Breastfeeding in Public - My Experience So Far

Yesterday the government issued a press release sharing the results of a recent study in to attitudes towards public breastfeeding - and to say that I am appalled would be an understatement.
The press release itself tended not to dwell too much on the fact that the figures that it shared were abysmal, but I read it and found myself feeling seriously disheartened as a breastfeeding Mum.
2,393 British adults were surveyed as part of this study, which, granted, doesn't make it a particularly large body of research - however, if we assume that this couple of thousand people represent a vague cross section of the British public then I find it embarrassing, that a whopping 52% stated that they did not believe that a woman should feel comfortable breastfeeding in public. Beyond that, 56% believe that there are "unacceptable" places to breastfeed (I can only hope they were referring to the filthy public toilets that some breastfeeding Mothers are directed to). Figures didn't really improve, with only 57% of those asked considering restaurants (yes you know, places designed specifically for humans to consume a meal) to be an appropriate place to breastfeed, and 51% saying the same about public transport.

It's unsurprising really that the same study reports that about a third (34%) of women feel uncomfortable or embarrassed about feeding in public, and 1 in 5 believe that other people will think negatively of them if they do so.
I have to admit, I would really put myself in the 4 out of 5 breastfeeding Mum's who doesn't think other people will think negatively of her - or perhaps isn't too fussed if they do. Yes, I know there are people who don't support public breastfeeding, but when I feed my daughter in public it honestly doesn't occur to me that others will react negatively. If these figures are to be accepted though, then it's safe to assume that almost every other person I encounter feels unhappy about my decision to publicly breastfeed my child!
74% of women attempt to breastfeed when their child is born - which is brilliant, and I totally back up the remaining 26% who choose not to. When I had Seb I didn't want to breastfeed and he was given infant formula from the first feed - I'm lucky to have been supported in this decision, and then later in my decision to breastfeed Quinn. Bottle feeding mamas need not be upset by my monologue here, but we have to ask ourselves why these figures drop off to just 47% breastfeeding between 6 and 8 weeks. I refuse to accept that all of them decide, happily, without regret, to switch to formula feeding.  I know quite a few Mum's who only set out planning to feed their baby the nutrient dense colostrum, or "first milk", before switching to formula when the baby is a few days old. Most of the Mum's who stop feeding between 0-8 weeks though will probably do so because for whatever reason, breastfeeding doesn't work out, that might be due to concerns about supply or baby's satisfaction, or painful feeding, it could be as a result of illness such as thrush or mastitis, or even mental health complications. The figures from this public breastfeeding survey don't exactly help matters, with 1 in 10 women who swap from breast to bottle in this time saying that anxiety surrounding public feeding influenced their decision.
I'm a very happy public breast feeder. During the week, Quinn and I spend a lot of time with close friends or at baby groups, where breastfeeding doesn't raise an eyebrow and if anything, I attract positive conversation about infant feeding. However, I've fed in cafes, restaurants, pubs, in the park, on the bus, on the train, at my son's school and in supermarkets. I'm not going to get up and leave any of these venues to feed my child - I will sit down because I'm more comfortable sitting than standing to feed, but that's about the only disruption I'll suffer.
When I first had Quinn I would use a muslin as a DIY nursing apron and tuck the corner in to my bra strap for "modesty", but I've since decided that this is a load of rubbish - given that it's just as blatantly obvious that I'm breastfeeding - and you can't actually see my babies mouth around my nipple without the muslin anyway - you can see the back of her head... that's it. So I very very rarely bother with the cover any more. Many babies will seek to breastfeed when they want eye contact with their Mum. Breastfed babies don't just feed because they're hungry, but because they're tired, grouchy, or a little scared. Nursing, and making eye contact with their Mum, relaxes a baby and makes them feel loved. I have decided that if my daughter comes to me asking if we can show one another how much we love one another (which is pretty much what she's doing when she's on the hunt for a boob and isn't starving hungry) then I'm not going to stick a sheet over her face and look around the room pretending she isn't actually there. If one family will give their baby a dummy to suck for comfort whilst they have a cappuccino in the M&S cafĂ©, I will probably breastfeed my daughter for the same reason!

It's worth mentioning though that whilst this is how I feel about breastfeeding Quinn uncovered, I have friends whose babies prefer to be under a cover when outside of their normal quiet, home environment and that's cool. Equally, if covering is going to be the difference between a Mum breastfeeding her baby, or deciding to switch to formula for the sole reason that public nursing embarrasses her - whip out that breastfeeding apron I say! It's an each to their own kind of thing, but there's a reason I choose not to usually use a cover when breastfeeding and it's not that I'm a total exhibitionist!
The one thing that I read quite early on that made me feel more confident about breastfeeding in public, was the idea of imagining that we produced milk through our index fingers, and fed our babies by allowing them to suck the end of our index finger. If this were the reality of feeding a baby; a) people would probably still be drinking their Mother's milk as an adult and b) it wouldn't be seen as any more inappropriate for a baby to have Mum's milk in public than take a bottle of formula. The reason many find an adult drinking human milk, or a baby drinking human milk in a restaurant, inappropriate, is because we don't produce milk from our index finger, but from our breasts. So the problem here is the boob, not the milk - nobody is remotely bothered about the milk. Once I recognised that, I got over the possibility of offending anyone pretty quickly, as I couldn't make any sense of their objection!

As a breastfeeding Mum I've still yet to come up against a single negative comment. I'm sure there are people that think negative things about me breastfeeding Quinn in public, but so far they've all kept it to themselves. The only comments I've had, have been positive ones, and range from someone at a baby group saying how much it makes her happy to see a big chubby breastfed baby, to a lady on the bus who simply put her hand on my shoulder as she got up to leave and said "Good for you". As well as that I've had many people tell me that it's lovely to see a baby being breastfed, and I very much doubt that the people making such positive comments actually realise how much they brighten my day!

So far for me, public breastfeeding has been a positive experience. I've felt welcome and comfortable everywhere that I've needed to feed Quinn, including numerous restaurants. I'm certainly never likely to stop feeding Quinn in public, as that would involve, you know, denying my child food - I'm not sure what the 52% of people referred to in the survey above would have me do!

1 comment:

  1. Not being a mother I can't necessarily relate but it is fascinating to hear about the perspective of a breastfeeding mother. Personally I think it would be nice for there to be no stigma at all and for mother to be celebrated more than they are in our society. Maybe we'll start seeing a shift...