As I’ve written about before I’m not a lactivist, I firmly believe that you should feed your baby in the way that works best for you both, and if it’s bottle it’s bottle, if it’s breast it’s breast. As long as your baby eats so be it. However, as breast feeding is what worked for us and I had no desire to be housebound until she’s weened I knew I would at some point have to face the daunting prospect of breast feeding in public.
There’s a lot of debate about this in the land of the internet. Some believe you should never breast feed in public, it’s inappropriate and should be kept for private, whereas at the other end of the spectrum others believe that you should unleash the breast, dripping nipple and all, onto the world and let it hang out for all to see as it’s the most natural thing in the world and feeding the baby is what matters not others sensibilities. I land somewhere in the middle. I feel there is no reason not to breast feed in public, others eat in public why shouldn’t Rose and it is a natural healthy thing to do. I also am aware that not everyone wants to see my boobs, and to be quite honest I don’t want the world seeing my nipples.
My plan was to just drape a shawl over my shoulder, pop out a boob and plug in the baby. I was TERRIFIED. We sat in a coffee shop ready for me to feed and suddenly I felt like the entire room was staring at me, I felt like some were judging me, others were celebrating me, and others were just hoping to get a glimpse of nip. Of course, this is ridiculous, I doubt anyone had actually noticed me. They wouldn’t have noticed me had I not intended to breast feed and baring in mind I was just sat there clutching a baby in one hand and a shawl in the other with knuckles so white I may as well have been riding the Oblivion, there was no reason for them to observe my presence beyond “That woman might be about to have a mental break down”.
“I can’t do it I can’t do it!” I wailed to my mum, grabbed my bags and headed out whilst Rose got grumpier and grumpier as she was hungry and finds not being fed the instant she feels a pang to be the most offensive and neglectful thing in the world.
We took refuge in the Mothercare feeding and changing room across the street. A safe haven with comfortable benches, bottle warmers and changing tables. It was “public” but private and I managed my first successful out of the house feed. It was a small step but I felt proud.
Gradually over the weeks I have become more and more confident and more and more adept at whipping out a boob without anyone noticing. I feed at the gym, in pubs, in coffee shops, wherever she needs feeding I feed her. Why shouldn’t I? My baby is hungry, I have the equipment to rectify that situation, and nobody has to see anything.
I had my first dirty look, or at least first dirty look I’ve ever been aware of, in Pizza Hut a few weeks ago. We’ve eaten in Pizza Hut a couple of times since having her and they have always been so lovely and accommodating, moving furniture to allow the pram to fit beside the table, not blinking at all when serving us when I’m feeding her. Plus last time I managed to send a forkful of couscous I was attempting to eat left handed whilst breastfeeding flying across the floor, the table, and even some got into the pram. I didn’t know I could fit that much in my mouth let alone on the fork! I was so embarrassed but the waitress was such a poppet, laughed, said she understood and not to worry about it these things happen. This particular occasion however we were sat within viewing distance of a family who clearly took offence. My mum went to the salad bar for me whilst I draped my shawl, popped out my boob, and plugged in Miss Rose who began gratefully sucking away as though she hadn’t been fed in days. The wife/mother caught my eye and gave me a disgusted look, the proper up down judgement eyes, then turned and whispered something to her husband and those at the table who then turned to give me the same filthy look. Had it been my first attempt at public feeding I believe it may well have been my last as at first I felt very small, very ashamed, and embarassed. Fortunately I quickly snapped out of it and figured it’s their problem not mine and carried on just grateful my mother hadn’t been there to witness it as she would have got her Mama Bear going and defended my honour… possibly even taken off her earrings to do so.
My advice to those who are looking to breast feed in public but aren’t sure how they will cope is that you should build up to it slowly, and expect that most of the time people won’t even realise what you’re doing. If you’ve got a shawl draped over you and a baby tucked under then unless they are breast feeders themselves it is unlikely to occur to them that that’s what is happening. Also don’t feel like you’re letting The Sisterhood down if you choose to tuck yourself away somewhere private to feed. Yes it would be great if breast feeding in public was so much the norm that nobody felt they had to hide, but it isn’t, and if the only way you can breast feed is to do it privately and that is what you want to do, then do it privately. It is nobody’s business if that is what works for you so don’t feel shame.
And if you are the type to cast angry or disgusted looks at a mother feeding her child then this probably isn’t the blog for you, and just ask yourselves what would have happened to the human race if everyone felt breast feeding was disgusting back through history.
You can check out all my contact info an links on http://www.jjbarnes.co.uk, I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so you can get in touch on there, as well as find links to all my work. There’s also http://www.sirenstories.co.uk which has all the work by both myself and The Boy (Jonathan McKinney) and loads of extra content such as background stories for different characters. If you want to subscribe on Patreon, its just $1 a month to help support our work and it also grants you access to our extra podcast a week, you can go to http://www.patreon.com/sirenstories.
Thanks as always for reading, and I’ll speak to you soon I hope!