Palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy, there’s vomit on my sweater already, this mom’s ready to drop bombs…. Of tears that is… No this isn’t a new Eminem song- but me during the first weeks (let’s be honest… probably 2 months!) of breast feeding in public.
There I would be, arriving to a coffee shop (my new fav baby friendly hang out) just in the nick of time- Haygen would start making her feeding cues , but by the time I found a stroller-friendly spot, ordered my drink whilst holding a squirming hungry baby, aaaand made it back to the table she would be no-nonsense screaming for milk. I AM STILL NOT READY to feed… This is when my heart would start to pick up and my hands get clammy whilst I try and locate my feeding scarf (god forbid I should bare my breast)… attempt to get the blooming thing around me and then try in all hell to juggle my baby underneath the bloody thing- AND try and get a good latch! ( I am exhausted just writing this).
Trying to accomplish all this while trying to ignore the no doubt one person who seems to take offense to the fact I was feeding in public … that pointed stare which made me feel as though my breast could be seen through my feeding scarf.
That being said… I am aware that all this could be in my head… and that those stares were just the curious few wanting to get a look at my gorgeous screaming mess. Yet if it was all in my head and this awkwardness I felt was just me… why? Why did I care if anyone say my breast?
As a new mother I was constantly being told not to worry about breastfeeding in public… that ‘breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world…’ Whilst I KNEW that yes in fact it is one of the most natural things in the world- heck its been around since the beginning of the human race- how come I felt like a crazed, wild-eyed, hair affray, sweaty mess anytime I tried to breastfeed in public? Why when I spoke to my breastfeeding mothers back in Canada did they seem more ‘at home’ with breastfeeding in public. Was it something to do with the UK’s social and cultural context?
Breastfeeding is known to have important health benefits for mothers and babies. For example, breastfed babies have less chance of diarrhoea and vomiting, fewer chest & ear infections and less chance of becoming obese, while women who breastfeed have a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer yet only 46% of UK mothers exclusively breastfeed their child at one week old compared to 89 % in Canada. Curious about this difference I did a quick search on the web and discovered the UK The Equality Act, the law that basically says it is sex discrimination to treat a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding came into force in October 2010. Similarly in Ontario, Canada our Human Rights Code makes it against the law to discriminate against someone breastfeeding; however a big difference here is that this law came in to effect in 1996. Did the policy context have any bearing on the numbers of breastfeeding women?
I think the issue is more complex than the simple stats above, which don’t explicate why the numbers are the way they are. There are considerable social and cultural barriers to breastfeeding in the UK, with the sexualisation of breastfeeding and the norm of formula feeding at the heart. The hyper sexualisation of breasts ostracises many women and has caused some mothers I know to re-think breast feeding altogether. Given the multiple benefits for both baby AND mother I find this to be a sad state of affairs. We are assaulted with images of breasts as sexual objects, so no wonder when we catch a glimpse of ‘side boob’ our minds likely link it to sexual images.
I am happy to say that I no longer that crazed person when trying to breastfeed in public, yet sadly this is mainly due to my purchase of an ‘udder cover’ which covers my breasts and partly because I hang out with many breastfeeding mothers.
Would be intersted to hear comments from other mothers and non-mothers alike… to read more on this topic follow the links