Monday, 8 August 2011

For and Against Breastfeeding in Public

One of the prolific debates in the Breastfeeding Mums Vs Formula Mums, and Breastfeeding Mums Vs The Rest of Society wars; it seems everyone has an opinion on breastfeeding in public. In this piece I lay out the arguments for and against nursing in public. I do not include the health benefits, as that would be too easy. Instead I focus solely on issues strictly related to the public side of breastfeeding.

Arguments FOR Breastfeeding in Public:

  1. Breastfeeding in public is more convenient than bottle feeding in public. Breastmilk is sterile and always at the correct temperature. No hunting around for somewhere to warm a bottle and waiting for it to be warmed whilst your baby abuses your, and everyone else’s, eardrums.
  2. Being a hermit is not much fun.
  3. You never forget to take your breasts out with you.
  4. Nursing covers are an unnecessary and highly unfashionable expense. They also act as a flag that says, “I am breastfeeding my baby now”, thus defeating the point.
  5. Try telling a hungry three month old, “wait until we get home”.
  6. It gets rid of the in-laws and other irritants (see this post).
  7. You will receive brownie points from intelligent, informed people. Some will approach and ask for your autograph.
  8. A nappy and a pack of wipes is all you need to take out with you. No bottles or formula to lug around.
  9. No formula powder, water or milk exploding in your bag.
  10. No having to go back home because you’ve ran out of milk.
  11. It normalises breastfeeding and encourages more mums to breastfeed. More women view breastfeeding, thus more women likely to breastfeed, which causes greater health for the nation, and less NHS expenditure.
  12. Expressing breastmilk is tedious and can reduce supply as well as risking nipple confusion.
  13. Not breastfeeding in public can lead to mums giving their baby formula for public outings (not everyone can express) thus damaging their baby’s virgin gut and diminishing their breastmilk supply.
  14. Not breastfeeding in public reinforces the myth that nursing is ‘obscene’ and should be obscured.
  15. Not breastfeeding in public harms the environment. A nursing mum would be using a lot of petrol driving back and forth between public and home for feedings. If she chooses to use formula for public outings, there is the added environmental damage caused by formula paraphernalia (Why Breastfeeding is Best for Babies...and the Environment. Eco-Mama).
  16. Not breastfeeding in public often leads to weaning too early (Poll Results: Moms Who Don’t Cover Do Breastfeed Longer. Breastfeeding Moms Unite)
  17. You’re not taking up a toilet cubical from someone waiting to use it for its intended purpose. (Would you eat your meal in a toilet?)
  18. You won’t have to declare your boobs for inspection at the airport.
  19. It’s hands free and facilitates effortless multitasking. Just place babe in a sling. Now you have both hands available to inspect bargains/eat cake/bitch on Mumsnet in Costa whilst feeding your baby the good stuff.
  20. Get a soothing oxytocin rush on tap. Perfect for de-stressing during a relentless shopping spree or intense family reunion (Breastfeeding and Resilience Against Psychosocial Stress. Arch Dis Child. 2006).
  21. Hunting around for a designated ‘Breastfeeding Area’ is like looking for a needle in a haystack. It is time-consuming and can be distressing with an inconsolable infant in tow.
  22. It’s your legal right. The Equality Act 2010 has made it illegal for anyone to ask a breastfeeding woman to leave a public place such as a cafe, shop or public transport (Click here for more info info about the law and how to sue).
  23. It’s a feminist act. “The more women breastfeed out in the open, the more everybody will get to see women's breasts fulfilling its natural function of feeding babies, the less taboo the breast becomes, and the less obsessed men will be by it.” (Breastfeeding in Public
    & Discreet Nursing. Female Intelligence Agency
  24. Cleaner clothes. Breastfed babies spit up less, and there’s nothing worse than being publically marinated in milk with no change of clothes (The Prevalence of Regurgitations in the First 2 Days of Life in Human Milk- and Formula-Fed Term Infants. Breastfeed Med. 2006).
  25. Harmonious outings. Nursing is a natural baby tranquiliser. Not only do the hormones released relax mum, they do the same for baby. So if your baby is fussing whilst you’re out, you can calm her down instantly. Thus saving you and Joe public from enduring screaming baby.
  26. Comfortable baby. No matter what the temperature is outside, your breasts heat your baby up more effectively than any blanket. They can detect a one degree drop in your baby’s temperature and warm up accordingly. Like a mobile hot water bottle. Likewise they can cool down if your baby is overheated. (Immediate Maternal Thermal Response to Skin-to-Skin Care of Newborn. Bergström A et al).
  27. It’s a confidence booster. Once you’ve got the hang of this public breastfeeding lark it feels liberating. It boosts your confidence as a mother when you see your ability to meet your child’s needs immediately and on demand.
  28. Random strangers will wait on you. Most people are aware that breastfeeding can be thirsty work. From shop assistants to waiters - free beverages coming your way!
  29. It helps the economy and local businesses rather than simply lining the pockets of Cow & Gate et al. Mums who nurse in public spend their money in public cafes, coffee shops, restaurants and pubs rather than hiding at home.
  30. Breastmilk ‘from the source’ is permanently fresh, whereas prepared formula can only be kept unrefrigerated for 1 hour (Formula Feeding FAQs. Kids Health). Is that enough time to go anywhere? Readymade formula cartons stay useable for longer but are significantly more expensive.
  31. The ‘blanket over the head’ look is so 1990s.
  32. The wet t-shirt look is equally outdated. Your baby will cry and your breasts WILL respond whether convenience allows or not. Yes your breasts have ears, and like babies, breasts are impatient.
  33. Less risk of mastitis as your breasts will be emptied regularly.
  34. Your older children are not restricted by their younger sibling’s need to nurse. They can visit the same places and participate in the same activities as any other child.
  35. It’s ironic but not breastfeeding in public is antisocial. You have to leave interesting conversations/dinners/parties to nurse in a room on your own for an indefinite amount of time.
  36. Breastfeeding in public helps to heal lactophobic people. Research shows that the best way to overcome a phobia is Exposure Therapy. “This consists of exposing you to the very thing you are afraid of” (Phobia Fear Release. Heering. J). People who have a negative response to viewing breastfeeding need to view more of it, then the act will no longer elicit a sensational reaction.

Arguments AGAINST Breastfeeding in Public:

  1. Upon seeing you breastfeed every formula feeder within a 1 mile radius will launch into a 20 minute presentation on why they “couldn’t” breastfeed.
  2. Your boob might get cold.


Emily O said...

Love it. I have to say I never experienced my boob getting cold. I once breastfed my daughter on a very cold, windy hilltop in March and we were so well wrapped up there was no chilliness. Despite having breastfed three children I was always awkward breastfeeding in public. I used to make the most of quiet breastfeeding rooms. And although these are a great facility they also hide away breastfeeding mums which picks up on your point 11 - the more mums who breastfeed in public the easier it becomes for everyone else to either do themselves or accept.

Ellie said...

I object vehemently to your first point against breastfeeding in public. I failed to breastfeed each of my three sons, and am still more than capable of cheering/being happy if I see someone breastfeeding in public.

Failing to breastfeed was a really sad experience for me, contributed to postnatal depression, and made me feel like a failure as a mother. Maybe I could have fed, had I had the right information and support - but given the information and support that I did have, I did my best to breastfeed - even going so far as to throw my HV out of the house when she pushed me to supplement no2 son with formula (he had lost a lot of his birthweight and had failed to regain almost all of it), and told me she 'had to think of the baby's best interests'!!

For whatever reason, none of my children put on weight on my milk. If I had known why, I would have moved heaven and earth to change that fact, but I didn't.

What good does it do to tar all formula feeders with the same brush?

Alpha Parent said...

Ellie, with all due respect, have you read my breastfeeding story? I think you will identify with it:

Ellie said...

I have read it now - and apologies for not reading it earlier (I reacted solely to this post, which, in retrospect, might have been a mistake).

It seems as though you went through an awful lot more than I did, but as you say, I can identify with a lot of your experiences - I too tried pumping to boost my supply in order to relactate for No1 son, and produced derisory amounts - and gave up after a week, unlike you.

I have photos of no2 son, who was hospitalised at 6 weeks old with a 'Failure to thrive' diagnosis - and he was a pale, skinny waif of a baby (an image that still gives me huge pain, even though he is a strapping 16 year old who is 4" taller than me). The hospital kept us in until I agreed to start supplementing him with formula. Of course, there was no support for my breastfeeding attempts, or information, or anything - I was left alone in a room with him, with the staff just seeing us to weigh him and tell me he still wasn't gaining weight. I felt I had no choice, and once I started supplementing, my breastfeeding was over.

Your story is heartbreaking, and I am sorry I didn't realise what was behind what you posted today. Perhaps my response to you was over sensitive - I am constantly surprised by how raw the issue still is for me, even though my boys are 14, 16 and 18 - and all taller than I am (and fighting fit and healthy).

Apologies if I have upset you.

s said...

Prior to having my baby, I thought nursing moms should "be discreet." When I first started nursing in public, I did it in a restroom. I'll never forget the scared look on my daughter's face when someone flushed the toilet. She deserves to eat in a place that is comfortable for her just like all us do. I love this post :)

Alpha Parent said...

S I too thought breastfeeding should be discreet before I had children. My opinion was "can't they just express?" I had an ignorant optimistic view of pumping: "I'll pump gallons in one sitting!" Boy was I silly!

happytribekg said...

Loved reading this, your writing style is to the point, informative and funny! Have you read my blog?

MaybeMum said...

When I started work in a department store I had a little stool with a sign stating "breastfeeders only!". Whenever I saw a BF mum on one of our stupidly low benches trying to get comfy, I would come running out with the stool so they could put their feet up and relax.

It was something that everyone else on the floor soon picked up on and used. I know that they have now converted one of the changing rooms in the childrens department to a breastfeeding room. Most of the time there is a queue!

Sara from the Momzelle blog said...

Excellent post! I particularly like #36, about taking the sensationalism out of the act. The more it's done, the less of an issue it will be. Very humourous and well-written.

Alpha Parent said...

Thanks for the feedback everyone!

Little Me said...

Oh my goodness. Why on earth do you think all formula feeders disapprove of women breastfeeding in public? In fact what place does discussion of feeding in public have in the breast feeding vs formula feeding debate which you mention?

And what on earth makes you think that we all want to explain why we couldn't breastfeed or chose not to breastfeed?

I see plenty of women breastfeed in public and even if I'm sat right next to them and strike up a conversation I have never brought their chosen feeding methods into the conversation.

It seems that this debate is limited in fact to the US and UK. In Europe no-one bats an eyelid whatever way you choose to feed your child.

mamabearuk said...

Haha love it! I only felt awkward until I did it the first time. I have a friends who literally just flops her breast out and doesn't even try to cover up or be discreet to which I feel a little uncomfortable about but not as uncomfortable as any waiters who gets a full on view of boob and nipple :)

Britt said...
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