I’m not a very big fan of breastfeeding in public and I feel really self concious about it. I feel like people are staring and judging me even when they probably aren’t. Stories like the ones in the news this week play a big part in making me feel like this. From the woman in Claridges who was told to cover up with a napkin to avoid making other customers feel uncomfortable (?) to MP Nigel Farage saying that a woman should sit in a corner to avoid being ‘ostentatious’ about it. His comments and the actions of the restaurant reinforce the idea that breastfeeding is somehow wrong or offensive and should be hidden away.
You are judged whatever you do as a parent and I know formula feeding mothers experience judgement too for the fact they are not breastfeeding so I know you can’t really win… But if you are bottle feeding, I’m sure no-one tells you to go and sit in a corner, or a toilet (as one mum was in another story I read) to feed your child. I don’t think anyone should be judged for how they choose to feed their child to be honest as everyone has their own reasons for doing things. But it seems so crazy that in a world where breastfeeding is rammed down the throats of every parent with the “breast is best” slogan, there is the flipside where actually you are judged for doing it in public. We should all breastfeed, but sit in a corner quietly, or hide ourselves away at home to avoid offending anyone! Barmy.
I’m sure as with many things that people who feel this way are the few rather than the many. It makes the news which makes it feel more widespread than it actually is. At least I hope that is the case and that most people do not have an aversion to seeing a mother breastfeed her child in public. Having said that I know of quite a few friends who struggle with feeding even in front of family, sometimes being asked to sit in a separate room to feed, to avoid fathers, brothers, etc. feeling uncomfortable about it. I guess you could say there is a generational aspect at play in those situations. Some of our parents and grandparents did live in a slightly different world, where childcare was more the woman’s domain and fathers didn’t generally take part in the messier aspects of feeding or changing babies. Making them more uncomfortable with the openness there is these days. I’m not sure that makes it right though!
I don’t enjoy feeding in public for fear of being judged but also because I don’t actually enjoy whipping my breast out in public, as I am sure most women don’t. I wear breastfeeding bras and breastfeeding tops and this time have invested in the “breastvest” and “Bellebelly” which you wear under your clothes helping to make breastfeeding more discreet. As helpful as all of these products are the truth is that at some point in order to get your nipple in your baby’s mouth, you have to get it out of your clothes. If baby is feeding well of course then it is possible to be discreet and, as with the lady who fed her baby in claridges this week, you cannot see anything. In fact there are many women’s clothes that reveal more breast than is visible when a mother is breastfeeding. However if baby is fussy or needs to burp part way through the feed, you then have to try and rearrange yourself while also soothing a crying or unhappy baby. This isn’t an aspect of breastfeeding that I remotely enjoy because I don’t really want strangers seeing my breast and nipples.
Before Monkey was born we attended a breastfeeding workshop and I had a slight disagreement with the breastfeeding “expert.” We were playing a sort of word association game where we had to say whether a word applied to breast feeding or formula feeding. The word in question was convenient and this was moved to the breastfeeding side, which I disputed. Now I am sure there are times that being able to put baby on the boob rather than make formula (like the middle of the night for example) is more convenient. But I actually don’t think that word is particularly useful at describing breastfeeding. I’m not sure it is a particularly good word to use to describe anything to do with babies actually, especially newborns. Anyway my reasons for disputing this term included concerns over breastfeeding in public. I was shot down and made to feel ridiculous for even suggesting that there was anything potentially negative about breastfeeding, but I won’t go into my feelings about the breastfeeding propaganda brigade. Yet I stand by my concerns as I do feel that there are times when baby feeding from a bottle is more convenient than feeding from your breast. Though I wish it wasn’t so.
There are of course many, many positives to breastfeeding. It has lots of health benefits for babies, which is why so many of us try to do it. For some women it is an easier journey than others. For some of us it is challenging and exhausting yet we persevere for as long as we can. Regardless of how easy or difficult you find it, no mother should have to feel judged for breast feeding in public. No mother should be made to feel uncomfortable or that what she is doing is wrong or offensive. Nigel Farage, the Claridges restaurant, and any other place that make a woman feel like this should be ashamed of themselves. She probably feels uncomfortable and conspicuous enough as it is.