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Monday, 30 March 2015

Book Review - 'Breast Intentions' by Allison Dixley

Deep breath.... 

'Why do mothers fail to breastfeed their babies?' – so shouts the blurb on the reverse of the 'Alpha Parent's (aka Allison Dixley) recently published book 'Breast Intentions'.

This alone should be enough to let potential readers know that this is a book with an agenda, and let's just say if 'Breast Intentions' was a political party it would be somewhere to the right of... Well, let's not go there.

When this book was first published it was 'reviewed' by lots of people. The vast majority of them had never read it, they just wanted to slate it because they can't bear Dixley's 'Alpha Parent' blog. Frankly I think that is pretty pathetic and, as a believer in democracy (in a 'I may not like what you have to say but I will defend to the death your right to say it' sort of way), I was keen to make up my own mind and actually read the thing.

I'll say this for her, Allison Dixley is a very smart and brave woman who really doesn't give a monkeys what anyone else thinks. She has the courage of her convictions and a lot to get off her chest! Obsessively referenced throughout and totally unforgiving, 'Breast Intentions' could have provided some really interesting insight into some of the internal and external struggles women go through in order to breastfeed - or not. Unfortunately in my opinion it fails to do this. The reason? The book wreaks of an ego which has gone completely unchecked and a writer with a total lack of empathy for anyone who has (in her words) 'failed' to breastfeed.

Dixley has delved deep into what she believes are the reasons why women don't breastfeed, and on a few occasions I could almost see where she was coming from. However I also found myself repeatedly wondering if Ms Dixley has ever actually supported anyone with breastfeeding problems in real life? I can't imagine she has - or at least I sincerely hope she hasn't - because I would hate to think of her grading their experiences out of ten the way she does in chapter three - entitled 'excuses'. 

For Ms Dixley, it's clear no 'excuse' would ever be good enough.

For the sake of argument let's assume that the premise behind this book is accurate (it isn't, but let's assume it is..), that premise being that women don't try hard enough to breastfeed, they don't care enough about their babies and so choose short term relief over long term rewards, and so on... Even if those things were all true and women are just playing psychological games with themselves (and others) because they are too lazy to breastfeed, this book would still miss the mark. Why? Because if you lack compassion and alienate everyone around you, regardless of how many studies you cite you'll never bring people with you. 

It's a straight #fail.

Dixley ends her book with an epilogue containing advice for people who want to breastfeed. It includes a (surprisingly unreferenced!) remark that a woman's breasts have as much chance of not working as she has of marrying a prince. I rather suspect that some of the other authors on Pinter & Martin's bookshelf will have a different opinion on that one and so I'll urge you to look to them instead for your breastfeeding advice.

Smart she most definitely is, funny too (sometimes, although the fart jokes did get a bit wearing if I'm honest). Dixley couldbe a powerful voice in progressing a cause she clearly cares a great deal about, but sadly I have to say that for me, her work embodies everything that is worst about 'lactivism'. Her passion and ability to write could inspire and educate, but instead it ridicules and shames. 

Did no-one ever tell her you get more bees with honey?

I began 'Breast Intentions' with a feeling of trepidation and curiosity, and ended it with a feeling of relief. As I write the final paragraph of this review I feel I can finally let go of a cloud of negativity which has been hanging around me since my most recent baby was born. As a 'positive deviant' (the title Dixley gives to successful breastfeeders) I should, apparently, be smugly applauding myself for breastfeeding my baby. I'm not, I'm thinking about all those other women who wanted to do what I'm doing and for whatever reasons are not, and whose life-experiences Dixley has rubbished in this book. I'm also thankful that I know better than to believe everything other people say or write.

Saturday, 4 January 2014


***BLOGPOST UPDATED 08-01-13***

I was going to wait until I speak at the ABM conference in June to make this plea, but I'm afraid I don't think it can't wait any longer.

DBM has grown to over 37,000+ 'likes' and is now in severe danger of becoming a victim of it's own success.

How so?

Well I'll tell you. If I didn't care about the ethos and quality of the support available through DBM then I wouldn't be writing this at all. I'd use the page as a platform for advertising as well as a 'support group'. I'd go all out for sensationalism, numbers and a 'bottom line'. You might not think that happens elsewhere, but let me tell you that it does. And hats off! Running a page as big as DBM (and much bigger in some cases!) is a massive commitment, it's a huge undertaking. I don't blame any page owner who makes money out of advertising one little bit - I totally understand. Why shouldn't they be paid for all their hard work? 
However, my problem is that I am an idealist, and I'm passionate about keeping money OUT of breastfeeding support. I have always felt it was important to grow DBM as a forum where peer support and effective signposting can (and do!) function side by side - without the possibility of any sort of interference or 'angle' from sponsors. 

Online breastfeeding support is absolutely essential in the C21st - as so many of you have testified. That the main breastfeeding organisations do not seem to have fully engaged with online social media-based support is a disgrace in my opinion. They may have facebook pages, but they will rarely get involved with individuals. They use social media largely as a shop front. Where interaction does take place, the aim seems to be to redirect mothers as quickly as possible elsewhere, and this misses much of the (crucial)  social aspect of online communication. Smaller (local) support groups do exist but these can often be hard for a new mum to locate or the group is 'closed' - meaning new members have to request to join and are denied the option of learning through 'lurking'. 

At this point I must acknowledge the really positive steps towards online engagement made by La Leche League GB*(see below - thank you for clarifying these for me!); however there seems (to me!) to still be a very long way to go across the board. Perhaps if nothing else, DBM can assist by helping to publicise what support *does* currently exist so that more women are likely to find their way.

I understand the many pitfalls of 'online support' honestly, I really do! That's part of the reason I'm writing this post. I worry that I cannot guarantee the quality of the moderation and support on DBM anymore. It's just too big now. I would need to be glued to the group 24/7 - and that's just impossible. This means I have two choices: 1/ ask for help or 2/ close down the page. 

Yes, I have admins, but I'm already asking a lot of them to expect them to give up their precious time for DBM. I don't run a rota, and I am relying purely on their honesty and goodwill. It has all worked reasonably well up until now - but it's no longer a long-term solution and it won't help DBM to grow or to improve. 

Just because online breastfeeding support has potential pitfalls and is hard to navigate does NOT mean that it's not something the main breastfeeding organisations shouldn't be actively engaged in. For goodness sake, BFCs working on phone lines are not dealing with women in person either, but they are listening, offering support, and they are signposting - and you can also do that online! DBM has been doing it - to the best of it's ability - for three years now. It has also provided a platform for women to come together to engage in peer-to peer-interaction which has a reputation for being genuinely supportive. Many women are nervous about picking up the phone, but are far less nervous about writing a message on a social media site (rightly or wrongly).

In my opinion the main UK breastfeeding organisations are currently failing to engage fully, and transparently with these women.

Think about it, I'm only trained to peer support level and when I started DBM I had no previous experience with social media. So HOW ON EARTH could I ever have grown an online group to this size (with a budget of £0) unless there was a genuine NEED for it? 

So here's the thing. I have two small children, I'm self-employed in a number of different roles, and  I also volunteer. The facebook group - and you all - deserve better than I can offer now. 

I want to ask the four main breastfeeding organisations to come together and give serious consideration to using DBM as some sort of National Breastfeeding Support Page - perhaps training some of their volunteer BFCs specifically in online support - and running it in conjunction with the National Breastfeeding Helpline. 

There are over 37,000 people who 'like' DBM on Facebook, and 1,400+ people following on Twitter - surely that's a platform which can (in the right hands) bring about real improvements in the breastfeeding support available to women in the UK and further afield? DBM also has a presence on Google+ which has yet to be fully exploited and with that comes the possibility of moderated Google hangouts in the future... DBM is not the largest breastfeeding support group online, but it is the largest based in the UK (as far as I'm aware!). It would take a passionate social media manager a long time to build up a community of this size - and cost a fair bit of money in the process!

Breastfeeding support will always be best done in person, woman to woman. However, thanks to generations of formula feeding and the billions spent on marketing breast milk substitutes, we are a fragmented lot. Online support is key in re-connecting women and improving breastfeeding rates into the C21st. In my opinion the main breastfeeding support organisations have ignored the elephant in the room long enough.

When DBM was new, someone told me I was foolish to get involved in online breastfeeding support, because of all it's potential pitfalls.. My local health board (for whom I was a volunteer at the time) were positively phobic about it when I told them. I took all that feedback seriously, absolutely I did. 
However, I came to the conclusion that these concerns need to be weighed against the very great deal of GOOD that can be done by facilitating support online, by sharing information, generating discussion, and by signposting. 

Knowledge is power, and the internet is a very powerful resource. I am in a fairly unusual position in that I think I am able to appreciate both sides of the 'internet support' coin better than most. I have made lots of mistakes, and I think I also have a good understanding of what helps too. I will be talking about some of the things that I have learned at the ABM conference in June, and by then I hope to have a better idea of what will be happening next for DBM. 

Please leave me a comment on facebook explaining how online support has helped you. Post on the facebook walls of the main bf organisations. Share this blog, and discuss my proposal amongst yourselvesYour input will be powerful, and it's essential if DBM is to continue. If it's a dumb idea I'll hang up my mouse satisfied that I've tried my best. If it's a good one, then everyone wins.

Change is needed. So much of the potential I know DBM has is going to waste due to lack of time and resources. I don't want anything in return, except to know that this resource I have invested so many hundreds of my hours in will continue to grow, and provide genuinely supportive, high quality online breastfeeding support.

x anne

*Following a statement from La Leche League GB concerning some of the content of this blog I have made some alterations, and I'm happy to clarify that LLL GB do offer online support to women via their facebook page (Breastfeeding Matters), and that they also provide support elsewhere on facebook, have a Twitter account and maintain an online forum

Saturday, 12 October 2013

International Breastfeeding Week Giveaway!

It's International Babywearing Week, and to celebrate I'm very grateful to SaSaSlings for sponsoring this giveaway! 

Babywearing keeps babies close to their mums (or dads, grannies, grandads etc) and in my experience it just makes life with a new little person a whole heck of a lot easier :) It's naturally soothing and calming for both your baby and for you, wearing them upright can help to reduce the symptoms of reflux naturally, and it helps you get back into shape gently after having your baby... It makes it possible to hug your baby with both hands still free, it's easier to negotiate stairs and escalators and generally get about, and you can take your baby to places you'd never be able to get to with a buggy! All that close contact helps to boost oxytocin too - and that helps with breastfeeding :)

SaSaSlings are donating a GORGEOUS Storchenwiege Ring Sling like the one below (more details here) and the winner will gets to choose the colour! The giveaway will run until Sunday (the last day of International Babywearing Week) and entries received after 12 midnight UK time won't be eligible. 

To be in with a chance of winning, just leave your name and email address as a comment under this blog post, and LIKE the SaSaSlings facebook page! I'll draw the winner next week and ask Sandra to share the details on her SaSaSlings facebook page. 

PLEASE NOTE (with apologies) that this offer is open to UK and EU residents only.  

Good luck!

x anne