Why I agree with Jamie Oliver’s breastfeeding comments

FEW subjects really rile me – but the backlash against Jamie Oliver over remarks he made about breastfeeding is one of them.

More women should breast feed – that’s a fact. There are immense health benefits for both mother and child yet statistics show that only half of UK mums are nursing at six weeks and only one per cent at six months.

Instead of women venting their indignation at a well-meaning father of four (with a fifth on the way), shouldn’t they be demanding a societal shift in attitudes to buck that shocking trend?

After campaigning to tackle childhood obesity, the celebrity chef was on a high after his sugar-tax victory announced in the Budget but then he crashed with comments made on a radio show about a subject that, for some reason, always touches a nerve.

He said: “We have the worst breastfeeding in the world. If you breastfeed for more than six months, women are 50 per cent less likely to get breast cancer. When do you ever hear that? Never. It’s easy, it’s more convenient, it’s more nutritious, it’s better, it’s free.”

He was lambasted in various column inches, told to get off his soapbox, stop ‘mansplaining’, and get back in the kitchen as he had no right to lecture women about something he couldn’t possibly understand.

The word ‘easy’ inflamed the most vitriolic comments, but I took it as meaning the concept of breastfeeding was easy because it’s so natural. In reality it’s the opposite of easy but that’s not Jamie Oliver’s fault.

I once spoke to a rep from one of the multinational formula milk companies who said they invested millions in trying to improve their recipes but it will never, ever be as good as a mother’s milk as they can’t replicate her personal immunity-boosting antibodies.

That was it – my mind was made up. I decided I was definitely going to breastfeeding before I had my daughter – but that’s the sort of person I am – stubborn to a fault.

I went to a breastfeeding workshop at Hexham General Hospital run by two fantastic midwives who were totally honest about their own personal experiences, good and bad. They then showed pictures of women breastfeeding in different countries across the world where rates are not only much higher but it is culturally seen as a natural, easy thing to do.

The mums with contented offspring sucking away had mothers, aunties, neighbours who’d also breastfed so if there were basic problems there was a community on hand to spot a problem and quickly put it right.

Which just doesn’t happen here.

When I was pregnant with Maisy (pictured with me above at two weeks old) almost 11 years ago the midwife asked me if I was intending to breastfeed, tick. When I had her I was asked if I was still going to breast feed, another big tick in my medical notes.

But at no point did anyone in those 42 weeks prepare me for how to get my baby latched on properly or enlighten me about the harsh reality of breastfeeding. It can be agony. And that’s why so many give up.

In my opinion, during pregnancy there is too much emphasis put on encouraging mums to think about have a natural labour with minimal pain relief rather than forewarning them about how hard breast feeding can be. For many it clicks instantly, for others it never happens for medical or personal reasons but for those of us in the middle it can be soul destroying.

“Toe curling” is the phrase most often associated with that excruciating, burning pain when your frantically hungry bundle of joy curls its tongue around a nipple that feels – and looks – like it’s about to fall off.

What frustrates me now is that my sense of failure was ‘normal’ in the sense that lots of women experience the exactly the same but very few health professionals ever talk about it.

And I think I was in pain because I was doing it wrong – when I called for help a health visitor came to see me in action and explained I wasn’t positioning the baby correctly. But that’s because I’d never seen anyone breastfeeding before.

It did get easier, I should add, and I stuck it out for about six months with both Maisy and then Felix, although both were topped up with a bottle each night. A few weeks in and the pain subsided when my nips toughened up and then it was liberating to have milk on tap whenever or whenever they were hungry. And I do consider it one of my proudest achievements.

But I wish that throughout both my pregnancies I’d spent less time feeling guilty about wanting an epidural (best thing ever) and more time watching women breast feed.

Maisy has been off school sick only twice in seven years and my husband puts that down to her being breastfed so if he has an opinion Jamie Oliver is entitled to his too.

Following the furore, Jamie apologised on Twitter to anyone his comments might inadvertently have offended and confirmed that he was not intending to launch a new breastfeeding campaign.

But instead of everyone going back their state of ignorant bliss, I think this would be the perfect opportunity to push for change. It’s 2016 after all. Women are getting better and better at telling it how it really is so why not tell the truth about breastfeeding?

Imagine a time when, with just a nudge of an arm, a struggling mum could be helped get it right by another woman in her community who really knew what to do. Now that would be a pukka idea.