Were we right to silence Jamie Oliver on breastfeeding, asks Lisa Williams

Oh Jamie. Quite how the mighty have fallen. Riding on a (low-GI, naturally-occurring) high from his sugar tax victory, the Pukka One tipped back his head, opened his mouth wide, and declared on LBC, ‘We have the worst [sic] breastfeeding in the world.’

Once he’d latched on properly, he told listeners, ‘If you breastfeed for more than six months, women are 50 per cent less likely to get breast cancer. When do you ever hear that? Never.’

And then came the hindmilk.

‘It's easy, it's more convenient, it's more nutritious, it's better, it's free,’ he said.

Yes, that last statement was both thick and rich but, instead of leaving us milk-drunk and satisfied, it left us crying and unsettled.

‘How could he?’ Twitter responded.

‘Great, more guilt trips,’ blogs complained.

And quite rightly, too. There is so much pressure to bring back breastfeeding that mothers in this country who want to breastfeed but can’t for whatever reason (surgery, low milk production, tongue-tie), feel an overwhelming guilt when it doesn’t work out. 

Advice on how to prepare formula safely is strangely elusive, and the World Health Organisation’s mantra to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months is pushed out so often and through so many different channels that it’s surprising our babies aren’t born repeating it.

There has also been a dissection of Jamie's choice of words. Tell the women whose nipples have deep, bleeding cuts that it’s ‘easy’. Tell the women out on a freezing cold day that it’s ‘convenient’. Tell the women who’ve had to top up with formula because their baby hasn’t regained his birth weight and has jaundice that it’s ‘more nutritious’. Tell the women who’ve bought maternity bras, breast pads, Lansinoh, feeding tops, and coffees they don’t want just because they need somewhere to feed, that it’s ‘free’.

Jamie made a tit of himself, that’s for sure.

But are we right to dismiss him so soon? To plead that he doesn’t start a campaign, and that he concentrates on cooking and leaves us alone?

I’m not sure we are. In fact, I think he could be just the top-up we need.

Breastfeeding clinics, where highly-skilled lactation consultants advise on latch, look for tongue-tie and pass tissues to sobbing, guilt-stricken women, are closing down across the country.

Figures show that 80 per cent of women start breastfeeding, but one third of these stop within the first six weeks, showing not a lack of will to breastfeed but a lack of support.

Not only that, but soon we won’t even have figures like the ones I’ve just quoted. The Infant Feeding Survey used to be carried out every five years. The last one was in 2010, and there’s none forthcoming.

The outlook is bleak and our collective voices are not being heard.

Should we really sacrifice the chance to use Jamie Oliver’s government contacts, mass appeal and enormous media empire, for the sake of a few badly-chosen words?

Because, to me, that sounds like a winning formula.


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Dadah to one
Mixed emotions over this one. Jamie has been pretty smart when it comes to campaigning for better school dinners and less sugar ... that being said the LBC comment was so poorly thought through
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Lisa Tantrum
It is a tough one, which is why we need to focus on providing support for those who need and want it. The 2010 figures show we need more clinics, not fewer.
I think Jamie needed to word it slightly different. It's more convenient, less expensive, healthier, easier. It is all of the above. Bottles, teats,milk,colic drops, more trips to the Dr are way less expensive than a coffee here and there. Getting baby out of crib and feeding IS easier 5Han getting up and making bottles, winding ect. Its a lot harder to make a fresh bottle (as you can't pre make them anymore) than it is to find a quiet spot, when ur out. Iv successfuly breastfed 4 baby's, cracked nipples, blocked milk ducts, random coffee and all. Makes u wonder how women ever coped before formula
Lisa Tantrum
You are right: breastfeeding is the ideal, but there's no doubt that it can be difficult for many women. And it's such a shame that we've now missed the chance to use Jamie to help us campaign for better support (more breastfeeding/tongue-tie clinics etc). I think it was a bit of an own goal for both sides: Jamie because he didn't think before he spoke, and the naysayers because they/we could have done with his help. Depressing.