Discover more from The Female Lead
Ashley James: ‘We have a totally warped idea of what a mum should be’
Ian West / PA
The ‘mumfluencer’ and former Made In Chelsea star talks about public breastfeeding and pumping
Ashley James says there’s “a total lack of understanding” about feeding babies – and that mothers who pump shouldn’t have to hide away.
“With pumping, people should feel confident, just like with breastfeeding, to do that anywhere,” says the DJ and influencer. “If anyone were to have a problem with that, they need to address some deep-rooted issues of why feeding a child would be a problem.”
James, who has a two-year-old son, Alfie, and a four-month-old daughter, Ada, with partner Tommy Andrews, argues there’s a huge lack of knowledge about how all-consuming feeding a child with breast milk is – from the hours spent feeding or pumping (an estimated eight to 12 times a day, up to 45 minutes each time for newborns) and “also the fact that you can’t just leave your child”.
The 36-year-old says: “People don’t really know about engorgement, mastitis, blocked ducts, supply issues, and all the reasons that people choose to pump.” For example, going back to work. “[People think] ‘Oh just give them a bottle or pump in the morning, and then they’ll be fine’. There’s a total lack of awareness.”
The former Made In Chelsea star, who hit the headlines after breastfeeding Alfie live on the Jeremy Vine Show in 2021, is currently using a pump alongside breastfeeding Ada for her to have the option of a bottle, too.
“I ended up having to breastfeed [on TV] and there was this really weird backlash – people saying it was attention seeking. [Which is] funny to me. Let’s say that was my plan, I’m a total narcissist and I’d decided this was going to be my chance to get publicity… how would I have managed to convince my three-month-old baby to feed at that exact moment?
“Who would I want attention from? Is it because our ‘boobs are for men’ and therefore I’m hoping that men might look at my boobs, because I’ve never wanted that, but I especially don’t want that when I’m feeding my child. I think we have this totally warped idea of what a mum should be.
“We are always told, they’re the most important years of a children’s life, those early years, and it’s so formative, but yet I feel like we expect mums to almost keep their children hidden away, but then we expect them to thrive.”
On Channel 4’s Steph’s Packed Lunch, James used an Elvie Stride breast pump live on air – unbeknownst to viewers and crew. The discreet hospital-grade, hands-free, electric device can be worn under clothing to pump milk without anyone noticing.
“I was worried about having blocked ducts and didn’t want to go back to that horrible situation of having mastitis again,” she says. James had the condition when breastfeeding her son two years earlier. “I just wanted to get on with my job, but I needed to deal with the engorgement issue.
“It was almost behind the scenes. I was having this huge [issue] with my health – but us mums tend to just get on with the job.
“In terms of pumping, I don’t know why we feel like as a society that any form of feeding should be done in private, especially if it’s not bottle feeding. Hats off to all the people who exclusively pump because it’s so constant.
She believes it should be celebrated as much as breastfeeding because “it’s really hard to manage, people don’t know the logistical nightmare of it all.
“You just don’t see anyone pumping, but you know that people are doing it. So why is it that people are stuck at home?
“Obviously lots of people who are trying to feed have to go back to work, for various reasons – maternity pay or maternity leave not being long enough,” she adds. In fact, James started working again, on photoshoots and TV, just five days after the birth of Ada. “I’m self-employed, I don’t get maternity leave – you do what you have to do,” she says.
These days she shrugs off negative comments online, but James has experienced real-world shaming for public feeding too.
“I was in a children’s attraction in London, breastfeeding Alf, and a member of staff came up to me and asked me to move into the loos. I was like, this is a child-friendly attraction space!
“[I said] ‘No, would you eat in a public loo?’. I don’t even want to go to the loo in a public loo, never mind feed my child there!”