So, I read today that Leeds is designated to become Britain’s first breastfeeding-friendly city. And my first reaction was, ‘Good for Leeds.’ But then I thought, ‘Whaaaat? Why is this even necessary?’ Maybe I’ve been particularly lucky, or maybe we’re a bit more liberal Darn Sarf than Oop Norf, but in 20 months of feeding The Boy and five and a half months of feeding The Baby, I have never once encountered any negativity.
Believe me, it’s not because I’m subtle about breastfeeding. I don’t whop my boobs out willy-nilly, but if The Baby needs milk, she gets it, and I don’t particularly care where I am or who is nearby. The Baby has been fed in restaurants, at church, on the train, on many park benches, at school, on a wooden horse in the playground at Center Parcs – basically, pretty much anywhere that we have been together. The Boy was even fed on the terraces at a Watford FC match, back in the (distant) days when we were in The Premiership. And not once have I had any reaction, negative or positive. Sometimes I almost wish we *did* get a reaction. I have a whole host of clever retorts up my sleeve, and I would love to use them, but the opportunity has never arisen.
According to statistics, though, we’re in the minority. More than two-thirds of mums say they are ‘blatantly stared at’ when they breastfeed in public, according to research. So what do they do? They hide. The same survey shows that a third of mums retreat to the loos to breastfeed, and more than half just don’t even attempt to feed in communal spaces. Perhaps that explains why, at the local farm park today – a place riven with mums and babies of breastfeeding age – I didn’t see a single other person feeding. Where were they all?
On the strength of these findings, creating a boob-friendly city is a laudable move. But how will it work in practice? Okay, I’m sure there are a (very) few places which are hostile to breastfeeding mums, but my guess is that most of the sidelong glances and tactless comments are courtesy of old-fashioned individuals, not the coffee shops and restaurants that they frequent. How can these establishments legislate against these people? Will they turf them out in the hope that instead, they’ll attract the mummy crowd? Perhaps… Or perhaps they’ll think (rightly) that the golf club seniors in their Pringle jumpers will add more to their coffers than the possett-stained mums on maternity leave, and turn a blind eye.
Having spent most of the day mulling this over, I have come to a (perhaps controversial) conclusion. And it is this: we breastfeeding mums need to stop looking for someone to stand up and defend us. Yes, feeding in public is daunting at first – especially if you’re in the spurting-milk-everywhere phase – but just like riding a bike, the more you do it, the easier it gets. I would love to know whether the two-thirds of mums in the above survey were *actually* stared at – or was it just their insecurity imagining things that weren’t there? And even if they *were* stared at, who’s to say it wasn’t with respect and admiration?
So, if you’re reading this and breastfeeding a baby, or thinking about breastfeeding a baby, I urge you this: just do it. Don’t think too much about it. Don’t look for a cafe bearing a Breastfeeding Friendly sticker. Don’t feel nervous; tell yourself that the people who are looking at you are doing so with admiration, not disgust. If you were thirsty, you’d sit down wherever you were and open a bottle of water, wouldn’t you? So why should it be any different for your baby?
Because becoming a breastfeeding-friendly country doesn’t depend on campaigns or propaganda or pretty stickers in the window of cafes. What it depends on is normal mums getting over their insecurities and feeding their babies when and where the need arises, with confidence and a smile, and not reading criticism into situations where none is implied.
Who’s with me?