Why Lib Dems should support this SNP pioneer

Ruth Bright and childA few weeks ago an SNP MP did something very brave but ridiculously ordinary. Did she:

  1. Eat chips on the terrace of the Commons
  2. Clap instead of saying “Hear, hear”
  3. Say the UK parliament should relocate out of London

No, none of the above. What Alison Thewliss did was tweet a photo of herself breastfeeding her toddler. Ask almost any breastfeeding mother and she will tell you that many people will tolerate cute young babies breastfeeding in public but breastfeed an older child and the reaction is very different. 

Months after I finished breastfeeding I spoke to an acquaintance whose child was born on the same day as my son. Our children went to the same playgroup and we lived in the same small town but neither of us had known that the other was a long-term breastfeeder! We had both got used to living like fugitives, hiding what we were up to in case someone took offence.

This is really daft. Because of the long term benefits to mother and child there is much (benign) pressure to breastfeed  from health professionals. Many give amazing support to new mothers. The World Health Organisation recommendation is to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months (only 1% of women manage this in the UK) and to continue to breastfeed for at least two years, but that is even rarer. It is hard to find any data on levels of long-term breastfeeding despite it being an evidenced WHO recommendation. If you do manage to breastfeed beyond two years the professional support is patchy and the community often hostile.

Were all party activists helpful and supportive of me as a breastfeeding parliamentary candidate?  Let’s not go there! Suffice to say that the Lib Dems have got a long way to go to catch up with the SNP pioneer.

Note – the first week of August is World Breastfeeding Week and the theme is breastfeeding at work

* Ruth Bright has been a councillor in Southwark and Parliamentary Candidate for Hampshire East

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  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 31st Jul '15 - 8:31pm

    I also nursed a toddler – the health benefits of so doing are clear, especially as it’s such a boost to their immune systems. Alison and I have always been in pretty much total agreement about breastfeeding issues. Alison was a prime mover in making sure that the SNP has fantastic policy on incorporating the International Code on the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes into UK law. It’s something we really ought to try to do in this party.

    Ruth, I actually think it might be worth sharing some of your insight on how to make the party more friendly to candidates and members who are breastfeeding their babies. Would you please do another post on this?

  • Am really saddened to hear that there could be negativity within the LDs on breastfeeding!
    The SNP are quite refreshing in westminster – and their scorn at having to say ‘hear hear’ like lots of public sxhoolboys did somewhen is well deserved.

  • Ruth Bright 31st Jul '15 - 9:03pm

    Thanks Caron will do. I think it is really important for starters that this is seen as a health/human rights issue and that breastfeeding women are not confined to feeding in the toilet! At big venues like Federal Conference it would be really easy to provide a private room for parents who wish to nurse, express milk or bottle feed in private.

  • Frank – We have a lot to thank Julia Drown for and also Duncan Hames for being the first MP to take a baby through the division lobby!

  • Jamie Stewart 31st Jul '15 - 11:21pm

    Totally agree that breastfeeding is important, but wondering what the result of the debate was? Opposition to breastfeeding is stupid, and hope that will be the common consensus before long…

  • Simon Arnold 1st Aug '15 - 2:05am

    I see no problem with this issue, it’s a natural event, that needs to happen, and, has been happening for many hundreds of years. It is common sense really. people shouldn’t judge or stare. While at the same time, it might not be wise to sit by the checkout desk, entrance or, the exit, while doing so, to protect the child..

    As for, the SNP, Guardian, and Mail, my opinion isn’t one that credits either of them. Daily Mail, is obsessed, with cleavage, something that Freud, could ramble on about, probably in the Guardian, as they suggest it ‘may offend, the Muslim community’. I seem to remember, uproar a year, or, so back, when another MP was breastfeeding. So, I would advise caution, before giving SNP credit. Because, they have little good to say about us, anywhere on social media.

    If, I was a woman, with child, I would do as nature intended, why have a big debate about something natural? people should mind their own business, unless as I said, it is at the checkout, or, the dining table.

  • Ruth Bright 1st Aug '15 - 8:07am

    Hi Simon

    I completely agree that there should really be no need for a debate about something so natural. Sadly women do need to fight for the right to breastfeed because of the attitudes they face. The Labour leadership race has been frought with discussions about women and motherhood. Yvette Cooper is a mum and a highly credible candidate for PM. Alas though, were a picture to appear of her breastfeeding her toddler I genuinely believe her career would be over. Poor Kate Middleton appeared on the steps of the hospital for photos just hours after giving birth at a time when most women would crave privacy. No picture of her will ever appear breastfeeding though!

    A picture speaks a thousand words and the fact that Alison Thewliss, as an MP, feels comfortable with publishing that picture really changes things. She has helped normalise breastfeeding. Her party label is not the issue. Many Labour women praised Jenny Willott when she appeared on TV showing her combined role as MP and parent.

  • peter tyzack 1st Aug '15 - 11:03am

    It always seemed to me the obvious place to feed a baby, Simon Arnold, at the dining table, where else.?
    As for ‘in the toilet’ mentioned by someone else, NO!!. But please DO take child to the toilet to change a nappy, please don’t do that in a public area.!

  • I breast fed my babies until 9or10 months and now two daughters who have babies are breast feeding them. My eldest daughter fed her first child until she was over two. I cannot understand why people get offended by it. If you are told to feed your baby in the toilet cause a rumpus! I can’t think of anything more disgusting and unhealthy. My daughters both started off trying to use a large shawl type thing in public but soon abandoned it when the baby got tangled up and frustrated and screamed loudly in protest.This discussion is not new and if you need support perhaps a Lib Dems for breast feeding group could mount a campaign.
    I’m still boycotting Nestle for promoting formula feed in developing countries where poor hygiene was causing babies to die when bottle fed although I’m unsure whether this still happens. I wish Kate Middleton would allow a picture of herself breast feeding as this would change the situation overnight.

  • Simon Arnold 1st Aug '15 - 3:42pm

    Hi Ruth,

    I agree with you, but sadly we live in a world of illiberal media driven hysteria, where they see natural normal biological actions as abnormal or offensive. This shouldn’t be the case, because if children were educated properly at School about this, and Universities didn’t teach such strange subjects as media studies, then we would have a society that wouldn’t even blink, if they saw a baby being breastfed by a Mother. While at, the very same instance, we witness hidden nipples in the press, while exposing everything else. On one hand, some have accepted equal marriage, while they still get squeamish over a breastfeeding Mother and Baby. The bottom line, in the media; Breast sells publications, but nobody wants to know about or understand breastfeeding. It is the same with ageism and looks, people are obsessed.

  • Simon Arnold 1st Aug '15 - 3:48pm

    Indeed! Peter Tyzack, Breastfeeding shouldn’t be done, in the toilets. I try to avoid public toilets myself, because they are so disgusting. My point about the dining table situation, in a public place and I agree with you. I was thinking of more privacy for Mother and baby, and dangers from hot liquids and food, on table. As, I said, if it was me, needs must.

  • Marjorie Bark 2nd Aug '15 - 9:04am

    Breastfeeding toddlers provides other benefits too. So much is made of the nutritional and health benefits but there are emotional and psychological benefits too. The comfort and security of mother’s milk is a perfect for calming a fretful or frustrated child, soothing them through illness or settling them to sleep. None of those needs disappear overnight at six months. As a full time working mum, I have found that my breastfeeding relationships with my children well into their toddlerhood (32 months for my eldest, 18 months and counting for my second) has reinforced the emotional bond between myself and my children while asserting my finanical independence and professional career. Mother’s need to feel empowered to continue nursing their children for as long as they need to, whether it is six months, one year or five years . Humans lose the physical ability to breastfeed around seven years old. It is worth reflecting on why that should be, and what this says about our emotional and mental wellbeing in a society with such abysmal breastfeeding rates.

  • Ruth Bright 4th Aug '15 - 12:07pm

    Thank you all for your comments especially Caron. Just one quick point of information. Someone mentioned Islam earlier. Islamic and Jewish teaching protect and support breastfeeding with specific mention of nursing for two years.

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