There are some things that everyone has an opinion on: Brexit, coriander and, of course, the catnip of the parenting world: breastfeeding. Enter Tamara Ecclestone, elder daughter of ex- Formula One supremo Bernie, who has added ‘breastfeeding champion’ to her résumé as she continues to breastfeed Fifi, her four-year-old daughter who starts school next month.
Last week, her sister Petra admitted she ‘takes the piss out of her’ for still feeding Fifi at bedtime, but Tamara is proud to speak out on the issue – not least because, out of everyone, she’s the most surprised at how things have turned out.
‘I never set out to do this – there was no agenda,’ she tells me, on the phone from Los Angeles, where she’s staying with Petra until the end of August. ‘I didn’t expect to breastfeed for as long as I have and I never imagined I’d breastfeed for four years but it’s been the best experience I’ve ever gone through... It’s a bit of a running joke in the family – but they don’t mean it in a bad way. They are 100% supportive. I guess they chuckle to themselves about it because when I was pregnant, they’d say, “Trust us, you’re really going to take to breastfeeding.” And they were right – they know me better than I know myself.’
There’s no doubt that the conversation around breastfeeding in the UK has become an infuriating riddle. With the lowest breastfeeding rate in the developed world, mothers are urged to do it, criticised for not and then castigated for doing it for too long. ‘I really don’t understand why people get so heated about it,’ says Tamara. ‘It’s just feeding a baby – it’s as simple as that.’
But she believes it’s indicative of a wider judgemental world that you step into as a new mother: ‘Breastfeeding is so divisive as an issue but it’s surprised me how judgemental parents can be with everything from potty training to other milestones. Until you’re a parent you don’t really get it. I find it astonishing that mums can be so critical of each other – there’s no need for it. Whether you pump, use formula or exclusively breastfeed, we’re all feeding our babies. Hopefully when Fifi is a mum, it won’t even be an issue.’
Along with just 1% of British babies, Fifi was exclusively breastfed until six months* but now Tamara thinks it won’t be long until she stops completely – and insists she won’t be sad when the final feed comes. Surely she’s looking forward to the practical and psychological freedom that day will bring? ‘It’s never felt like a tie. When I’ve fed her and read her a story, I can creep out of her bed and do whatever I need to do. Some children have a special blanket but she’s never had anything like that – just my boob, and I’ve been fine with that! I embraced it.’
Arguably nobody has embraced motherhood more than Tamara, happily swapping the party life of a London socialite for a bath and a box set since Fifi came along. ‘I think motherhood has brought out who I really am,’ she says. ‘It’s quite amazing how much my priorities have changed – I was Tamara before and now I’m Fifi’s mum. I know a lot of people might turn that around and say “She’s lost her identity”, but for me it’s actually a positive thing because this has all been my choice. I don’t feel like I’ve lost anything.’
With school and an imminent end to breastfeeding on the horizon, Tamara says she’ll soon be able to plough more time into Fifi & Friends, the range of natural babycare products she developed when she realised how many mainstream ones contained harsh, artificial ingredients. But she will continue to speak out on her positive breastfeeding experience whenever she can: ‘I know it comes with the territory that I’m going to get negative messages – it doesn’t actually affect me – but when I get positive ones from people on social media saying, “You encouraged me to continue breastfeeding when everyone told me to stop,” and “Thank you for normalising it”, then I feel so happy.’