By Jasmine Stephens, Family Editor
Breastfeeding. It’s among the most emotive of subjects for new mothers, with pressure to breastfeed and blame for low rates being cast from every angle; not least the pressure that guilt-ridden new mums – desperate to do the best for their precious bundles – can’t help but put upon themselves.
According to figures from the NHS, although 82% of new mums in Britain start off breastfeeding when their babies are born, these figures drop to 55% at six weeks and the rate of those still exclusively breastfeeding at six months remains very low at just 1%.
Now an expert from Birmingham City University has put the blame for negativity against breastfeeding firmly at the media’s door.
‘TV programmes need to depict more women breastfeeding to break the taboo that still surrounds the issue and encourage more mothers to continue until their babies are six months old’ said Alison Edwards, senior lecturer in Midwifery.
‘Just think of all the television programmes we see that feature babies and how hardly any of these shows portray breastfeeding. Breastfeeding provides ample benefits for babies and mothers, including optimal nutrition, antibodies to support immunity and the prevention of cancers and infections.’
The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to six months of age with continued breastfeeding alongside food up to two years of age or beyond. It also states that accurate information and support from family, the healthcare system and society at large are essential in ensuring success.
Edwards added, ‘Society really needs to change its view and the media can play a crucial role here to stop breastfeeding being regarded so negatively.’
With the NHS reporting that breastfeeding is most common in mothers aged 30 or over, from minority ethnic backgrounds, who left education aged over 18, who are in managerial or professional occupations and who live in the least deprived areas, there is clearly work to be done on a societal as well as an individual level, and the media’s influence certainly cannot be ignored.
So, what can we do to increase breastfeeding rates and break down the barriers that stop women breastfeeding their infants? Advocating the advantages breastfeeding without judging mothers who can’t – or even don’t want to – breastfeed is critical. Making women feel like they have failed when they don’t breastfeed is unconstructive and may even decrease the chance of mothers breastfeeding subsequent babies if they have had negative experiences. We need to make sure that women have real support from healthcare professionals, lactation experts and peer supporters. We need for women feel comfortable breastfeeding in public and to know that society accept this and support them. Above all, breastfeeding needs to be seen as the norm and yes, the media can and should be instrumental in making this happen.