Thursday, July 17, 2008

OPEN LETTER to Harriet Harman on the Equality Bill (breastfeeding)

Dear Ms Harman

Please make Breastfeeding in Public EQUAL for all breastfed children

The Equality bill to encourage women’s confidence in breastfeeding, by giving them legal protection to nurse in public up until the child is six months of age, while well-intentioned, is short-sighted, and discriminates against breastfed babies and children over the age of six months.

This law will only serve to marginalise women, as well as to perpetuate a common breastfeeding myth: breastfeeding is not important or necessary after the first six months.

The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for a minimum of six months, not a maximum. Both WHO and UNICEF recommend breastfeeding for a minimum of two years. Studies by James Prescott, PhD, show us that cultures which breastfeed for a minimum of two and a half years, as opposed to just two years, ‘are more peaceful, loving and have egalitarian behaviours’. These people have drastically reduced levels of violence, suicide and depression. In a time when we have such grave concerns over the increasing levels of teenage violence, surely the government should be encouraging a ‘preventative’ rather than a ‘band-aid’ approach. We simply can not hope to create a breastfeeding culture if it’s only legally permissible to breastfeed our children some of the time, or in certain places. Breast milk is a living food, not a waste product, and should be given the recognition, respect and status it deserves.

Science and psychology show us that the major neurons in the brain only get one chance in life to be ‘fired up’. Affectionate mother bonding through breastfeeding is nature’s way of ensuring this happens easily and successfully.

The nutrients present in breast milk become more concentrated as a child gets older. This means they don’t need to feed as often as, say a newborn, but get everything they need in smaller amounts. Despite the common belief that babies need to wean at six months because iron in breast milk is inadequate (a myth perpetuated in part by artificial milk companies), science reveals that, in actual fact, exclusive breastfeeding for a minimum of seven months gives a baby iron stores for life.

Not actively supporting breastfeeding babies over six months, serves only one purpose: to pander to people who are completely ignorant of the necessity of breast milk and physical nurturing by the mother. That a culture which portrays the sexuality of breasts on the front of its newspapers and on television, will penalise older babies who rely on breastfeeding for food and emotional nurturing, is completely unacceptable.

Breastfeeding isn’t just about the ingredients and immunities in a mother’s milk. The affectionate, loving bonding which happens in the breastfeeding relationship is unique to this way of feeding, and can not be replicated with a bottle in any way, shape or form. Breastfeeding is a fundamental human right: millions of years of evolution have encoded every baby to expect breastfeeding and unfettered access to his or her mother’s breasts.

Creating a culture of closet breastfeeders, or women who will feel pressured to use artificial milk at six months so they don’t feel stuck at home, will not educate anyone, and most importantly of all, mothers and children will suffer. Why is the British government effectively encouraging the idea that breastfeeding after six months is a cultural embarrassment?

If women believe they can only breastfeed in public up until six months of age, they may choose not to even start breastfeeding. Studies show the direct link between Type 1 diabetes and cow’s milk in infancy. Many other diseases are linked to not being breastfed early in life. Four thousands babies die around the world every day because they aren’t breastfed. We may have the NHS to help the UK’s bottlefed babies when they become ill, but it is still a social and ethical obligation to ensure every mother knows the risks to her children if she chooses not to breastfeed, or if she cuts the relationship short before the child is ready.

On behalf of the more than 6000 signatures on our e-petition to Downing street, and the professionals listed below, I urge you to make breastfeeding in public ~ anytime and anywhere ~ safe, secure and sound for all our children, for however long they need to breastfeed.

Breastfeeding isn’t a lifestyle choice for time-rich mothers, but absolutely essential if humanity is to be emotionally, physically and intellectually functional. Ms Harman, please promise us that all breastfed children will be accorded legal protection in all public spaces.

Veronika Robinson
Author, The Drinks Are On Me
Lactation consultant
Editor, The Mother magazine
Mother of two daughters, breastfed full-term.

James W. Prescott, Ph.D., developmental neuropsychologist and cross-cultural psychologist

Jean Liedloff, Author, The Continuum Concept.

Dr Michel Odent, Author of Birth and Breastfeeding, Primal Health, etc.

Binnie A Dansby, Psychotherapist, Birth consultant

Kitty Hagenbach - Parent/Child Psychotherapist

Patrick M. Houser, Author, Fathers-To-Be Handbook & Co-Founder, Fathers-To-Be

Peter Hall, Practice manager GP surgery

Robert Verkerk BSc MSc DIC PhD, Executive Director of the Alliance for Natural Health & Scientific Advisor to the National Health Federation team on Codex Alimentarius

Dr Sarah J Buckley, GP/ family physician, Author of Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering: The wisdom and science of gentle choices in pregnancy, birth and parenting

Adam Maclean, Director of The Good Birth Company Ltd, Father of 4

Robert Holden Ph.D. - Founder of The Happiness Project

Sylvie Hétu, International Trainer, International Association of Infant Massage

Dr Richard House, Roehampton University

Melissa Corkhill, Editor, The Green Parent

Claire Scott, Director, Close Parent Ltd

B.J Sheppard, retired La Leche League leader

Alison Blenkinsop, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and midwife

Beverly Ashwell, Birth & Postnatal Doula (member of Doula UK and Nurturing Birth)

Emma Lewis, Doula & Lactation Counsellor

Belinda Beetham, Midwife

Tracy Botica, Midwife

Kim Atkinson, Health Visitor

Sue Cardus - La Leche League Leader for 25 years.

Liz Sheppard-Jones, Health Coach UK Ltd

Holly Paige, Researcher/writer on nutrition and human needs

Sarah Boyd, NCT antenatal teacher and birth doula

Paul Robinson, Assistant Editor, The Mother magazine

Gemma Guthrie-James, mother of three breastfed babies!

Dina Almuli Marketing & Events Officer, Real Nappies for LondonWomen's Environmental Network

Sharon Holdstock, Managing Director and full term breastfeeder!

Sandi Sharkey, teacher and mother of three breastfed children

Jenny Moore, Agent Administrator for Taylor and Francis.

Sharon Forbes. Technical operator and transmission controller for various broadcasting houses including QVC

Abigail Myles, Manager

Richard Malter Health Care Practitioner

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