Today I found myself in the uncomfortable position of siding with the Daily Mail on something. It wasn’t a good feeling and I hope it won’t happen again. It was the fault of some strangers on the internet – we got caught up arguing about a news story from the Fail and the more radical they got, the more I found myself forced into the so-called conservative corner.
The news story was on a mum who had been asked not to breastfeed in a swimming pool. It’s not the first news story of its kind lately – there was one just a few weeks back about Imajica Gilroy from Cambridge, who had been asked not to feed her son in a Jacuzzi. This week’s one concerns Stephanie Wilby, who has been incorrectly branded a “new mum”, despite the fact that she was breastfeeding her second child and so wasn’t exactly new at this mothering lark (MEN says she was at the pool with her 17-month-old as well as the 4-month-old baby). She was waist-deep in the water, gave baby Leo a snack and was asked to leave the pool.
Now, you’ll know that I’m not shy when it comes to breastfeeding in public. After 15 months of feeding Eva (plus 13 months of feeding Roo), the list of places I have fed or would feed start to resemble a bizarre version of “Green Eggs and Ham” – “I would breastfeed in a house, I would breastfeed with a mouse, I would breastfeed in a house, I have breastfed in the rain and in the dark and on a train, I would breastfeed in a car…” Hang on, no I wouldn’t. I mean, I have breastfed in a parked car in a car park (next to the scenic A316 no less) but I wouldn’t pop her out of her carseat and breastfeed her on my lap while a car was in motion. Cause I guess that’s the point I’m coming to….there are just some places that aren’t necessarily ideal for breastfeeding.
I just don’t get how breastfeeding in waist deep water works. And none of the radical breastfeeding mums could tell me. Surely it involves standing up while feeding, trying not to let the baby’s head go under? It just doesn’t sound comfortable, when you could get out and feed at the poolside on a bench.
Then there’s the hygiene issue of feeding in pool water – I understand that breastmilk isn’t the same as wee (and I’ve had plenty of experience with both), so the staff were wrong to make that comparison. But still, there could be leaks, there could be possetting…things you’d hope to avoid while in the pool. I mean, who hasn’t had a baby spew during a swimming lesson before? But I can testify it’s pretty embarrassing and ideally, you’d wanna mitigate the risk of possetting by not filling a baby with milk. Or is that just me? Pool water isn’t the cleanest and there’s something I find a little icky about encouraging a baby to open wide and chow down when you’re both surrounded by chlorine-y, baby-peed water (and if you have any doubt that babies pee in the pool, do an experiment with a swim nappy to see whether or not they hold liquids). Apparently if I get icked out by this, I shouldn’t go swimming at all. Clearly, that’s not an option. But again, I’d like to mitigate the pool water/baby mouth risk by keeping feeding wholly separate from swimming. Again, just me. And yes, I also have a lot of experience with a hysterical baby who just screams as soon as you hit the water (see the Reuben At Water Babies Days)
Mostly though, it’s just a bit odd. I always measure whether it’s appropriate to feed by whether I’d give Eva a snack in the same situation. Would you let a baby feed in a cafe? Yes, everyone eats there. Would you let them feed in the toilet? No, barely anyone eats there unless they’re a particularly stressed out mother, who has resorted to locking herself in the bathroom with a bar of chocolate to get away from that incessant preschooler whining (hey, who hasn’t had those days?!) Would I give Eva a snack in the swimming pool? No. Would I be surprised to see a baby having a bottle in a swimming pool? Yes.
The point is this – we have the right to breastfeed anywhere. But should we? How long before a mother is pictured in the paper clutching her small child because they were stopped from breastfeeding while rock climbing? Or cycling? Or any other activity that isn’t consistent with yummy-sleepy-milky time? If you saw the Cambridge story in July (and there was pretty wide media/Facebook coverage of it), you’d surely realise that breastfeeding in a pool may lead to you getting asked to stop. In turn, you might realise that being asked to stop breastfeeding anywhere may lead to you getting your own media/Facebook coverage. But does any of it help the cause of breastfeeding mothers? Or does it just make leisure centre staff and Daily Mail readers to consider us all even more of a pain in the arse than they already do?
So yes, I will continue to breastfeed in boats, with goats, in boxes, with foxes etc….but will I feed while spinning plates? Would I feed on rollerskates? No. Let’s keep breastfeeding as it’s meant to be – a normal thing to do in public that only involves mother and baby (or toddler, in my case). Let’s not deliberately feed in unlikely places in order to provoke a reaction and make some kind of point.
Or is it, once again, just me?