about it now than when she breastfed her now teen. I felt that it depended massively on your environment, and what the people around you were used to and who you spent your time with. Tina from Loved By Parents had a terrible experience in a restaurant where a couple went out of their way to tell her how disgusting it was that she was feeding her baby there, and Sally, a reader on my Facebook page shared a similar story of being yelled at in an M&S changing room. In Tina’s case it upset her, but didn’t stop her. In Sally’s case it’s prevented her from nursing in public again!
Overall, we all agreed that your exposure and experiences will have a huge impact on your answer to that question.
Related to this, Cherry Healy who was hosting the discussion asked whether women should have to cover up when nursing. Again, as mothers who have breastfed, we all agreed that that is up to the mother and child team to decide what they are comfortable with, and no one else. I did point out that nothing says ‘I’M NURSING HERE’ than a nursing cover, and that most people don’t even know it’s happening.
Cherry said that she rarely even sees anyone breastfeeding, and the panel discussed whether it should be more visible on television, in soaps and so on, but again, I pointed out that most nursing mothers aren’t out to show their stuff! You could be looking right at a nursing mother and not know it! It’s certainly happened to me on more than one occasion.
2) Should employers be compelled to provide breastfeeding rooms
This was an interesting discussion, because Carrie Longton, from Mumsnet, was able to view the question from the point of view of a SME – a small business that doesn’t have the space for a full-time breastfeeding room, like many, many others out there, I’m sure, and the rest of us discussed it from the working mother point of view. I don’t have experience of going out to work and expressing, but I know many that do.
We discussed what the minimum requirements are for a breastfeeding room, as well as what we’d love to see going forward, as well as what in our wildest dreams we’d love to ask for.
I think longer paid maternity leave would do wonders for longer breastfeeding outcomes, Tina felt that a comfortable, clean environment was essential, and Carrie mentioned a supportive work environment – even if the room is there, having unsupportive comments or mockery of anyone using the room is not going to encourage anyone.
I was naively surprised to find out that there is actually not a LAW that a breastfeeding room should be provided, but rather a strong recommendation. (However there is a law that a resting place should be provided and this should include an area where the mother to be or nursing mother can lie down. In all my working life, I’ve never seen an employer with such a room!)
The question to the panel was two-fold: is the directive enough or do we need more legislation on the support of breastfeeding/breastfeeding mothers for this facility in the workplace, and if so, should there be a minimum requirement, i.e. is a hardback chair in a clean storage cupboard enough? It ticks the boxes, but should the standard be set higher?
We agreed that what already exists is not enough, and we agreed that there should be a minimum standard in place. We also agreed that that can be incredibly difficult, because what a multinational corporation can afford and what a two-(wo)man operation can afford are two very different things, so a lot of thought will need to go into how it is done.
So what next
The Avent team will use the recording from last night to compile a short video that will summarise the topics that were discussed and the ‘conclusions’ that we came to. What we all realised towards the end though, was that this round table event was just the tip of the iceberg.
I asked someone from the team why they were running the event and she said “we wanted to start the conversation about where the gaps are in the support network when it comes to breastfeeding and eventually want to look at ways we could lobby government on legislation such as on the topic of breast feeding when returning to work.”
While it’s fine to be suspicious of a bottle manufacturer’s motivations in being involved in this project (and trust me, I’ll be keeping an eye on what they do with it too), I think it’s important to look beyond on demand breast is best , to mothers who do return to work, and to understanding that they too need support and that treating the tools of expressing as taboo hurts mothers more than it hurts companies. (If anything, it BENEFITS companies!! I’ve spoken to a few mothers today who spent a lot of money on different bottles, because there just wasn’t unbiased information available to them to help them determine what they needed when they did need bottles. And these are EBF mothers!!)
Look at it this way. Philips Avent sell bottles. What mothers choose to put in those bottles makes no difference to them as a company. If their involvement can see pressure put on employers to be more supportive of expressing mothers, then how can that be an entirely bad thing? (PHD In Parenting has a great post about why advertising bottles is a bad thing, and I agree with regards to pregnant mothers, but where do mothers who need bottles go to get information if we make it a taboo and make them feel almost dirty for mentioning the B word? Can anyone tell me?)
The Round Table Discussion was a good one, and it was positive, and I hope that the objective of getting businesses and employers more involved in creating expressing spaces is an achievable one. I’m glad someone is taking it on and trying to bring about change. Do I wish it was a fully WHO compliant company? Of course, but am I glad someone is doing it? Yes, I am.
“Evil prospers when good men do nothing” (say nothing/don’t show up)
— DiaryofaFirstChild (@LvanO) June 18, 2013
Whether you call it a nurse-in, a breastfeeding protest or lactivism, I love a good session of breastfeeding in public with a bunch of other women also breastfeeding in public. The beauty of breastfeeding activism is that it can’t be an angry event – by it’s very nature, breastfeeding releases oxytocin, the love hormone, and there’s something so powerful about a group of women channeling their passion and their energy into a united cause.
If you’ve ever met me, you’ll probably know I’m not really a feminist. I believe that men and women have roles in this world, and I don’t necessarily believe that we are supposed to be equals in everything, but rather that we are supposed to be leaders and followers in different things, making up a full and beautiful circle of strength and weakness, vulnerability and power. I also am not big on the concept of ‘women’s rights’. I am a human. To me, by definition, I am covered by human rights. I understand, in an imperfect world, the need for women’s rights, children’s rights, but in an ideal situation, we wouldn’t need to defend ourselves as women – we could just be human and therefor judged by the samestandards, regardless of our sexuality, our orientation, our colour or our gender. (I love this clip from the West Wing. It’s exactly how I feel, in an ideal world[from 4:40])
While I do think that breastfeeding mothers should respect their environment – I also feel that you should dress appropriately whether you go to church, a dinner or ice skating, and I feel you should consider others wherever you are, whatever you’re doing – I take exception to being told where I can and cannot breastfeed, and I take exception to being told to cover up. I don’t pop my boobs out when I breastfeed anyway, because I dont want to but I also don’t use a cover, because I don’t want to. When I first started breastfeeding, I used a cover because I wanted to and when I became more confident I stopped because I wanted to. The law protected me, yes, but the encouragement I received from a stranger on a bus gave me the courage that led me to where I am today. If the law didn’t protect mothers, then where does it stop? When it is okay to tell a woman how much cleavage she can show, it will be okay to tell her how much skin she can show. If it’s okay to tell her where she can feed her child, then it’s okay to tell her where she may or may not be. We can’t have it both ways. Either we are ‘equals’ or we are not. There shouldn’t be a further subclass: men or women, breastfeeding women or non-breastfeeding women.
And today I participated in another breastfeeding protest, not because I want my boobs out on the street, but because if ONE mother or future mother saw women nursing in a public place and saw that it was okay and that it was normal, then it was worth it. If it gives one mother the courage she needs, then today was a job well done.
So, here are a few pictures from our Perth Nurse In today, and here’s my message: Breastfeeding is beautiful. It is normal. My breastfeeding isn’t a judgement on your feeding choices. Breastfeeding is the normal thing for babies, and it should be normal in our society. You don’t eat in a toilet or facing a wall – neither should my child. You don’t eat with a cover over your head, neither should my child have to. Breastfeeding is to bonding what a candle lit dinner is to romance, it’s lovely, but sometimes you just have to eat to stay alive – not every meal is an intimate experience, nor is every breastfeed. The only way to normalise breastfeeding, is to breastfeed where people can see it.
I loved the fact that there were young people behind us doing street dance and skateboarding stuff, right next to a bunch of breastfeeding mothers. How much more normal can it be?
Other posts you may enjoy:
*If you see an image of yourself or your child that you would like blurred out or removed, please contact me!
Here’s some news coverage from the day too:
It’s Earth Day today, and while many people might not even realise it, millions of others around the world will be participating in Earth Day activities. In past years we’ve done things like black outs, where everyone is encouraged to turn off their lights for an hour in the evening, or meet at a local park to pick up litter. While those are all fantastic ideas, and well worth doing, when I think of my children and how I can involve them in Earth Day, I realise that to them, a way of life will be so much more meaningful than simply doing special things on one day.
Equate Earth Day to Valentine’s Day. It’s all fine and well spoiling your partner on 14 February, but the rest of the year treating him like he doesn’t matter, you don’t care about him and he is irrelevant to your way of life. There’s little real or lasting about a relationship that only has effort put into it on one day a year. Earth Day is the same. While 1,000,000 people doing something special on one day of the year is not to be sniffed at, 10,000 people doing something special every day is already almost four times as effective.
Today Ameli and I participated in a Flash Mob in London’s Paddington train station.
So, what is a flash mob?