Lots of people have weighed in on the EU debate, from politicians, and business leaders to comedians and even Posh and Becks. I don’t claim to be any more informed or educated than any one of them, and of course the issues that need to be considered go much further than the remit parenting / fashion blog. But how Brexit could affect mothers and breastfeeding mothers in particular has been largely ignored by the media, so I thought I would put some thoughts together.
Firstly, there are very few facts to be had in the debate. And you will find both camps will spin the same information to very different ends. There are probabilities, possibilities and down-right wishful thinking. Of course academics can review the points raised, explain historical and current activities as to what they believe is likely to happen and the people reading the reports ignore what they dislike and cling to what they already believe in. Much like scientific research into breastfeeding.
Of course I cannot predict that a Britain outside of Europe will be a better or worse environment for women or mothers in particular. And look where ‘Trust me, I’m a politician’ has gotten us in the past, but I do believe the best prediction of the future is how the bodies have acted in the past.
So where does the EU stand on breastfeeding? In January of this year the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee (ENVI) (similar the select committees in Westminster) met to discuss improving standards of baby food and restrict the advertising of formula and follow on milks. Several UK MEPs were instrumental in this, including Paul Brannen MEP who did the courtesy of responding to my tweets on the matter. It was then voted by the European Parliament. Not all the proposals passed into law, but it was still a great step froward in supporting breastfeeding and protecting babies from inappropriate breastmilk substitutes. More about that here.
When asked why these sorts of laws are passed in Europe and not in the UK an IBCLC stated:
The regulations around baby food and formula comes from the EU. The changes to labelling and sugar levels last Autumn came from the European parliament, the elected parliament. I lobbied my MEP and I know many others who did. Just because the British media doesn’t discuss our elected MEPs, doesn’t mean they aren’t out there! We need to change our own attitudes to the democracy that does exist. And make it better. Not walk away from it. If there were other international groups we didn’t like, we effect change. We don’t pack our bags and walk off. I attend Baby Feeding Law Group meetings and Patti Rundall focuses on European lobbying constantly. It is at the core of what they do and it works. It protects our babies. Meanwhile the UK Department of Health has an official partnership with Nestlé[the world’s largest baby milk manufacturer]. Anyone who imagines the UK government will prioritise legislation that protects breastfeeding babies (without lobbying and pressure from a block of other countries) is very optimistic! Within Europe, the British voice is listened to in this area.
I would also ask you to consider the difference in how the two Parliaments view women and breastfeeding. 29% of MPs are women, and they still aren’t allowed to feed in the chambers, despite numerous campaigns. More shockingly nearly half of women MPs don’t have families. 36% MEPs are women and breastfeeding has taken place for several years.
This may be the issue that clinches your decision. It may be completely irrelevant. But whatever your choice, the only unacceptable decision is not to vote. Walk into the voting booth and place your mark. Even if all you do is spoil your ballot paper. Women died in the fight for this right, and are still fighting for it in countries across the globe. We owe to every single one of them.
By Gwen A.