Sarah was out for lunch with friends and family and her three month old baby. She says, “my baby was tired from being awake too early, she was hungry and wanted a feed. I zipped down my shirt and was looking at latching her on. One of my family members offered to help, asking if I wanted my scarf. As I tried pulling up my scarf, my baby became more and more upset as I tried to cover both my breast and her while trying to get her to latch on in the frenzy.
Nothing was working. My daughter was sweating, red faced and screaming and everyone was just looking at us. I felt my own tears welling so I got up in the middle of the lunch and said that I needed to go. I felt so emotional and guilty that I wasn’t able to meet my baby’s needs because I didn’t feel comfortable to feed her in front of everyone. I am usually really assertive but I was so uncomfortable about the stares and anxious about getting comments.
I just needed someone to tell me; “its ok, just feed your baby; who cares about covering up. You can do this.”
You may think Sarah is over reacting but her experience isn’t isolated. In so many places breastfeeding women are shamed either through ignorance or downright stupidity. Recently a US ‘parenting expert’ shared a video about ‘Extreme Breastfeeding’ .The criteria for ‘extreme’ was breastfeeding, uncovered, in public. According to this woman, if there is no private space to breastfeed, a woman should consider others and turn her body away while she breastfeeds. Apparently ‘flaunting breastfeeding’ is shaming mums who aren’t breastfeeding, it may be offensive to elderly people, people from other cultures and heaven forbid – children! Of course, this parenting expert claimed she supported breastfeeding.
No lady, sorry, I strongly disagree. Regardless of your own comfort level about how YOU breastfed (covered or uncovered) if you only support other women to breastfeed on your terms, you don’t support breastfeeding.
We need to stop shaming breastfeeding women because:
A baby’s right to feed trumps any adult’s discomfort (or hang-ups) about breasts and nipples. You have the choice to look or look away if you see a woman feeding her baby. If it bothers you, don’t look. And please keep your mouth shut.
Other people’s discomfort is not the responsibility of any mother feeding her baby. Many women struggle to breastfeed at all. This may be a mother’s first foray outside her home and her first time breastfeeding in public. It’s a steep learning curve to manage a wriggling, crying baby and squirting breasts as you adjust your clothing, let alone having to consider every random onlooker’s potential offence at your baby eating.
The more normal it is to see babies being breastfed, the more normal breastfeeding will become. Breastfeeding is a learned art, we need to see it to do it – it’s much more difficult to learn to breastfeed if you have never seen a baby breastfeeding. And as for children seeing breastfeeding, how lovely would it be for them to view breastfeeding as the normal function of breasts?
Breasts are normal. Breasts make milk for babies. Feeding your baby from breasts is normal. Breasts are portable, babies are portable. Mothers need to live their lives without fearing, like Sarah, that they might be criticized for doing something shameful by breastfeeding their baby.
Breastfeeding mothers don’t get out of bed in the morning and think, now where can I flaunt my breasts today? Most mothers are so overwhelmed with sleep deprivation and the responsibility of meeting their babies’ needs, they don’t have the energy to plan how to get their boobs out to scare small children or shame mothers who aren’t breastfeeding.
Baby Steps to Breastfeeding in public
If you are a breastfeeding mother, feeling daunted by the prospect of going out with your breastfed baby, here are some steps to help you feel more confident:
Practice in front of the mirror: If you are anxious about baring your boobs or your wobbly bits (often new mums are more self- conscious about mummy tummies), try breastfeeding in front of a mirror – which clothes do you feel most comfortable wearing?
Pull your top up: There are all sorts of fancy feeding tops and ‘hooter hiders’ but you don’t need special ‘breastfeeding’ clothes. Instead of unbuttoning a shirt or pulling clothing open from the top to feed, wear a loose top or tee-shirt that can be pulled up: baby will cover your mummy tummy and most of your breast will be covered by your top.
Keep baby focused: If your baby is easily distracted and whips his head around to look at every noise, leaving your boobs dangling, try wearing a baby safe necklace (check out Pinky’s Boobie Beads.) This can keep baby focused on feeding and give him something to play with as you enjoy a chat with friends after feeding.
Take a friend: If you feel you need some moral support, take a supportive friend with you the first few times you venture out. If you notice someone staring, try to imagine it’s a look of respect and admiration for the awesome job you are doing and carry on feeding your baby. Remember, what other people think of you is none of your business – If they don’t want to see you breastfeeding, they can put a blanket over THEIR head!
Pinky McKay is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and best-selling baby care author. She is also the creator of Boobie Bikkies, organic and natural ‘superfood’ cookies for breastfeeding mothers. Follow Boobie Bikkies on instagram #whereareyoufeedingtoday to win Boobie Bikkies.