Why we need breastfeeding extremists like Gisele

breastfeeding mother


No doubt a fair few of you have been outraged by the Brazilian supermodel Gisele’s comments in a magazine interview saying how she believes it should be a ‘worldwide law’ that all mothers breastfeed their babies for the first six months.

Honestly the things people say for a spot of publicity, right? Really the world should be ignoring her, but hey, she is savvy enough to know they won’t and surely that was what she was thinking as these ridiculously scandalous words trickled off her tongue. So let’s imagine for a minute that we live on Planet Gisele.

You are a first time mum who had just given birth and you are struggling to get your baby to suckle. The baby is screaming and screaming as it grows ever more hungry. Finally you get your other half to fill a bottle with some formula that you have managed to buy on the black market and smuggle into hospital past security. But just as your baby is drinking it and calming down, in comes a nurse who sees what you have done. She contacts the authorities. Social services arrive and take away your baby. Police come and arrest you both and together you are charged and convicted of ‘providing a minor with non-breast milk’.

Do I need to go on? Do we really believe this is what Gisele had in mind when she made her comment?  She asked: ‘Are you going to give chemical food to your child when they are so little?’ Well, yes, this does sound like the words of a breastfeeding extremist and that is what Gisele is – a breastfeeding extremist. Such is her experience of breastfeeding – it went so smoothly, so easily, and she has read up on all the benefits – that of course she wants to say how wonderful it is and that all mums should be doing it.

Now I am not anti-formula at all – it is a lifesaver and almost vital at times such as when my son was a newborn and my wife was struggling to get any proper sleep and on the verge of post-natal depression.. Initially she fought my pleas to give him some formula at nights so she could rest properly as she was determined just to breastfeed but eventually she saw the benefits of him having both. No-one should ever be made to feel guilty for using formula.

Gisele’s description of formula milk as ‘chemical food’ may be technically accurate but this ‘chemical food’ has served a generation well and has been specially formulated to provide a baby with what they need. But come on, this doesn’t mean formula should be any new mum’s first port of call without even giving breastfeeding a go, if they can. Formula is good but breast is best and I honestly believe this is the point that Gisele was trying to make, albeit in a Draconian, dare I say Brazilian, kind of way.

Her ‘worldwide law’ was probably not intended to apply to individuals as such but maybe more an onus to put on governments and authorities to make sure the ‘breast is best’ message is properly and effectively delivered, encouraged and supported by all medical staff. The trouble is any positive coverage of the ‘breast is best’ message is going to make mums feel guilty for not having always breastfed their child or for having been unable to breastfeed their child. I totally understand these feelings and mums should have the right to choose and not be made to feel guilty if they choose just to use formula. It is their decision and we know it is not going to have a negative effect on their child.

But nor should their feelings be allowed to undermine the positive effect of those who do decide to breastfeed. It must be an amazing thing to do and I remember watching my wife breastfeed and genuinely thinking if only I could do that.

Even the odd bit of breast milk is going to benefit your child. There shouldn’t be the pressure to do it all the time and I think that is why people object when the likes of Gisele are so outspoken and passionate about it. Yet I can understand when breastfeeding extremists are. For every person who gets riled by them, there is going to be a first time mum-to-be who is going to think ‘yeah, actually, you know what, I am going to give breastfeeding a go – it is a good thing’. So because of what the extremist has said, they try it, it goes well and they too become an extremist, eager to spread the ‘breast is best’ message which, like before, annoys and informs in equal measure.

And so it goes on like a kind of breastfeeding Circle of Life. If these extremists kept quiet, in time the might of the formula manufacturers would win through and the world would be brainwashed into thinking that formula is best.

This was a real worry for breastfeeding campaigners when formula first came on the market and for a time their fears were in danger of becoming reality. I sat down to write this blog all ready to have a real go at Gisele because I was initially outraged by her comments. Whilst I accept she hasn’t been blessed with the greatest of PR skills, I actually now have a lot of respect for her ‘risking controversy’ as the Daily Mail put it. Yes, she has generated a great deal of publicity for herself, but she has achieved a great deal more for a very good cause indeed.

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