Breastfeeding in Public…

By now, you probably know my stance on feeding in public. You probably know about Liana Webster being told not to breastfeed her child at a Bribie Island swimming pool and you most likely know about the comments made on the subject by television personality, David Koch, and the subsequent Nurse-In and my appearance on Sunrise.

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You have also most likely also heard about the discrimination and harassment directed towards Sydney mum, Regan Matthews, in a Newtown cafe and the Nurse-In that followed.
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Photos from Nurse-In at Satellite Cafe, Newtown, taken by moi.

If you are one of those that think women should “be discreet” or who think public breastfeeding is somehow disrespectful towards you, well, that is your opinion, and- according to so many people who cling desperately to beliefs that should have been abandoned long ago- you are apparently entitled to have an opinion on anything at all, regardless of how relevant the issue may be to you and your life, and regardless of how much you actually know about it.

The beauty of it is, your opinion, in this instance, means bugger all. You can waffle on about muslin wraps, nursing covers, smelly parents rooms and your (self-proclaimed) “right” to enjoy a cafe experience without seeing someone breastfeed all you like. You can go on the Internet and theorise about why women breastfeed in public- it’s because they are exhibitionists, it’s because they’re selfish, it’s because they are arrogant, it’s because they’re overweight (no, really- see image below from reddit). You can sit around, online or with like minded friends, and judge breastfeeding mums to your hearts content. You can deny and refuse to accept the REAL reasons mums breastfeed in public, if it helps you sleep the sleep of the righteous. I will tell you what the real reasons are in just a minute, I promise, but before I do, since I have listed all the things you CAN do if you don’t like breastfeeding in public, I really should point out what you CAN’T do.

You CAN’T discriminate against a breastfeeding mother. This means you can’t ask her to stop, you can’t ask her to move away, you can’t refuse her service, you can’t prevent her from expressing milk or treat her less favourably for doing any of these things. That’s the law.

Former federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Susan Halliday (1998-2001) summed it up best when she said:

‘Common sense dictates that hungry babies be fed and Australian parents have the right to choose the option of breastfeeding their children. For many years it has been illegal under federal, state and territory law to discriminate against breastfeeding women in the provision of goods and services, including service at restaurants, clubs, pubs and theatres and on public transport. It will be a particularly sad day when, in Australia, a woman is penalised for properly caring for her child in a public place.’

So now we come to the REAL reason women breastfeed their children in public. It’s so simple that it beggars belief. We do it because our babies are hungry. That is all. No ulterior motive. No secret exhibitionism, no relation to weight, no selfish or rude intention. Even when outside of the home, babies need to eat. Shocking, I know.

Breastfeeding is often really, really hard. The first few times that you feed in public is really difficult, nerve wracking and scary. If your baby is only a few days or weeks old, you most likely still need to help them latch correctly. To start with, many mums need two hands- one to hold the baby and the other to support the breast. You are still working out what position suits you best. You are wrestling with a hungry baby, the clips on your nursing bra, breast pads and the unusual openings on your new breastfeeding top. Try doing all that under a wrap or cover. If you can, and if you wish to, good on you. My baby is six months old and I still struggle with the basics, let alone a cover, and the few times I managed it, she yanked the cover off anyway. Fair enough, I don’t eat with a tablecloth on my head, why should she? Put simply, it is more important to me that my baby eat than whether or not you approve of my method of feeding. From a purely scientific standpoint, it is a known fact that breast milk is the best food for babies.The World Health Organisation recommends babies be breastfed exclusively for the first six months, then continue to be breastfed while eating solids until they are 2. Yet in Australia, breastfeeding rates begin to significantly decline in the first few weeks, with only around 50% of six month old infants being being predominantly breastfed.

There are many reasons women stop breastfeeding early- medical issues, returning to full time work, personal choice. But it cannot be ignored that societal pressure plays a role. Breastfeeding is hard enough without keyboard warriors, TV hosts and random strangers passing judgement on the manner in which you feed your baby. That is why I will continue to do what I can to normalise public breastfeeding.

So, if you are still holding on to the belief that a woman breastfeeding a child in public is being done with misplaced defiance, to offend you, to disrespect you, well, I don’t suppose I can do any more than I already have to change your mind. I’ve talked about it here, in online forums, on Facebook pages, on the radio, in news articles published all over the country (and even in a few other countries) and on national television. You are free to keep your opinion. I only ask one thing of you. When you see a breastfeeding mum, particularly with a newborn baby, don’t be the like some of the people I’ve encountered, shaking their heads, pointing and staring. Don’t be the cafe owner telling a woman that feeding her baby is disgusting. Don’t be the staff member telling a woman to feed in the toilets. Stick to the law. The fact that so many mums stop breastfeeding so early tells us there is a systemic problem with our attitude towards breastfeeding in Australia. There are so many contributing factors to this complex problem but the way we treat breastfeeding mums is one of them. Science says breast is best and the law says mothers can feed their babies anywhere. So what I’m asking you to do is to accept that the problem with breastfeeding in public belongs to you, not to the mother feeding her child, and deal with your problem appropriately. As I tried to explain to David Koch, your words, your stares, your pointed fingers, all of these do more damage than you realise.

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Highlighted section details the apparent correlation between weight and public feeding, as pointed out by an armchair genius who wasn’t at the Nurse-In and has any number of facts wrong.

NB- I cannot say this enough: Speaking out for the rights of mothers to breastfeed their children is something I am passionate about. For me, this has never, ever been a breast vs bottle debate. My first child was bottle fed from a few days old due to a combination of medical reasons and lack of support and information. My 6 month old has needed supplemental formula feeds in the past due to milk supply issues. I have no problem whatsoever with anyone’s personal choices with regard to feeding their babies. That said, I do have a firm belief that breastfeeding rates would improve with better support, education and practical help for mothers.

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