Why Jamie Oliver should keep quiet about breastfeeding

I’ve always liked Jamie Oliver. He’s done a lot of good things as a champion of healthier school meals and lower sugar diets (and I love Happy Days with the Naked Chef).

But as the new High Priest of breastfeeding, I find him decidedly annoying.  As if breastfeeding needs another champion, let alone one who has no idea what it’s like to suffer bleeding nipples or mastitis.

This week he announced he’d like to get more British mothers breastfeeding. He told London radio station LBC that we have the “worst breastfeeding in the world” and informed listeners that breastfeeding is easy.

“It’s easy, it’s more convenient, it’s more nutritious, it’s better, it’s free,” he gushed.

“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.”

Well, actually, Jamie, mothers-to-be have this little soundbite (and countless others) drummed into them throughout their pregnancies and in the weeks following the birth. We KNOW breast milk is best for baby and mother.

Obviously Jamie wasn’t listening hard enough in his NCT classes.

I’m guessing that his wife Jools, who is now expecting their fifth child, found breastfeeding a doddle. Otherwise Jamie wouldn’t assume that those who don’t do it are doing so out of choice, moronically oblivious to the benefits.

He hasn’t factored in the possibility that many women find breastfeeding impossibly difficult. And then feel guilty and a failure for not being able to give their child this “liquid gold” (as described to me by one midwife) with all its magical health benefits.

We all start out thinking breastfeeding is easy. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s a natural thing, women have been doing it since the beginning of time. And the propaganda (because it is that, isn’t it?) we’re fed when we’re pregnant teaches us that this natural process will not only be cheap and convenient but also better for our health and that of our baby.

After failing to get either of my first two babies to latch on properly (we struggled for days and ended up back in hospital the first time), I proceeded to express bottles for seven months. I felt I’d fail them if I didn’t.

I hate thinking of all the time they spent in their bouncy chairs listening to the drone of the breast pump when I could have fed them formula and cuddled them.

I still held a romantic notion that breastfeeding would be easy if only your baby latched. But I know now, having a third baby who his up for breastfeeding, that even if they do, this is still not necessarily the case.

The first weeks have been even harder than pumping was. I’ve been on antibiotics for mastitis, the baby has had his tongue tie cut twice and I’m sure my nipples will never be the same again.

We’ve only got it together because I had help (from Clare Byam Cook) and fed bottles of expressed milk when it was all going wrong. I know there are countless women out there who don’t have help and can’t cope and make a difficult yet COMPLETELY SENSIBLE decision to give up.

Surely it’s bad for your health to be miserable and in pain and it can’t be any good for a baby have a mother like that. On several occasions my husband pleaded with me to STOP.

I know that Jamie’s heart is in the right place… he’s just got this one a bit wrong.

If he really wants to get behind breastfeeding he needs to make sure mothers get more support, more encouragement from patient, understanding professionals, and leave off ramming guilt-making statistics down our throats. It’s such a cliche.

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