I rather think there has been a bit of a campaign going on, within the BBC scripting department for Eastenders. Unlike the horrors of the recent babies born over in Coronation St, Eastenders babies have been going through a very slow transformation... from formula fed, to breastfed.
Now, before we start looking at this, let's remember that soap babies have a very hard time, dramatically speaking. They often disappear for months, if not years, and if you stop and think about it too closely, they are often at home on their own, as all the major characters taking care of them, are in the pub having a fight.
Bottle feeding, whether formula or expressed breast milk (as if!) works very well with planning a soap baby. You can parcel it off to the baby-sitters for several weeks at a time. You can also do a bit about dumb and deadly Dads, being too thick to bottle feed them correctly, and refusing to be fathers.
Also, you have the prudish corner to contend with. A BABY BREASTFEEDING BEFORE THE 9pm WATERSHED!!!!!!! Pass the smelling salts.
So there are quite a few issues, on terms of narrative, about soap babies. Not to mention just simple stupidity. I emailed Coronation Street about a new Mum being allowed to breast feed, about 4 years ago. I was informed, in all seriousness, that it would be confusing and dangerous to have a breastfeeding baby latched on to an actress for a scene. As they'd just tried to drown all the Platts, including 2 year old Bethany at the time, I commented back I was quite surprised to hear they'd actually tied Bethany down and thrown her in a car in the canal.. and not pretended they were drowning her....
Coronation Street continues to be dire.
Eastenders however... well I smell a campaign. Slow, subtle, stealthy. First we have Honey, some years back now, falling pregnant with the soon to be baby Janet. Tanya offers her a breastfeeding top.
Rather funny, when Tanya promptly bottle feeds baby Oscar, the hidden and lost baby Who Is Never Seen. (Perhaps she plans to home educate him, and thus is hiding him from the go get?) ;-)
Then, we have baby Janet being born, and Honey's distress that she can't go to the breastfeeding clinic as normal Mums can, as Janet has Down's Syndrome and has heart problems.
Hmm... not very good, and you can see the only reason it's mentioned, is that she's being denied something. You can work out that if Janet didn't have Down's Syndrome in the narrative, Honey would just have bottle fed formula like all soap Mums...
Honey falls pregnant again, and a couple of years later, baby Billy is born, and Honey breastfeeds him, wearing a net curtain. It's a slight plot line, Ian Beale goes ape about 'doing that sort of thing' in the cafe. Billy sounds off about 'doing the best for the baby'. We only ever see the Net curtain, never any actual breastfeeding.
Then... Roxy falls pregnant. Now I've blogged about Roxy and the breastfeeding. I feel they did it really well. I know others were upset about her trying, and complaining it hurt, and talking about the middle class Mums being shocked she was using formula... but as I said at the time, I felt this was true to her character, and very well done. Roxy would never have been seen as the sort of mother to even attempt to breastfeed, and faced with a preemie in a plastic box, she did so. It was fitted around the narrative in soft and gentle touches.
Like Honey, 'tho, we never see it. It's discussed. No Net curtain, but a discussion.
And now Heather. Heather, who in tonight's episode, is breastfeeding baby George.
Without narrative construction.
It just is.
It was wonderful. It was simply wonderful, to see a mother in a scene, talk about something else entirely, and just breastfeed her baby. A casual comment that the baby is hungry, and likes to eat. No making a meal of it from either the staff, or the camera. The word 'breastfeeding' never used. Just feeding.
It just was.
It was simply wonderful.
And I wonder... I so wonder... if you look at the above progression, it could be a very clever thing the BBC have just done. By slowly, gently, and without real fuss, made it so that they can show a baby breastfeeding... without net curtain.. and not have it commented upon. Given the groundwork, I think very few people will complain about Heather breastfeeding baby George.
And that's wonderful.
If you agree, tell the BBC. We can't complain, if we don't congratulate where it is due.
It will be interesting to see where it goes. I cannot for the life of me see how they can get Heather to wear a net curtain (thank the System Overlords!). I can see her breastfeeding the baby in front of the father, whoever he is.
I can see her going to the bottle relatively quickly, as this is a soap baby. But who knows? Maybe she will carry on breaking the taboos... or maybe, it will be the next baby, or the next but one baby, whose mother will not just breastfeed, but actively reject bottle feeding.
That does feel a bit of a stretch... but I could be wrong!
Regardless, I do think this one moment of completely natural, no overstatement, no fuss, just is, breastfeeding, should be applauded.
Great Job Eastenders!