As yet another woman is censored for breastfeeding in public, Becky Dickinson sticks up for breasts…
Once again, breastfeeding mums have come under fire from that charming section of society who believe that breasts belong on billboards and TV, and not anywhere near a baby’s mouth. Or at least, not anywhere that boob-mouth combo might cause offence. Which is basically anywhere there might be other humans.
This is the equivalent of saying that no breastfeeding mother can ever leave the house until her child has a full set of teeth and a Tommee Tippee cup, because the trouble with babies is that they need feeding. A lot. And they don’t care if they get hungry in a posh hotel or at home with the curtains closed.
The latest uproar, in case you’ve missed it, started when Lou Burns, 35, was caught breastfeeding her 13-week-old daughter Isadora, in Claridges. This blatant display of a mother responding to her child’s human need prompted a waiter to ask Lou to cover herself up with an oversized napkin. Which was jolly decent of him, as he could have just dispatched her to the toilets and asked her to feed next to the sanitary bin.
Lou wasn’t impressed though. She says:
“I was totally shocked and pretty upset. The possibility that I might be challenged for breastfeeding my daughter at tea time in a London hotel hadn’t entered my head’’.
Like Lou, I’m staggered that breastfeeding in public is even an issue. I can’t see how it’s any more of a big deal than holding someone’s hand or hugging them, or indeed bottle feeding a baby.
As any woman who has ever had to nourish an infant outside her own four walls knows, breastfeeding is actually extremely discreet. It looks like you’re cuddling your baby under your jumper, while you drink your latte, or send emails, while preventing the less discreet option of having a hungry, screaming child.
It’s often claimed, rather bizarrely, that breastfeeding in public is like going to the toilet in public, though the last time I checked I didn’t pee from my boobs. And breast milk is of course food, not a waste product – another reason for not lactating in the toilet where there might be things like germs.
And despite the widely held belief that breasts were created for sex, there is nothing sexual about breastfeeding. So, mums, don’t be afraid to feed in public. There is no need to strip off, whip them out, flaunt them like a pair of cupcakes, or moo like a cow. But don’t worry about any gratuitous slurping or lip-smacking either. Babies are pretty discreet and often fall asleep on the job anyway.
Honestly, I’ve seen more flesh exposed on X Factor than I ever have on a nursing mum and nobody complains about Cheryl’s side-boob. In fact the last thing most breastfeeding women want to do is draw attention to themselves or cause controversy. Because what could be less controversial, and more normal, than a woman using her body to feed her baby? And just as most adults don’t like to eat under a blanket, most babies don’t either. Plus it makes it hard to see what you’re doing.
I’ve breastfed all three of my children and am still feeding the third (who by the way, has lots of teeth and a Tommee Tippee cup) but still finds the homemade stuff comforting and nutritious. I have breastfed wherever and whenever it’s been necessary, including: public transport, the library, school plays, parks, cafés, restaurants and other places where there might be members of the public who could get a tiny glimpse of my actual breast, or even a bit of areola if they look closely.
Claridges is now under pressure to withdraw its napkin-burka policy. The ‘boobgate’ incident prompted a group of mums to descend on the hotel’s Mayfair doorstep with a mass ‘nurse-in’ protest organised by the group Free to Feed, which campaigns for normalising public breastfeeding.
Lou says: “I have been totally overwhelmed by the level of support I’ve received from friends, family and people on Twitter but particularly from my fellow Streatham mums’’.
I’m sure Claridges didn’t mean to be rude, just as us breastfeeding mums don’t want to cause offence either. The London hotel was indeed extremely apologetic. But the fact is, babies need to be fed when they’re hungry. Anyone who finds that distasteful clearly has issues they need to deal with.
Our Pick of the Top Breastfeeding Support Organisations
La Leche League
An international charitable organisation that offers mother-to-mother support, information and education. It runs local support groups across London and you can speak directly to an accredited LLL Leader on the Helpline. The book, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, is a worthwhile investment for both expectant mothers and those currently breastfeeding.
0845 120 2918 | laleche.org.uk
Free to Feed
Founded by Emily Louise Slough, who was targeted online after a photograph was taken of her breastfeeding her daughter in public. Free to Feed is now an international organisation that campaigns against the discrimination of breastfeeding mothers, particularly in the eyes of the law. Everyone is encouraged to join their campaign via the Free to Feed Facebook and Twitter pages.
The Breastfeeding Network
A completely independent source of support that aims to provide breastfeeding mothers with access to up-to-date information and advice. At the heart of the organisation is the National Breastfeeding Helpline and an online Live Chat support system. The website also has a lot of very useful information.
0300 100 0212 | breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk
Association of Breastfeeding Mothers
A charity that aims to provide support for breastfeeding mothers across the United Kingdom. ABM’s main source of fundraising is via its membership subscriptions, which cost £20 and new members receive an informative breastfeeding Welcome Pack as well as the charity’s magazine.
0300 330 5453 | abm.me.uk