People are questioning whether Jamie Oliver is the most suitable advocate for breastfeeding after he announced it will be his next campaign focus.
Speaking to LBC political editor Theo Usherwood about which area of the public's health he would look into next after his successful campaign for a sugar tax, the celebrity chef said "the most upsetting thing for me at the moment" is breastfeeding.
Oliver said he was "desperately trying to scrabble around" for information on why the UK has "the worst breastfeeding in the world".
He felt a "problem" with women choosing not to breastfeed was the "beginning of the story" shaping the obesity crisis Britain currently faces.
"We need to support the women of Britain to breastfeed more anywhere they want to," Oliver said. "Be supported, be informed. It's easy, it's more convenient, it's more nutritious, it's better, it's free."
While he admitted he was "by no means an expert" on breastfeeding, he said he was seeing plenty of data in its favour that he found "phenomenally powerful".
"If you breastfeed for more than six months, women are 50% less likely to get breast cancer," he said. "When do you ever hear that? Never."
Some people reacted angrily to Oliver's comments and his assertion that breastfeeding is "easy", given that he will never have direct experience of it.
"Breastfeeding is certainly natural, but is by no means easy for every woman," Gail Doggett, a mum to two young boys, told BuzzFeed News.
"We had really quite tough experiences with breastfeeding with both of my babies. I persevered for about three-and-a-half months, but it was really painful."
Doggett felt there was not enough support available to women who might choose not to breastfeed, leaving them feeling like failures if they were unable to.
"Having someone like Jamie Oliver weigh in and say breastfeeding is the only solution is not really going to help," she said. "If he's able to help spearhead some extra support for mothers, great, but it's by no means easy."
While Doggett agreed with Oliver's comments that breastfeeding is best for a baby nutritionally, she said that overall, "what’s actually best for the baby is what’s best for the mother and baby as a whole family".
"If a mum is up at 4am crying and with mastitis and cracked nipples," she said, "then you need to be able to draw a line and stop breastfeeding without being made to feel more guilty about what you're doing."
"If you don't know much about breastfeeding it's easy to think that, because it's a natural process, it should come naturally to babies," mum-of-two Kat Mallow wrote in a blogpost reacting to Oliver's comments.
Mallow chose to stop breastfeeding her daughter after her admission to a Special Care Baby Unit made it difficult and her son after he struggled to latch on to her nipple.
And she too found she was overcome with guilt due to a lack of non-judgemental support for alternatives to breastfeeding.
"The refusal [of support groups] to even talk about mixed or formula feeding made it a lot more distressing for both of us," she told BuzzFeed News. "We need to look at the big picture and realise that it was doing more harm than good to continue with breastfeeding."
For her, Oliver seemed an inappropriate spokesperson to lead a narrative around breastfeeding support. "It comes down to the fact he is male, so will never experience the feelings of shame, guilt, and self-hatred induced by not being able to breastfeed," she said.
Rachel, who asked for her surname to be withheld, said she was not worried about support coming from a man – but she was concerned that his comments could make women who can't breastfeed feel guilty.
She felt his celebrity influence could actually be beneficial, but said "he needs to start by focusing on the support women need, not saying it's easy, and to be mindful of stigmatising bottle-feeding".
Rachel said that while she found the first eight weeks of breastfeeding her daughter "incredibly hard", she was lucky to have access to a lot of good local support. "I was able to go to breastfeeding cafés with experts, who were able to diagnose a tongue tie and refer us for a treatment," she said.
However, she said, "Those breastfeeding cafés are being cut, the criteria for NHS treatment is tougher, [and] it's getting harder, not easier, to access support."
"If Oliver can drop the notion that breastfeeding is easy – at least in the first three months – and campaign for awareness of these issues, that's great," she said.
Clare, who preferred to withhold her surname told us that "the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life".
She added: "Mr Oliver adds yet another (male) voice to the throng, beating the drum for breastfeeding, but completely overlooking the many valid reasons for which it simply may not be possible for some women."
She felt a lack of medical support with issues that could prevent either a mother or baby from breastfeeding was simply leading to stigma and guilt for mothers: "The last thing they need is another male celebrity exacerbating these feelings and sentiments, whilst at the same time benefiting from a vast array of nannies and child care options."
A spokesperson for Oliver told BuzzFeed News that the chef was not planning to campaign around breastfeeding, but that it was an area of interest following his nutritional studies over the last two years.
"He understands that breast-feeding is often not easy and in some cases not even possible but just wanted to support women who DO want to breastfeed and make it easier for them to do so," the spokesperson said.
"Childhood nutrition starts with supporting pregnant women properly and he expects Mr Cameron to also be including this in his childhood obesity strategy expected shortly."
Laura Silver is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Laura Silver at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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