I’m going to take a sidestep away from books to write about something very important to me: breastfeeding. I’ve breastfed both of my daughters – my first self-weaned at 22 months, and my second still going strong at nearly 15 months. It is something I feel pretty passionately about, so please excuse me if I get ranty.
I am writing this because I am so sick of reading articles in the Daily
Fail Mail (and other trashy outlets) about breastfeeding mothers being asked to leave whatever restaurant/shop/swimming pool they are nursing in. I am equally sick of the ignorant, snide comments left on said articles by apes giving their two cents. I am sick of hearing “I fully support breastfeeding, but …”. Let me start by saying this: if you say “I fully support breastfeeding, but …” you do not fully support breastfeeding. The presence of the “but” pretty much negates your first point. “But” is often followed by (but by no means limited to) one of the following:
- the mother should use a cover…
- it should be done in the bathroom/private room/feeding room …
- it shouldn’t be done in a shop/restauruant/bus
- the mother should be discreet and not draw attention to herself.
- the mother should pump her milk and put it in a bottle for when she’s out in public.
- not when the baby is over x age.
- it shouldn’t be done in front of other children (breasts not for children? Go figure …)
I am also sick of people likening breastfeeding in public to defecating/urinating/sex in public. It is none of these. Breastfeeding is not a sex act (and if you think it is then you obviously have a screw loose); breastmilk is not a waste product. It is a food product, delivered via breast (shock, horror) directly into the mouth of a small human who has no way to feed itself.
If you’ve never breastfed, or done so in public, then you have absolutely no idea how nerve-wracking it is to pull what is normally a concealed part of your anatomy out in front of people who have never seen that part of your anatomy and attempt to attach a wriggly, crying baby to it. It is no mean feat. It involves some forethought about how you are positioned, how to position your baby, and if you’re in the early days and still learning how to do it it doesn’t always go according to plan. Add into the mix a blanket or muslin cloth or specially made breastfeeding cover and you’ve officially run out of hands. Most babies hate being covered anyway (would you like to eat with a blanket on your head? Thought not ..) On some occasions when the infant is a little older and fascinated with the world around them they may detach from the boob to look around, and its usually when the milk is freely flowing and yes, it does sometimes shoot across the room. It happens, it’s not a crime, the mother/baby partnership are not trying to annoy anyone, they’re just doing what is natural and normal to them. It just so happens that the milk-delivery-vehicle is experiencing a surge in oxytocin that makes the milk shoot out.
But it’s not just milk spraying that causes offence, apparently. It’s the sight of a small triangle (or sometimes a big triangle, depending on the size of breast in question) of flesh above the baby’s head that is so insulting. Seriously people, it’s not that big a deal. It doesn’t require a cover, it just requires you minding your own business and utilising that incredible eye function that allows you to move them in a different direction. Hell! you could even turn your neck if you fancy it. Whichever you choose to do, just remember you don’t have to look at it. It’s not hurting you, it’s not going to kill you to just move on and pretend you didn’t see. In fact, it’s beneficial to the whole fluffing human race (in many, many ways) to see women breastfeeding.
- Breastfeeding is beneficial to the environment.
Breastfeeding requires no secondary equipment, simply a breast and a baby. Each and every breastfeeding partnership saves oil, fuel, electricity in huge volumes. Oil is not used to manufacture bottles, fuel is not required to transport huge quantities of powdered artificial milk, electricity is not needed to boil kettles and power bottle warmers. It is a totally eco-friendly operation.
2. Increased breastfeeding rates can save the NHS a heck of a lot of money.
£40 million as a rough estimate. It is widely accepted that the risks of many preventable illnesses and diseases to a non-breastfed infant are much higher than that of breastfed ones. The hospitalisation of babies with cases of necrotizing enterocolitis, otitis media, and many other illnesses are so high because of our mediocre breastfeeding rates. And not just babies. The risks of not breastfeeding can affect babies much later in life, too. Mothers who don’t breastfeed also have an increased likelihood of suffering illnesses such as osteoporosis, breast and ovarian cancers amongst others. The fact that UK breastfeeding rates are so crap are causing a big strain on NHS resources and it is so easily remedied. See the Unicef Report for yourself.
3. Breasts are not for sale.
The fact that we, as a society, are happier to see women posing almost nude in shop windows than sat down in Costa happily nursing her infant with virtually nothing on show says a lot about how horrendously crass we are. That we don’t mind a boob as long as it’s for advertising purposes and not to nurture the next generation really says it all. How about we stop thinking we own all the breasts just because we get to see them airbrushed in the windows of Ann Summers and La Senza and we teach our daughters that their bodies were not created for the sole purpose of pleasing the opposite sex? And while we’re at it, we can teach our sons that the world does not revolve around boobs, and even if it does, they do not belong to them, they belong to the owner of the boobs and are occasionally leased to babies. A bit of respect for our own bodies (and the bodies of others) would go a heck of a long way.
Those are the bigger issues. What I’m really trying to put across is: breastfeeding is not offensive. In any way, shape or form. At least it shouldn’t be. Leaving a breastfeeding mother in peace to get on with fulfilling her child’s needs is not a lot to ask. Even if, heaven forbid, you were offended by a gay couple sat holding hands or kissing on a bench, you wouldn’t go over and ask them to stop or move. If you saw a girl with her bum cheeks hanging out the bottom of her micro-shorts or her boobs spilling out of her top you wouldn’t tell her to put it away. So why do people think it’s okay to berate a woman for using her breasts for their designated purpose? If you just so happened to be disgusted by an obese person walking down the street you wouldn’t see it as your duty to tell that person they disgust you, would you? I personally don’t like to see pregnant women smoking in public, but I would never walk up to her and tell her she’s being selfish. It’s none of my business.
Believe it or not, the breastfeeding mother does not have to put your comfort before her own or her baby’s. She does not owe you anything. Believe it or not, you don’t need to vocalise every opinion or criticism that pops into your head. Some things can be, and are almost certainly better, kept inside your head. The breastfeeding mother does not even have to cover her baby or her breast up, nor should she feel like she does. The more we see mothers nursing in public, the less it will shock us. People used to find the idea of eating in public highly offensive, these days you can’t walk through any city centre without seeing someone chowing down on a burger or tucking into a pasty (or any other baked good). Times change, and we need to accept that, especially when it’s something as normal, natural, wonderful as breastfeeding.
Not only is it hurtful and insulting to be asked to move or stop breastfeeding, it is illegal. http://www.maternityaction.org.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Breastfeeding-in-public-places-2014.pdf
So maybe next time you see a mother breastfeeding and you’re disgusted by it, just walk on.
Better still, give her a smile and say “well done”, goodness knows it would do her self-esteem some good.
And if you’re reading this as a mother who nurses in public – please keep doing it and don’t let others ignorance get you down. You never know, your nursing in public might give confidence and inspire other mothers to do the same.
NB: My writing about breastfeeding does not in any way mean that i hate bottle-feeding or that it is terrible. I fully respect every mother’s decision to feed their baby however they choose, I don’t need to know reasons why you did or didn’t breastfeed, I just accept it. In this blog post I am writing solely about breastfeeding.
Links to articles:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiS8q_fifa0&feature=kp <— please watch this video – it’s amazing :D