Beware ‘feeding’ mothers at large!

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?

Best Breast Feeding Products as recommended by you.

Mother & Baby Awards: Best Breast Feeding Products

And as a final thought on showing too much ‘breast’ in a Nando’s restaurant…..

14 thoughts on “Beware ‘feeding’ mothers at large!

  1. I think everyone should be able to breast feed their baby and anywhere, BUT I think it should be descreet.
    More importantly I think your article brings up the irresponsible health care visitors’ comments! I would really like another blog on terrible stories. I am lucky with my H V now but my last one was such a bully. I am lucky i could stand up to her but I was really worried about the quiet, unconfident mums.

  2. I also was very blessed to have a great “sucker” and faced no problems. I do now however get very odd looks from people when talking about breastfeeding and I explain that I still am at a 18 months. My daughter has never taken a bottle and refuses point blank to take expressed no matter how hard I have tried.
    HV’s I have found to be no help what so ever and even asked if I was going to give up soon! While I do not wish to breastfeed a 10 year old I don’t feel that 18 months is too old. Thank goodness for breastfeed support as they have been brilliant.

  3. I too am still breastfeeding my 18 month old, although the general consensus is that I shouldn’t be. I have been told by a doctor that I need to give him formula as he won’t get enough iron from breastmilk despite the fact he eats loads of meat and veg. I only feed him at night when he goes to bed and at 6 ish in the morning. He just screams if I try to give him a bottle. I think its lovely (so does he!)and am not looking forward to stopping, but probably will do before he is 2.

    • Good reason not to always listen to doctors. I was relieved when mine got to 12months as I ditched the formula and gave them cow’s milk. I’d feel really rather smug if I was you to still be able to give your own milk at 18months. Lucky you! Lucky baby!

    • Oh course you will. Just imagine there’s no alternative, think of the money you’ll save and the convenience of being able feed without the hassle and drama of warming milk!

  4. Hmmmm, helpful health visitors, I’m glad I never had one of those but I’ve heard so
    much about them. Most mums do not choose to stop breastfeeding but do so because the helpful Heath visitors do not seem to actually offer the advice people need. The amount of times I’ve heard stories similar to yours. I was lucky to have a fantastic midwife who actually gave me so much confidence. I breastfed my 2 until they self weaned at 2 and I was pregnant. Not quite sure what will happen this time as not planning baby number 4!!! I used to be really self consious bf in public but am now an expert and no one can tell. I’ve never been asked to stop feeding, I suppose quite disappointingly as I think I would enjoy telling them where to go!! I do find though as they get older I am more discrete. My LO is 10 months now but is the size of many 18 month olds and I know I’ll start getting the funny looks soon. I hate the fact that I have to ‘hide’ it as it is something that we both love.
    On the note about imagine there is no alternative is probably true. As vegetarians there is no alternative that I was happy about so I had to keep going… But yes the magic 12 months is also great as no more expressing!!!

  5. I couldn’t bf and was really upset, i felt bad giving my lo a bottle. I always assumed that i would bf. I am hoping to bf when Ihave my next one and am going to write it in my birth plan, I am going to think tha there is no alternative. I became very jealous of my sister when she breastfed her lo. I am pregnant now and can’t wait to try bf again. I think it is great when babies are still feeding from their mums at 18mnths,

  6. My first was born on Christmas day (9.30pm) … .the hospital were so short staffed that noone bothered to see if I was breastfeeding properly. They let me go at 7.30am Boxing day … still not checking to see if she was feeding properly.
    I tried and tried over the next few days to be met with a baby who just wasn’t latching on and I got more and more stressed and depressed. On New years eve we phoned the hospital to speak to a midwife and get some help …. to be told they were very busy and couldn’t really help at the moment … try and feed in the bath.
    New Year’s Day …. still not latching on, me more and more depressed and desperate and still being told to just keep giving it a go by the hospital but they couldn’t see us to help.
    2nd January .. my husband went to a supermarket, looked for a mum of young children and asked for advice on formula!!! Came back with a tub of Aptamil and my daughter drank and drank. Giving her a bottle was honeslty the first time I was really able to enjoy her and relax!
    I was able to get incredibly close bottle feeding, as was my husband … he developed an amazing bond. Whilst I dearly wish that I had got the advice I needed to help breastfeed her, bottle feeding was not a detatched experience .. it was a time of bonding with my daughter and I loved those quiet early hour feeds were i could gaze at her in the moonlight. I think that sometimes we can go ‘the other way’ and make mothers who bottle feed feel ashamed without knowing why they have made that choice.

  7. Your experience sounds as though what really let you down was the lack of professional support. Hence the reason why ‘Real Baby Milk’ as an organisation run by mums for mum was set up to give much needed support especially when it is contradictory or lacking.

    On the subject of feeling guilty. Personally, I think motherhood is one enormous guilt trip. Once I realised it was always going to be with me I just concentrated on doing the best I could with whatever gets dealt us. With children, things frequently don’t go to plan.

    • Absolutely … I had no support and was left floundering! To point out, with my subsequent children, I got the support and did breastfeed. I am passionate about the right support being given and ‘Real Baby Milk’ will I am sure be a god send for many mums. I am also passionate though that mums are free to choose without guilt …. although saying that, you are right about motherhood being one long guilt trip. I have a feeling that the guilt trip will also never end … no matter how old they get 🙂

  8. Hi Jessica, thanks for making this into a blog topic 😀

    As i have already shared my story on breastfeeding my little girl in Nando’s, i will like to share my experience of breastfeeding as a whole. The whole breastfeeding process wasnt easy for me.. I bought my little girl home, my attention needed to be shared with my 14months old and the newborn, i sat with him on my lap and her feeding. Everyday i was feeling so proud of myself for continueing to breastfeed as it wasnt possible with my 1st child due to lactose intolerance.

    I was one of those “prone to mastitis” mothers and i remember being awake at random o’clock even though baby and toddler were asleep, expressing like a crazy women, only way to relieve the pain effectively, until you fill up again. I decided that expressing will be the best option for daytime feeds so that my husband could also do feeds. My breastfeeding pump was a godsend. Night feeds were easy, i used to pick her up and feed her whilst laying down, to stop myself from falling asleep, i would play games on my phone whilst feeding her.. Breastfeeding didnt last too long though, she decided she no longer wanted milk and moved onto food and food only.

    A year later i had my little boy at 32 weeks, he was on expressed breast milk as he was so tiny and wasnt strong enough to latch on. It worked for us, expressing was the easier option, it meant the same amount of sterilising at formula bottles but it was worth it. A short while later he was fully on formula, a premature baby milk and although i would have loved to continue with the breastfeeding, his growth was more important at the time and he had what helped him catch up..

    Glad that this blog didnt get all horrible and nasty like most breastfeeding threads do in forums 🙂

  9. My first daughter was one big angry baby who never slept and wanted to feed all the time. I was so worried that she was not getting enough milk as I never seemed full and probably only ever used one breast pad for novelty of it but going by the wet nappies she seemed fine and obviously not starving as she completely refused solids until she was 8 months old!
    One day that always stuck in my mind was when my daughter was a week old and my husband and I had gone out for coffee. As I sat down and looked about I saw 2 other mums with newborns both bottle feeding and felt so envious of how simple it seemed to do in public especially when as a new mum I was still having a bit of a wrestle with latching on, being discreet and not to mention the soreness!. I had just worked up the courage for my first public feed and then…the lunch rush came in! On every side of us sat a load of men and I just wilted. I drank my coffee really quick and rushed back home with her screaming with hunger completely ready to call it quits. I think I stayed in for the next month until I met another new breast feeding mum and we braved the coffee shops and parks together.

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