Natural or nasty? Breast debate rages

Breastfeeding is a normal part of life and nurturing a baby.
Breastfeeding is a normal part of life and nurturing a baby. 

Teenagers can watch half-naked pop stars in raunchy music videos and view bikini-clad celebrities in magazines, but it seems the sight of a breastfeeding mother is too confronting.

A Melbourne high school has reignited a long-running debate after it cancelled a breastfeeding demonstration for year 7 and 8 students because they did not have parental consent.

parental consent was necessary before children could watch a woman breastfeed her baby.

The lesson - which was part of a class on the life cycle and how babies are cared for - was designed to demonstrate how natural it is for a mother to nurse her child.

But staff at Hume Central Secondary College in Broadmeadows proved that breastfeeding is still a touchy topic when it cancelled the demonstration.

Principal Glenn Proctor said he had to be "sensitive" to all the nationalities at the school and he felt parental consent was necessary before children could watch a woman breastfeed her baby.

Sarah Simmonds, a volunteer from the Australian Breastfeeding Association's community education program, had been invited to the school earlier this month with her four-month-old son Billy.

When she and another volunteer arrived staff told them they could demonstrate how to bath the baby but asked her not to breastfeed. "They told me that they hadn't asked the parents specifically do they mind their children seeing a child breastfed, so because we haven't asked explicitly we won't let you do it," Ms Simmonds said.

"Our message was it's natural and you can do it anywhere - except here. It was such a mixed message for the kids. We were trying to convey that this is something that every mum should be able to do and every child should have the opportunity to be breastfed and that we shouldn't have to think about where we are and whether it's appropriate."

Social networking site Facebook provoked an international furore last year when it removed pictures of mothers nursing their babies from women's profiles because they could be deemed "obscene" or "pornographic."


Mr Proctor agreed a woman should be free to breastfeed wherever she chose, but in a classroom parental permission should be sought. He has invited the group back to the school at a later date when parents would be informed and a full demonstration could proceed.

Ms Simmonds said she had worn a special breastfeeding top so the demonstration would be discreet. "It was a great place to do it, in a controlled environment so that hopefully when a kid sees someone breastfeeding in public they don't snigger and say, 'Ooh, I can see part of her breast.' It's just like, 'That's a kid having some food.' "

Karen Ingram, spokeswoman for the Breastfeeding Association, said the association's education programs had been delivered to up to 100 Australian schools a year for the past 30 years.

"The purpose is to provide awareness of breastfeeding as a normal part of life and nutrition and nurturing a baby," Ms Ingram said.

A spokesman for the Education Department said there was no strict policy on getting consent for such a demonstration. "Schools are responsive to their local community needs and deliver age-appropriate health programs such as these in consultation with their school community. Since principals and staff have a duty of care to students, they would decide on appropriate speakers and organisations."

This story first appeared in Sunday Life magazine, in the Sun-Herald and Sunday Age.

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