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Breastfeeding mothers' sit in at RAMM

19 breastfeeding mothers in the BP Portrait Award 2017 exhibition at RAMM

Breastfeeding celebration at RAMM

5 October 2017

Breastfeeding mothers converged on RAMM this morning to see the winning painting in the BP Portrait Award 2017 exhibition (4 October to 3 December) and celebrate breastfeeding.

The world’s most prestigious portrait painting competition came to Exeter straight from the National Portrait Gallery, London. This year’s winner, ‘Breech!’ by Benjamin Sullivan shows the artist’s wife, Virginia, nursing their baby daughter, Edith. Mother and child are locked together in an intimate nursing scene. To celebrate its message of normal parenthood and recognise its symbol of unity, Exeter mothers met with Benjamin, Virginia and Edith in the gallery and nursed beneath the work.

The painting first caught the attention of nursing mothers on social media when the shortlist was announced back in April. Virginia invited nursing mothers to meet and nurse with her at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Now, four months later, Exeter mums flocked to be part of a nursing sit-in at RAMM. “Breech! was always a special portrait for us,” says Virginia, “but we never anticipated that it would speak to fellow nursing mothers in this way. Breastfeeding levels across the U.K. are extremely low so the way we have been received, the willingness of these perfect strangers to congregation and nurse together, is a strong, positive message. I’m pleased the portrait is helping to open up a dialogue in local communities.”

Breastfeeding Health Professionals

The event attracted local professionals, including Charlotte Kelvington IBCLC, Infant Feeding Coordinator from RD & E Maternity Services; Jodie Mortimore from Healthy Babies UK, a Tiverton based lactation specialist and thriving new regional milk bank; Gillian Travis and Jen Harris, volunteer Peer Supporters and representatives of local initiatives such as Exeter Babies, Baby Oasis and Breast Friends and sling library.

Jen says “We feel honoured that this crucial image has come to Exeter, in the fantastically renovated RAMM which, itself, has gone to great pains to welcome nursing mothers. Although Breastfeeding rates here in Devon remain high when compared with the rest of the UK, across Europe we are ranked low. The reasons behind this are complex. Mums overwhelmingly want to breastfeed. However, many give up in the first few weeks or months citing a lack of support, generational gaps or a misunderstanding of employee rights as the reason, leaving only 34% still breastfeeding by 6 months. By normalising breastfeeding, we are helping newer mums to feel more confident and breastfeed for longer. Every time someone sees someone else breastfeeding – whether in real life or in a painting – it is part of a positive ripple effect that is worth celebrating.”

Breastfeeding support in Exeter

Exeter and the surrounding areas have a dedicated team of Peer Supporters who are trained in non-medical support of nursing mothers. They are trained via Children’s Centres to give support and reassurance both in person and online via the ‘Exeter Breastfeeding Mums’ Facebook group, or in person at support groups such as Baby Oasis or Breast Friends details of which can be found online at exeterbabies.co.uk.

The exhibition

BP Portrait Award 2017 runs till Sunday 3 December. Entry £5, concessions £3, under 19s free.

More information

For local Exeter breastfeeding activity see Healthy-babies-uk.org.
For an interview with Benjamin and Virginia Sullivan see Benjamin Sullivan – Winner of BP Portrait Award 2017.

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