Sunday, August 31, 2008

Kate Garraway and THAT photo

There's been a wee bit of a stooshie in the media this week over a mocked up photo of Kate Garraway apparently breastfeeding a calf.

People like Ulrika Jonson are outraged at what she's done, for a documentary she has made about women who nurse other women's babies.

We are the only species, as far as I know, that habitually chooses to feed another animal's milk to our young - most infant formula is cow's milk based, and we seem not to worry about this at all. However, when presented with a photograph that appears to show the reverse going on, we go all hysterical. When you look at it, our milk is no more use to a calf than a cow's is to us. Yes, both could survive on the other's milk, but there's a world of difference in structure of a human being and a calf. Human milk is most suited to humans and cow's milk is most suited to cows. A huge and powerful corporate world has been built around telling us otherwise, but it's wrong.

The World Health Organisation recommends that babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months. If the mother is unable to feed the baby at the breast, the recommendation is that the next best thing is that her milk should be given to the baby in an alternative way. The next recommendation after that is not formula, but the milk of another human mother. If that is not available, then the last resort is infant formula.

Kate Garraway has been quoted as saying that making the documentary has made her question her initial distaste at the concept of wet nursing and that if she were unable to breastfeed a future baby, she would buy human milk from a human milk bank.

My own view is that there are lots of complex interactions between mother and baby that we shouldn't really interfere with. With the appropriate support, virtually every mother should be able to breastfeed if she wants to. The difficulty is that most mums don't get the support that they need because those around them have neither the experience nor the knowledge to help with even elementary problems - and in fact sometimes they create problems when none exist. If I'd had a glass of wine for every time I'd been told about a mother in law saying that babies should be feeding every 4 hours and no more, then my liver would be completely pickled. In reality, most newborns will feed somewhere between 6 and 12 times a day.

It would have totally shot my confidence as a mother to pieces if, instead of trying to resolve my breastfeeding issues (and believe me, there were many but I'll spare you the gory details), those around me had whipped my baby away and latched her on to someone else's perfectly lactating breast.

I don't condemn those who practice cross-nursing, but it wouldn't be for me unless there was a very good reason. There is no doubt that there are good reasons - Kate talked to a woman who went to the Sudan to help in a refugee camp and who ended up nursing babies there. Her act of selflessness turned out to be a lifesaver.

They only ever make tv programmes featuring controversial aspects of breastfeeding - isn't it time someone showed how it is for most mothers - and maybe featured the significant number of breastfeeding supporters who do so much to help mothers enjoy their breastfeeding relationship with their babies? I was lucky - I had the support I needed and got through the hell and discovered what bliss a properly functioning breastfeeding relationship can be.

Maybe that could be Kate's next project......

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