Skip to main content

Do We Dare Teach Our Daughters The Truth About Their Bodies?

This article is on the front page of today's Huffington Post. (16th August 2012)

What did you learn about breastfeeding in school? Chances are - not much. Whether you were a pupil in the 1950's or the 1990's, it's unlikely you were told anything at all about nursing a baby, because breastfeeding has never ever been a statutory requirement on the National Curriculum, and it still isn't, even today. Teenagers are taught about alcohol, emotions, contraception, cultural diversity and more as part of their PSHE lessons. But breastfeeding? Telling girls how to do that is dangerous and downright disgusting, according to many commenters in this recent article in the Daily Mail about a pilot scheme in Merseyside teaching the benefits of nursing to 14 year olds.

Revolting!! Don't teach them how to read and write but teach them how to Gods.
Teach them how to respect themselves, how to say NO and how to keep their legs closed, along with teaching them to read and write!!
These idiots should be locked up so they cannot do our children any more harm. It’s idiots like these that only make underage pregnancy worse.

Even an 'expert' was quoted, Norman Wells, from the (somewhat conservative) Family Education Trust:
With the age of consent remaining at 16 and the average age at which women have their first child in the UK being almost 28, there is no pressing need to teach girls of 14 about breastfeeding.
Of course, this IS the Daily Mail, a paper best read with your head strapped to the back of your chair to prevent you from planting your face intermittently into your keyboard. But still - it can't be denied, there does exist an underlying cultural distaste of breastfeeding, an activity that many grown women are still reluctant to attempt 'in public'. There's a squeamishness, not just about milky mammaries, but about women's bodily functions in general, that makes it unsurprising that folk feel uncomfortable when we talk about them to school children. And there still persists the mythology that by giving our children accurate information about the sexual functions of their bodies, we are somehow inadvertently 'marketing' the idea of dropping out and becoming that most feared of stereotypes: a teenage mother.

Better, then, to talk down the whole motherhood thing, and paint it in a negative light wherever possible. They certainly did this at my school in the 80's, where we were shown a film of a woman giving birth that caused one girl to actually faint and put the rest of us off procreating for at least another twenty years. The image of a woman in Deidre Barlow glasses, flat on her back on a bed and having some sort of horror movie version of dentistry done to her nether regions stays with me still, and certainly accounts in part for the terrible fear of childbirth I had when pregnant for the first time at 32.

According to new research, as many as 1 in 3 post partum women are suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, to which fear can be a major contributing factor. The research, from Tel Aviv University, was pretty narrow - it only looked at 89 women in Israel - but I still think it's worth our consideration. Whether or not it's true that 1 in 3 of us get PTSD, it is the case that most women begin labour filled with scaremonging misinformation. The fact that women's bodies are designed to give birth brilliantly and that birth can be enjoyable is rapidly becoming one of the best kept secrets of the modern age.

Even the researcher, Professor Strous, appears to have missed the point, suggesting the solution might lie in 'better counselling about pain relief and making sure that patient's bodies are properly covered during labour and delivery'. This, 'take-more-drugs-and-keep-your-shirt-on-luv' attitude ignores the grass roots of the problem - women are only fearful because they are completely misinformed and are anticipating a Deidre Barlow dentistry moment when they could be preparing for the most life-enhancing and empowering day of their life.

Do we dare teach our daughters how incredible their bodies can be? Can we tell them the real truth of how beautifully they can birth and feed their babies? Or should we continue to 'start them young' on the myth that it's all a bit yucky and horrific, in the hopes that they 'keep their legs closed'. Maybe, just maybe, if we risked telling them the facts, they would learn the lesson that their bodies are incredible, functional, powerful, capable and worthy of deep respect. But could they find any women to teach that? Since the opposite has been taught in schools for as long as we can remember, that might be tricky.


  1. Great post! Absolutely agree we should be tackling this in schools - we've got no hope of normalising something if we aren't giving accurate information at all levels. On a personal level, my older children have seen me give birth at home (they were in the house asleep at the time, but woke up to find a new baby sister in bed with us) with no complications, and are completely comfortable with breastfeeding for both food and comfort - I hear them say to their younger sister, if she falls and bumps her head while they are playing 'shall we take you to mummy for some milk?' :)I've already talked to both my older children (girl, 6, boy, 4) about periods and how your body grows a baby, based on questions they've asked me after watching me in the bathroom - they know where babies grow and how they come out. I'm trying to foster a culture at home where all questions are answered with no fuss, no hang-ups and accurate information and hope this will stand them in good stead. It will certainly be better than what I got at school (from the Tampax lady and hugely embarrassed PE teachers).

    1. Ah, the tampax lady! Fond memories!
      Yes, you are right, how we behave at home and the messages we give are so important. But schools have a really big role to play too and at the moment I just don't think they're getting it right, even 20 years on from the tampax lady!
      Thanks for your thoughts x

  2. What a great idea! I think you're onto something here.

  3. I still find it bizarre that we see naked breasts and women on all fours thrusting their barely clad crutches at us every day (on magazine covers I might add!) whilst filling up with petrol, buying milk or a bar of chocolate from the local shop - but BREAST FEEDING - BREAST FEEDING?! Somehow THAT is considered distasteful! :-S. The mind boggles!

  4. I am frankly shocked! I am almost 58 and a Brit.

    I learned about sex at high school when I was around 14. [Way too late as most of us knew the outline when we were around 11 - but much, much better than 99% of other schools of the day who hid themselves under the barrel!] There was no great embarrassment. No horror. And it wasn't 'bare facts' either - we asked questions and got answers.

    I breast fed my babies everywhere. Home, street, shops, benches, restaurants, caf├ęs, buses, trains and even Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. Not ONCE was I told to stop, or ogled or asked to go into a loo etc. I got a few comments of 'ah .... sweet... nice to see a baby nursed' along with a beaming smile, usually from older ladies and even a few men.

    So, I guess the reason why I am shocked is that breastfeeding seems to be so 'disgusting' or 'rude' somehow in the States ! And worse, when someone puts forward a sensible idea about talking about breastfeeding in schools - they are shot down in flames !! We teach children about sex in schools so why not about breast feeding? The boys might actually learn a thing or two too - about babies, feeding and the tiredness and depression that can happen! What is wrong about this !

  5. It is in the new Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland for primary school-aged children. It's a big, complicated document but my husband (a teacher) found it the other day. Since having our two (and me banging on about it all reading him excerpts from The Politics of Breastfeeding!) he has included breastfeeding into his lessons as often as the subjects of babies and bodies come up. The normalisation of breastfeeding HAS to start in childhood.

    1. That's great news that is had made the Scottish curriculum, and even better news about your husband! x


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The Visual Birth Plan from the Positive Birth Book

If you've already seen the beautiful positions for labour artwork by the amazing Kate Evans that feature in the Positive Birth Book, you'll be pleased to know that our collaboration goes much further! I've been in love with Kate's art and imaginative flair ever since I read her amazing book Bump , so I nearly passed out with excitement when publishers Pinter and Martin agreed to commission her not just to do these amazing illustrations, but to collaborate with me on a much bigger part of the book - the Visual Birth Plan, or VBP. I've loved the idea of a Visual Birth Plan ever since I saw birth plans made from little icons floating around on social media a couple of years ago. These little icons are pretty simple and basic, wouldn't it be better if the icons were more suited to every birth choice, and more beautiful, I thought?! I know there are arguments to be made about birth plans 'per se', and I'm not going to go into those here - suffic

Baby eczema took over our life: have we found the answer?

"How come you have stopped blogging?", someone asked me recently. Short answer: I had a baby. Slightly longer answer: I had my third baby, my life is chaos, I got a job as a columnist and it's all I can do to get that done every week, I'm a perfectionist and it takes me ages to write anything, oh, and my baby got eczema and it's pretty much taken over our life. Eczema? Isn't that just like, a rash? A bit of dry skin, the odd bit of redness behind the knees. That's what I thought, and almost laughed when the community nurse suggested I apply for disability allowance shortly after the eczema started. Four months on, it has nearly broken me. I can't describe to you how awful it is just to see your baby not looking right. This might sound awfully superficial, but I'm sure it's much deeper than that. There must be something hard-wired into the deeper, older parts of a mother's brain, to feel ill-at-ease if her baby looks sick. The skin of

While I Nurse You To Sleep...

While I nurse you to sleep...  I.. . rest .   For the first time today, I am still.  I am not lifting, carrying, holding, bending, reaching, stretching, scrubbing, wiping, hauling, or lugging. Here in this dark room I lie beside you and allow my body and mind to come to stillness after the chaos of our day. You suck, and tug, you fiddle, and fuss...and slowly come to stillness too, until we both are still, and both are resting...I wait, momentarily, and then, I slowly slide away and leave you sleeping. While I nurse you to sleep... I...take stock. I turn over in my mind, the contents of the fridge, the washing on the floor, the money in the bank. I count up the years I've had so far and the years I might have left. I work out how old I will be when you are the age I am now - thirty seven - seventy two. I hope I make it. I count the eggs you already have in your body and those I have in mine and I wonder at the people they may become. I think about the person I was before I met