Google+

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Stigma of Breastfeeding in Public

Yet again, a story has cropped up in the press regarding the vilification of women breastfeeding in public.  A 36 year old mum was breastfeeding her 10 month old daughter in a cafe, only to be shouted at for "being a disgusting woman" and literally ordered out onto the street, humiliated and devastated.

The mum claims she was being discreet, however the female cafe owner said she had her "whole boob out" and it was "embarassing"as she didn't want "a one year old suckling in her cafe".  Either way it is so saddening that in this day and age, where we know breastfeeding is the best way to feed our babies where possible, a woman can be made to feel disgusting for doing so.  There is no or very little provision for breastfeeding in public, and going to a "public toilet" as this cafe owner suggested is just not an appropriate option.  There is no way I'd feed my baby in a public loo...I'm not trying to take a crap in a public place, I'm trying to feed my child in the way nature intended!

The comments that have followed this news article are as shocking as the story itself.  "Can't you find somewhere else to do it??? LIKE IN YOUR OWN HOME!" ranted one reader.  So, if we breastfeed we should stay at home, shame faced and dare not venture out into public?  Please!  There was a time not too long ago where women were considered filthy for going out into public if they were menstruating, do we want to return to these dark ages? Others suggested expressing milk for when out of the house.  Why on earth should we bottle feed a baby who happily breastfeeds?  It isn't benefitting anyone in this situation except for the odd few who seem unable to comprehend that breasts were actually designed for this purpose!

We hear a lot about women who choose to bottlefeed for personal reasons, or who are sadly unable to breastfeed, feeling looked down on by the general public as if they haven't fulfilled part of the criteria of motherhood.  I've always found the opposite to be more true. Breastfeeding is still considered to be a minority occupation.  When I took my son for his 6 week check the doctor was visibly amazed that I he was still breastfed.  I was congratulated as if I'd run a marathon, for something that I consider absolutely normal to me. That has to be indicative of how few mothers continue with breastfeeding, certainly where I live anyway.  It is that which makes anyone who feeds their baby beyond the early days a bit of a novelty...dare I say...a freak to some. It certainly isn't the norm.

My first two children were only breastfed for a few months before putting them onto bottles.  I was young and  I wanted the freedom that bottle feeding allowed.  They could be babysat by their grandparents so I could go out and have fun.  This was my choice.  However, by the time I had baby number 3 I was settled into a committed relationship and lucky enough to be a stay at home mum, so breastfeeding was the natural option for me to take. I had no reason to put her onto bottles and I loved the closeness and comfort I was able to provide.  I fed her for 18 months.  Baby number 4 was breastfed until she was nearly 3!  I am still breastfeeding my 20 month old son.  Feeding a toddler in public is much more of a challenge but I have techniques that I adopt if it becomes necessary to do so.  No-one has ever complained and few people seem to actually even notice, thinking I'm just cuddling my baby under my cardigan!!  This does make me wonder if the woman at the centre of this latest outrage was a militant feeder who wanted to get this publicity by flaunting what she was doing?  Just a thought, but even so, breastfeeding an infant should never be referred to as disgusting.  We should be encouraging and empowering women to make the choice to feed their babies, not making them afraid or embarrassed.

In some cultures breastfeeding is marvelled at.  In Mongolia it is practised with enthusiasm and without inhibition and for a long time until the child self-weans.  65% of Mongolian children are still breastfeeding by their 2nd birthday.  It is normal, accepted and encouraged.  Breastfeeding mothers in the UK are protected by the 2010 Discrimination Laws that entitles them to not be treated any differently for feeding their child in a public place.  However few people are familiar with this protection and it offers little comfort when being frowned out or worse by strangers with deep seated issues.

We are continually bombarded with breastfeeding cases and studies.  Breastfeeding makes babies better behaved and more intelligent as adults says one report.  Solely breastfeeding until 6 months old causes iron deficiency says another.  It is hard enough being a parent without having to worry about everything and be made to feel guilty for either bottlefeeding or breastfeeding our babies.  If our children are loved, nurtured, safe and well nourished, then we are doing our job as a mother perfectly well.

We should all have the freedom to make the choices which are right for us.  We're all mums...we should all be on the same team giving support to each other.  Roll on the day when we can do what is best for us without stigma, criticism or feelings of guilt!

15 comments:

  1. Well said!

    I have to say though I'm much more nervous feeding Artie in public than I ever was with Tori just because of comments I got with her.

    I got a similar reaction at my 6 week check & again at Artie's jabs. It's like no-one does it once they go home or something.

    I wish I could find my confidence with it again as I'm feeling much more like I'm doing something 'wrong' if I do it out in public than I ever did last time. As for expressing for when we're out and about - I challenge anyone to get Artie to feed out of a bottle...

    ReplyDelete
  2. I remember with Jared asking for somewhere to breastfeed him at Alton Towers - I was shown to a large toilet block with a chair in by the basins. It smelt (as you can imagine!) At Customer Services I asked whether they would like to eat their dinner in the toilet and they just shrugged - hhhmmmm not much help. I think breastfeeding is natural (what else are they for?!) so lets not stigmatise it x

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've been surprised that it seems to be such a big deal in the UK, that might just be my experience though. But it does baffle me that this is the country of the page 3 girl, and some are offended at breastfeeding. I just want to shake these people.

    A kid has to eat. When I see a mother really struggling to feed discreetly, I find myself wishing they'd just chuck the blanket away and get it all out. If anyone has a problem with it, it says more about them than anything else.

    Although once in Australia I was at someone's house and I was asked to feed in another room. So the next time they came to my house I fed my baby right in front of them completely topless, with everything hanging out, for the duration of their visit. I don't know why but it felt oddly satisfying.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Well said. I am breastfeeding my five month old as I read this! I am certainly not a breast feeding activist- I think it is up to the individual but I do think that is absolutely disgusting that women should be made to feel uncomfortable for giving their baby food in public. Would these people like to eat their dinner in a public toilet- I think not. When I first started breastfeeding I had an issue with Mads latching on, she often used to cry in frustration and because of this I made sure I had a bottle of EBM. Now I don't care, I most certainly am discreet and feel a bit more embarrased if theres men or big groups around, but if anyone ever said anything to me I think I would have to say something. I am not a confrontational person but I think it would upset me so much I would just have to have my say. xx

    ReplyDelete
  5. I hadn't ever had a problem with someone breastfeeding until recently, when a woman in our company continued to get her bahongas out and walk around with them jiggling to the roof and floor in front of my growing boys with a 3 year old attached to one, and the other bouncing in the wind, along with the belly.

    I stopped her coming to our house as she wouldn't be even half way discreet. That saddens me. I have a special needs boy, and when they were whipped out so quickly with no notice or warning there was no chance to move him away, then he would laugh and make comments about her three bellys, and the mum would get offended.

    Who is to blame then? Is it the child who makes innocent comments based on what he actually sees, or the irritated mum who wants it all her own way, with no regard to how other people feel, or think.

    I would say that some mums, ie the militants, want to be noticed breastfeeders, and challenge all comers, but most you just never notice. My SIL breastfed in front of my boys for years, and not once did they ever notice.

    I have never, ever come across anyone breastfeeding who has been called disgusting, but I can imagine there are people who would.

    Feeding in a public toilet is a huge no-no. I struggle to think that people would even suggest that as an option, but again, I can imagine some would.

    Yes, I have gone anonymous, as I think you are all going to rip me to pieces for my side of it.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Anonymous...I actually really value your point. Your description of your indiscreet friend is disturbingly graphic...no-one wants to witness that unnecessary spectacle! it is totally inconsiderate to behave like that in someone else's home (you've got to expect the 3 bellies comment if you're going to expose 'em like that!) I had a friend who was a confrontational breastfeeder who would be bra-less and unbuttoned in public. She was spoiling for a fight...I was beyond embarrassed! You need to respect other people's viewpoints and not thrust your rights in someone's face (quite literally in some cases!) There is no need not to be discreet...I always am. I would hate to make anyone feel uncomfortable. However, similarly I want the same respect and the entitlement to quietly, discreetly feed my baby if, when and where necessary. I don't like militancy anymore than I like ignorance. There is absolutely no need to publicly flaunt more flesh than is appropriate. I think we are actually coming from a very similar viewpoint! Thanks for commenting!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Regarding @Bloggomy's comment 'what else are they for?' I feel the need to answer. Breasts have 2 functions, their first function is to arouse men in order to lure a mate. Women have the largest breasts of all mammals and this is not purely for milk storage reasons! I feel there will ALWAYS be problems separating their dual function and why there's an embarrassment factor. I encountered some serious negativity whilst breastfeeding my boys. My breasts swelled to an F cup and there were latch issues. I did very few public feeds, but even at my MIL's I was told to go upstairs because I was putting everyone in an uncomfortable position. I always used a giant shawl to cover my chest but still offended many. If I hadn't enjoyed breastfeeding so much, I'd have quit!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I think the Page 3-ness of our culture actually DOES explain why so few people breastfeed. Breasts are seen, first and foremost, sexually, and are all over the place in that context. We are all programmed to see them as that as they are out, being flaunted in papers, videos, not as functional appendages but as being designed to attract. How often do we see breastfeeding mums on television? How often do we see topless nudity on television? Get it?
    (And this is coming from a now pretty reluctant breastfeeder as I haven't had a break in 6 months because she won't have anything from a bottle, cue hair tearing and lack of sleep moaning.....).

    ReplyDelete
  9. How much would the image of breastfeeding be improved if breastfeeding was portrayed in the soaps? It is often only on TV to be the butt of a joke...like in Friends where Rachel breastfeeds Emma in hospital much to Joey's delight, or where Chandler sees the breastfeeding mum in the subway and can't take his eyes of her boobs. Breasts being sexualised in this way does not help breastfeeders feel comfortable about feeding in public.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Eek militant breastfeeders rather scare me. Having said that I breastfed both my two for a year each and regularly in public and I only ever had one comment from an elderly lady in a motorway service station. I was feeding my daughter in th restaurant and she commented how lovely it was to see a baby being breastfed these days.

    ReplyDelete
  11. The MummyDichotomy's comment made me feel really pleased - how lovely that an elderly lady commented how lovely it was to see a baby being breastfed.- breast feeding is the most natural thing for baby, we are all aware of this. Providing you are discreet when breast feeding I just don't see the problem. Some people are just evil in their judgement.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Great post Wendy. I breastfed F for just over 6 months and only ever had nice things said. I think if you're discreet (which is easy to do) then everyone is happy. Having seen you breastfeed you are SO discreet it's fab.

    ReplyDelete
  13. How much would the image of breastfeeding be improved if breastfeeding was portrayed in the soaps? It is often only on TV to be the butt of a joke...like in Friends where Rachel breastfeeds Emma in hospital much to Joey's delight, or where Chandler sees the breastfeeding mum in the subway and can't take his eyes of her boobs. Breasts being sexualised in this way does not help breastfeeders feel comfortable about feeding in public.

    ReplyDelete
  14. The MummyDichotomy's comment made me feel really pleased - how lovely that an elderly lady commented how lovely it was to see a baby being breastfed.- breast feeding is the most natural thing for baby, we are all aware of this. Providing you are discreet when breast feeding I just don't see the problem. Some people are just evil in their judgement.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I remember with Jared asking for somewhere to breastfeed him at Alton Towers - I was shown to a large toilet block with a chair in by the basins. It smelt (as you can imagine!) At Customer Services I asked whether they would like to eat their dinner in the toilet and they just shrugged - hhhmmmm not much help. I think breastfeeding is natural (what else are they for?!) so lets not stigmatise it x

    ReplyDelete

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...