Breastfeeding should be 'the law', says supermodel

By Philippa Roxby
Health reporter, BBC News

Image caption, Gisele: the perfect mum?

Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen says that all mothers should be made to breastfeed their babies for the first six months of their lives.

In an interview with Harper's Bazaar magazine, she said: "I think breastfeeding really helped [me keep my figure].

"Some people here [in the US] think they don't have to breastfeed, and I think 'Are you going to give chemical food to your child when they are so little?'

"I think there should be a worldwide law, in my opinion, that mothers should breastfeed their babies for six months," she continued.

Gisele, who is married to American football star Tom Brady, gave birth to her first child, Benjamin, in December.

The world's highest paid supermodel had a natural birth at her home in Boston after meditating throughout her eight-hour labour.

She told the magazine that she got up to make pancakes the morning after the birth and was modelling swimwear just six weeks later.

Can all mums be as perfect as the beautiful Ms Bundchen?

Pancakes and swimwear aside, research shows that eight in ten women give breastfeeding a go when their baby arrives.

At the six to eight week check, however, this figure has reduced to five in 10 women breastfeeding.

And when babies are six months old, Department of Health research shows that only one in five women are still breastfeeding.

Sue Jacob, midwife teacher at the Royal College of Midwives, welcomes Gisele's aspiration that all mums breastfeed.

"It's a wonderful, utopian thought... We know breastfeeding is good for women and children, but we also don't want to marginalise women who can't breastfeed for whatever reason."

So what's putting off mothers who can breastfeed, but decide not to?

A spokesperson for the NCT, National Childbirth Trust, said: "Until breastfeeding is well established, new mothers need individualised help from a trained health worker and to know that there is always someone to turn to for support."

Pain and no gain

The 2005 infant feeding survey found that painful feeding and lack of support were the main reasons why mums stopped breastfeeding.

Lesley Backhouse of the Breastfeeding Network says: "Breastfeeding should be comfortable when the baby is latched on. What we need is more programmes on TV that actually show mothers how to do it properly."

Without that support, advice and encouragement women can end up giving up breastfeeding before they have really started to feel comfortable doing it.

But there are also many women who feel pressurised into continuing to breastfeed when they just want their bodies back after pregnancy and childbirth. While it can feel normal and natural for some women, breastfeeding can feel exhausting and painful for others.

Image caption, Breastfeeding is best for baby but not every woman can do it

In a recent survey of 3,000 mothers, four in 10 struggled to get to grips with breastfeeding their newborn.

And then there's the issue of how mothers are made to feel when breastfeeding their babies in public places.

Television star Denise van Outen said she gave up breastfeeding her daughter Betsy after less than a month because she didn't want photographers taking pictures.

"I probably should have persevered a bit longer than three weeks," she said recently. "But I can't be sitting in Starbucks and breastfeeding, because they [photographers] are taking pictures."

The NCT says public services, businesses and leisure facilities should provide facilities where babies can be fed and changed in comfort.

This means providing baby feeding rooms, with comfortable seating, drinking water, a place to breastfeed in private, and facilities to make up formula milk safely, the Trust says.

Sue Jacob of the Royal College of Midwives agrees.

"We need to have a debate about how to create a society which is going to accept breast feeding wherever women want to do it - in cafes, parks, public spaces and at work, if that's what they choose," she said.

Legislation in Scotland gives breastfeeding mothers the right to feed their baby in public places.

But this has not been extended to cover England and Wales, as yet.

Making women feel supported and accepted when breastfeeding is crucial in getting them to continue to breast feed, it seems.

Among experts, there is no argument that breastfeeding is the best thing to do - for baby and mum.

Guidance from the Department of Health states that: "Breastfeeding is the best form of nutrition for infants. Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first six months (26 weeks) of an infant's life as it provides all the nutrients a baby needs."

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