Offensive labels for Lactivists are distracting from the primary goal we should all have: raising healthy, happy babies, writes Anna Burbridge, a breastfeeding volunteer:
What terrible thing have I done? What crime have I committed to warrant terrible insults thrown at me?
Well, I am a volunteer breastfeeding counselor who tries to support other women who want to breastfeed. I don’t go out and try to convert people; I don’t knock on their doors and refuse to leave until they sign up to breastfeed; I don’t tell anyone that they must carry on breastfeeding; I don’t even talk about breastfeeding unless I am asked.
What does happen is that I watch my dinner go cold while I talk on the phone to a mother who is in desperate need of support and hasn’t found it anywhere else; I abandon the plans I had made to go somewhere and instead go and sit with a new mother who just wants someone to tell her if her baby is feeding well; I give up watching a TV program I was looking forward to and email information to a woman who is desperate for accurate resources. I get up early in the morning to speak on radio programs and try to reassure women who have been worried by the latest negative reports on breastfeeding.
I am not alone in this, of course. All over Britain there are women like me who re-arrange their family lives to give the immediate support breastfeeding women need. These women have chosen come to us: they haven’t been stalked or harassed into trying breastfeeding.
I struggle to understand is why people feel it is acceptable to allow a group of women whose only “crime” is to give up their time to try and help people to be labeled with offensive terms. If almost any other section of society were called these sorts of names, I feel fairly sure newspaper editors would deem it unacceptable and refuse to print it. Yet for some reason the tired, completely unjustified, insults just carry on and on against women who are giving up their time to support others.
The latest to join the campaign of insults, I am sad to say, is Judy Finnigan, who was once visited in her hospital bed after giving birth to twins by smug, “Earth Mother N---”. There’s a new one. Although I can’t speak for every breastfeeding counsellor, I do know that most won’t visit a mother unless they have been asked to, that they need permission, and will leave if not welcome. Frankly, our time is too precious and we have too many women who do need our support to want to spend it where we are not wanted.
Even the milder accusation that breastfeeding supporters are the “Breastfeeding Police” gives the impression that we want to enforce rules and regulations on others. Women who offer this sort of support know that each mother and child is unique and that they need to make their own decisions; rules and regulations just don’t work in such situations, and it’s not the way we interact. Although breastfeeding counsellors are often accused of making women feel guilty, the last thing we want to do is make another mother feel that way. Our only aim is to give women the information they need to make their own choices.
The sad thing which always strikes me when reading these articles is that many of the writers explain how they stopped breastfeeding because of “terrible difficulties” but then say they felt pressured by breastfeeding volunteers who have tried to give them information.
It seems to me that perhaps more information, and earlier, rather than less, was what was needed. But I wouldn’t want to say that to them and upset them now the decision is made. Unlike the critics, I do care about how I talk to people. And I think it is time to call a halt to these offensive insults.
Anna Burbidge is the mother of six adult children. She went along to her first breastfeeding support group meeting in 1975, and found the help, information and friendship invaluable. Anna decided to train as a counselor to help others in the way she had been helped. After all these years she sometimes finds the people she is now supporting with breastfeeding were themselves breastfed because she had helped their parents when they were babies.