The arguments for breastfeeding in terms of health are already won, but breastfeeding statistics remain impossibly low in the UK. How can this be? Because the barriers to breastfeeding are cultural, not medical but the majority of information about breastfeeding comes from the medical community. This viewpoint says that women should breastfeed, without acknowledging the personal and emotional struggles involved in doing so.
Breastfeeding in public is a major obstacle. The official channels acknowledge this without offering any help, so women have set up their own support networks to name and shame publicly those who humiliate them whilst breastfeeding publicly. But not all women want to participate in this process of throwing themselves into the unpredictability of public breastfeeding. Many simply turn to formula at six weeks so that they can get out of the house with their baby.
In my travels as a mother, first a bottle feeding (tongue tied baby) and then a breastfeeding (post cut) mother, I found there was one thing I needed more than anything else: company. I mean the company of other breastfeeding mothers. I wanted to sit down and feed my child whilst swapping notes with others facing similar struggles – be they breastfeeding related or general concerns over the transition to motherhood. Being a mother for the first time can be very isolating. So many times women trade breastfeeding for very practical reasons that need to be properly addressed. In the early stages of breastfeeding, there can be a lot of breast revealed as the child learns to latch.
Women really can feel uncomfortable showing this, even to their best friends. So breastfeeding is sometimes abandoned because it is just deemed too impractical. Often women breastfeed their second child for longer because by then they have set up established networks. The Parlour is about helping women set these connections up more quickly at the beginning. The transition to breastfeeding involves a complete about turn in terms of your breasts and how you see them. After all, none of us are immune to the objectification and sexualisation of our bodies. To suddenly ‘bare all; even infront of trusted family members is too much for some women and this should be understood and properly acknowledged before we move forward in understanding what women actually want in terms of support.
When I started breastfeeding I had only ever seen one other women do so. I think this is not uncommon. I had no idea how to hold a baby, what her cries meant, how to feel relaxed about motherhood. It was only when I met other mothers who were also breastfeeding that I got these crucial tips. The midwives were great but many of them had never breastfed. That’s like teaching someone to swim when you’ve never been in the water. You want someone IN the water swimming with you. Because much of the journey of becoming a breastfeeding mother is about feeling comfortable in your own skin. That can only be possible if you feel normal. And feeling comfortable and normal is about seeing breastfeeding as the norm and spending quality time with other breastfeeders.
Women need the solidarity of other women, to build a sense of identity, of Belonging. In truth, the only place I ever really felt relaxed was in other mother’s houses or my own. I started to realise that this was the place we need: a home. Here nobody is staring at you or expecting you to buy another latte. You can talk freely and feel supported by those in a similar situation to you. This is the place that is safe, comfortable, open all day and full of other breastfeeding mothers. Women have used their houses to sit and talk, support eachother and come together for centuries. In fact there is a theory that it was the Victorian Parlours that brought about the women’s Suffrage movement. Get women together, get them talking and Stuff Happens.
Holdingtime.org is a virtual home, where you can share your stories, see other mothers breastfeeding and join in the conversation about motherhood in a safe space. The Holding Time Project promotes the creation and wide dissemination of positive images of breastfeeding. Until breastfeeding is what you see everywhere – on telly (including children’s TV), in magazines, online it will never be considered the norm. The Holding Time Project advocates for more breastfeeding support generally from the national and local government so that the drop ins and playgroups that were cut can be reinstated and public breastfeeding taken into account in the planning of public spaces. We want women to see breastfeeding as a way to have a healthy baby and a happy self. By socialising with other mothers in the same position, women can feel supported not just as breastfeeders but as mothers and mentors, helping eachother along the path of motherhood.
(First published on www.Holdingtime.org, August 2017)