What Did Jamie Oliver Do Wrong?

Smile, it's only a boob!
Smile, it’s only a boob!

Ok, so I’m jumping on that bandwagon – Jamie Oliver and breastfeeding.

You’ve probably seen a lot of stuff going round the media recently about Jamie Oliver telling women they MUST breastfeed, because breast is best, etc etc and a LOT of women are up in arms about it – breast feeders AND formula feeders. Anyone who’s anyone commented on it – there have been articles in almost every newspaper and celebrities such as Adele have even (allegedly) commented.  So what did Jamie actually say, and why is everyone so offended by his comments?

You may know that Jamie has been campaigning for a sugar tax, which was given the go ahead at this year’s budget.  This led to him giving some interviews, in which he said he was looking into his next “campaign” – breastfeeding.  He said the following whilst talking to LBC Radio:

“We have the worst breastfeeding in the world.

The way formula industries advertises has a history of doing certain things in not such agreeable ways. We need to support the women of Britain to breastfeed more, anywhere they want to, be supported, be informed.

If you breastfeed for more than six months, women are 50% less likely to get breast cancer. When do you ever hear that? Never. 

We’ve got a problem with breastfeeding – if you think about it breastfeeding is the beginning of the story.

It’s easy, it’s more convenient, it’s more nutritious, it’s better, it’s free.

I’m by no means an expert…I’m trying to learn as much as I can about it.”

So what is so wrong with what he has said?  Why are people SO offended? Well, of course, it’s the old breast is best debate.  I think a lot of women – breast feeders AND formula feeders – have taken offence to the way Jamie has worded a few things.

Firstly – by saying it’s “better”.  I think the breast v formula debate has been done to death, and it seems most women feel they don’t need to be told that breast is best.  We know it is, I honestly don’t think anyone would deny that the nutritional value of breastmilk is better than formula.  It’s a fact, it’s not an opinion.  I’m not going to get into a breast is best debate, and I think that is the point of people’s upset – women who formula feed DON’T need to constantly be told breast is best.  THEY KNOW!!

Secondly, by saying it’s “easy”.  Sorry Jamie, but no boobs, no opinion on how easy it is to breastfeed! I can personally tell you that having your nipples chewed on by a newborn for 4 hours without a break isn’t easy.  Having nipples so cracked that you can’t wait to sit at home and whip your bra off to stop the material chaffing against them isn’t easy. Waking up at 3am in the morning, in more pain from a blocked duct in your boob than the cut across your stomach from your caesarean isn’t easy.  Waking up 9 times in one night to feed your baby, and having to do it all on your own because your husband can’t share the night feeds, isn’t easy.

It also seems women are taking offence at a MAN telling them what to do with their bodies, and for the children that they carried and birthed.  As a man who physically can’t breastfeed, who is he to tells us women what we should and shouldn’t be doing??

Milk, milk, baby
Milk, milk, baby

BUT having said all that – I 100% agree with everything Jamie Oliver said, and if he does do a campaign to support breastfeeding, I would 100% get behind it.  And I’m not saying that just because I breastfeed.  I’m saying that because I truly believe he does want to help women who want to breastfeed.  His campaign isn’t about pressuring women into breastfeeding at all.  He’s not telling you that you must breastfeed, or trying to make anyone feel guilty.  It IS about giving women who want to breastfeed more support.

The support of women who want to breastfeed at the moment is shocking.  From my own experience, I didn’t feel supported at all in hospital when it came to breastfeeding.  I was offered formula on four occasions, and felt like I wasn’t given a choice as otherwise I’d be starving my child. In comparison to some stories I’ve heard, we were pretty lucky at the beginning of our breastfeeding journey because Alfie did latch well most of the time, but I believe he (and me!) were just exhausted from the long labour, and he was just a little tired and couldn’t feed as well as he should have been.  I also think there isn’t enough information about breastfeeding out there – people don’t know about cluster feeding; or that a baby will probably feed little and often to begin with because their stomachs are so small; or that a baby won’t sleep through the night from a few weeks old because that isn’t the biological norm, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t getting enough milk from you; or that a huge part of breastfeeding is supply and demand and that baby needs to feed often to “demand” the milk in order for the “supply” of milk to appear.  It doesn’t mean that women are wrong when they say they had problems breastfeeding, but a lot of them don’t realise that they probably could have overcome their problems with a little support from a breastfeeding expert.

I believe that when Jamie said that breastfeeding was easy, he meant once it’s established.  Because once it is established, yes, for most women it probably is easier than bottle feeding.  I don’t have to remember to buy formula in my weekly shop (I would definitely forget, I always forget to buy nappies!!), I don’t have to remember to pack bottles and formula when I go out and when Alfie wants feeding, I don’t have to make him wait whilst I make a bottle up (because he wouldn’t, he finds it hard enough waiting the 30 seconds it takes to whip my boob out!)

I feel sad that people picked up on this one slip of the tongue when Mr Oliver said it was easy.  He also said that he wanted to support women to breastfeed more, to make sure they were more informed and to make sure that they can feed publicly wherever they wanted.  These are all excellent points, but no-one pointed them out.  No-one applauded him for wanting to do that.  He even says that he’s no expert, and that he’s trying to learn more.  He wants to HELP women, not lecture us. So let’s applaud him for that, and support him in supporting us.

Feeding with a smile!
Feeding with a smile!

We do have an awful rate of breastfeeding – a survey done in 2010 showed that only 17% of mothers were exclusively breastfeeding after 3 months, and only 1% of mothers were exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months.  The good news is there has been a rise in exclusive breastfeeding since the previous survey in 2005, but I believe with more support, we could get those figures even higher.  And I believe that is what Jamie Oliver wants to do – support mothers to breastfeed for longer if they want to.  That is key – it is about choice.  But it’s about informed choice – and with more support, mothers will be able to make that choice about what’s best for them and their baby.

I also don’t care that he is a man.  This doesn’t meant that he doesn’t know anything about breastfeeding.  He is a father of 4 (with one on the way) and the fact he wants to support breastfeeding, makes me think his wife must have breastfed their four children.  So I’m guessing he knows about the pain, heartache, cracked nipples, blocked ducts, pumping problems, clothing problems and general bra problems that come with breastfeeding.  My husband sure knows about all this and more!! I therefore think a man is the BEST person to launch a campaign about support – because that is what the men have expertise in!  They can’t physically breastfeed, so all they can do it support their partners who are breastfeeding.

So, Jamie Oliver, for what it’s worth – I support you.

Whilst, we’re on the subject, I’ll tell you what I took offence to.  If you listen to the whole segment from the radio interview, there is a reporter for the radio station in a restaurant asking diners an important question:

“How would you feel if over your Eggs Benedict you saw a young toddler or young baby breastfeeding?”

These are some of the responses he got:

“They should if they’re respectful. As long as they don’t flash things everywhere then I think they should, absolutely.”

“They probably should cover up – by then again it’s each one’s own feeling and if they don’t feel comfortable then don’t do it. I would feel uncomfortable myself doing it”

“It’s probably more a question for men to answer whether they would feel comfortable seeing that.”

“They need to have their own space, they need to be private, they don’t need to be public to breastfeed a baby.”

The first three comments were by women, the last one by a man.  What shocked me is firstly, the need for the reporter to ask this question.  It really doesn’t matter what the fellow diners think – it is a mother’s legal right to breastfeed her child wherever and whenever she needs to.  But I get they are trying to gauge a reaction and see what “real” people think.  I am just shocked that people feel the need to say that women should cover up – as if every breastfeeding mother out there constantly has her boobs out.  Newsflash – we don’t!  And if we do, it’s probably because the baby won’t feed with a cover, or because we feel confident without a cover, or because IT’S JUST A BLOODY BOOB!!!

I do use a cover, but I shouldn't have to if I don't want to
I do sometimes use a cover, but I shouldn’t have to if I don’t want to

Honestly, you don’t have to look.  You can carry out a conversation perfectly well with a breastfeeding mother without staring at her boobs. As for the comment about not needing to publicly breastfeeding a baby – what would you suggest I do when I’m on a train and my baby is SCREAMING because he wants feeding?  Should I not feed him?  Where exactly would you like me to go? Would you like to me wheel my pram through the carriages to find a toilet [NB I have not, and never will, feed my child in a toilet, especially not on a train because they are disgusting?]

It is sometimes nice when I am out and there are feeding rooms.  Especially now Alfie is a little older, he gets easily distracted so sometimes it’s better to feed him in a quiet place. And I know there are plenty of women who just don’t feel confident feeding in public, and that’s fine. So in these cases, it is nice to be able to have somewhere dedicated to feed, if I wish.  But that’s the point – it should be MY choice.  I am not going to be dictated to where I can and can’t feed.

I enjoy breastfeeding.  I’ve done it for 8 months now, and can’t see us stopping any time soon.  I have a few friends who breastfeed, but most of my friends and family formula feed, so I have some experience of both.  And I don’t care how anyone feeds their baby.  If someone wants to breastfeed, I will help and support them as much as I can, but if someone wants to formula feed, I will also help and support them as much as I can.  This is the key point – mothers just need support. Not judgement, not pressure, not being made to feel guilty for the choices they make.

Just support.

#keeponboobing (if you want to – it’s your choice)


My Petit Canard

14 thoughts on “What Did Jamie Oliver Do Wrong?

  1. Fantastic post Abi!! I’ve been really annoyed reading a lot of the comments and posts slating Jamie Oliver. I listened to his little segment and I feel that yes his wording could have been better but that if it means more support for women who wish to breastfeed then I am all for him being behind it. Support is so important during the early days and maybe having a man behind a campaign will mean men will more likely listen and learn to support their partners during those early days whilst getting feeding established and maybe even support extended feeding past 6 months/ a year/ 2 years.


    1. Thanks for your comment – it is spot on! It’s all about support and I don’t mind who it comes from, as long as it comes from somewhere. Jamie is definitely on to something so I hope with a little more research on his part, he’ll come back fighting!


  2. I have read a lot of comments and posts about Jamie Oliver’s breastfeeding debate and felt very much that he waded in ignorantly etc. BUT I hadn’t actually read anything about what he said (look who’s the ignorant one!)…it’s interesting to see it transcribed here. On the whole, yes, he makes very good points. I also don’t have an issue with him being a man…I think having an issue with him being a man is a tad sexist, as you say he’s a father.
    Equally, however, I do think his wording is unfortunate. Perhaps it’s unfair to pick up on it so much, but then again perhaps he could have thought it through/run it by a few people first! He must be aware of the can of worms breastfeeding it. Easy is a really hard one to get over. It’s such an emotive subject. I breastfed for 18 months. It was rarely easy. It was, in fact, the hardest thing I’ve ever done and i wonder if being told it’s easy is not only irritating but also feels a little judgemental. What was I doing so wrong if everyone else finds it so easy? That sort of idea.
    It’s unfortunate that breast vs bottle seems to have been done to death too – that’s not his fault it’s just a shame. Any talk of mummy wars saddens me immeasurable, it’s not my reality and I feel so sad when people feel it needs to be there’s.
    Support is the real issue and I agree with you, if him throwing his weight behind a family issue like better maternal care and support then I’m for it.
    The real sadness here could be if the backlash he has faced means people don’t see increasing support across any maternity care (but breastfeeding really does need support, there are so many people who WANT to breastfeed who are not getting the support they need, particularly on ward, early days) as something they could fight for, for fear of being turned against.
    Thank for sharing such an informative post.


    1. You make some very good points. The biggest issue with this whole thing I feel is that people haven’t actually listened to what he said – his comments are being taken out of context. I agree his use of the word easy was wrong BUT I think this was more due to being put on the spot. I don’t think this was a planned speech at all and so he didn’t think carefully about what he was saying. I’m sure his wife has given him what for ever since!! Thanks for stopping by x

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I totally agree with this. He could have used better words but the sentiment was right. Great post #MarvMondays


  4. You’re right that breastfeeding rates need to be increased, and I totally agree that a Jamie Oliver campaign could help this. But Jamie does need to remember that this is a sensitive subject for lots of women, many have ‘breastfeeding guilt’ when things don’t work out and he needs to think about his use of language – natural? Yes. Easy – no way! Enjoyed your blog – very well written ☺️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes totally agree, he didn’t think through his language and I can understand why this has offended a lot of women. Thank you for reading, you’re very kind 🙂


  5. Yes, I largely agree with you. I actually don’t like Jamie Oliver much – think he’s sanctimonious. However, I do think people have massively overreacted to this. I think he phrased it very badly (I suspect mostly because he wasn’t prepared), & he was guilty of using over-exaggerated statistics (but he did admit that he was not certain of his research), but I agree – I don’t think he meant to cause offense or pass judgement. I think he was trying to highlight the need for more support for women who WANT to breastfeed because there are issues with that and our rates are low. & he’s not wrong on that. I also agree that men can have an opinion, though they can’t do it themselves (although I think they should steer clear of claiming something they have never done is easy – but I expect he realises that now!)

    I very much disagree with the pressure and guilt that is put on women for formula feeding by the breastfeeding lobby. BUT I do also think that it is important not to go the other way & be so sensitive that no one is allowed to support breastfeeding because that is offensive, as it should be remembered that it is actually breastfeeders who are the very small minority, & most are not ‘lactivists’ or judgemental in anyway. It is just as wrong to let those women become the unsupported, silenced ones because people have become too easily offended. It needs to be a situation where everyone gets the support they want and need for what they choose or need to do. #marvmondays


    1. This is so well put. I am passionate about breastfeeding but it’s more because I’ve learnt a lot about it and so many women out there are not informed enough. Having said that, I’d like to think I’m not pushy and will give the information I’ve learnt to those want it! Thanks for reading x


  6. This is the first time I’ve actually read what Jamie Oliver said, rather than selected excerpts. I don’t disagree with him about most of it. Women wanting to breast feed do need more support and help. I don’t agree with him when he says it’s easy. I think that’s unhelpful as it isn’t.


  7. Similar to what someone else said, I had also read a number of posts which took offence to what Jamie Oliver had said and on the face of it agreed that perhaps he may have bitten off a little more than he could chew this time round. But having read your post, you make a lot of very good and valid points. There is actually nothing offensive about the crux of what he said, but as you point out, perhaps it is unfortunate phrasing on his part that has led to it being take out of context and miscontrued. That said, this is a very emotive topic and I think anyone would be hard pressed to raise the points he has raised without being criticised. Great post, its been so useful to read it and truly understand the heart of the debate 🙂 Thanks for sharing it on #MarvMondays. Emily


    1. Thanks for your comment – it is a very emotive comment and I don’t think anyone is ever going to get it right! But I hope it doesn’t put people off trying to help those who want it in the future.


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