Monday, 27 June 2011

Breastfeeding Flashmob Leeds - challenging low breastfeeding rates in the UK

 
Well last week was Breastfeeding Awareness Week and seeing as the Government had deemed fit to cut the funding for any organised events, I decided to organise one of my own, after seeing an event that was being organised in London – a breastfeeding flashmob. What an excellent idea!

I set up a group on facebook, sorted out a press release and tweeted like mad. After the first couple of days we only had a few members and I didn’t think it would happen but over the weekend and the following few days an amazing 200+ women joined the group and so things were looking good. Media were informed, as were local newspapers. I wasn’t sure who would cover the story and when I didn’t hear anything back I had my doubts anyone would.



The day of the flashmob arrived and I “reminded” all the media and sent them my contact details. Luckily, Leeds Television & a lovely lady from BBC contacted me. Unfortunately though, I didn’t realise they needed permission to film in the venue – Leeds Station, which had been kept a secret and so couldn’t actually film anything but Yorkshire Evening Post were there and I heard we made page 2 of today’s edition.

I arrived at the station and there were a few other mums so because we were early decided to go for a quick drink. Went to the main meeting place in the station to be greeted by about 60 mums and a reporter from RealRadio. I could have cried. All these ladies were here to support something I feel so passionate about.

At 2pm we all sat down and had a lovely breastfeed, much to the amazement of the public. We didn’t get on negative comment or stare and that was lovely or maybe they just didn’t dare. We wanted to get across the message that breastfeeding in public is fine and mums shouldn’t feel self conscious or embarrassed to feed their children. We certainly weren’t there to have a dig at bottle-feeding mums. It was breast v society not breast v bottle and I hope this is what we achieved.

These are a couple pictures my daughter took on the day but there are more on Real Radio Yorks facebook page.



Monday, 20 June 2011

Breastfeeding Flashmob Leeds - challenging low breastfeeding rates in the UK

Friday  24th June, central Leeds.

Breastfeeding mothers will all nurse their infants together in a flashmob, organised by a breastfeeding mother from Sherburn In Elmet.

The mothers want to celebrate National Breastfeeding Awareness Week and call for a more breastfeeding-friendly UK.  The flashmobbers also want to highlight our country’s shockingly low breastfeeding rates.

Many women feel inhibited about breastfeeding in public despite the equality act passed in 2010 that protects women, allowing them to breastfeed their baby anywhere regardless of the baby’s age. The sight of a nursing woman is rare in the UK, contributing to the feeling of unease felt by some people when seeing a woman breastfeed in public.

Of the 1,200 women who took part in an online poll run by Mother and Baby magazine and supported by the National Childbirth Trust, 60 per cent felt that the UK frowned on breastfeeding mothers and 65 per cent intended to not breastfeed in public for fear of being stared at.  Two thirds maintained that feeding their baby in public had been a stressful experience, and more than half of these had been asked to move out of a restaurant, cafe or coffee shop when they were feeding.

Mother of three and winner of 2003 Celebrity Mum of the Year Award, Melinda Messenger, says: “The law says mums have the right to breastfeed anywhere but they can be put off by uncomfortable looks and embarrassed stares so we need to challenge British reserve and celebrate the act of breastfeeding in public.”

Overall, only 45 per cent of UK babies are exclusively breastfed at one week, 21 per cent at six weeks, 7 per cent at four months and only 3 per cent at five months of age (source: Office for National Statistics). This shows there is something seriously wrong with the breastfeeding culture in the UK. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the NHS both recommend exclusive breastfeeding until six months of age. WHO also recommends breastfeeding alongside other foods for at least two years.

The flashmob is an independent group of nursing mothers who hope to achieve the following through this mass nurse-in event:

• Encourage mothers to feel confident when they breastfeed in public.

• Help those who do not feel comfortable around nursing mothers to feel more at ease.

• Call for a more open- and healthy-minded attitude to breastfeeding for future generations.

• Remind people of the breast’s primary purpose, a natural part of our existence.

• Get breasts in the media for the right reason.

 The originator and main organiser of the flashmob, Sharon Spink, says “I was shocked and angered that Government funding had been cut for Breastfeeding Awareness Week and felt compelled to do something to make more people aware of the benefits of breastfeeding. The UK has the second lowest breastfeeding rates out of 36 European countries and I find this appalling. If we can encourage even just one more mum to breastfeed then it will be worth it. Unfortunately, society has a very prudish attitude to breastfeeding and yet it should be seen as normal. We are holding this event to show Leeds that we are normal and that breasts are first and foremost designed to feed our children.”

Sharon recruited the breastfeeding mothers through Facebook and by posting on various parenting and pro-breastfeeding websites.

Some of the mums in the flashmob have been made to feel acutely embarrassed by ill-judged comments from staff in hospitals, famous high street stores and coffee shops.

Media enquires to:
Sharon Spink – Flashmob Main Organiser          boobyandthebeads@talktalk.net

Additional Information:
WHO Breastfeeding Facts and Statistics http://www.who.int/topics/breastfeeding/en/

The Office for National Statistics performs its Infant Feeding Survey every five years. The figures from the 2005 survey were published in March 2008. http://www.ic.nhs.uk/statistics-and-data-collections/health-and-lifestyles-related-surveys/infant-feeding-survey/infant-feeding-survey-2005

Mother and Baby survey, carried out in conjunction with NCT. http://nctwatch.wordpress.com/2009/07/24/mother-and-baby-survey-reveals-mothers-worries-about-breastfeeding-in-public/

NCT Document summary: Key Baby Feeding Statistics from the 2005 UK Infant Feeding survey.  http://www.nct.org.uk/sites/default/files/related_documents/DS14%20Infant%20Feeding%20Survey%202005%20Key%20Statistics%20%5BUK%5D.pdf

National Breastfeeding Week Info for 2011: http://www.lactivist.net/?p=2768

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Support Habiba. IMMF Give Her Baby Back

Spanish government authorities removed 15 month old nursling from mother's care due to her refusal to wean her child by force


Nine days ago, on May 31st, a Morrocan mother known as Habiba had her child taken away from her without her consent, allegedly because she breastfed her child on demand. Due to her dire financial situation, Habiba had been living with her 15 month old daughter in a women's shelter in Madrid (Instituto Madrileño del Menor y la Familia- IMMF-, which roughly translates to Madrid's Family and Children's Institute).

In later declarations and radio interviews, Nacho de la Mata, her lawyer, informed the media that Habiba had left her child at the facility's daycare center as usual, and that the child was taken away immediately from there. She was then notified that she could no longer live at the shelter, for this facility only took on the care of mothers and she no longer had a child.

Fundación Raíces, a humanitarian organization, immediately took on Habiba's care, providing psychiatric evaluations, performed by well know birth rights activist and author Dr. Ibone Olza, along with legal services, healthcare and financial aid.

According to anonymous information released in the press, supposedly coming from the IMMF, Habiba's child was taken away from her due to her failure to comply to the center's "Psychotherapy and Maternal Habilities Program", allegedly because she was "a violent person", although there are no records of this alleged violence.

Dr. Olza, the psychiatrist who evaluated Habiba, as well as a psychologist, whose name has not yet been released coincide in their impressions on Habiba:
"I'm under the impression that [Habiba] is a sensible and loving mother, with a healthy attachment to her child." 
"It is obvious that this separation is highly stressful for the nursling and I can easily predict oncoming symptoms of psychic distress if the physical and emotional bond with her mother is not immediately restored"
"Based on Habiba's thorough psychiatric evaluation I have reached the conclusion that this woman does not suffer from psychiatric disorders nor does she have a drug habit. In my opinion, she is a very capable, loving woman who is now suffering enormously from having been abruptly separated from her child."
"As a child psychiatrist, I know that suddenly separating a fifteen month old child from her mother, transfering her to a government facility with no one the child is familiar with present, causes great damage that could have enduring psychological consequences, if not reunited as soon as possible."
Habiba is not only suffering emotionally but also physically. The day Dr. Olza took on her care, she was suffering from engorgement and was on the edge of developing mastitis. Dr. Olza helped Habiba  express her milk and took a half liter of breastmilk to the IMMF. After a lot of persuasion, and arguments about how it would be a crime to waste this mothers "liquid gold", the IMMF accepted the milk although that poses no guarantee upon the child ever being fed it, as Breastfeeding is strictly forbidden in all child welfare group homes

This news appears to contradict the strong support of breastfeeding in Madrid's breastfeeding and parent-child bonding programs for health professionals. Thus the IMMF's attitude on breastfeeding, and their opinion on it, calling it "chaotic and damaging to children" has caused great alarm among mothers everywhere, not only the breastfeeding community. According to declarations in the newspaper, allegedly coming on behalf of the IMMF, the reason for separating mother and child has nothing to do with their breastfeeding relationship, yet after saying that the child was removed from her mother's care "temporarily and the case would be reevaluated", they warned Habiba beforehand that nursing her child during their one hour weekly visit was absolutely forbidden supposedly because "it would be contrary to the child's institutionalization".

On Saturday June 4th, Dr. Olza decided to seek public support for Habiba's case, and started a Facebook Group called Que el IMMF permita que Habiba amamante a su niña YA (IMMF please allow Habiba to breastfeed her child right now). In less than 24 hours, the group grew to over 2000 members, and currently has over 3500 (and continues growing by the minute).

Yesterday, Habiba was allowed to visit her child, for only an hour. After nine days of being apart, they were reunited for only sixty minutes.

Since information on this case became public, other similar cases of women being forced to wean their children upon threats of their custody being taken over by the state have been brought to light. A public petition in Spanish was signed by over 3500 people, and another 5200 have sent personal letters to the IMMF and other Spanish authorities, as well as Save the Children, Amnesty International and other NGOs to express their support for Habiba and request her to be reunited with her child as soon as possible.

This morning, a Spanish newspaper published further declarations by Dr. Olza about Habiba's impression upon meeting her child briefly yesterday:
"My little girl is no longer the child I knew, at first she wouldn't even look at me... she has lost half a kilo, she looks very thin, this is not proper childcare, she had circles under her eyes, she started crying as soon as I picked her up but then she would stop immediately as if she didn't have the physical strength to cry any longer, she didn't seem like my daughter, she looked like a dead child, a doll".
Dr. Olza explained to the Spanish authorities that the child's reaction was perfectly predictable under the circumstances:
"She wouldn't look her in the face, she looked at her as though she was a complete stranger, not wanting to go near her, [another possible reaction could have been] the contrary, not wanting to let go of her mother afterwards." 
"... it was absolutely predictable that the child wouldn't seem happy upon seeing her mother given the circumstances," which is something that an untrained observer could [but should not] interpret as "the child not loving her mother, or that [Habiba] was not a good parent". 
"On the contrary, the fact that she reacted this way is proof that the child has suffered enormously from this deep feeling of abandonment"
Not only has the child been traumatically separated from her mother, but there also aren't sufficient caregivers to provide children with the nurturing that they need. After visiting the shelter at which Habiba's baby is being held, Fundación Raíces told the press that during night shifts, there are only two caregivers for 42 children under the age of six

Minutes ago, Dr. Olza, published the following urgent request, asking all supporters currently residing in Madrid to please protest in front of the IMMF right now:
Less than one hour ago, a representative of the IMMF in charge of Habiba's case has verbally accepted that she sees " her child one hour a week in order for her to maintain their breastfeeding relationship" to which the president of Fundación Raíces has replied that he obviously has absolutely no knowledge whatsoever about breastfeeding. His response was that the IMMF would evaluate the possibility of more generous visitation rights. We ask you all to please go stand and protest in front of the IMMF building right now to request that this institutional abuse upon Habiba is put to an end immediately. The address (in Madrid) is Calle Gran Vía 14. The following is extremely important: please take the picture above printed on paper to use as masks during the protest, Habiba does not wish for her face or anyone else's to be displayed in the media. We will all wear this drawing as masks because We are all Habiba.
I'm perfectly aware that this story seems very much like a hoax, but with well know professionals such as María Teresa Hernández, member of the Spanish Pediatrics Academy's Breastfeeding Commitee, award-winning lawyer Nacho de la Mata, well reknown authors and birth activists Isabel Fernández del Castillo and Ibone Olza, among others backing the information and giving their personal impressions on the matter publicly, things seem greatly believable.

If this story has touched your heart, if you wish to help in any way, please share this post. If you have a blog, please re-publish this information, if you know anyone in the press, anywhere in the world who could help in any way, please do contact them.

If you know some Spanish and would like to read further about Habiba, please refer to the following articles, with more detailed information:
If you wish to support Habiba on Facebook, please join this group in Spanish, or this international page with other translations, including English and French.

Please sign the public petition in Spanish, or in English (rough translation).

Thank you!

Many thanks to Annie, from PHD in Parenting for her help.

Image credits, Louma Sader Bujana, AmorMaternal.com