Boobs VS Big Business

I have talking boobs. And it is my own fault. It came about subtly, in an effort to playfully end a leisurely breastfeed my toddler was having. Tim had bought in our porridge, steaming and slathered in Golden Syrup and I was ready to get on with the day. Gentle cajoling hadn’t worked, so I put on a Northern male accent and spoke on behalf of my breasts.

“Er, excuse me, Ramona, we know you are enjoying your nurse right here, love, but we ain’t ‘alf  ready for our porridge!” *Left Boob joins in the fun* “Oooh, aye, we do want to gobble up that porridge!”

It has finished many an epic nursing session in ripples of giggles for both of us, and often Ramona would talk back, and ask them questions, normally about whether now was a good time to nurse and that kind of thing. But in the last day or so, she has asked them their wise opinions about other, more general, stuff. . .

Of course, not all women are lucky enough to have enlightened oracles for breasts. But all women’s breasts are magical, nonetheless. They all produce, when required, life giving milk; every possible nutrient tiny bodies need in a few completely free sucks.

My sleepy nursling

But all goodies have a baddy out to get them. Every Superman a Lex Luther. Every packet of Custard Creams a tin with an ill fitting lid that makes them all soft.

Boobs have quite a few enemies, amongst them misinformed health professionals who advise new mamas to not spoil the baby by nursing on demand, an oversexualised culture that give breasts a limiting role of titillators, and also I bet boobs hate bras in general too (Hold on, I’ll just ask them. Yep, they do, they bloody hate bras.) But their absolute arch enemy must be formula companies. Not formula or formula feeding parents – formula has been life-giving too and parents who use formula are often breastfeeders as well, and if not, still just doing the best they know for their baby. But formula companies, sheesh. When it comes to baddies, they take the biscuit.

I can remember reading about Nestle and their formula pushing tactics in poor communities when I was around 17. I wasn’t a mother, saw breasts primarily as a pain in my teenage bum rather than potential baby nurturers, and wasn’t the least “activisty.” I suspect I only came across the information because I was googling tips for how I might go about making a giant Kit Kat, Pimp My Snack styles.

But I remember feeling so angry. The injustice of it was clear to me. That huge corporations would generate myths around breastfeeding and use sly tactics like giving out freebies at the hospital to undermine the ancient, healthy and free practice of breastfeeding. I became mad at Nestle that day and haven’t touched one of their products since. Even though I dream of giant Kit Kats pretty much every night.

Imagine how angry I felt when I read Zoe Williams’ article on Saturday about similar strategies still being employed today, decades after the original evils were bought to light.  Formula companies still giving gifts to health workers in return for promotion, propaganda still being placed in antenatal wards. Super rich, global companies are doing everything they can to create a market for a product in a place where that product can not be used safely. Lack of clean water and clean bottles mean the formula will always be germ ridden, compared to breastmilk that comes ready sterilised.

Save the Children, who launched a report and campaign on it all yesterday, estimates that more than 800,000 deaths could be prevented each year if infants were simply given breast milk in the first hour of life. It is a silver bullet for child health in poor countries yet Big Business is doing all it can to undermine it.

I can’t be sure as I have a terrible memory (honestly, I don’t know who half my Facebook friends are) but I think the original Nestle boycott put my feet on the fight-for-a-better-world path. Despite setbacks like these current revelations, where rules that were made as a result of a first round of campaigning are broken, the world is an infinitely better place because of that initial fight against the formula villains. There are a lot more breastfeeding mums in developing countries than if the Nestle campaign never occurred. But there is still LOADS more to be done.

I’m going to have to muzzle the Northern male voice in my boobs soon, I know. I just don’t have the bravado to survive Ramona asking them a question about what we should all have for dinner loudly in the supermarket – public boob-questioning is the inevitable next step.

But, as I get ready to silence my own breasts, I have spoken out on behalf of breasts* in developing countries through the Save the Children campaign to hold some of the villains, Nestle and Danone, to account. Do consider doing it too.

* Of course, really you don’t have to give two hoots about boobs to care about this. It isn’t even really about breasts as much as injustice. You just need to care about babies surviving and hope for a future where people matter more than profit. This little dash of activism will go some way to making that happen.

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