“There’s no room for vacuum in life,
the minute it’s created, something regardless of how minute or ill fitting gravitates to occupy it.”
On the 15th of May 2018, the following question was discussed on the Wright Stuff; ‘Should breastfeeding be taught in schools’. According to the programme, the Royal college of Paediatrics has advocated for this line of action in response to the United Kingdoms low breastfeeding rates. My first reaction was to give this topic a wide berth, however, certain events led to a rethink.
One, I looked back at my first breastfeeding journey; to the reactions, advice and support I received from both family and friends. I remember my mother’s advice to feed baby L1 some ‘pap’, a local pudding similar to custard. I recall her enthusiasm to support my desire to exclusively breastfeed for six months. I do not believe my mother breastfed any of her children for six months. However, she witnessed my sister and sister-in-law go through the process (EBF) and decided it was the best for babies. I also remember the text and Facebook messages from BAMBIS in those first crucial six weeks post delivery. These varied inputs inoculated my senses against the need to abruptly switch to alternate baby foods. They formed the foundation for my second breastfeeding journey to thrive, which unlike my first has proved slightly challenging.
Secondly, I recall a chat with a friend who just had a baby, and as we talked I realised the growing possibility of breastfeeding rates slipping down the slope in Nigeria. Should this occur it would partly be attributed to these factors:
- An increase in the number of working mothers especially first time mothers.
- A poor/ non-existent maternity leave policy.
- An influence from African/Nigerian women living abroad.
- A changing climate from a previous existing community lifestyle, where mothers often had an overflow of relatives at hand to help, to isolated lifestyles, where every helping hand is paid for and often not very reliable.
- A lack of information to help the modern day woman understand her body and baby in the changing social and economic climate.
The final push came by way of comments made in response to the question: ‘should breastfeeding be taught in schools?’. Many people were of the opinion that teaching breastfeeding at school would/could lead to the following:
- Deeply embarrassing moments for students.
- Information overload.
- Oversexualization of the students.
- Pressurising of students to choose one method of feeding over another.
Under certain circumstances these opinions might be valid, however, I find them lacking authenticity based on the following:
- Children are said to learn through play; every child including those living in third world countries plays with a doll and feeding bottle at some point during their childhood. This is slowly assimilated. Most children grow up without seeing anyone breastfeed, if they’re fortunate they would only ever encounter the topic for 10- 15 minutes at an antenatal class. At this point, the idea of the breast as an asexual organ with biologic function seems antiquated, like dinosaurs, a reminder of past barbaric practices.
- According to the government children will be taught safe and healthy relationship from the age of four. At this point I imagine it would be safe to let children know that as higher mammals we are also equipped to feed our young ones just like whales, dolphins and other animals do. From the age of 11, students will be taught sex and relationship education; which covers sexuality, sexual health and reproduction. The breasts I believe would be mentioned in these classes, I see no reason why one of it’s functions should not be discussed.
- We live in the era of patient centred care. A major aspect of PCC is arming patients with adequate information. Thus, teaching students about breastfeeding, making it an open discussion, should be considered an advantage and not pressure.
The only pressure an informed individual faces, is the courage to standby their choice.
To acknowledge the possibility that their options might not be the next persons ideal.
In my opinion, the drive to increase breastfeeding rates across the world, isn’t a drive to shame certain mothers, neither is it a drive to run businesses to a halt. It’s a drive to sustain our planet. We hope to reduce waste production, energy depletion etc, as a popular slogan says, ‘every little helps’, breastfeeding is one of such ‘little’ that would help achieve those goals in the long run. Arm yourself with the right information long before baby comes, seek help and support, drown out the noise and keep your babies health at the centre of all your choices.