Public breastfeeding

A breastfeeding protest in Nice, France. Image: Snapper.

I was only nineteen, out with my boyfriend while he was on a uni assignment. He was a surveying student and had to measure a piece of land near the Yarra River. As he went over the hill to find survey pegs, I sat on a bank enjoying the sunshine. The whole place was deserted – or so I thought.

As I gazed at the water, quite suddenly a man appeared from down in the bushes, walking towards me – stark naked! He stood in front of me for a few moments, jiggling his ‘bits’. It took all of those moments to realise – he’s flashing at me! Perhaps because he got no reaction, he turned and ran back into the bushes.

I put my delayed reaction down to being so used to seeing naked men at work every day. You see, I worked as a nurse in a busy hospital X-ray department. I was asking people to take their clothes off all day long, for medical procedures. I had seen so many naked men, I was completely desensitised to one more man with his gear off, even though this experience was rather out of my usual context.

Gwen Stefani breastfeeding son Zuma at a park in Los Angeles. Image: Snapper

Gwen Stefani breastfeeding son Zuma at a park in Los Angeles. Image: Snapper

The thing is, if more mummies felt comfortable enough to ‘get em out’ we could get used to seeing breastfeeding as normal, rather than something that should be done ‘discreetly’, behind wraps and capes and closed doors - even toilet doors in some places.

No, I am not suggesting that every new mum should immediately be bullied into breastfeeding to show the world what her boobs are really made for. And I don’t agree that Princess Kate should be pressured to be a poster girl for breastfeeding in public. Goodness knows, she deserves privacy and support to adjust to becoming a mum just like any new mother, without a paparazzi feeding frenzy. Public breastfeeding isn’t about ‘making a statement’. It’s simply about normalising a mother’s right to feed her baby and a baby’s right to be fed, and for this to be accepted as, well, normal.

I know it can be tricky enough to manage latching a squirmy baby onto full, squirting breasts, without feeling pressured to do this while trying to juggle a latte in a very busy cafe. And I know it takes time for most women to feel as though they have breastfeeding ‘sorted’ enough to manage ‘getting them out’ in front of friends and family, let alone complete strangers. But, I’d love to encourage women who are confident with breastfeeding to take a little step at a time out of their comfort zone and build up to nursing wherever they are. After all, isn’t one of the most wonderful benefits of breastfeeding that your baby’s food is so portable? You don’t have to pack food, however long you go out for – if you are invited to stay for lunch, you know you already have your baby’s meal ready, warm and waiting. And who has time to express bottles of milk just to avoid breastfeeding in public? Caution: even if you express before you go out, skipping feeds and becoming too full can lead to leaking (which is much more embarrassing than whipping out a boob), as well as blocked ducts and mastitis, so it’s really easier to simply feed the baby.

<b>Sydney, NSW; January 2013 </b> - Up to 200 women protest outside the Sunrise studios on Jan 21, 2013 after host David Koch said that women should be ‘more discreet and modest’’ when breastfeeding in public. Picture at left from Twitter, at right from Sunrise Nurse-in Facebook page. Click for more photos

Breastfeeding protests around the world

Sydney, NSW; January 2013 - Up to 200 women protest outside the Sunrise studios on Jan 21, 2013 after host David Koch said that women should be ‘more discreet and modest’’ when breastfeeding in public. Picture at left from Twitter, at right from Sunrise Nurse-in Facebook page.

  • <b>Sydney, NSW; January 2013 </b> - Up to 200 women protest outside the Sunrise studios on Jan 21, 2013 after host David Koch said that women should be ‘more discreet and modest’’ when breastfeeding in public. Picture at left from Twitter, at right from Sunrise Nurse-in Facebook page.
  • <b>Woonona, NSW; January 2013 </b> Mums in in the Illawarra region show their support for the Sunrise nurse-in by breastfeeding at the picturesque Woonona pools. Picture: Ellen McNally, Facebook.
  • <b>Bribie Island, QLD: January 2013 </b> approximately 30 mothers breastfeed around the pool at the Bribie Island Aquatic Centre after mother Liana Webster was asked by a staff member to cover up or move when breastfeeding her baby several days earlier. Picture: Channel Nine
  • <b>Costa Rica, Brazil; January 2013</b> Around 50 mothers attended a 'mamaton' in a shopping centre food court, sparked by one woman's run-in with a security guard - she had been asked her to stop breastfeeding her 11-month-old in public, being told she should move to the parents' room. It set off a social media storm, with even the president adding his voice to the support for the women.
  • <b>Georgia, USA; September 2012</b> Mothers around America joined in nurse-ins at different Applebee's restaurants last year. The events were sparked when a woman, who was breastfeeding her 20-month-old in a back booth of a Covington Applebee's, was told to move to the toilets or leave. She refused to do either, and the manager called the police. There was widespread support for the Applebee's nurse-ins.
  • Other images from the Applebee's nurse-ins.
  • <b>Dublin, Ireland; June 2012</b> As part of their rule against hosting nude photos, Facebook regularly removes images of women breastfeeding from the site. A group of 40 women attended a protest at Facebook's Dublin office while other women gathered at offices around the world, all campaigning to have breastfeeding photos allowed on the site. Facebook didn't respond to their requests.
  • <b>Bristol, UK; July 2012</b> More than 200 breastfeeding mothers descended on a cafe to support one woman, who had been berated by a waitress for feeding her baby at a table. 'You see girls in nightclubs barely wearing any clothes all the time, so why would someone have a problem with me feeding my child?" the mother said.
  • <b>Columbia, USA; March 2012</b> In Columbia, Georgia, anyone caught breastfeeding in public face charges of indecent exposure and a maximum fine of $1000. When mum Nirvana Jeannette was asked to leave her church for breastfeeding her 4-month-old, and police told her she could be arrested for indecent exposure, she organised protests across the area. Signs read "Breast Milk: The Original Happy Meal" and "If adults can eat in public, so can babies."
  • <b>Brighton, England; December 2011</b> Claire Jones-Hughes was breastfeeding her 4-month-old daughter in a restaurant, after having "gone to a lot of effort to be discreet", when another group complained it was "unpleasant" and that she "should cover up more". To raise awareness of breastfeeding laws, she organised a nurse-in in a local public square, which was attended by 40 breastfeeding mums.
  • <b>Texas, USA; December 2011</b> One mum's bad experience at a Target store - while breastfeeding, staff surrounded her and told her she'd have to do it in a changing room - led to a national nurse-in in other stores in the chain. Around 50 women attended the event in Webster, Texas, where the original incident had taken place.
  • <b>Forest Park, Georgia, USA; May 2011</b> In 2011, this city council passed a public indecency law, saying women are unable to breastfeed in public once their child turns two. Around 200 women showed up for a nurse in in front of the city hall. "Breastfeeding women have to take a stand against laws like this or the laws will become even worse," said one woman. "Next, they'll say you can only nurse infants up to the age of one."
  • <b>Montreal, Canada; January 2011</b> Shannon Smith was shopping in a children's store when the youngest of her three children was hungry. She moved to a corner to feed her five month old, covering her with a blanket, but was asked to leave the store. After Smith wrote a blog post detailing her experience, around 100 mums held nurse-ins at shopping centres in protest.

By taking tiny steps towards ‘busting out’  in public, you will be normalising breastfeeding, you will be helping to desensitise the people who think breastfeeding is a ‘private’ act that should be done in bathrooms, bedrooms and toilets, like peeing or having sex. And you will be making things just that little bit easier for other mothers too. Soon, it might be normal to feed your baby, just as nature intended, wherever, whenever, without making headlines because some dumb twit has asked you to ‘cover 'em up’ or suggested you should be ‘discreet’ in case you make somebody else feel uncomfortable.

Baby steps to breastfeeding in public

If you are anxious about baring your boobs or your wobbly bits (often new mums are more self-conscious about mummy tummies), try breastfeeding in front of a mirror – which clothes do you feel most comfortable wearing? Are you really baring it all, or does it just feel as though you are?

Of course there are all sorts of fancy feeding tops and ‘hooter hiders’ but you don’t need special ‘breastfeeding’ clothes. Instead of unbuttoning a shirt or pulling clothing open from the top to feed, wear a loose top or tee-shirt that can be pulled up: your baby will cover your tummy and most of your breast will be covered by your top.

If you have a bigger baby who is easily distracted and whips his head around to look at every noise, leaving your boobs dangling, check out Pinky’s Boobie Beads. These can help keep your baby focussed on feeding, and give him something to play with as you enjoy a chat after he’s finished feeding.   

Remember, other people’s hang-ups are not your responsibility. If they don’t want to see a baby eating, they can put a cover over THEIR heads!