Boobs and babies: the scandal of breastfeeding

You can’t move for media coverage on breastfeeding women these days. We’re hot gossip. ‘Woman told to cover up at posh hotel’ was a major scoop. ‘Women not allowed to breastfeed at breastfeeding conference’ was another. When did our boobs and our babies become so interesting?

What all this coverage does mean is that we are undergoing a big shift in the acceptance of women breastfeeding in public. It may take a few more scandals and ‘oul biddies to be thrown out of Starbucks (did you hear about that one?) but eventually, it will become the norm to breastfeed in public without major fear of disturbance, funny looks and giant napkins being foisted on our poor newborns’ heads.

As a breastfeeding mum I feel a few different emotions around the issue, probably not all politically correct. I think we have to take things in context. We do not come from a breastfeeding nation. For the past 100 years or so, women have not breastfed much either in the home or in public. In fact, I don’t think I realised that babies could actually be breastfed until I was quite old. I knew a lot of babies growing up and every single one was raised on formula. It’s just the way it was.

 Of course it is wrong. But we can’t change history, only the future. Take all the children around me now; they think nothing of how my baby is fed. It’s just the way it is, and so our generation is breeding a whole new generation who will more than likely go on to feed their babies the way nature intended.

Almost all of my peer mommies are breastfeeding. This is great, because most of us don’t have the back-up of our own mums to ask for advice and information. In fact, most of us have at one stage or another encountered discouragement towards the practice from health workers, our own mums, or other friends and family. ‘I think that child’s hungry,’ is a great one or, ‘At least with a bottle you’d know how much baby was getting.’

I breastfeed in public all the time, but I do not feel comfortable doing it. I use an Udder Cover but it’s awkward and can make the baby and me hot and bothered. I refuse to expose the boob though. Even worse is being around family and in other people’s houses. This is much more personal and intimate, and there’s nothing that will make a man, related or not, run out of the room faster than a fiddle with the bra and a general wave of the baby in that area

Women can also be uncomfortable with it. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen my own Mam wrinkle her nose when I go to raise my top. But she did buy me a breast pump. And she couldn’t be more supportive, even though I know it would be easier on her and other family members if I bottle fed.

There’s a steely determination that kicks in for breastfeeding mothers. It began in the hospital for me, when baby had cried her way through her second sleepless night. At a loss, I turned to the nurse and asked her if there was anything I could do. ‘Would you like a bottle for her?’ she asked, trying to help. No, I said. No. It had to get better right? And it did.

It’s this steely determination that has perhaps caused some of the recent ‘scandals’. No longer are women willing to cover up, or go to the toilet to feed or be made feel like they are doing something wrong when simply trying to nourish their babies. No one bats an eyelid when a baby is bottle fed in public and it should be the same for those who are breastfed. One day, we may even find that breastfeeding doesn’t make the news. And what a lovely day that will be.

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