The health and economic benefits of breastfeeding for both infants and women are undisputed, yet despite more than a decade of polices, initiatives and campaigns encouraging women to breastfeed, rates in the UK are extremely low compared to our European neighbours.
There are a myriad of reasons for this, some of which we have found in research we have undertaken in our research team. Establishing breastfeeding can be difficult, especially for women who have medically complex pregnancies, have higher body mass index , or have had a caesarean section birth. Some women fear their babies don’t get enough breast milk or the right nutrition and adverts for formula milk may reinforce this. Cuts to NHS midwifery and health visiting services, including parent education, mean that women can’t always find the help they need. There can be pressures on women to return to their ‘pre-baby life-style’, to establish a feeding routine and have their infants sleep through the night. Women also report negative public attitudes to breastfeeding, and embarrassment they face when breastfeeding in public, for example if they have a higher body mass index. The stigma and social pressures experienced by some women, not only from the public, but from their families and social networks, can affect decisions not to breastfeed, or not to exclusively breastfeed for six months. It may also lead to women feeling isolated if they do not have the support of those closest to them or feel they have to hide away when breastfeeding to prevent others from feeling embarrassed.
Whilst not every women wants to breastfeed, for those who do, it is important to overcome barriers, because not every women who stops breastfeeding wants to.
In this year of ‘Coventry UK City of Culture 2021’, we want to take this opportunity to facilitate public debate on breastfeeding among the local population of Coventry and Warwick and the wider visiting community. Through creativity we will explore the stigma surrounding breastfeeding; using imagery and the voices of local women we aim to highlight a very important aspect of everyday life that is sometimes hidden.
We are collaborating with, Coventry born artist Lisa Creagh (www.lisacreagh.com), an advocate for breastfeeding, whose work ‘Holding Time’ has been exhibited at the Royal Brompton Hospital and is permanently exhibited on-line at www.holdingtime.org.