The Government is proposing that breastfeeding should now be taught as part of the PSHE curriculum. Another item to add onto the long list of social problems that teachers are supposed to solve.
This is a nonsense. I am, as my readers will know, no feminist, but to start talking to little girls about breastfeeding is to put pressure on them to assume that they will become mothers, just at the point when they are starting to grow out of their obsession with dolls and babies and start thinking about all the other exciting things there are to do. Even worse, teaching them about breastfeeding at such a tender age could make motherhood repellent to them and put them off it, depriving them of the happiness which it brings.
What this focus on teaching girls about breastfeeding really does is avoid tackling the root cause of the problem. It is the hopeless sticking plaster approach which usually backfires in some unpredictable way. Like the way in which we are now realising that giving children sex education, far from discouraging teenage pregnancy may have encouraged their interest in sex.
We are all being increasingly alienated from processes of reproduction. Caring for children is no longer something which we learn from our extended family as children because our relatives are no longer living near us. And if they were, they would all be out at work.
As we approach the age of having children the offspring of our friends are siphoned off to childminders, nurseries and grandparents – we just don’t get used to being in the company of children. With each successive generation parenting skills are gradually being lost as nobody actually parents. Breastfeeding becomes something odd and exotic because we have just not grown up with seeing it all around.
When we want to find someone to care for our children we import them from other cultures – not so much because au pairs from Eastern Europe are cheaper but because they are more likely to know what to do with children – they grew up at home with little ones around.
Deciding to add yet another item to the PSHE curriculum seems to be what the authorities do when they want to avoid joined up thinking and connecting the dots. Those few women who would love to be able to breastfeed their children are under huge pressure to return to work. And in the meantime there is pressure on to increase paternity leave so that fathers rather than mothers are the ones to stay at home.
A study of transferable parental leave in Canada found that fathers didn’t take the leave not because they didn’t want to, nor because they weren’t willing to reduce their amount of employment (although we should not underestimate the impact of paternity leave on places of work). Fathers didn’t take parental leave because the mothers refused to give it up. And this was often because they wanted to go on breastfeeding their child.
Apparently an obsession with the appearance of breasts may discourage women from breastfeeding, although I don’t believe there is any evidence to show that breastfeeding has a damaging effect. Perhaps it would encourage mothers to breastfeed if it was pointed out that milk can achieve the same effect as silicone without costs or surgery involved.
One of the solutions I read to encourage breastfeeding was to pump milk from one’s breasts and then get someone else to feed it to the baby because apparently it is so much easier to go on doing whatever you are doing with a breast pump rather than having a baby around.
Now while many of us mothers recognise that the period in our lives when we have babies and small children is perhaps the most memorable and in some sense indulgent, motherhood is not motherhood without significant sacrifice being involved.
Not being prepared to give your time over to your child is treating motherhood as just another string to your bow, and your child as some kind of accessory. Don’t bother becoming a mother if you aren’t prepared to go the extra mile. The pleasures of motherhood do not come for free, merely from the possession of a baby. They come from being happy about giving a whole lot up.
I don’t actually find that my children particularly want my company (well one is 24 so that is probably just as well!) but I think they benefit from knowing that I am there. Depriving children of our time pushes them into adulthood early. The gift of time creates childhood. And for little girls who are still bathing in childhood, breastfeeding classes will only function to take that childhood away.