Sandra on Public Breastfeeding

26 Jan

Regular guest blogger Sandra talks about her experiences breastfeeding in public. This comes as Womens Views on News reports that Callista Gingrich calls the cops on a breastfeeding mother. We have heard rumours that this story is satire, we dont know if it is, but the fact the story is all too believable should say something regardless. 

I’ve been breastfeeding my daughter Ella for 18 months now, and I breastfed exclusively for the first nine months (I’d like to say that I only started weaning her because she was so determined to eat the food from my plate!) so there were (and are) many times where I’ve had to feed her in public. So what’s the big deal?

Let me set the scene. I’m on a bus, feeding Ella, with her sling wrapped around us to help shelter her from the noise and lights, as she’s trying to sleep. Two women get on the bus, sit directly behind me, and one mutters (very loudly) that “it’s not cold, I don’t see why she’s wrapped up in her coat like that”. To which her friend says, “no, love, she’s feeding her baby.” Here I predicted the end of the conversation, but instead, she raised her voice even more and lambasted me (indirectly of course) about how it was “indecent” to have my breast out in a public place, and that I should have brought a bottle to feed my baby with so I wouldn’t be disturbing others with the unwanted sight of my body.

There are so many things that made me angry about what she said – not least the fact that I was covered up to begin with (she couldn’t even see my breast, she was only aware it was out once someone else informed her), the fact that her suggestion to feed Ella with a bottle would have been a hindrance to her breastfeeding (since a rubber teat can cause nipple confusion and stop babies knowing how to suckle properly at a real breast), and that breast milk takes a fair bit of time to express when you’re trying to stock up for a whole day out of the house (or wait, should I be giving her cow’s milk instead of mine?) Perhaps should I have just let her go hungry, and let her cry for the entirety of the journey? – but the worst part was the fact that she was offended by me using my breast for the most natural reason I can think of.

This little snapshot isn’t an isolated experience, I’ve had people (including my closest family) ask me to feed Ella in the toilets so as not to offend people, had people tell me it’s not my legal right to breastfeed in public, and so many rolled eyes I’ve lost count. The attitude that it’s inappropriate to feed my hungry baby from her natural source of food is insanity. What on earth is unwholesome about breastfeeding? Nothing. 
What’s unwholesome is the idea that a woman’s body is an object of purely sexual purpose at all times – I’ve heard women say they won’t breastfeed because “that’s where men play” or that it’s “weird and unnatural” because “you don’t want your baby sucking your tits after your boyfriend”. This attitude leaves a lot of new mothers embarrassed and almost ashamed to breastfeed their child, and breastfeeding can take a lot of perseverance to begin with.
If we can’t deal with the thought that a woman’s breasts are a part of her body designed for the nurturing of her children, how can we deal with the thought that some women might not want to keep them covered up all the time?
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24 Responses to “Sandra on Public Breastfeeding”

  1. insidetheconflict January 26, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    Seriously? I mean, I know people are weird, but being shocked for seeing someone breastfeeding in public is ridicolous.
    I find it the sweetest thing in the world to be honest, and actually like seeing women doing it (I know I will look like a pervert at the eyes of some puritans, but who cares).
    I really wish people could just step out of that stupid mindset and start realising that there’s nothing embarassing about our bodies.

  2. Engart selknil January 26, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    its disgusting people still do this, the problem with people like that is they are unwilling to see reason as they are blinded by their own ignorance so alot of the time theres no point even trying with them. set in their ways

    its such a shame that the naked human form is still regarded with such a stigma by people who are more than willing to show their hypocrisy by not putting tiny underpants and bras on their dogs (except paris hilton but shes a mental) when its the most natural thing on earth when the real obscene images (e.g. pictures of war, gang violence ect) are so easily publicly displayed in order to “turn a buck” by the media machine.

    its shit like this causes a lot of this retardedness that we see been blogged about now which is seen by some people as immoral to feed your child in public at the expense of someone elses comfort (a comfort which could be easily replaced by simply looking away), yet at the same time if your child was screaming because they were very hungry they would be the same ones tutting saying you were being a bad parent

  3. Christopher Panayi January 26, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    Why is it some people think a woman breastfeeding is disgusting, but those same people, when faced with a cat or dog doing the same, say Aaaah and go all gooey?

  4. Duncan Heenan January 26, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

    In all my 63 years (including 2 children and 4 grandchildren all of whom were breast-fed) I have never heard anyone actually complain about a breast feeding woman. I wonder if these ‘complaints’ are actualy as common as some make out. In my experience people seem happyto accept breast feeding as a normal activity where babies are concerned.

    • trueindigo January 26, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

      Duncan, in my 50 years as a woman I can tell you that YES it still happens. We couldn’t make this shit up!

      The worst was being at a vegetarian conference where I got dirty comments from others as I tried to feed my 3 month old son in a quite area away from the crowds – near a women’s restroom! I was told it was disgusting by one person and another said it was sad that I was ruining his chance to be vegan since he was drinking breast milk. Insane!

      • Sandra "Rivvy" Rosie January 27, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

        Duncan, there have been a few instances where people have been positive about me breastfeeding in public, but they are far outnumbered by the negative comments, and most people I know seem to have had the same unfortunate experience.
        trueindigo, it’s a shame to hear more stories of people being so disrespectful, and whoever made the comment about breastmilk not being vegan; they need to rethink their… life, I think. XD

  5. SJ January 26, 2012 at 2:38 pm #

    I had this debate with my friend recently and was hurt to learn that it really seems to be a common prejudice, I was upset to hear someone I am close to suggest that women should feed their children in toilets! such an idea is not only demeaning to the women, but it is also very unsanitary.

    I find it very upsetting that people have such unsettling and archaic opinions on the matter. I am sure if you asked people reasonably why they felt so disgusted with the idea that there answer would be no more reasoned than a juvenile “I just don’t like it…er cause I don’t”.

    What’s worst of all is that women themselves have been so indoctrinated by other peoples stereotypes that they see their own breast as sexual objects first and food for babies second.

    All of this aside people really do just need to mind there own business, if someone isn’t hurting you, or hurting someone else, and they are not breaking the law (FYI it is not illegal to breast feed in public – look it up – ) then people should keep there opinions to themselves.

  6. Alexandra Hill January 26, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

    Great article. It’s disgusting that a woman’s body is so sexualised in our culture that the most natural and innocent function – breastfeeding your own child, can be seen as indecent! Reminds me of the furore over the photo of Madison Young breastfeeding her child, after which people actually accused her of promoting paedophilia. See, for example,

  7. John P January 26, 2012 at 7:11 pm #

    What might be most weird of all, or maybe it’s not, is that I’m friends with a couple who have a small child–not so small any more–and the lady told me that when she was feeding her baby **at a nudist resort** people looked uncomfortable and moved away from her.

    That sounds crazy, but one way that it makes sense is if people actually do believe “That’s where men play”, that women’s breasts are sexual and anything that calls attention to them is also sexual. I suppose people could be extreme naturists in the sense that they’d say there’s nothing we do (sex, defecation?) that needs to be private–so it wouldn’t bother them!– but that’s a very small minority. Most of us would say we can be sexual when the time is right, and we don’t want to share that with the world, but all the rest of the time, we just have a body and we don’t need to hide it. It’s disappointing if even nudists can’t stop themselves fetishizing women’s breasts, but it’s a sign of how far that particular cultural belief has gone.

    This is why I’m very dubious about naturists involving themselves in “topfree rights” (as I said in a comment to another recent posting here). Would we actually be contributing to seeing women’s bodies as sexual? But when it’s a question of feeding a baby, enough of the intellectual blather. Just do it. And if you see it, you may smile a little bit, and then it’s time to carry on with your own business.

    • Deepak May 24, 2012 at 4:36 am #

      Good luck with the baby!As to the question of whteehr your baby would be able to handle the combination- you can’t be sure until she’s born. Some babies can only handle breastmilk, some can only handle breastmilk if their moms eat a specialized diet, some can only handle specialized formulas. MOST babies will be fine with both.Any breastmilk you can give her will be a benefit (assuming, of course, that she can tolerate it). My advice would be to pump quite a bit in the first few weeks to establish your supply. If you only pump once or twice a day from the beginning, your supply might go away quickly. The first few weeks are really essential for getting it started, and you can freeze any extra for when you return to work. After that- it will depend on your body as to whteehr or not your supply will keep up- every woman is different. There are herbal supplements and teas that some women swear by to keep their supply up; for most women, pumping only once a day will lead to their milk drying up very quickly. My advice would be to pump as much as you can- it will probably be healthier for your baby, and much much cheaper for you to have more breastmilk than formula available.Also, consider putting her to the breast for the first few days. Before your milk comes in, your body will produce colostrum- a clear, yellowish liquid- that has enormous health benefits for newborns. You shouldn’t have a problem then introducing the bottle if she is only a few days old.Again, good luck and congratulations!

  8. Vikki January 26, 2012 at 9:51 pm #

    the toilet thing really annoys me so much, what kind of a person would chose to eat, never mind feed their child, in a toilet?!

    I got into a rather heated debate in my work recently over one of the men commenting on how “some woman got her tit out in a cafe to feed her kid” and how it put him off his lunch. I think people forget that the one and only reason that women actually grow breasts is in order to feed their children. It makes me so angry when women say that “it’s not a place for babies because they’re for my boyfriend” its just completely fucked! I could rant about this for so long it really is a subject of so much frustration for me.

  9. Iain January 26, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

    Its worth noting that it is illegal for a cafe/pub/restaurant owner to ask a mother to stop breastfeeding a baby in Scotland. This was a law paased by the devolved Scottish parliament.

  10. Sandy Beach cat (@SandyBeachcat) January 27, 2012 at 1:19 am #

    A few years ago I encountered an elderly Christian guy who thought that breastfeeding mums should stay at home except for four hours after each feed when the child would be full & asleep. Thus there would be no need to “show off their breasts.” I tried to point out that it wouldn’t work anyway. (Bottle fed babies may sleep for hours after feeds. Indigestible cows milk based formula tends to have a similar effect on babies to a large, non-vegan christmas dinner on a grownup. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that at the church I was attending at the time there was likely to be a mum breastfeeding at the back during the service! No one within the fairly elderly Church of Scotland congregation expressed any kind of problem with this.
    I have also heard a story (unsubstantiated) from some years ago where a mum was feeding a baby in a restaraunt, & the manager asked her to leave or use the toilet. As it happened the next table was a group of midwives on a work night out. So they all left. 🙂 The managers behaviour is illegal in Scotland now. But such predjudice still exists.

  11. naturistreview January 27, 2012 at 5:12 am #

    Without breasts humanity would not exist. Breasts and the the normal process of breastfeeding needs more respect!

  12. Sabine January 27, 2012 at 9:45 pm #

    Good for you, Sandra – and even more so for your baby 🙂
    I fed my daughter until she was 2 and 3/4 years old. She’s always been fit and healthy, bright and intelligent! She has a good relationship with her own body.
    I often fed her in public which did not usually involve much breast exposure. The only negative comment I had was from an older woman in a shopping centre.
    I hope that attitudes are not getting worse….?

    • Sandra "Rivvy" Rosie January 28, 2012 at 10:36 pm #

      As Verity has said below, it’s generally just a small part of society that aren’t comfortable with it, but they are often very passionate about their dislike, and although the number of incidents of people making negative comments have been small, those incidents really stick with you from the sheer hurtfulness of some things that these people say.
      What I find most surprising is that often older women have a lot to say about it being wrong to breastfeed in public; I would’ve thought if anything they would be more understanding as it’s a more traditional and natural approach. Who knows.

  13. Verity Beaumont January 28, 2012 at 11:27 am #

    Breastfeeding is a beautiful and natural thing that only a mother can give to her baby. We should be proud as women to be able to do something so special and although its hard to ignore those small minded people that don’t agree is the best thing to do! I believe the majority of society are pro public breastfeeding and slowly this will filter through to more and more people but there will always be those who don’t agree, but they will remain the minority!

  14. Martin February 6, 2012 at 1:40 pm #

    I can think of few things more beautiful than the sight of a young mother breast feeding her child, oblivious to any prudish concern around her but only intent on her baby. I am much less comfortable if I see her juggling, trying to avoid her nipple being seen, because this immediately implies either that she is embarrassed about this natural act, or that she is worried others around will be unaccepting.

    In other, dare I say less perverted, cultures, breast feeding children is done in everyday social situations as women go about their lives, without any embarrassment, or idiots making negative comments.

  15. Steve February 9, 2012 at 9:11 pm #

    Next time someone tells you that breasts are only supposed to be for sex, I suggest asking them if that applies to penises as well. Or mouths. Or bottoms.

  16. Roger February 15, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    So why is it almost always women who object to mothers breast feeding their babies, an act that is as natural as breathing? Did these women ever have any children of their own? If they did I expect that they were bottle fed from their first feed.

    • pauljw11 February 1, 2013 at 10:42 pm #

      I don’t really know the point that I am trying to make here—-when my kids were small (they are 19 and 21 now), my wife fed them each for about 16 months, this was both in the UK and Ireland. She breastfed them wherever they needed to be fed, this was on buses and in restaurants, at weddings at the beach, in front of her parents, in front of mine—-she (and she does not blog or the like) will tell you that she found breastfeeding a very positive experience, and never once had a negative comment. I also don’t think that people who have posted here are making it up, and I am very puzzled as to how people can have such different experiences.

  17. eeee February 23, 2013 at 11:55 pm #

    I know this is a very old post, but I feel inclined to comment on it anyway. When my son was an infant, I wanted to breastfeed him. Unfortunately there were complications and I had, at that time, no access to supportive, much less helpful, medical/nursing professionals. Still, during the several weeks I was trying, MY OWN FATHER told me that I – not the act of breastfeeding, but I myself for attempting it – was “disgusting and unnatural,” and ought to be ashamed of my “sick self.”

    I asked him how it could possibly be considered “unnatural” when it’s the way every mammal feeds its young, and has been so for however long we’ve had mammals. His response was simply that we have bottles and formula now, and that my desire to provide my own son’s nourishment was “completely disgusting.” (I can’t even remember how many times he used the word “disgusting.” Enough that I would later wonder if the stress and that message didn’t somehow, subconsciously, contribute to the difficulties that forced me to turn to bottle-feeding.)

    My mother told me that he’d said the same things when she was pregnant with me and my brother, and that he insisted she not even consider breastfeeding us, but use formula exclusively. She said she agreed without complaint because “Why upset him? It’s not a big deal so if he doesn’t like it, fine.” She then went on to say that it was better that way, since if she’d breastfed us, she’d have had to stay home all day every day until we were weaned.

    My parents are in their early 60s; I suspect that breastfeeding mothers will be fighting against the ridiculous and nonsensical breastfeeding-shame movement for at least another 30-40 years. I don’t know what it might have been about that era, but every person I’ve personally encountered who was offended by a woman breastfeeding was born in the ~1930-1950 era. Hopefully when that generation is put to rest, the ones that follow will not have learned some of those uglier lessons. / credentials can be used.

    • pauljw11 February 24, 2013 at 9:58 pm #

      To the best of my knowledge, when “formula” was developped, I think around 1950 (correct me if I am wrong), It was generally thought to be superior to breast milk (this was the time when it was believed that anything “scientific” was superior), and that women were being iresponsible if they breastfed, this probably partially accounts for why beastfeeding is seen as “dirty” by some. In general, once something is indoctrinated into people it is very difficult to unindoctrinate it out, which may well account for the attitudes of people born in the 30’s–50’s.

  18. mm February 24, 2013 at 5:08 pm #

    We have six kids and my wife breastfed all of them. I don’t recall any bad experiences but maybe it happened. Also either the Callista Gingrich thing happened or it didn’t. The research is easy enough. To say “The story is all too believable” is weak and says more about your prejudices than Ms. Gingrich’s. Be wary of falling in love with being offended. Although if no one was offended the volume of posts on the interwebs would drop by 90%.

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