Offering poorer mothers £200 to breastfeed is barmy, middle-class lactivism

Often, to me, breastfeeding seems like the tedious hobbyhorse of a vocal minority


New mothers in low-income areas will receive up to £200 of store vouchers in return for proof of breastfeeding. Researchers from the University of Sheffield say the trial scheme is an attempt to rectify “stubbornly low” British breastfeeding figures.

I laughed at that word “stubborn”. It’s a very telling term coming from the mouths of academics to denote women who – despite breastfeeding being fetishised among the middle classes as the most sacred, all-healing, pinnacle of womanly achievement – are still sticking one finger up and saying, “No thanks”.

Or more pointedly saying: “Look, my tits are very sore, my right nipple is infected, my baby is losing weight, and he’s not sleeping so I’m not sleeping plus I’ll need to go back to work due to issues surrounding heating and rent. So, cheers for the leaflet inferring that if I open a carton of SMA Gold First Infant milk then my child – who I love very much – is statistically more likely to grow into an an emotionally distant, asthma-ridden, illiterate, gummy runt sat on his infant school roof itching his ringworm and throwing potatoes at passing Police cars, but please jog on.” Women can be so stubborn. Bad, bad women. Especially poor ones. They need bringing into line.

Obviously, breastfeeding is a very lovely thing to do if you’re physically able to and want to do it. And especially if you have the means to spend six months sitting on a chair, divorced from earning and from many other tenets of normal life. Meanwhile, in the real world, only one per cent of UK women breastfeed for six months, as is recommended by the World Health Organisation. The remaining 99 per cent are using formula, or a bit of boob when they can and a lot of formula, and this in spite of the guilt avalanche by lactivists, Government-sponsored academics, midwives (soon to be waving vouchers, like the Snow Queen with Turkish Delight), mummy-forum warriors and those NCT class chums who my girlfriends spend nine months raving about and then five years trying to phase out.

The pressure on new mums to breastfeed was already enormous. Yet having spent almost two decades helping friends with new babies, watching them struggle to establish a breastfeeding routine until they’re half insane and their baby is starved – but they won’t give up on due to “advice” – I wonder if the advice is perhaps wrong.

In fact, I’ve been known to say – as my friend clicks frantically on some internet “Mama” blog advising her to rub a cos lettuce on rampant mastitis and hope for the best because using formula will lead to her baby having faulty lungs, and her having breast-cancer – that this advice is patently nonsense.

Often, to me, breastfeeding seems like the tedious one-note hobbyhorse of a small vocal group of women who gave up jobs to be mummies and are now sat at home with laptops disseminating guilt and shame, as well as hassling milk formula advertisers to make the first 25 seconds of any advert a long, hand-wringing apologetic preamble about how “breast is best”.

Interestingly, what is absolutely medically proven to be best for all children is three meals a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner – followed by a good night’s sleep in their own bed. Yet the charity Shelter says 80,000 children are currently living in “shocking conditions” in temporary housing. Irregular food, no nutrition, no feelings of security, with awful unhygienic shared bathrooms that they’re too scared to visit at night.

And just last month the Trussell Trust food bank was pleading with David Cameron to treat the issue of families in starvation seriously and not with a sneer. It’s rather ironic that as the Government announces £200 incentives for poor women who can prove they’re complying with the very middle-class activity of breastfeeding, anyone poor and over the age of six months has to look to charity for a bit of food and unconditional love.

More from Grace Dent here:

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