Breastfeeding in public: why do we need to see it?

Sing and Sign over, I tied Talitha into her woven wrap, chosen because we were asked to wear something red, and rushed for the bus. I could not have possibly missed my stop. It was marked by a crowd of mothers (some reports say 200, others 300) and their babies and placards out on the pavement and filtering into the Park Street Café in Bristol.

Their placards read: “Lactavist”, “No one puts baby in a corner”, “Freedom to Feed” and “Bristol Mother Suckers”. We were all there because a woman named Kelly Schaecher told us that she’d been asked to move to a corner while breastfeeding in the café. She said that the incident started this way and ended with her being verbally abused as she walked up Park Street. The café manager has publicly apologised and put up a “Breastfeeding is welcome here” sticker on the café’s window.

So we were there, breastfeeding our children, having our photos taken and uniting in saying that a woman’s right to breastfeed her child publicly and her child’s right to be breastfed publicly need to be protected.

Yet it occurred to me when I was feeding Talitha to sleep last night that not everyone who passed by yesterday would have understood why this is so important or, even perhaps, why these are rights. Why do we need see women breastfeeding out in the open?

Well, there’s the obvious reason: because it’s normal. Babies need to be fed. Even when they’re out with their mothers. Why should they have to go somewhere designated or hidden to do this? Asking a mother to move to feed her baby is a form of ageism. This segregation is, to me, yet another indication that the culture we live in does not particularly value children and their needs.

We also don’t value women and their bodies. Would Kelly have been asked to move if she had been bottle feeding? No. In fact, she says she was breastfeeding behind a woman who was bottle feeding. This is not a question of bottle versus breast. It’s a question about why we are so afraid of women’s breasts.

We’re so comfortable with women’s bodies being displayed when sexually objectified, especially to sell things but when they function productively (eg to nourish and comfort a child) it disrupts the way we view them and that’s not something we’re comfortable with. Yet this is the primary function of the breast.

I could delve at this point into a conversation about femininity and power structures but I’m going to keep this simple because I think most of the people who’d see my point if I talked about those things are already converts. Instead I’ll just say that motherhood is really hard. It’s stressful enough getting out of the house with a baby without being ostracised for trying to meet that baby’s needs.

So why not express milk and bring it out in a bottle then? Breastmilk is healthiest when it comes from the breast and sometimes the baby needs not only the nourishment of breastmilk but the comfort of the breast itself. Also, why should we have to turn a natural process into a prosthetic one because adults can’t be adults about this?

I feel a little sad when I hear women say that they felt they had to express milk in order to leave the house. It makes me angry that we live in a society that is so much more comfortable with the artificial. Pumping is much more difficult and takes much longer for most women than breastfeeding. And then you’ve got the issues of sterilisation and storage, not to mention that if you’re doing this frequently instead of feeding your baby from the breast when you are with them, you could run the risk of messing with your milk production.

All of this benefits a powerful industry marketing artificial feeding and we as a culture have bought into it as a lifestyle. It’s led to one of the most detrimental effects of people not seeing women breastfeed: we’re losing accumulative knowledge. We’ve forgotten how breastfeeding is done, what it looks like.

No wonder so many new mothers are anxious and confused about breastfeeding. I was.

See the ITV news report.
For more about the gathering, see the Bristol Mother Suckers Facebook event. It’s still very active.
It’s also spawned a Facebook group – a community of Bristol parents to positively promote the right to breastfeed.

The first image was taken by Imogen Pettitt and is used with her permission.

The last image includes a Lactivist button with Born’s Eva’s son was giving out at the gathering

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  • Lovely picture. The coverage and amount of women who turned up yesterday was amazing, sadly though I doubt it will change a lot of peoples minds about breastfeeding. I have read some shocking comments today from people who basically think that the only people who breastfeed their babies are a bunch of hippies who want to whip their breasts out at any given opportunity. So sad but at least there won’t be any cafes in Bristol trying to make women move again! x
    Mum2BabyInsomniac recently posted..Why You Should Never Ask To Put Baby In A Corner..

    • Ah but the Daily Fail comments will always be like that. I’m focusing on the positive ones like the ones in the ITV video above. Bristol is supposed to be aiming to be a baby-friendly city so I think it’s great that the issue was raised. It was great to see a range of people there yesterday. Also, lovely to see you. x

  • I actually felt really emotional reading this post. Strange since I write and talk about feeding in public all the time. It is the fact that all these mums got together to show support for Kelly and to educate the public on why it really is so important to feed our babies in public. I just can’t understand why we should be ostracised for using our breasts as nature intended and nourishing our children.
    Brilliant post Adele and I will be sharing here, there and everywhere x
    Kate Buckley (@scattymumofboys) recently posted..A Kickboxer, An Air Stewardess, A Speech Therapist and A Wannabe Playboy Bunny!

    • Thanks Kate. It amazes me how many people don’t see that supporting breastfeeding in public is a vital part of supporting breastfeeding!

  • Hey I support you guys doing this to preserve such a basic right and need. The comparison you made with the way women are objectified sexually but almost squeamish when ,pardon my candour,breasts are used for something other than marketing is truth. Again terrific piece, just felt I should give you girls a thumbs up in solidarity.

  • I roared with laughter at the slogans – fantastic. I may have to use some of those myself. It’s been a couple of years now since I fed by boy, I kept it up for a year and then stopped because I felt I should and I found the whole experience upsetting and I regretted it ever since. I seem to be one of a rare breed of people though that never encountered any problems with feeding in public. If anybody spoke to me, it was to offer words of encouragement and even more oddly these words came from little old women and little old MEN! Although as I write this, I’ve remembered that my dad did get really uncomfortable and if he came around to visit I was asked to feed in another room and if I refused he left. I completely agree that the only way the stigma of breastfeeding is going to be dropped is if people are bombarded with images of it.

    • I know! Those slogans are truly inspired, aren’t they? I’m sorry that things didn’t end as you would have liked. I’ve had LOTS of public encouragement too and I should probably write about that at some point as I do think some people are put off by breastfeeding in public because they think they’ll get negative responses.

  • I think you make some really great points in this post. I am a breastfeeding Mum and regularly feed in public without feeling embarrassed. I’m really sorry for some people that they find it ‘disgusting’ or ‘don’t want to see it when they are eating’. But I see it as their problem. I particularly liked the way you explained what an unnecessary hassle bottle feeding is for those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to breast feed. I also think few people understand just how much and for how long a young baby will feed for. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be confined to a toilet cubicle or car, as some people have suggested, for 45 minutes at a time every 1.5-2hours when my little one was smaller and her demands for milk seemed neverending!

    • That is such a good point, Heather. I almost made it but didn’t so thanks for bringing it up!

  • I really wanted to go to this. Fantastic to see such a turnout. Such a great event,and a fast turn around for the cafe owner. I just hopes she keeps to this new perspective.
    And what a gorgeous photo of you both. Loving the wrap 🙂

  • Bristol gets their Bristols out. Love it.
    I admire all those mums for turning up the the event and being proud to feed their babies in public. The negative reaction shocks me and make me very angry. I can only hope that this opens peoples minds and makes them more accepting of what is NATURAL and healthy for babies.
    Catherine recently posted..Flexibath Review

  • Well said.

    It saddens & confuses me when i read some of the negative comments regarding this event. Confuses because so many people either just don’t give a sh*t or don’t care enough to find out why women should breast feed & be comfortable doing so anywhere, not only that but it’s the law. And it is sad because many women are put off by such people.

    My partner breast fed both my kids, I’ve been present when friends & strangers have breast fed. It is nobodies choice but theirs & I’m happy to have been at the flash mob to show my support.

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