Breastfeeding in public is not a war zone.
Dear new mothers and expectant new mothers,
By now, you have probably been bombarded by the ‘breastfeeding in public’ debate. Facebook and their clever (evil?) algorithms will ensure you see these arguments because you are their target audience. You’re going to witness an online shit-fight (complete with staged ‘candid video evidence’) between well-meaning folk who want to EMPOWER you to breastfeed in public, and ignorant folk who want you to HAVE SOME DECORUM. It’s going to get messy. The ideologies, the flawed logic (“hot boobs are OK”) and the spelling may confound and possibly amuse you. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the 21st Century is a surprisingly hostile place to breastfeed. You’d be forgiven for thinking that to breastfeed in public is a political statement; an act of civil disobedience. Which is peculiar because it’s been a woman’s legal right to breastfeed publicly in Australia for over 30 years. Your mother may have actually breastfed you publicly. THAT’S how post-war we are on this topic. Maybe feeling like a rebel floats your boat and if so – rage on warrior, and all power to you, this post is not for you. But maybe (and I suspect this is many of us) you’re not a fan of conflict or political statements or disobedience. Particularly where your kids are concerned. Maybe seeing this online shit-fight will make you anxious or even refrain entirely from breastfeeding in public. I know it scared me and significantly hindered my experience in the early days.
So here’s a little nugget of truth for you.
Here it is:
An overwhelming majority of people don’t care or even notice you breastfeeding in public. You’d be lucky if they look up from their smartphones or see you at all. There’s a moment at the beginning of a feed when, depending on your attire or posture, you may feel exposed because you are literally ‘exposed’ and if someone catches a glimpse of nipple in that moment, they generally look away or comically avoid eye contact. I breastfed both my babies in public, in all kinds of places, and these were the only three responses I ever got, in order of most common:
1. Didn’t even look/notice/register what I was doing.
2. Saw me breastfeeding, registered I was breastfeeding and did nothing to indicate whether they were for or against the situation.
3. Copped an eyeful and a) looked away embarrassed or b) smiled at me. Option b) were women who ‘knew’. Option a) were prudes and dudes.
The three things that never happened to me:
1. I was never asked by wait staff to breastfeed in the toilet.
2. I was never stared at with disgust.
3. I was never approached by a stranger and told that what I was doing was wrong or disgusting.
Do I think that vilifying public breastfeeding doesn’t exist at all? Hell no. There are douchecanoes hiding in all corners of the globe. But the truth is that these people are statistically insignificant cowards, afraid to say anything to your face and, chances are, they won’t. I’m not trying to minimise the real-life stories of women who have been personally shamed, but please know that these stories represent an incredibly tiny minority of the overall public breastfeeding experience. Don’t let the Facebook echo chamber hinder your efforts in those fragile early days of new motherhood.
Forget the fight exists, because in the real world it doesn’t. Don’t waste your energy thinking about it and definitely don’t be afraid of encountering detractors because it’s highly unlikely that you will. The boob-haters are far more comfortable airing their views on Facebook. Facebook is not where you are breastfeeding in public.
If you’re so inclined, get your tits out and don’t be scared. The overwhelmingly likely outcome is that nobody will notice, but those who notice won’t care, those who care won’t complain and those who complain are morons.
Images courtesy of What Does Breastfeeding Look Like? An incredible Tumblr project by photographer Suzie Blake.
2 thoughts on “Give Peace A Chance”
Thank you for this conversation starter. Whilst the debate keeps on raging, despite the fact that for time immemorial women have been breastfeeding their babies in all sorts of place, it is good to get a sensible perspective. It is also good to be reminded that for many women getting the boob out maybe an uncomfortable experience for them and this is okay. You can still breastfeed in public but if you feel more comfortable doing so with a shawl over you or something similar then that is fine. If you don’t like the idea of breastfeeding in public that is also okay. The important thing is that you mums do what you feel comfortable with and relaxed about. Babies will thrive no matter how you go about breast feeding.
Amen! It’s 2016. High time we normalise, not radicalise, breastfeeding and pave a clear path for women to do what they feel most comfortable doing. And a clear path is not an ideological street parade, complete with marching bands and protesters.