Recent controversy over mothers breastfeeding in public in certain US states has brought the #FreeTheNipple movement to my attention . It’s about time…
Everybody’s Gotta Eat:
It made me reflect on my own experiences with nursing my four babies. There is much science to back-up the health benefits to mother and child of breastfeeding one’s infant – I won’t go into that here. Suffice to say, my choice was to do the best I could to nourish my little ones. I’m not judgemental about mothers who don’t, or who have problems trying, each of has our own unique experiences and circumstances. But what I do find hard to stomach is the intolerance of others towards mothers who are committed to the long term health of their children. That, to me, is unacceptable. Nursing mothers should be protected by law.
To effectively be a prisoner in your own home because you are fearful of what others might think is a sad state of affairs. I remember I didn’t venture out after the birth of my first son until I was ultra-confident and we had established a comfortable routine of feeding. Even then I tried to avoid lactating in public. But hey, you have to buy food and other provisions, visit other new mums and attend social engagements, so at some point it has to be done when you’re out and about.
I’ve had to endure sneaky feeds in the car, in the toilet, at the back of restaurants, in friend’s homes etc. When I had my second son I was more self-assured about feeding, but despite our success at it, and the beautiful bond I had formed with him, I only managed to breastfeed him for 3 months because I had to return to work and it was just too difficult to be expressing milk in an office environment. I couldn’t get on with it at home, let alone anywhere else. Some of my mates would fill whole bottles, compared to my measly few ounces. Somehow the attachment of a machine made me feel a bit too much like Gertrude to really ‘let go’. I had a real guilt complex about that for ages. Luckily Wills seems none the worse for the fact that he was fed for the shortest amount of time of all my offspring.
I remember going to a wedding reception when Wills was only about a month old, and he was voraciously hungry all the time. My let down reflex was so powerful that I didn’t even need to be in the same room with him, I would just leak milk when that strong tingling feeling came over me. It’s time for a feed. I only had to get caught out once to invest in a ton of breast pads.
None of us are blatant exhibitionists who can’t wait to show of our new, non-surgically enlarged mammaries: we just have a biological need to feed our babies when they need feeding. There’s nothing more stressful than being in the middle of a food shop only to have your wee bairn exercise his lungs to the extent that the whole store has to cover their ears. It’s very distressing. There’s nothing more natural and easy than being able to attach them to your body, which doesn’t need sterilising or heating to the perfect temperature and has all the exact nutrients your baby needs.
Given the choice many of us would rather feed in private. I would even retreat to the bedroom in my own home if we had visitors, but sometimes it’s unavoidable in public. It’s important for mums to retain some semblance of a normal life, other than being purely a feeding and nappy changing machine in those early months. When I had my girls I used to love going to John Lewis because they had designated comfortable feeding areas that were not a toilet. If only all major retailers had the same ethos and caring attitude towards their customers.
There has been so much education for new mums, and many midwives will help you to get the technique right so that you don’t feel like your nipple has been plugged into the national grid. There are breastfeeding clinics and organisations such as the NCT that do wonderful work all-round for mothers.
Reading about some of the negative experiences of other lactating mums I feel the education really needs to be aimed at the general public. I think most people are tolerant if the mother is fairly discreet in the UK, and companies like Mamaway and Jojo Maman Bebe do stylish nursing tops that make it easier to feed with minimal flesh exposure. But looking to the US, I do feel they are un-necessarily prudish in their outlook. If a woman happens to flash a nipple while trying to get her baby to latch on (and sometimes, if they are really agitated it can take a few goes to get them on right, even for a seasoned pro), to then be liable for arrest because she is ‘exposing’ herself is just beyond the pale. It’s a ticking time bomb. If mums feel isolated and unwelcome in society in those early months that’s another reason not to breastfeed. A generation down the line there could be all sorts of health issues. Attitudes need to change – fast.
Why should keeping a helpless baby alive stimulate so much prejudice, annoyance and downright scorn?
There is something inherently sick in a society where violent films rake in millions at the box office, where graphic scenes of murder and killing are celebrated, but the sight of a mother doing the right thing by feeding her baby who is in need of sustenance can cause offence. Perhaps the mothers of those individuals should not have bothered with them!
Many first time mums are coping with either some, or all of these symptoms: sore bodies, sore nipples, lack of sleep, lack of confidence, post natal depression, loss of freedom, fear about their abilities as a mother…
The last thing they need is to suffer the accusing stares of ignorant people, and worse, the interruption of a feed by someone asking her to stop or leave when her baby is latched on.
Breastfeeding has been celebrated in classical, Baroque and Renaissance art, with beautiful paintings from the likes of Peter Paul Rubens, Giovanni Bottrafaffio, Botticelli, Joos Van Cleve, Leonardo da Vinci and Artemisia Gentileschi to more recent artists such as Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Paul Cezanne, Camille Cortot and Mary Cassatt.
Here is a link to a blog on the Facebook issue (but also mentions the prolific amount of Renaissance art on the subject).
I’ve always said that mothers are the ultimate executives. Instead of raising profits we are raising humanity. Let us do that with some humanity! Don’t make us feel awkward or embarrassed about it. We come in for criticism about so many things, either for working too many hours, or for being a stay-at-home mum, or for not breastfeeding, and it is totally unfair. Juggling a career and raising children is challenging, and most of us feel we are not doing enough in either area. But I think the ‘having it all’ debate is worthy of a separate post.
Every woman must do what she thinks is best for her young one, and someone’s aversion to seeing her God-given assets being used in the manner that God intended – for the nurturing of her baby, is just not her problem!
I applaud The Guardian for this article written a year ago.
It’s not all bad, some companies are forward thinking, I remember reading about a Japanese firm that allows its new mum employees take their babies to work and feed them on the premises. But that is the exception rather than the rule.
With diabetes, cancer, heart disease and other diseases on the rise and with the NHS and GP’s constantly under so much pressure, isn’t it a worthwhile goal to prevent illness?
You can’t beat a mother’s milk, hence my twisted take on Tina Turner – Simply the Breast!
- Breastfeeding in Public
- Maternity Action
- Breastfeeding Law (US)
- NCSL – Breastfeeding State Laws
- And on a separate note, who says breastfeeding mums can’t be sexy! Hot Milk
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