Saturday, 27 November 2010

Miliband's Monumental Boob

It must be hard being an MP these days, particularly if you’re a new parent. You can’t claim expenses in the way that you used to do, there’s a pressure to look like ‘we’re all in it together’, and you’ll be grappling with how expensive it is to get together all the baby equipment you need.

Pity then Ed Miliband, who this week was having a walkaround, with the BBC, in Dudley Tescos (you can’t say being a leader of a political party isn’t dead glamorous). Approaching a shelf of baby formula, Miliband commented ‘Yeah, this is the formula we use, Aptimil 0-3 month.’ The BBC camera then zoomed in to the product in question, showing the container very clearly. Aptimil bosses must’ve been punching the air (or maybe slapping the table is more their style, in the manner of the cabinet when they learned of the impending royal wedding…Ugh, what an image).

There’s enough difficulty trying to convince women that breastfeeding is the best way to feed your baby, and that formula can cause all manner of health problems. In 2006 it was reported that the Government were spending just 13 pence per baby on promoting formula, compared by £20 per baby being spent promoting formula by the formula industry.

But let’s look at the facts about formula. Bottle fed babies are twice as likely to die in the first six weeks of life than breastfed babies. Formula manufacturers are not required to log the contents of their product with any body, and there have been many documented cases of contaminated batches.

The last thing we need is a public endorsement of formula, which will only serve to heighten the perception that formula is best and that breastfeeding is something only ‘earth mothers’ would ever contemplate.

Do you know what I’d like to see instead? I’d like to see Miliband’s partner breastfeeding their baby in the audience of the next Labour Party Conference. I’d like no one to make a fuss about this, and for it to be as normal as her sitting there and breathing. Which of course it is. But of course this won’t happen.

In an ideal world, I’d like to see the female leader of a political party – actually, let’s go one further – a female Prime Minister – breastfeeding her baby in the chamber of the House of Commons. Women, as I’ve written before and will no doubt reiterate, are fantastic multi-taskers, and when I was breastfeeding I would regularly be on the ‘phone to the council or the local papers, or would attend meetings, whilst breastfeeding my daughter at the same time. It was a godsend because it kept her quiet and content, leaving me free to contribute as usual.

We’ve a long way to go before breastfeeding is normalised to that extent, but that’s what we must aim for. Miliband’s actions this week were a massive step backwards, and show just how out of touch he is – but I expect the Aptimil van will be rolling up outside his house soon, so at least he’ll have bagged himself a freebie.


  1. Thank you Sarah, we need more people to shout about this. He certainly broke the WHO Code. I'll be sharing your thoughts.

    ABM Breastfeeding Counsellor

  2. I agree that breastfeeding is best, but I also think that quotes like "bottle fed babies are twice as likely to die in the first six weeks of life than breastfed babies" are not entirely honest, because it's the same logic as in "people who have been eating ice cream are more likely to die by drowning after swimming than people who did not eat ice cream". There is a difference between correlation and causation.