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Breastfeeding in public in the news again

January 17, 2013

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Here is a photo of me breastfeeding E2 at one of the protests we organised in Perth back in 2009 to protest against the fact that breastfeeding mums were not specifically protected under law in Western Australia. We won – an Opposition member introduced a private members’ bill because the Premier, Colin Barnett, didn’t think it was “necessary” (because I’m sure he’s never been asked to leave somewhere just for feeding his child).

Now despite breastfeeding mums being legally protected in every state of Australia, this kind of crap still goes on, where a young mum in Queensland was asked to leave a swimming pool for breastfeeding her baby.

What really gets me riled up is the proliferation of stupidity in the comments. It’s the same old chestnuts:

1. Sure breastfeeding is natural, but so is urinating/defecating. Oh please, don’t compare a baby eating to someone expelling waste products from their body. A breastfeeding mother is not standing there releasing a stream of breastmilk into public places, the milk is coming out because a baby is drinking it. This is nothing like going to the toilet.

2. There are mother’s rooms to do “that” in!

Yeh, there are, and I sometimes used them, particularly when my babies were at a distractible stage, because if your baby pulls off every 2 minutes to look at people walking past, it hurts and it gets annoying. But many of these mother’s rooms/parenting rooms are gross. They are next to toilets or even co-located with toilets and smell gross. Would you eat in a toilet?

Not to mention that when you have other kids with you, they don’t want to be cooped up in a small room instead of playing or eating their own lunch or what have you. And there’s no reason that they should be.

3. Won’t someone think of the poor menzzz?

It’s very awkward for men when women breastfeed! Seeing a glimpse of a breast may turn them into uncontrollable sexual beasts or embarrass them because breasts are sexy. Where do they look? (Some people find ankles really sexy, by the way.)

Here’s a novel idea. If you’re talking to a breastfeeding mum, make eye contact the way you would normally. I carried on many a conversation with my father and brother in hospital breastfeeding a newborn, because they see breastfeeding as completely normal (yes, even a teenage boy). My father-in-law, on the other hand, turned red and made some excuse to get out of the room, taking my brother-in-law with him, the minute the baby started rooting at the breast – even the third time! If you’re not talking to her, don’t stare at her boobs (and at the swimming pool, there’s usually a lot more breast on display than your average breastfeeding mum shows).

People shouldn’t be awkward with breastfeeding. If you are, see it as something you should improve, not an excuse for you to criticise the breastfeeding mum. Don’t bring your kids up to think this way.

4. Breastfeeding is wonderful, but it’s an intimate, private moment and should be kept thus.

OK, this one really annoys me. It’s couched in nicey-nicey terms like the writers think they’re doing us a favour. Whatever.

Yes, breastfeeding is a beautiful thing, it’s special. Heck, I got all nostalgic searching through my photos to find that one of me and E2 as she is now about to start school. But trust me, when you’ve been breastfeeding for years straight, or even when you’ve only been breastfeeding a few months but it’s so damn constant, right then it is about feeding your baby, nourishing him/her and keeping him/her happy. That’s it.

I didn’t sit there with my two other kids running round in a glow of “specialness” when E2 was feeding. Babies feed a lot, much of the time I had my mind on other things and we had our little reflection moments at night or early in the morning.

It’s not “private” and “intimate” for this purpose any more than bottlefeeding a baby; it is simply meeting your baby’s need at that moment. Calling it private and intimate just so you can tell mothers they shouldn’t be doing it in public is bullshit.

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