Bottles or breasts? I’ve been reticent about mentioning this hotly, sometimes even quite aggressively, argued topic in my blog – I’ve seen enough forum threads to see how impassioned people become.
However, when one mum asked me, very sweetly:
“Hi Jessica, been meaning to e-mail for a few days now but have been kept on my toes by the monsters. My sister was breastfeeding her little boy yesterday and the thought came into my head: Breastfeeding in public, what’s everyone’s views?
When my daughter was just a newborn, I was told in a Nando’s restaurant that I couldn’t breastfeed her at my table. We had the quietest table right in the corner away from everyone but the lady’s exact words were; “You can go and breastfeed in the toilet or the baby changing room.” In the end, I just stuck my daughter in her sling and fed her. I fed her again while shopping in Tesco’s. With my baby tucked inside in my sling, nobody could see anything. When I bumped into a friend who wanted to see my baby, she had no idea I was feeding and was amazed at how discreet I could be. I would like to hear other mums’ shared experiences on breastfeeding in public?”
I found it very touching, to be asked, and very trusting.
I find it astonishing that mums today are sometimes asked to remove themselves when they need to breastfeed. I wonder if things are getting worse not better.
We ought to give ‘Rights to Babies’. Everyone will agree to those. Campaigning for breastfeeding mother’s rights we will only continue to divide opinion. A baby should have a right to be fed when and wherever it demands to be fed. (My ears take offense to a screaming hungry baby). So, boycott places that tell mums to feed in toilets and create ‘warning’ signs for public places: ‘Beware! Breastfeeding mothers are welcome here,’ so the few who think breastfeeding in public is inappropriate can shield their eyes or go elsewhere.
Breastfeeding for me was never an issue. I remember a midwife asking me how I planned to feed my baby. I was incredulous that giving the baby the bottle was the common choice. My mother had breastfed us, kittens drink their mother’s milk, puppies, foals and calves all suckle…I was raised on a farm, it was what I knew. That’s what mother’s do.
My grandmother, back in the 1920s, had one of her children in a maternity hospital in Hong Kong. When it was ‘feeding time’ all the babies were bought to the mothers. My grandmother complained that she had been bought a Chinese baby to breastfeed, that is to say, not her own. “Does it matter?” came the response, “They all need to be fed.” If they were all bottle-feeding, she might have accepted this pragmatism with reluctance but since breastfeeding is so intimate she felt memorably upset.
The wonderful thing about breastfeeding is the attachment it creates. I’m sure that the reason that I still frequently kiss and cuddle my threshold teenage children (and need to still smell them) is because nurturing creates such a cherished and firm bond.
I fed each of my babies for three months but wished I could have fed them for longer. I remember the experience of breastfeeding each of them but I don’t remember what it felt like later when I gave them a bottle. I loved the fact that my babies never cried. The first slight whimper and I could quickly latch them to my breast and all was bliss. It also gave me a thrill that I could feed so discreetly that strangers would be almost unaware that I had a baby with me at all.
I was lucky. It came easy. I never suffered from sore and cracked nipples or mastitis. I was able to feed discreetly and no one ever complained or tried to send me to the toilets. It was a pretty perfect experience. The downside was my complaint with the TV scheduler. In the first few months, when my babies were awake they were usually feeding, and there’s a limit on the amount of Bargain Hunt, Car Booty and Cash in the Attic I could take…
Then one day, my health visitor put the fear in me. My precious first-born had only put on a couple of ounces in a fortnight! He was already well below the lowest percentile line on his weight chart. She told me he wasn’t getting enough. I must have dried up. So I went from feeling I was doing fine to feeling I was a failure. The only option presented to me was formula milk.
I look back I wonder how much of our feeding choices are actually in the mindset. I’ve heard the phrase frequently from mums expecting their first child: “If I am lucky enough, I hope to be able to breastfeed.”
Lucky!! If I’m lucky, I’ll win the lottery!
We should be saying, “I hope I won’t be unlucky and encounter difficulties when I am breastfeeding.”
After my ‘helpful’ health visitor’s ‘advice’, I now believed I could only successfully breastfeed for three months and then I’d run dry. With second and third baby I was anticipating failure the moment I hit the twelfth week. You hear stories of women with so much milk that they can shoot their partner in the eye across the room. But with mine there was no need to use breast pads, the toes curling let down reflex when the baby first latches on had ebbed away, and I could only squeeze a few drops with a breast pump. As far as I was concerned all the visible signs were that I was dry.
Looking back I think my problem was one of over analysing a perceived problem. My babies were feeding more, but that’s what they do when there’s a growth spurt and it stimulates you to make more milk. They weren’t starving so I would have been fine if I’d stopped worrying about it.
On the other hand, bottle-feeding meant I could hand my baby onto someone else rather than growing roots into the armchair from my bottom. Somewhere in my sub-conscious I’d had enough of feeling like a ‘milk-cow’. My head may have been screaming to wean even if in my heart felt it was still a few months too early.
If we never received ‘helpful’ and ‘meaningful advice’ from others about how to best feed our babies or if there were no choice, every baby would have to be breastfed. Some babies might not thrive for a bit, and there’d be mothers who would struggle for sure…it’s possible that we’d even need to ask mothers to feed someone else’s baby for a bit! (I suspect that was why my grandmother was given the Chinese baby). However, without an alternative we’d all have to get on with it. I’m pretty sure we’d live in a world that was a bit more down-to-earth and sympathetic.
On the other hand the fact that we do live in that world where breastfeeding isn’t the only option is quite a relief – apart from better public empathy – we’d still be living in a world where women could not leave home or have careers.
Personally, like to see mothers breastfeeding it reminds me of my own and makes me feel warm inside. I’d tell anyone, quite aggressively, who thought it wrong to do so in public places to ‘back off!’ Babies have a right to enjoy their dinner in comfortable surrounds as do the rest of us!
For finding your local breastfeeding peer support: Real Baby Milk is a social enterprise run by mums for mums.
Related blogs: Kirstie Newton Boob or Bust?
And as a final thought on showing too much ‘breast’ in a Nando’s restaurant…..