Monday 5 March 2012

Breastfeeding: Stop Staring at Me

This morning I took my daughter for her eight week check. The waiting room at my Doctor's is adorned with signs explaining it is a breastfeeding friendly space, and there are cartoon images of breastfeeding women on the walls. This is all simply to make women feel comfortable breastfeeding, because the waiting room has no choice whether women breastfeed or not, their right to is protected by law.

The Sexual Discrimination Act protects a woman's right to breastfeed in public, and so it bloody should. Women cannot be asked to stop breastfeeding in public places such as restaurants, cafes, surgeries, on buses etc. Hopefully most breastfeeding mothers are aware of this. But to add extra peace of mind, many places now display signs (such as the ones at my Doctor's surgery) to ensure women know they are free to breastfeed.
This is all very well and good, but it is the general public who often make breastfeeding mothers feel unwelcome, or this is my experience anyway. Take today as a rather extreme example.
I was in my overtly breastfeeding-friendly doctor's surgery, discretely feeding my daughter, when a man said: "Can I have a drink too?"
This completely took me surprise. I looked up to find a toothless old man staring at me. My first thought was: "Ah, so that's where that funny smell was coming from.", the second was "F*ck you."
I didn't say it out loud, mostly because I was completely taken aback and could do little other than stare at him in disbelief. I mean, a complete stranger, who was sat very close to me, basically just said: “Can I suck your tits?”
I didn’t say anything, I was too shocked. It was a quiet waiting room, and I’m sure if I’d tried to make a witty, concise statement it would have turned into a long screechy rant. There were other people in the waiting room, and they too were all staring at the man with looks of disgust and disbelief. At least the audience was on my side.
This was a particularly strange encounter, but breastfeeding women are no stranger to audience participation in what is a private act. It seems some people don’t realise that you are allowed to breastfeed in public. My friend who works in a cafe said she will often have customers coming over to inform her that a woman is breastfeeding, and these customers are often surprised to discover that this is legally acceptable. Clearly to them it is not yet socially acceptable.
A couple of weeks ago, the hideous tramps on Loose Women discussed breastfeeding in public, one of them said that she had always made the effort to breastfeed in the toilet. She also pointed out that if a man took his penis out he would be flashing. Well yes, he would. What has that got to do with breastfeeding?
Let’s go back to her first point, and imagine the scene... You’re in a cafe, enjoying a nice pot of tea when you decide you’d like something a bit more substantial. You make your way to the toilets. Upon opening the first cubicle door you discover that a previous visitor has left a (rather messy) surprise in the bowl for you. You decide to try the next cubicle. There’s a bit of urine on the seat, but you wipe that off with the toilet paper provided. It’s a shame about the smell radiating from the next cubicle, but you have no options. You whip out your packed lunch and tuck in. You wouldn’t do it would you, so why would you expect your baby to eat in the toilet?
A feed can last up to 40 minutes, is society really expecting me to sit in a  toilet cubicle for 40 minutes to feed my baby, even though by law I can feed her in the actual cafe? Then consider the number of times a baby feeds each day, if I’m out should I keep returning to the unhygienic and depressing toilet cubicle to feed her?
Breastfeeding isn’t a form of exhibitionism, I’m not trying to get attention or show off my baps. I’m not trying to push boundaries, I’m not breaking the law, I’m not trying to arouse, offend or shock. I’m merely trying to feed my hungry baby before she starts crying. Please don’t look at me in disgust, or whisper to your middle aged friends about me. I don’t care if this wasn’t “the done thing in your day”. It is in mine. And if it wasn’t, I’d be one of the women campaigning for change.

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