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What's all the fuss about? Top 10 breastfeeding controversies

When she's not writing, Claire Gillespie can most often be found wiping snotty noses, picking up Lego, taking photos of her cat or doing headstands.

Promoting World Breastfeeding Week

From SheKnows UK
It's World Breastfeeding Week and we're taking a look at some of the ways in which breastfeeding has hit the headlines over the past few years.

It's World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) and this year's theme is "Breastfeeding: A Winning Goal — For Life!" Designed to raise awareness of the importance of the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding across the world, WBW has revealed this year's objectives: 

Promoting World Breastfeeding WeekImage credit: World Breastfeeding Week

From Salma Hayek to Sesame Street — in honour of World Breastfeeding Week we're taking a look at some past breastfeeding controversies.

1. The "Breast Milk Baby"

The controversial Breast Milk Baby was unleashed on the U.K. in 2012 and immediately caused a media storm. Aimed at girls from age 2, it came with a bib featuring flower "nipples," which the child wears in order to latch the doll on. BMB even makes suckling noises, burps after her feed and, in true newborn style, starts wailing if her "Mummy" fails to wind her properly. Critics of the doll slammed it for "enforcing the pernicious and widespread prejudice against (bottle feeding) mums," but it wasn't only advocates of bottle feeding who had a problem with it. Many breastfeeding mums felt uncomfortable with the notion of teaching a very young child how to carry out what is ultimately a very grown-up task.

How long should you breastfeed? >> 

2. TIME magazine's cover storm

When TIME magazine featured Jamie Grumet, 26, breastfeeding her 3-year-old son Aram on its May 2012 cover an international storm followed. Critics of the image questioned both the practice of breastfeeding a child of that age and the editor's decision to use the photo as a cover shot. Grumet received death threats after the magazine was published but remained resolute saying, "The statement that I wanted to make was this is a normal option for your child and it should not be stigmatised. I’m never saying this is for everybody, but it should be something that’s accepted.” 

3. Mrs. President steps in

MIchelle Obama was criticised for her 2011 campaign to promote breastfeeding — from all corners. Sarah Palin weighed in with “It’s no wonder Michelle Obama is telling everybody you better breastfeed your baby. Yeah, you better — because the price of milk is so high right now!” Mummy bloggers joined in, stating that Obama was putting too much pressure on mothers to breastfeed. The controversy took an interesting turn when evidence appeared in the press that Palin herself had been a public advocate of breastfeeding.

4. Facebook fallout

Facebook's policies regularly incur the wrath of its users and in 2009 it was nursing mothers who turned on the social media giant. When they realised that photos of them nursing their babies were being deleted from their profiles, because they were "violating" Facebook's policies, they joined forces to take action and petition against Facebook's decisions. Since then, the website has changed its policy to allow images of nursing mothers, stating: "“We agree that breastfeeding is natural and beautiful and we’re glad to know that it’s important for mothers to share their experiences with others on Facebook."

5. In-flight nursing

Back in 2006, nursing mother Emily Gillette claimed that a member of Delta Connection cabin crew told her to get off the plane when she refused to cover up while nursing her 22-month-old daughter. Gillette made a complaint to the Vermont Human Rights Commission, claiming that she was sitting discreetly by the window with her husband in the aisle seat when a member of cabin crew offered her a blanket. She was escorted off the plane after declining the blanket. This led to "nurse-ins" at Delta Connection counters in airports across the United States. Although the airline publicly apologised to Gillette and reaffirmed the right of women to breastfeed on their planes, she went on to file a civil suit against Delta settling for an undisclosed amount in March 2012.

What else do new mums worry about? >> 

6. Sesame Street


In January 2012 a group of parents started a petition to bring breastfeeding back to long-running children's television show Sesame Street. The show has shown only bottle feeding mothers since the 1990s. Back in 1977, singer/songwriter Buffy St. Marie guest-starred on the show and was seen breastfeeding her baby (with Big Bird peering over her shoulder, no less), saying "I'm feeding the baby. See? He's drinking milk from my breast."

The petition "Bring Breastfeeding Back to Sesame Street!" received almost 40,000 signatures, its accompanying letter stating that its aim was for both methods of feeding — bottle and breast — to be shown on screen in order to give viewers the message that neither is considered better than the other.

According to Sherrie Westin, executive vice president of Sesame Workshop, it was never a conscious decision to remove breastfeeding from the show. "We have included it and absolutely would include it again if it were a natural part of the storyline," she said.

7. Military breastfeeding

In 2012 a photograph of two military servicewomen breastfeeding their children appeared on Facebook sparking widespread outrage. One of the mums, Terran Echegoyen McCabe, told the Today show that she nursed her twin daughters in uniform all the time, was proud to be wearing a uniform while breastfeeding and hoped it would encourage other mums to breastfeed while on active duty, whether on guard or as a civilian.

8. Salma shares her milk


Actress Salma Hayek entered the breastfeeding debate in 2009 when a YouTube video showed her breastfeeding a baby boy in Sierra Leone. Hayek, who was still breastfeeding her own child at the time, explained that her aim was to promote breastfeeding in a region that has one of the highest infant-mortality rates in the world — mainly due to malnutrition.

9. Model mums

Gisele Bündchen, Natalia Vodianova and Jaime King are just a few of the model mothers who have posted pictures of themselves breastfeeding on their Instagram accounts this year, joining the fight against those who view breastfeeding as something shameful and to be hidden.

10. Public shaming

Nursing mothers have faced discrimination in various parts of the U.K. over the past few years simply for breastfeeding their babies in public places. In July 2012, over 200 breastfeeding mums staged a peaceful protest at Bristol's Park Street Cafe, after 28-year old Kelly Schaecher was told by one of the cafe's waitresses she would have to sit in a corner if she wanted to breastfeed her baby daughter Sasha. Allegedly, the waitress went on to scream abuse at Kelly, even as she was leaving the cafe. In October 2012, 28-year old Claire Knowles was asked to "move and face the wall" in Cheltenham's The Mayflower restaurant after she told staff she was going to breastfeed her 11-week-old daughter Jessica. And in August 2013, Stephanie Wilby was forced to stop breastfeeding her 4-month-old son in the swimming pool at Manchester Aquatics Centre. Apparently staff likened breastfeeding to urinating in the water. Public opinion was divided on this one: in a poll by The Guardian, 48% agreed that breastfeeding in a public swimming pool was "unhygienic."

What's the legal position on breastfeeding in public?

In the U.K., The Equality Act 2010 gave explicit protection to breastfeeding mothers requiring that they should not be discriminated against because they are breastfeeding.

In Scotland, the Breastfeeding etc. (Scotland) Act 2005 is part of criminal law and safeguards the health of children under 2 years of age by ensuring that they have the right to be fed milk — whether this is by a woman or a man.

World Breastfeeding Week, Aug. 1 – 7, 2014

More on breastfeeding

Breastfeeding dos and don'ts
Should I breastfeed my baby?
How to make breastfeeding work for you and your baby

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