In celebration of breastfeeding.

Claire and BetsiTwenty years ago when I gave birth to Tom it never occurred to me to do anything other than breastfeed. Fortunately for me I hadn’t read any books about how tricky this could be and had a wonderful midwife who stopped me fussing around, got me comfortable and latched Tom on. I was 32 years old, completely ignorant of what to do. It was as if I had expected this small creature to be born with a handbook that would tell me how to operate it, but it wasn’t. Instead it was born in pain and blood and mess and then noise, thankfully noise. A perfect thing that somehow my body had just got on and made while I got on with my painting. ( I was that naive that I took my sketchbook in to hospital so that I could work on some roughs while I was in labour. I had been commissioned to do my first children’s book the week before Tom was born. Or maybe the sketchbook was my security blanket, a kind of holding on to who I was and what I did before I became a mother. Whatever it was, needless to say it remained shut as I was busy trying to suck all the gas and air out of the hospital walls.)

Anyway, it seemed that the best idea was to get on and feed the child seeing as how I had carried these breasts around on my body for 32 years. Time to put them to good use. The idea of using formula never once occurred. And in my naivety I didn’t realise that other people might have a problem with this.

Some of my family thought I was breast feeding because as an artist I couldn’t afford to pay for the formula. They didn’t seem to notice that as an artist I had also just bought a small cottage by the sea, or rather a mortgage on one, which is not quite the same thing, so probably could afford dried milk.

Claire and Betsi

There was something about the ease of feeding in this way that I loved. And also once I had really got the hang of it there was something about the sitting quietly in close bond with this astonishing creature, gentle, still, warm, peaceful, that I absolutely adored. After a time I learned to balance a book on the poor child so that I could read, and later when I had Hannah I would read picture books to Tom while feeding Hannah. Occasional helpful comments from older family members like ‘Not again, surely he can’t still be hungry?”, ” You should give that baby some proper food”, and the best ever, as Tom reached the age of one and I continued to feed him at night, ” You’ll be pushing that through the school fence if your not careful!” ( how attractive and so encouraging an image. Not) But I also remember feeding him in a cafe once and a lady coming over and whispering in my ear, “well done you, so brave”. It wasn’t bravery, it was just natural behaviour. Not an act of defiance, just ignorance on my part that anyone would object.

So, this week is the 20th annual Breast Feeding Awareness Week. It may seem unimportant to many but it isn’t. How we feed our children is a matter of personal choice but so much research points to the fact that breast is best, for giving mother and child a close bond, for giving the child the very best start in life, for giving antibodies to fight disease, for insuring correct nutrition with ease. How astonishing that in the 20th century ( as it was when I had Tom and Hannah), formula milk could be seen as superior simply because it cost money, and only poor people breast fed! And how sad that many women are embarrassed out of breastfeeding because of the idiotic attitude of some parts of society. In some places in the USA while it is legal to carry a gun it is illegal to breast feed in public.

As my children grew I realised that there were very few images of breastfeeding in children’s books. Reading so many books I also noticed how strange it was when mermaids were pictured in children’s books. They seldom had breasts, and if they did they were covered in often strange and mysterious ways. Disturbed by this strange mutilation, albeit pictorially when I came to illustrate Mariana and the Merchild ( written by Caroline Pitcher, published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, a retelling of a traditional Chilean folk tale) I just couldn’t help myself, and to be very fare to my editors, both women, was more than supported in painting an image of a breast feeding mother and child.

Cover for MarianaBreastfeeding mermaid in Mariana and the Merchild.

I have no photos of me feeding my children. These were pre-digital days and I was the photographer in the family. The photos used here are of Claire and Betsi, taken in the evening as she settled Betsi to sleep. She is growing so beautifully, such lovely soft skin and tiny strong hands. I do however have a wonderful memory of Tom, aged about one and a half standing four square in W H Smiths and pointing to the magazines on the top shelf, the soft porn and saying in a very loud one and a half year old voice, ” Look mummy, MILK!” Just about sums it all up really.


About Jackie

I am an artist and writer. I live in a small house by the sea in Wales where I write, paint, walk and watch and dream of bears and whales. I love to read, have a wish for wings and prefer the company of animals to that of humans, though at times I can be quite friendly. I am learning how to work with wood engraving tools and hoping to show that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
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16 Responses to In celebration of breastfeeding.

  1. Christina says:

    I wonder if there is more of a stigma against breastfeeding in the UK than in Australia? I watched a BBC program recently, and was surprised to see it was such an issue, especially among younger women, and in public. I breast fed both my girls (the first for 15 months, second for 8 months though I wished it had been longer), and never really thought twice about breastfeeding in public. And it’s a regular sight here in any cafe where mums gather, and I certainly never had anyone comment adversely or even look twice. It’s heavily promoted as best for baby, and I think most people at least try, even if it doesn’t work out and they turn to formula as a second option. It certainly isn’t considered the ‘poor woman’s’ choice!

    And those photos are beautiful Jackie, they perfectly sum up the wonderful bond that breastfeeding creates. And I also learnt to balance a book at the same time!

  2. Georgia says:

    Good on you for this post! I agree that breast feeding is accepted in Australia having quite happily breast fed two of my children there anywhere I was (on trains, in cafes, on planes), without feeling the need to cover up. I also breast fed my other two in Singapore (where even after suffering the heat of throwing a sheet over the poor child I would still end up with a small crowd watching me as they just never saw it happen) and later the US where ridiculous amounts of modesty are required. For me it was as much about the convenience of not having to take things with me. But when people would ask me why I did it, I was confused. We are mammals, that is what our mammary glands are there for. There should be more images of woman breast feeding in children’s books, and how natural that it should be mermaids.

  3. Klose Knit says:

    Well said! I am a supporter of breast-feeding and nursed both of my children gladly. It is so wonderful, sweet, and precious. And that’s why we have breasts in the first place. That is their purpose!! I don’t think males like to recognize that. That may be the crux.

  4. Oh such sweet photos. I wonder who the bothered people are; certainly they aren’t mothers who breast fed. I’m so very glad I did. Breast feeding my babies made them beautifully portable to drag around the world! I’m happy to say that in Vancouver there doesn’t seem to be any stigma around mothers breast feeding in public.

  5. Brenda says:

    A lovely post, Jackie.

  6. Marianne says:

    Well said and I completely agree. My babes were entirely breastfed till weaned.
    But please spare a thought for the mothers who would like to but can’t. My daughter’s first child was very premature and, once out of the incubator months after birth, very slow to latch on. Combined with a lot of stress and tension – it just didn’t happen. My daughter in law’s baby was born by caesarean after a week of botched inductions and no sleep at all. Again – too much stress and tension and it didn’t work for them. Both women were devastated not to breast feed their babies. So – breast is best but sometimes there are reasons we don’t know for bottle feeding and the mothers are doing their best. And Granny gets to feed the baby!

    • Jackie says:

      Indeed. And I do hate that guilt that we all feel at things we perceive we didn’t do right. What worries me is the women who don’t even consider it. I heard one woman say once that her breasts were for her husband not her children. Not a good thing to hear.

      • Christina says:

        I agree too. A stressed out mum isn’t good for baby anyway. We do the best we can, and if that’s bottle feeding, then that’s fine. A new mum doesn’t need the guilt. As long a she gives it a go, if it doesn’t work, then she should be able to bottle feed without feeling like she’s ‘failed’ in some way.

        • Jackie says:

          It is amazing how when we have been through the growing of a child inside and the birthing we still feel that we have done so many things wrong, and carry around a weight of guilt and perceived judgements.

  7. Of course it’s a perfectly natural part of life , the best start for a baby and wonderfully practical , too !
    Modern Dutch picture books for small children do portray breastfeeding mothers , luckily …. but illustrations like yours for this lovely folk tale are still not so common . They’re beautiful !

  8. I was one of the lucky ones, both boys latched and fed, it felt like I had a baby permanently attached sometimes as they were every two hours. I also ignored all the Gina Ford instructions and fed on demand. Firmly believing my instincts were the best guide to my boys; arrogant if you like but it struck me as utterly natural. I also carried the boys, holding them as much as possible. Something else we are told is bad for them…uhhh!

    I thank the lord for the understanding midwives and I love that you are celebrating what is only a natural act in your work. Have a heartfelt and very meant ‘Hooray’ from me too.

  9. I really enjoyed this post.. especially having had such very similar breastfeeding experiences.

    Having a good midwife to help with your first must of been helpful.. the only help I got 15 years ago was a midwife grabing my nipple and screwing it into my sons mouth – not good. I think it was sheer bloody minded determination that got me through the first few weeks – what a learning curve. I was so relieved at how naturally it came 2nd time round (when I knew what I was doing).. Precious moments! I have a rough sketch – that I did purely because one of my little boys crayons and a piece of sugar paper happened to be next to me, and it seemed like a good idea at 3.30am looking down on my 2 week old baby girl breastfeeding.. its not that good of a drawing, but its the memory – it takes me right back to that moment.
    Love your mermaid paintings! And I can just picture your little boy in WH Smiths.. wonderful 😀

  10. Kitty says:

    In my line of work I meet a lot of (often very young) mums who wouldn’t consider breastfeeding – not on their radar. I think in the UK there needs to be a kind of “reclaim the night” type campaign for our breasts! They’re ours and our babies’, not the media’s or the blokes in our lives.
    I’m in my fifties now but will never forget the utter joy of feeding my daughters, skin to skin and that wee noise they make…
    Good on you Jackie!

  11. Yay, I so heartily agree, My breastfeeding my girl was one of the most wonderful and vital things I have ever done. I feel as I completed something so deeply human and real, by doing what comes so naturally.
    Thank you for this post. Its beautiful x

  12. Jane says:

    Great post, and beautiful photos Jackie. I too breast fed my two youngest children and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. It’s so strange that some folk are offended by breast feeding mothers in public, the whole procedure can be accomplished with the minimum of fuss or show and discreetly done, there’s no need to make a holy show of it.


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