The Vagenda

“Breast Is Best”, But Not In Here, Love

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Image courtesy of Everyday Soiree

I’m considering doing something I never do.  I’m thinking about going into a Sports Direct shop.  Whilst I’m in there I’ll do something I’ve been doing pretty much every 3 hours for the past 6 months: I’ll feed my baby.  I’ll feed my baby with my breasts.  I know, it sounds horrible, doesn’t it?  Horrible to take an innocent baby into that disordered den of cut price football kits and golf umbrellas.  But a mum breastfeeding her 3 month old son was recently asked to leave Nottingham City Centre’s Sports Direct and forced outside to feed him in the rain.  Apparently she was told that breast feeders were not welcome.  That makes me angry.

 As well as being a pretty shoddy thing to do to a customer and her tiny baby, ejecting a woman for breastfeeding is actually against the law (breastfeeding mothers are protected under the Equality Act 2010).  But perhaps the law is no bar to protecting the sensitivities of the wider public.  Because breastfeeding is offensive, isn’t it?  That’s the impression I’m getting from the spate of recent incidents: a mum breastfeeding her baby in public was photographed by a stranger and labeled a “tramp” on social media and another mum has just secured a settlement from a public pool in Kent for being told to leave for breastfeeding her baby.  Not to mention the vitriol that accompanies these stories when they are reported in the media.

 I know I shouldn’t waste my time reading those comments – not even the witty ones drawing comparisons with defecating in the pool – but it is so depressing.  Especially the ones expressing dismay that this is the thin end of the wedge and soon breastfeeding mums will be whipping boobs out in restaurants and on the bus.  Well, yes, they may – because they are feeding their babies.  You see, if you are breastfeeding your baby and you stop doing it, your baby will starve.  So, it’s not really making a statement to be feeding your baby in public, it’s not about wanting to cause offence, it’s really just about, you know, wanting to keep your baby alive. It just seems odd that a society that is apparently okay with seeing half naked women and breasts in every newsagents can get so upset about seeing a baby using breasts, usually very discreetly, in a way nature intended them to be used. And if you think seeing breastfeeding in public is offensive, let me introduce you to “Crying Hungry Baby” – noisy little tike, isn’t she?

I’m not even going to give the dignity of a response to arguments that breastfeeding mums should stay at home or use bottles to feed their babies when out.  Breastfeeding is natural and is in fact recommended by the NHS and the World Health Organisation (incidentally, the WHO recommends children receive breast milk for up to 2 years of age or beyond, but isn’t that just too “gross” to consider? It is if the responses to a recent article in The Sun about a woman breastfeeding her 5 year old are anything to go by).  Actually I don’t think that this issue is just about breastfeeding.  Formula feeding mums often have a hard time too with people judging them – brilliant mums made to feel like they are poisoning their child by giving it something other than breast milk.   But all mums want the same thing – a healthy, happy, thriving baby – and we should be able to use whichever option to feed them without being saddled with shame and guilt.  Everyone else should just butt out.

- BL

31 thoughts on ““Breast Is Best”, But Not In Here, Love

  1. I breasted both my babies for a year when living in the Middle East. I fed them in cafés, parks and at the beach. Even when sitting next to a group of men in full Arabic dress, not so much as an eyebrow was raised. On one occasion an older woman in an abaya walked over to my friend and I to praise us for breast feeding. Interesting isn’t it?

  2. Well said. I was nervous about feeding my daughter in public but second time around, I’m proud that I’m able to feed my son and I don’t mind where I do it! (I do try to be fairly discreet). I’ve been congratulated by complete strangers when feeding in a park but in other countries it’s the norm. I can’t understand why we’re so far behind in the UK.

  3. Well said. I’m based in Dubai and here you have a right to call the police on anyone who objects to you breastfeeding in public, so long as you are being modest about it. In fact they’ve just passed a law which makes it a child’s right to be breastfed up until the age of 2, which is going too far the other way actually – as you say, mums have enough pressure on them without having to worry about how others think they should feed their babies. But, with many people seeming to think the middle east is backwards in terms of its laws, this is one area in which I have been astonished to discover it seems to be streets ahead. I’m breastfeeding my 10 week old and will be back in the uk in a few weeks’, and with all the stories I’ve read, I’m nervous about feeding my baby in public there, while i wouldn’t think twice about doing it here. And that’s pretty sad.

  4. We live in a warped society where breasts are seen primarily as sexual objects. I breast fed both my babies, in public, when they were hungry – why wouldn’t I? And yes, I too can confirm that my Arabic partner, his family and friends never so much as batted an eyelid when I fed my babies.

  5. I have a 2 month old who is a complete guzzler and most days wants to be fed an hour or less after her last (lengthy) milk party. I don’t know where she stores it. This means her feeds cannot be planned or hidden from the public, unless I start hermiting it up in my flat until she’s a fully grown teenager (yes, i’m going to breastfeed until she surpasses me in height, screw you The Sun).

    I have fed her in the Apple store, Boots (2 branches), in the middle of malls, in waiting rooms, while answering the door to delivery men/ postmen and strangers, in pubs, restaurants, cafes and the centre of town on a bench. I have never been told to put my breast back in its hidey hole where it belongs, and feel quite confident whenever I do need to breastfeed in public.

    I secretly wish someone would complain so I could stand up and declare them an evil baby hater and point so that surrounding shoppers and pedestrians clap and join in pointing, but alas everyone has been considerate and totally lovely about her (and my breasts).

  6. Nice post, and I do agree… BUT I am honestly confused about why you’d have to feed a baby in Sports Direct? They ask for people to not bring in food, drink etc so why should the baby be having theirs? Similarly with the pool situation last year. I don’t eat my lunch in the pool. And if I was starving I’d get out and eat it on the side, or in the foyer.
    I am 100% for breastfeeding in cafés, parks, on the bus etc. but I just don’t think it is necessary to do it in shops or pools, although it still wouldn’t actively offend me. Perhaps the line I take is: where there are other humans eating, feed them. Where there aren’t, perhaps there is a reason. I’d be interested to see if others agree…
    (PS I am only 20 and my mum could not breastfeed me so if any mothers could put me right and say “actually, it IS necessary to feed when in shops etc.” then I am very happy to take it back :-))

  7. Dear Anon,
    Don’t you know how babies work? I’m your age and without kids but it’s pretty obvious that a baby isn’t going to think, ‘Ah yes. This is clearly a sports shop and not a restaurant so I should wait until later to start crying at the top of my lungs for food.’ I imagine if you happen to be out shopping and your baby starts wailing because they’re hungry, I doubt the first thing you’ll be doing is running to the nearest Costa.

  8. I moved to Tanzania two years ago and the first time I saw a woman breast feeding on a crowded inner city bus I wanted to stand up and applaud…but no one else batted an eye. Men support the women and make sure they have a seat and space. Women breast feed wherever they are at the time their child is hungry. It’s normal and natural and even on a conservative island such as Zanzibar mother’s are accommodated and made to feel at ease. Why the UK can’t be this way baffles me every time I see a woman feeding her child here.

  9. I live in the States and breast fed my three babies (subsequently, not all at once!) until they were about two years old. I was pretty brazen about it, restaurants, shops, etc, and never really got so much as a dirty look. Always sort of hoped I would, as I had plenty of comeback lines at the ready, but it never happened.

  10. I’m a big fan of Hollie McNish too =D

    Yes! My partner asked me what I thought about it and I said something to the effect of BRAVO! And then a jokey rant about why =)
    Women are amazing. If they’re pushing around a baby, doing the shopping, running errands and their baby cries… well then breastfeed wherever you please! You more than earned it! And if that tutting person also tuts as they hear babies cry on the bus or in shops then they can hush up! How do they think the mother feels when baby weeps!? Heck. I get properly cranky when hungry so i don’t blame the baby for crying, when mothers are worried that feeding their baby in public will get them kicked out and shamed for doing something so important.

  11. A flight attendant objected to me feeding my 8 week old daughter and offered to bring me a blanket to put over the top of her! From her position standing looking down on me she could “see part of my breast”. We were on a flight to the Caribbean, where I spent the following 2 weeks in a bikini exposing considerably more of my breasts and no one raised an eye brow!

  12. Your quite right Anon. Maybe it would be helpful if on the sign with the crossed out food and drink at the front of the SportsDirect store, there was a crossed out breast so that baby could understand that she’s not allowed to eat in store either.
    *sarcastic face*

  13. To answer the question, no, I don’t know how babies work really. That’s why I asked. At school they used to tell us that no questions are stupid but alas it seems that that is not a commonly held opinion. I do know that they can learn quickly and if you make a habit of leaving it crying for a few minutes before feeding (maybe until outside the shop) then it’ll get used to having to wait… I don’t know, just a thought.

  14. I spent some time in Zambia and it was completely normal for women to breastfeed in public: on the street, in shops, at church, I even saw toddlers hop onto their mother’s laps and pull her breast out to be fed. The women did not bat an eyelid, nor did anyone else around us. It seems with our bombardment of breasts as sexualised objects, we have forgotten their actual purpose!

  15. Um, no, you should *not* make a baby wait to be fed. It is actually not good to leave babies crying. If a baby is ready to eat, they should be fed. Also, when breastfeeding, it can be physically painful for the mother to *not* expel milk. Bodies are cool like that, the mother’s body creates milk at the same rate as the baby gets hungry. So, the baby tends to get hungry at the same time that the mother’s breasts become engorged. Babies are not adults. They have different needs. There’s no reason to restrict the area we feed babies to only areas where adults eat. That makes no sense.

  16. I also want to let you know that if you wait too long to feed a hungry baby, they become so upset and frustrated that they literally are unable to stop and eat anything. So then you just have a screaming infant who can’t be solaced and engorged painful breasts.

  17. Dear Anon,

    The lady at the pool did sit at the edge of the pool to feed her baby. She wasn’t swimming around in there! And no, we don’t eat food in pools but I’m pretty sure babies are not aware that they’re in a pool!! My health nurse has also said to feed the baby BEFORE he gets to the point where he is screaming as he is too stressed to feed by this point. There is no time to start wandering around looking for somewhere ‘suitable’. Somewhere suitable is anywhere mum and baby are comfortable and safe. Screw everyone else. I don’t see Sports direct throwing their weight behind the No more page 3 campaign in order to get rid of breasts from a national paper! Yet they are offended when someone attempts to feed a hungry child. Our attitude as a society seriously needs to change!

  18. I have 3 children and breastfed them all with varying degrees of success. I was surprised at how differently each one fed (mouth, nipple, how diverse can it get right?). But each one had their own feeding styles, could wait a little (or not a second, in the case of my ravenous boy), and nursedfor varying lengths of time (my cruise girl could make a top up snack last half an hour). So I totally agree with you, there are no stupid questions. Good for you to be asking about something I didn’t discover until I was 30. And you will be amazed that, as with many questions about babies, there is rarely one right answer.

  19. Shops require no food or drink so that they don’t have to clean up rubbish, and so on. Breastfeeding is very different. I must say that given the choice between being next to a breastfeeding mother or a crying baby with a harassed mother, I would chose the former. I hate listening to babies getting more and more upset, and if they can be made happy, why not?
    I don’t have children myself, but I am an aunt, and it is hard enough being a mother without being banned from feeding babies when and where the baby requires to be fed.
    I hope this answers your question.

  20. I just want to say thank you for giving me an informed and non-judgmental answer. This is exactly what I had hoped for, rather than many comments just informing me that I am completely thick and slightly evil. It does seem to be true that any answer cannot be one-size-fits all… My brother as a baby slept through the night and didn’t talk until he was 2, whilst I didn’t really sleep ever, but talked at 6 months.
    I was’t sure on the question of leaving them for a bit (bearing in mind that my idea in the first place was a question of a few minutes not a torturous expanse of hours) but it seems like there is a bit of leeway (I have never written that word before; it may be incorrect)

    I am also glad that you didn’t find this stuff out for a while too. I cannot help getting the feeling that if I were a man, I’d be forgiven for having no knowledge of such matters. But, being a woman, even in the eyes of people who may think they are feminists, I feel like I am expected to either have an innate sense, of them or have bothered observing and learning about it. It just never occurred to me to notice, given that I don’t want to have children.

    Thanks again!

  21. Good bit of info on if you wait too long… I didn’t know that that made them unable to eat at all, but that makes sense actually. They do seem to work themselves into incredible frenzies sometimes. I was just going on the fact that I now when I was crying for attention my parents would leave me so that I didn’t become kind of complacent and expect it all the time. I understand now that this is not the case with food; but that was where I got the idea from. It really is amazing how the bodies kind of sync so one produces as the other one needs…

  22. I also have a friend who’s been sort of ‘training’ her baby to eat and sleep at certain times of day, and has done since the little one was two weeks old. This was because she’s a nurse, and only had 6 months maternity leave on reduced pay before she was bumped down to statutory maternity pay, and she and her husband wouldn’t have afforded the mortgage. So they had a routine (printed out and stuck on the fridge) and literally trained him to sleep at certain times a day, and feed certain times a day. Now he sleeps through (apart from new adventures, like teething) and has done since about three months, and feeds for much longer each feed.

    She had a lot of stick off people for doing it, but it really hasn’t done her HUGE healthy baby any harm. And she can now work and not be a danger to her patients for being too tired herself, which is a real issue. She had to stop breastfeeding pretty much instantly that she went back to work, because if she wasn’t feeding her baby at the same rate, her body didn’t produce enough milk, so she couldn’t use a breast pump and store it, her breasts just didn’t respond that way. Some people’s do, hers didn’t!

    There is SO much pressure on women and parents generally to do things a certain way. ‘Feed on demand’, no, do ‘controlled crying’, ‘breast is best’ ‘no, not here’, and I think it makes for a pretty miserable situation. My friends did what was best for them and their babies, and nobody was harmed! Every woman is different, and every baby is different, there is no ‘one’ way.

  23. What’s the big deal? The article and all the comments mention one, only one, incident when a breastfeeding mum encountered any problems. And the incident got a national media coverage and an overly negative response from the public. That’s not a very convincing prove that breastfeeding is any kind of issue in the UK, is it?
    People simply act stupid sometimes. We get shouted at in buses for no apparent reasons, we get smirked at by strangers, drivers make rude signs… All of this is usually quite unfair, but life is unfair sometimes and no, there is no bigger conspiracy behind it, stuff like that just happen. Writing off a whole country just because one shop assistant was a jerk is a bit harsh isn’t it? Blowing the whole issue out of proportions just reinforces all kind of stupid prejudices people have against new mums. Not really helping our cause, sisters…

  24. Why is everyone being so mean Anon? The person is simply stating their opinion and were you not taught to respect others opinions? They are not being rude and are actually being very polite about it. Maybe everyone should be a bit more considerate.

  25. Rosie – the article mentions Sports Direct and a couple of other recent incidents (the pool in Kent and the lady being called a “tramp” on Facebook by a stranger) it also mentions the vitriol by readers of articles on the same incidents and on the idea of extended breastfeeding of older babies. But there are lots more incidents. There are even Facebook groups where photos of women breastfeeding are put up and derided. Anecdotally as a breastfeeding mum I have been told to leave rooms before, even by friends. There is a lot of prejudice against breastfeeding in public in the UK. And none of it is ok