French mothers are some of the most reluctant in Europe when it comes to breastfeeding their children. By the time babies reach six months, very few mothers are still feeding their children breast milk.
Figures released by the OECD show that only around 60 percent of children in France have ever been breastfed. This compares to figures of almost 100 percent in Norway, Denmark and Sweden. The European average is around 90 percent and only Ireland has a lower rate at just over 40 percent.
Newspaper France Soir quoted one of the “Big Feed” organisers as saying the events were designed to show that breastfeeding is not a “marginal act.”
Breastfeeding can still attract surprise and disapproval in France, particularly in public. Many blogs are devoted to the experiences of women who continue breastfeeding long after most mothers have switched to using formula.
“I’ve been told repeatedly by medical practitioners to stop breastfeeding and that it’s abnormal for my baby to not take a bottle,” writes mummyinprovence on her blog. “There is this crazy fear that breastfeeding will make you a slave to your baby.”
A 2010 book by the well-known French feminist Elisabeth Badinter supported this viewpoint. In Conflit, La Femme et La Mere (Conflict, the woman and the mother), Badinter claimed breastfeeding was one of the ways that women were being forced to aim for perfection as mothers, turning back the gains by feminists over recent years.
In an interview at the time with magazine Der Spiegel, she said guidelines that mothers should breastfeed for six months “catapult us back to our grandmothers’ era.”
“The objective is to bring breastfeeding mums together and to support them,” Big Feed organizer Marie-Claude told newspaper France Soir. “Mothers can sometimes feel isolated.”