It’s such a middle class, first world, privileged thing to get worked up about, isn’t it. “Mums Feel Intense Pressure To Breastfeed And It’s Been Dubbed ‘The Bressure’” screamed the Huff Post this week. Leaving aside the irritant that everything has to have its own name, I just find it sad that we are still defining our choices in relation to those made by other people.
That said, I have written a bit about breastfeeding before and interestingly, reading back, I see that I wrote about feeling some pressure to breastfeed – from the midwives, I hasten to add, not social media or other mothers. BUT, I would caveat, I am in the exact demographic that I think this campaign is tapping into: middle class and educated, living in a more well off area in a first world country. In other words, in (relative) privilege; lucky to have access to a good diet, clean water and choice.
I did breastfeed. I also bottle fed. I looked through photos and I could find one or two of feeding but not a huge number and the ones that I did find were by and large taken by other people. Just like nappy changing. I rather viewed both as essential rather than photo worthy, although they do feature, just as my own food sometimes features in my photographs and on social media.
Apparently 2000 mums were interviewed for the campaign. I’d love to see the demographic range. I really think that has a lot to do with expectations; there are still a lot of people living in relative poverty and it is my understanding (especially things like this project) that breastfeeding rates are lower in those areas. I didn’t agree with that campaign either, by the way. I think each woman is entitled to make her own choice about her own body, and paying someone to make a different choice is at the very least patronising, and arguably, tantamount to blackmail.
I do agree with the idea that we shouldn’t be putting mums under pressure, though – I just don’t think making statements such as “most mothers desperately want to breastfeed - but not all can” is either helpful or accurate. In fact, I would argue that this campaign is adding to the pressure, especially when even women supposedly supporting the idea that there is too much pressure say things like “most people know that breast is best and would like to breastfeed their child, but for many reasons they just can’t manage it” (comment from the Huff Post articles comments). I’m not even sure that breast *is* really best – we don’t have randomised trials; groups are self selecting and I’ve not read that babies who are formula fed, for whatever reason, fare worse on average than breastfed babies, not in this country, at any rate.
Even the word “manage” has implications of failure. Personally, I felt I wasn’t up to “managing”, if we’re going to use that word, the logistics of bottle feeding. I was entirely ambivalent about feeding. Pip happened to take to breastfeeding, by luck rather than design, and as she did, it saved me the bother of having to get up in the night and make up formula. But had I been presented with a different set of circumstances, I would have happily not had to be the only one who could do the feeding and have no control over my own body for six months. I certainly didn’t look at photos on Instagram and feel some kind of pressure – or no more than I look at the kitchens of people who live in nice houses and think “that must be nice”.
I also wonder how much of this so called ‘bressure” is a privileged circular self-serving argument; we didn’t realise that we were supposed to feel a pressure from photographs of other people eating until we were told other people did, and we didn’t want to miss out, so we started feeling it too. And as we have money and time and choice, we were able to join in those thoughts. A bit of a ‘bitch eating crackers’ type situation (where once someone does something that you find irritating, the proportion of things they do that you find irritating increases exponentially), if you will?
There is no right answer. How can there be one “right choice” when we all have different needs and bodies? If we accept that, we can then move away from the idea that if we don’t make that same choice, (or can’t, or don’t “manage”) then we’ve failed. Surely we need to release the “bressure” and rather embrace the concept of making our own decisions on our own merits.