(Before WordPress kicks me off – that’s a picture of some ice-cream. What did you think it was?!)
I’m not really one for being contentious on this blog. I’m more about sandpits and stuff. But a few facebook arguments recently have led me to write a post on the “nursing in public” issue. Let’s not dignify this by calling it a debate. There should be no debate. Of course women should be allowed to feed their baby wherever it needs feeding. No-one would ever question the right of a toddler to eat rice cakes in public, would they?
Incidentally, I’m going to call it breastfeeding rather than nursing from now on, if that’s OK. Nursing, to me, means inserting catheters and changing wound dressings and neither of those should be done on the bus. It’s not hygienic.
Another reason I’m not going to call this a debate is that a debate needs reasoned and intelligent arguments on both sides. What are the reasons against breastfeeding in public that I’ve heard lately? “OMG so gross” (you want gross? You look inside Eva’s nappy Right Now). A woman I know recently got told she shouldn’t feed in public because “no-one wants to see your boobies” and “babies should have bottles”.
It just so happened to be her 4-year-old son that came up with these gems. She just reminded him that he was breastfed, and we all laughed about it. But I’m yet to hear an anti-breastfeeding argument that goes beyond the level of a 4-year-old.
So, why should a woman feel free to feed in public? Firstly, her rights are protected by law. So there. Secondly, countries where it’s normal to feed in public (eg in Scandanavia) are the countries where babies are breastfed more and for longer. I think most people would agree that breastfeeding is a good choice for babies. I know that some mothers struggle with breastfeeding and end up formula feeding. We certainly topped Roo up with formula at times. So no judgement if you do formula feed, but I don’t think anyone would argue that enabling women to feel comfortable breastfeeding is anything but a Good Thing.
Back to the fbook arguments – I think what’s really “gross” here is the lack of understanding about how breastfeeding works. One woman said “isn’t it just as easy to express a bottle before you go out?”. Err, no. Expressing is bloody hard work, even for pro breastfeeders. Plus you have to sterlise all the fiddly bits of the pump and the bottles. How could that be as easy as just whipping out a boob?
If you think about it, there’s only one real alternative to feeding in public, and that’s staying at home all the time. With a baby, this seems like a bad idea. By the time you have a toddler as well as a baby, it becomes nigh on impossible. It may just be my disposition, but I can’t think of anything more depressing than being trapped inside a house with a baby all day, every day. I’m sure PND could be mitigated or avoided if new mothers were made to feel more welcome in the outside world. Well, I say I’m sure – I have done no research on this, so it’s just my opinion really. I’m no expert on this, but then “Experts” don’t help. Gina Ford advocates strict routines for mother and baby, which could make you feel guilty about leaving the house at the wrong time. Jo Frost suggests that you shouldn’t take a baby out in the rain (she clearly doesn’t live in Britain). Roo as a baby refused to sleep unless he was out in the buggy, so staying home was just not an option. We pretty quickly learnt to feed in public. The first time I fed Eva in public was in Tesco, at about a week old, but I would have done it sooner if she’d ever been awake on any of our trips out.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that supporting a woman’s right to breastfeed in public is an important step in rebuilding a post-baby social life, which is in itself an important step in avoiding PND. It was for me, at least. Everyone’s different. So, that’s why I think breastfeeding in public should be not just acceptable, but absolutely normal.
Enough of the why, how about the how? I find that nonchalance helps. If you make a big fuss of latching them on, that’s what makes people turn round and look. If you just do it, no-one really cares. Especially on public transport in London, where everyone is absorbed in their own thing and no-one looks at each other. I generally feed Eva as soon as she starts fussing cause I reckon my fellow travellers prefer the noise of slurping to the noise of screaming. But it doesn’t always work that way. If we’re on a short trip I don’t really have time to take my bags off, arrange my clothing and latch her on long enough for a decent feed. So she just has to scream. Those kind of journeys feel a lot longer than ten minutes, and make you appreciate the peace of just reading a book while the baby snuggles up for a feed. And I’m pretty sure that most people I’ve sat next to while feeding have had no idea that we’re doing anything other than cuddling.
Nonchalance works in most situations. I took Eva into work for lunch with a colleague last week, and that was one situation I was unsure about feeding in. I work for a medical research trust, so in theory they should be all about promoting breastfeeding. But in practice? In the end, Eva woke up in the middle of lunch so fussy that I had little choice. So I just asked my colleague a question and kept eye contact while she answered, while sorting out my clothes and putting Eva into place. And bam, done! What most people don’t seem to understand about breastfeeding is that’s it’s only the start and end of the feed where you seen any flesh. The rest of the time, it’s fairly easy to cover up.
There are a few ways to cover up. Some people swear by breastfeeding tops, but I’ve always thought they were a bit overpriced to be able to build a full wardrobe of them. Others use a canvas breastfeeding cover aka “The Hooter Hider” and they come in a variety of pretty patterns. Now that I use a wrap everyday with Eva, I find that does the job pretty well. The kind of tie I use goes around my waist (for tummy coverage) and in a cross across the Feeding Area. So a few minor adjustments, and you’re pretty covered.
That’s the why and the how. Your baby has the when covered…now how about the where?
I’ve breastfed in a LOT of places around London. I mentioned a few of them in this post, but if you missed it, highlights included – Bethnal Green overland station in front of a strange Eastern European man, both Tates, London Zoo, on the 53 going down Old Kent Rd and at least half of the Royal Parks. So, where are the best places for a feed out and about? Here are my top 5:
Feeding in public can sometimes be stressful for you and your baby when there are a lot of people and noise. Westfield have thought this through and provided little feeding booths with squishy chairs so you and your baby can have some time out.
Lots of toys to entertain bigger ones, and very child-friendly.
Just like Westfield, Oxford St can be overwhelming for a little one sometimes (and for a grown-up too). A little oasis with a rocking chair and changing facilities
Comfy sofas, food brought to you and a whole floor of toys for your toddler to play with while you feed. And they can’t escape! Loses points by being in Croydon.
Feeding rooms are all very well, but why not feed while being entertained by a Romanian gypsy band? The Royal Festival Hall is always full of other mothers breastfeeding, the cafe is nice, the sofas are comfy and there’s a free concert every lunchtime.
A couple of notes –
Note 1: I talk all the way through this post about breastfeeding a baby. That’s cause I have a baby. If you’re breastfeeding a toddler, just swap the words over in your head.
Note 2: The photo at the top wasn’t taken in public, but it’s the only breastfeeding shot I could find. And yes, she’s dressed as a dinosaur.
Other helpful sites: