New Statesman: As pilots fight to pump breast milk at work, why is society so ashamed of lactating women?

People do not like to be reminded of the fact that human beings are mammals, members of the class in which females secrete milk for their young. It all sounds so primitive, placing us on a level with the beasts of the field. We’ve risen above it, haven’t we? All of us, that is, apart from those who still lactate.

Take the four female pilots who recently filed claims aimed at forcing their airline, Frontier, to make it easier for new mothers to pump breast milk at work. 12-hour workdays and five-hour flights are not, it turns out, convenient for the average lactator. One of the women had already received a written reprimand for pumping in an airplane toilet. Apparently this “raised safety issues” – but why wasn’t it thought of before?

Because nobody likes to think about the practicalities of breastfeeding, that’s why. We may live in a world in which every new mother is put under an inordinate amount of pressure to do it, but to consider the logistic and economic problems this raises? Hell, that would mean looking at actual business structures, and that’s difficult. Shaming women, on the other hand, is easy.

Read the full post at the New Statesman


Kate Middleton’s “Royal orbs”: Is this really the breastfeeding support we need?

Whether or not the Duchess of Cambridge chooses to breastfeed her baby – and if so, whether or not she chooses to do so in public – is fast becoming one of those utterly pointless “national debates”, the entire purpose of which is idle point-scoring. True, for all I know Kate Middleton is at home this very minute, scanning the reader comments in the Huffington Post in order to decide what to do with her own breasts and where to do it, but I doubt that very much. I can imagine Diana being that bothered, certainly, if she thought it would simultaneously win the nation’s hearts and piss off the queen,  but not so much Kate. All the same, it’s a bizarre pressure to be placed under. Isn’t it bad enough to be part of a family that is constitutionally obliged to treat you like a brood mare? Continue reading

Ladies: Your boobs, explained

As a woman, I often suspect I am just too close to my tits. After all, there they are, just there, morning, noon and night. There are times I’ve longed for a break. Those few days after giving birth when the milk came in and I suddenly find myself with red-hot, rock-hard, agonizing boulders of pain – I’d have happily gone tit-less then. And then there’s early on, back at school when I realized what an object of ridicule these things made me to bra-pinging, girl-fearing classmates –  that’s not an experience I’d call soarawaytastic, either. But still, it’s not all bad; they provide occasional “adult” amusement, plus they’ve fed my kids. On the whole, I’m happy that my breasts are still with me. Like Bagpuss, they might be baggy and a bit loose at the seams, but I love them. Alas, this means I lack objectivity on all matters tit-related.

When it comes to campaigns such as No More Page 3, it’s worth noting that many of those shouting loudest are in possession of womanly bosoms themselves. This is clearly a worry. What can these people – these women – really know about the role of tits in society? Having never been mere passive observers, they’re simply too involved. What can they possibly understand about the representation of breasts and consequent responses to them? Obviously, a man is required to explain all this (preferably one without moobs). Continue reading

How to stay sexy while breastfeeding

There are plenty of things to worry about when you’re breastfeeding: latching on, achieving let-down, engorgement, cracked nipples, mastitis, pads that make your breasts look like archery targets, disapproving strangers, your baby “oversleeping” so that you wake up, not rested, but with rock-hard, agonizing, leaky boulders … It’s healthy, it can be beautiful, but breastfeeding can also really get on a woman’s lactating tits. And to top it off, there’s the really serious issue, the one that affects not just you but the whole of humankind: your man might not find you sexy any more. Continue reading

Breastfeeding: Like Marmite, insofar as it isn’t

There are many things in life which are, as the saying goes, like Marmite. The Smiths, Ann Widdecombe, gerbils … you either love them or you hate them, and there’s no in-between. That’s just how they are. Other things, however, are not like Marmite. Take Marmite itself, for instance. I can take it or leave it. I might fancy a bit on my toast but hey, if there’s none left to scrape out of the pot, no worries; I’ll just have a bit of marg on its own. Everyone talks about the great Marmite divide, but let’s be honest – marmalade’s the real deal breaker in all of this.

I’m inclined to think this way about breastfeeding too. Just as you can’t eat a Marmite soldier without being told you love it, women who breastfeed are all encouraged to believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that they’ve decided  breast is best. This doesn’t mean that they can’t talk about the difficulties. It doesn’t mean they have to pretend it’s easy. But once you breastfeed, it tends to be assumed that you most definitely “heart” having a baby on the tit. Continue reading

Breastfeeding and attachment parenting: Ooh, controversial!

The cover of Time magazine currently features a photo of an attractive young woman breastfeeding her three-year old son. Ooh, controversial! (I love using that adjective with no further qualification – it drives my partner insane. Apparently the students he used to work with used it constantly, mainly to describe things which were not in any way controversial e.g. “You’re having a rich tea with your coffee? Ooh, controversial”. Hence I now do this all the time.)

The Time magazine cover provokes the same reaction in me as that stupid Oreo breastfeeding advert i.e. I think “that doesn’t look like breastfeeding as I know it”. The woman is upright, wearing a strappy top with no bra, baring one pert breast for her son to drink from while standing on a chair. As you do. There is not even the slightest milk stain on the top, which is the kind of top I couldn’t wear before I’d ever been pregnant, let alone now. I mean, where’s she hiding her breast pads? (This is, in fact, a question I’d like to ask of all women. Whenever I used breast pads, it looked like I’d stuffed two Wagon Wheels up my jumper. I’ve never seen this on anyone else, yet there are loads of companies making breast pads. I can’t be their sole target market. It just wouldn’t make business sense.) The really, really annoying thing, though, is that this isn’t just some model. It really is a breastfeeding mother, called Jamie Lynne Grumet. Hmph. Ladies, the bar has now been truly raised.

Of course, all women should be able to breastfeed in public (I was about to start this sentence with “I think” but how stupid would that be? They just should!). With my first child I was horrendously self-conscious and this made things difficult for both me and him (but evidently easier for some bigots who don’t want to be put off their Starbucks coffee or something). I’d get to the park, he’d start crying and rather than just feed him in front of the swings, I’d walk all the way back home again with him sobbing all the way. Just writing this makes me feel terrible. It wasn’t like that with his brother. Having two children under two just made me think “fuck it”. It tends to have that effect. I fed youngest anywhere and everywhere, and it worked just fine.

I would have breastfed for longer if I could. I had some issues with milk supply which made Youngest lose interest in the breast. Thereafter I couldn’t get him back on. That was quite sad, but not the end of the world. At least not as far as I saw it. I was working as a breastfeeding peer supporter and my “peers” were less than “supportive” regarding my decision to throw in the towel. The breastfeeding counselor suggested that every evening, the minute I got in from work, I should strip off and just lie there, bare-breasted, all evening, bonding with my son, until he felt prompted to try again (my partner could deal with our other child and all the other shit that needed doing). I listened to this and once again thought “fuck it”. Whatever magic properties there are in breastmilk compared to formula, they didn’t seem worth sacrificing our family life indefinitely.

A strong believer in the virtues of breastfeeding, I have sometimes found breastfeeding circles to be a little, well, unforgiving. In our group we were all expected to read Gabrielle Palmer’s The Politics of Breastfeeding; I borrowed it, but I was just too tired. CSI and Take a Break were all I could manage of an evening. We were all expected to be furious about the very existence of formula milk; personally, while I found the marketing tactics of certain companies dishonest and immoral, I found a bit of SMA was often preferable to pumping myself dry. Of course, expressing milk was another thing; even THAT was bad because it would cause “nipple confusion”. But face it, nipples just are confusing – my son only liked my left one anyhow, so that tit was massive while the other shriveled with shame – and there are times when you’ve got to express milk, otherwise how will you ever get to go on the piss?  (Sorry, meant to write “how will you ever allow your partner to take part in the wonderful bonding experience that is feeding your baby?”) Breastfeeding is good; all the politics that go alongside it, well, I just can’t always be doing with it.

According to the Guardian, the Time magazine article is to illustrate an article about Bill Sears, “co-author of the Baby Book, which encourages mothers to breastfeed into toddlerhood, co-sleep, and “wear” their babies in an effort to limit their time away from their child”. So basically some man who recommends women bring up their children with complete disregard for any broader social setting and/or emotional relationships i.e. basically some man who can piss right off, as far as I’m concerned. It’s not that I disagree with the specific practices on their own. Hell, I’ve ended up co-sleeping with both of mine (not by choice, mind; can’t get the buggers out, especially since we got the four-poster). But these practices are being proposed in a setting that is in no way conducive to them being widely practicable, and even if that were not the case, they risk diminishing the status of mother to that of mere accessory. “Attachment parenting” doesn’t reduce the child to mere attachment, but it sure as hell risks doing so with the mother.

So in essence, what I’m wondering is, why do we have to link breastfeeding to all these broader political and cultural movements? Breastfeeding IS political, insofar as only women can do it, and Western cultures are wholly failing to make it easy and acceptable for women to nourish their babies (btw I’ve no idea what Eastern cultures are doing; should’ve read the Palmer book instead of the Take a Break Brainwaves Roadshow).  But this should be as far as it goes. Let’s not co-opt all breastfeeding women into some wider drive for hardcore mothering. After all, some of us are good at lactating, but just shit at “wearing” their child.

PS I once tried to peg out the washing with my three-week old in a sling. He was screaming his head off and I got us both all tangled up in a damp duvet cover. Believe me, it was not the way forward.

Hey, nice biscuits!

So what do you make of that Oreo ad? You know, the “breastfeeding controversy” one that no one was meant to know about because they just made it for the sheer hell of it and to get rid of some money, but which then got “leaked” and went “viral”? (Gah! I bet they HATE IT when that happens.)

Personally I prefer it to their usual ads, with the whole “twist it – split it – lick it” scenario. I really dislike those, first because that IS in fact how I eat Oreos and I’m convinced I was doing that first (should have copyrighted it or something). Second because I don’t like the licking bit being on TV. I find it quite unpleasant to watch. It’s probably the same way I’d feel about watching someone breastfeed if, say, I were a total prick.

The Oreo-meets-tit ads are okay at first glance, although let’s be honest, they don’t actually work. The tagline “milk’s favourite cookie” overlooks the fact that it has to be a glass of milk, which gives you the essential option of dunking. I suppose they could have used EBM, but that would have been less arresting. They’d have had to put a label on the glass saying “this is not cow’s milk, it’s a lady’s boob milk” in order to get a suitable response, and even then you’d miss out on showing an actual tit.

If I’m honest, I am a bit bothered by the tit. Not because it’s there in our faces being tit-like, but because, to my experienced eyes, it does not look like a breastfeeding tit. It isn’t engorged or lumpy or veiny. There isn’t a massive target-like aureola. It is pert and in the ideal position for attachment ie the woman is not having to use her hand to get it positioned right, possibly giving it a squeeze to get going while she’s at it, perhaps squirting a bit of milk in baby’s eye for good measure (at least then baby could dip the cookie in his/her eye and the whole Oreo experience would be sorted). See, that, to me would be a proper breastfeeding tit.

Although actually, the nipple bit’s a problem too. In every picture I’ve seen, it’s either pixelated or covered by some kind of icon. I mean, I have very weird nipples, but that’s never happened to them. It might put women off breastfeeding if they think that’s what’s going to happen to their nips. Anyhow, I did breastfeeding support training and I know this for a fact: BREASTFEEDING DOES NOT MAKE YOUR NIPS GO PIXELATED. Got that, ladies? So that’s one less thing to worry about (just have to deal with all those tossers who think you should spend the next few months/years hiding in a cave in case your baby needs a drink).

So, anyhow, Oreo, I’ve a suggestion to make: why don’t I grab some random baby and a biscuit and re-do your ad for you? I’m not actually breastfeeding at the moment (note to self: must go out on the piss again now I can) but my tits sure bear “the scars”. They are, in fact, the kind of tits that would make Real Women ™ feel much better about their own, and we all know what a big market ugly old Real Woman is. So what do you say? You wouldn’t have to pay me. I’d do it for the biscuits.