“When you live in a world of boobs like I do, you don’t think about them as sexual.” That was how my husband answered when I asked him whether a female pair of breasts still held any sexual allure when there is a baby attached to them. I’ve always assumed that the presence of said bub changed the status of anyone’s breasts from “Whoa!” to “Whatever…” It’s not a scientific survey, but I’ve heard lots of fellas say things along those lines when their wife is fondly suckling their offspring.
Mia Freedman wrote something similar in her book Mama Mia:
I’m one of those women who are quite happy to breastfeed in public, probably because when I’m pregnant or feeding I see my breasts as being about as sexual as my elbows.
The reason I’m talking about this is because Facebook has been harassing nursing mothers lately for putting up ‘innocent shots, taken by the mothers themselves of their little bubs as they tuck into some goodness’. According to an opinion piece by David Penberthy in the Telegraph last week, a total of 391 Mums, at least 2 of them in Australia have had their photos deleted. Naturally this hasn’t gone down too well with the lactating ladies, who might not appreciate their occupation being categorised as obscene. I say occupation, because the early days of breastfeeding are practically a full-time job. Putting that baby on the boob every 2-3 hours, 24/7 doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for anything else. Including sleeping. Heck, I can hardly find time to write a simple blog post about breastfeeding in public!
The reason this little Facebook farce isn’t attracting that much media attention is that it’s not that common for women to post breastfeeding pics. When Facebook was first getting started, most people just posted short status updates. Then when smart phones became more common, they started to post photos of where they were and what they were doing. Now hip folks about town can just ‘check in’ so everybody knows when they’re hanging out in a groovy bar or dining in some obscenely priced restaurant run by a TV chef. But my point is this, when Mums post a photo of themselves and they happen to be breastfeeding, it’s just what they’re doing at the time. It’s not necessarily meant to be a statement. When I once posted a photo of myself breastfeeding I really didn’t think about it. It was only afterwards that I experienced a little flicker of doubt as to whether I should have posted it on Facebook. But then I thought, “It’s natural, normal and nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not dirty.” If we keep censoring breastfeeding then it implies it’s a shameful, rude thing that should only be done in private.
For me, privacy is very low down in my hierarchy of needs. (Incidentally, my husband sits at the opposite end of the spectrum. He recently freaked out because I carelessly got changed in front of an open balcony in a top-floor holiday apartment, completely surrounded by trees… at 10.30pm! Evidently he was concerned for some very sensitive possums that happened to be peering in at that exact moment… with binoculars.) That doesn’t mean I always feel comfortable breastfeeding in public, but I do it anyway. Usually because there’s not a lot of choice if you want to ever leave the house. Recently we were travelling back from a flying trip to Port Macquarie and we stopped for lunch at a café on the Pacific Highway. It was raining, I needed to eat and the baby needed a feed. Unfortunately it was a very open café. There were no subtle seats facing a corner. So I tried to give the people around me a bit of advance warning by taking some time to arrange a cushion and fiddling conspicuously with my bra strap, while arranging a wrap around my shoulders. It was all designed to subtly announce, “OK everybody, I’m getting ready to breastfeed.” A mature aged man at a table behind me picked up his newspaper and moved to a table further away. I don’t know whether he moved because he was offended, if he felt uncomfortable or if he was just trying to be considerate by giving me a little more privacy. It sure would be nice to know.
Obviously it’s convenient for me to be in favour of public breastfeeding, given that I’m breastfeeding and I’m not shy. Even so, I don’t want to make others feel uncomfortable. For those of you who do want a little more privacy, you can get these hooplike covers that allow you to hide in a tent but still see the baby so you can feed while out in public. I did briefly contemplate getting one, but I thought I might feel more conspicuous feeding in a spacesuit than going naturale.
Ultimately the main reason to support breastfeeding in public comes down to the wellbeing of babies. If women don’t feel that breastfeeding is welcome and acceptable, they’ll be less likely to continue breastfeeding or to breastfeed at all. And we all know breast milk is best for bubs. But it’s also better for everyone in a social sense. When babies are hungry they don’t exactly ask politely and then wait patiently while you make up a bottle or look for somewhere secluded and intimate to feed. When they want a feed, they want it now, and they won’t be happy until they get it. It’s far easier to enjoy your Saturday morning newspaper and latte with somebody breastfeeding next to you than it is with a hungry screaming baby demanding to be fed.
BTW, it’s now law that women are entitled to breastfeed their babies anywhere in public. So if someone does ask you to put it away, leave their premises or even just gives you dirty looks, let them know that it’s your right by law to feed your baby the way nature intended. Besides, its far less revealing than those skimpy little bottom-showing cut-off shorts all the young things are wearing!
Are you comfortable breastfeeding in public? Does it make you feel uncomfortable when others do it? Have you ever received dirty looks or been asked to leave an establishment while breastfeeding? And seriously, how about those shorts?