I’m pretty sure that pregnant and lactating women across the nation breathed a grateful sigh of relief yesterday. Why? Jamie Oliver is turning his attention to us lucky, lucky ladies for his new campaign.
That’s right. Having triumphed with school dinners and the sugar tax, the chef is now determined to get more British mothers breastfeeding.
“If you breastfeed for six months women are 50 per cent less likely to get breast cancer. When do you hear that? Never,” he said from his soapbox yesterday. (Apart from when you are a pregnant woman, obviously Jamie.)
He also talked about non breastfed babies being at risk of “stunting, obesity, ill-health”.
“It’s the next big thing,” he nodded sagely. Breastfeeding is, he added, “easy and convenient”.
Ladies: our saviour has come.
I actually really rate Jamie Oliver and the work he has done on childhood obesity.
But the very idea that the reason all women don’t breastfeed is because Jamie hasn’t yet turned up on his stallion to mansplain the benefits…well, let’s just say I think this is one crusade that he might like to step away from – and fast.
For what it’s worth, shall I tell you what I did for the first six months of my baby’s life? Having tried (understatement) to breastfeed, I sat on the sofa tethered to a double-breasted pump, for 45 minutes every three hours, in order to extract enough milk to ‘give my baby the best start in life’.
You know what I wish I’d done? Thrown that wretched machine in the bin, given my baby some formula and gone outside in the sunshine to introduce him to the world.
The reason I didn’t was that having spent nine months consuming what I have now come to regard as propaganda – the guilt-inducing stuff pregnant women are bombarded with – I was left feeling that not breastfeeding my baby was so negligent it was practically criminal.
My resulting obsession – that breastfed babies have lower death rates, better immune systems so less risk of infection, and higher IQs – can only be described as myopic.
So much so, that baby and I ended up back in hospital after 10 days; him half dead from dehydration because he wasn’t getting enough milk, me in agony and with nipples that were (sorry people) open wounds.
When the hospital practically ordered me to give him formula, I made it my life’s mission to express milk instead. I discovered that waking up to pump at 3am, when milk supplies are higher, yields twice as much. I viewed my nine bouts of mastitis as a necessary evil and didn’t care that (due to eating so much fenugreek) I was surrounded by a gust of curry. Pretty much all I cared about was giving my baby breast milk rather than formula.
You see, until I tried it myself I thought – probably very much like Jamie Oliver does, bless him – that breastfeeding was a choice.
I had literally no idea that for a variety of reasons – from milk supply to cleft palate to an incompatible mouth-nipple combo – that some women’s boobs were simply incapable of playing ball on the old breastfeeding front. Somehow, nothing I read mentioned that.
Yet, in my experience, 95 per cent women who don’t breastfeed, or who give up, do so after weeks of agony, tears and misery. Some even still feel guilt-wracked, inadequate and full of regret about this ‘failing’ when their children are old enough to go to school.
Jamie’s implication that most women don’t breastfeed out of inertia or ignorance is, quite frankly, wrong. That’s not to say, by the way, that women don’t need information and support. Of course they do – but maybe not from Jamie on his high horse.
I’m sorry to say that the fact that this announcement coincides withJamie and Jools announcing their fifth pregnancy makes this an even bitterer pill to swallow.
I can only guess that Jools has found breastfeeding easy, and – hand on heart – I would like to congratulate and wish them nothing but positive vibes.
The fact of the matter is that breast milk probably is better for babies than formula. And, for those mothers who are able to do it, what could be more wonderful?
But on behalf of all the women, like me, who have tried and failed – or who have chosen to bottle feed for one of a myriad of reasons – Jamie, I think you need to try to put the toothpaste back in the tube.
This is one crusade that is not yours to lead.
‘Things I wish I’d known; women tell the truth about motherhood’ (Icon) edited by Victoria Young is out now.
The Telegraph 18th March 2016 © Telegraph Media Group Limited