Letter to GMTV re Breastfeeding Survey from Anna Burbidge Chair, Council of Directors, La Leche League GB
You can see the survey here: http://www.gmtvsurveys.com/se.ashx?s=7C7FC32D3C863642
17th January 2010
Dear GMTV I am contacting you on behalf of La Leche League, GB, an organisation which offers support and information to women who are thinking of, or who are, breastfeeding. Several of our members have drawn our attention to the GMTV survey on Breastfeeding. Having looked at this we share their concern at the wording and bias of the questions asked.
The survey starts by asking if the person completing it thinks breastfeeding is something “women shouldn’t do”. After any birth a woman produces milk which is meant for her baby and contains unique structures which can never be replicated in formula. Breastmilk gives babies all the nutrients they need for the first six months of life and helps protect them from infection, diseases and, in later life, obesity and other illnesses. A breastfed baby is five times less likely to be hospitalised with gastroenteritis and, on average, will visit the doctor 15% less. It is also beneficial to the mother’s health. A woman may chose not to breastfeed but to suggest it might be something she shouldn’t do is as nonsensical as asking if giving birth vaginally is something women shouldn’t do.
The survey asks if women should be “allowed” to breastfeed in public. In fact the mother is not breastfeeding, the baby is, and there is absolutely no law against breastfeeding in a public space. It is, in fact, discrimination and in Scotland it is an offence to ask a mother to stop feeding her baby, while in England and Wales the mother can sue under the Sex Discrimination Act.
In question Nine the questions talks about “breasts being displayed” which is a very inaccurate and offensive way to describe a woman nurturing her baby. Many women are very apprehensive about feeding in public and do not want to draw attention to themselves. They certainly are not “displaying” themselves. The answer to this question of yes/no is also very unclear because of the way the question is phrased. To answer no, which would seem to be the answer if you do not mind women breastfeeding, leads to a double negative which might mean someone is answering yes when they mean no, so this question will not have reliable results.
Question 11 – Is it wrong to breastfeed over twelve months? – is again a very loaded question. Both the Department of Health and the World Health Organisation recommend breastfeeding up to and beyond two years. The physiological process of weaning is complex and involves many gradual adjustments for both mother and child. Human milk continues to compliment and boost the immune system for as long as it is offered and research on the incidence of illness in breastfed or weaned toddlers reflects these dynamics. It cannot be “wrong” for a baby to continue receiving emotional, nutritional and immunological benefits so it is a decision only those involved should make. If people do not have knowledge of the many benefits they may answer this question without enough information.
With Question 12 – What age should a woman stop breastfeeding? – this is not something that can have a hard and fast rule. It’s a natural process for children to outgrow breastfeeding on their own and allows for differences in children. Some will be ready to wean earlier than others. We do not expect all children to get teeth at the same age, to talk or walk at the same time or to be out of nappies by a set date. In the same way there cannot be a set age for breastfeeding to stop. Children mature at varying rates and will wean at different times. The aim is to finish when both mother and child feel good about it.
In conclusion we feel that the way this survey is worded could lead to results which will be heavily skewed against breastfeeding in public and extended breastfeeding, which goes against efforts to support women to breastfeed. Nine out of ten women who want to breastfeed give up in the early weeks, and many of them say that feeling unable to breastfeed in public spaces was a factor in this. Yet just a 10% increase in breastfeeding in the UK could lead to 3900 fewer cases of sickness and diarrhoea in babies which would save the health service £2.6 million. For the health of mothers, babies and their babies we should be encouraging breastfeeding not making it into something unacceptable. Yours sincerely, Anna Burbidge Chair, Council of Directors, La Leche League GB