A response to offensive remarks published in the Irish Independent article: “The sight of toddlers being breastfed unsettles me”

To The Editor of The Irish Independent:

On Tuesday 23/02/2016, your newspaper published an opinion piece by Amanda Brunker entitled “The sight of toddlers being breastfed unsettles me”. This article related Amanda’s experience trying to breastfeed her own child, and she also told readers about her feelings towards breastfeeding and breastfeeding mothers in general.

We, at Friends of Breastfeeding, were extremely saddened and disappointed to read Amanda’s article. We felt that Amanda’s comments were nothing short of demeaning to breastfeeding mothers. We recognise that every mother has the right to choose how to feed her child. This means that a breastfeeding mother is as entitled to have her decision respected as a mother who decides not to breastfeed. Why is a mother’s personal breastfeeding relationship with her child open to such ridicule? Would this be considered appropriate regarding any other health issue? Would you publish discriminatory comments about anything else? We do not believe the publication of such comments is acceptable.
In Ireland, 56% of women initiate breastfeeding. Numbers plummet as time goes on. By 6 months, less than 5% of babies born in Ireland are exclusively breastfed. As you can imagine, this means that breastfeeding mums are very much in the minority, which can result in them feeling isolated and ostracised, ironically for feeding their child in a biologically normal way that is recommended by health authorities all over the world. Both the HSE and the World Health Organisation recommends that babies are breastfed exclusively for 6 months, and to continue breastfeeding in addition to solid food to 2 years and beyond.

We believe in women’s right to make a choice regarding infant feeding. If they do choose to breastfeed, they need to decide when the time is right for them to stop. It is important that their choice is informed, and they deserve the right to access accurate, unbiased information. They also deserve respect whatever path they may choose. Today we feel that you, as a provider of information, have failed the breastfeeding mothers of Ireland, by allowing misinformation to be spread, and by letting Amanda Brunker publicly humiliate and make a mockery of breastfeeding women.

We would like to highlight some specific issues we have with Amanda’s comments:
Amanda states “Honestly folks, any child that can ask for the breast, (and that has teeth!), should have moved onto drinking from a cup, because the sight of toddlers being breastfeed unsettles me.” Firstly, it is absolutely possible, and biologically normal, to breastfed a child that has teeth. Secondly, babies ask for milk from birth, so this is a moot point. Finally, suggesting that we should feed children in a cup simply because it unsettles another person is ridiculous. Can you imagine how a breastfeeding mother, already feeling isolated, would feel after reading this comment? It is uneducated, insulting, and makes fun of breastfeeding mothers.
Amanda also states that “…while pro-breastfeeding groups link this to all kinds of health issues, I think it’s fair to say that those of us who are obese and drinking too much wine have no one to blame but ourselves – it is nothing to do with our mothers playing hide the nipple”. Many scientific studies from reliable sources will tell you otherwise. Not breastfeeding increases the risk of obesity. There are other factors, but not breastfeeding is one of them. To say that it isn’t is factually incorrect.
Amanda also speaks negatively about breastfeeding support and advocacy, which presumably includes organisations such as Friends of Breastfeeding. Amanda seems to think that they are pressuring women to breastfeed. We question the truth in this statement. Breastfeeding advocates are genuinely trying to get accurate information into the public domain so mothers can make an informed choice and provide non-judgemental support and advice to enable women to have the breastfeeding experience they desire. We believe pro-breastfeeding groups are being unfairly targeted in this article.

We are deeply disappointed with this publication and we feel that the breastfeeding women of Ireland, and their children, deserve an apology. Breastfeeding in a society where bottle-feeding is seen as the norm is hard enough without having articles such as Amanda’s one making women’s journey as a parent even more difficult. Friends of Breastfeeding aim to act as advocates for breastfeeding mothers. We work to ensure that women in Ireland achieve their desired breastfeeding experience and try to make their breastfeeding experience a positive one, whether they choose to breastfeed for 2 days, 2 months, 2 years, or more.

We are very much looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the matter and we are available should you ever need any information or input in anything related to breastfeeding in Ireland.

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