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
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.
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.
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!