Tell Me Not to Breastfeed in Your Restaurant and I'll Bite You
Ahhh, breastfeeding in public, that old stretch-marked, heaving, leaking chestnut. It's 2014, but apparently people—particularly restaurant owners—seem to have a problem with it. But why does it bother people to see a baby being fed, particularly when...
Image via Flickr user Daniel Lobo
Ahhh, breastfeeding in public, that old stretch-marked, heaving, leaking chestnut. Non-lactating bosoms on show have always generated some heat, from the Janet "wardrobe malfunction" Jackson Super Bowl fiasco of 2004 to the ongoing No More Page Three campaign. But, add some warm, squirting milk, and everyone's got an opinion. It's the perfect example of the personal and the political, all encased in a soft cup maternity bra. Somehow, somewhere along the way, feeding your baby in a public place became a thing to get properly riled up about.
I've had five babies and breastfed them all. Over the last nine years of ferocious infant-rearing, I've fed my babies on the Hammersmith & City line, at the Western Eye Hospital waiting room, in planes, at the zoo, at The Wolseley, in school assemblies, at Carluccio's, in parked cars, on buses, at the Science Museum, on the grounds of Buckingham Palace, at a Stella McCartney for H&M scrum, at parties, and at many a park bench. I've never bothered with a scarf or one of those dreadful, lilac-hued Mothercare breastfeeding shirts that "discretely" flap open to unleash an engorged, leaking boob. I just lift up my T-shirt, yank a breast out of a (non-maternity) bra, and wait for the letdown to nourish my child. A bit of creamy exposed bosom-skin doesn't worry me in the least. Frankly, I take any chance to give my rather improved perky bosoms a public airing.
Perhaps I've been very lucky, though, in avoiding the obvious wrath of the Public Breastfeeding Haters. In March, a woman was photographed breastfeeding her baby which was then posted anonymously online where she was labelled a "tramp." In the US, a mother was recently asked to stop feeding her baby at a Friendly's restaurant and asked to "cover up" while the manager apparently asked her if she "thought she was offending anyone." In both these cases, swift demonstrations were held by gangs of strident, fed-up lactating mothers who breastfed their babies outside both locations in solid defiance of such prudish, ridiculous and offensive breastfeeding complaints.
I know I have had hard, stabby eyes (often belonging to older women, sadly) give me the "look" over the years, but I have never been challenged outright about my feeding in public, and especially not in restaurants. I think I probably emit some sort of wild, if-you-dare-say-a-word-to-me-about-feeding-this-child-I-might-bite-you, sleep-deprived aura.
Or is it simply that boobs, when not hanging out of a plunging V-neck (when their sexy becomes utility) disappoint? Maybe it just makes everyone remember their order hasn't yet arrived.
In any case, the closest I have come to any comment was when my first baby and I were in the waiting room of a post-partum physiotherapist at the hospital, and I was spontaneously offered a curtained-off area "where I might feel more comfortable breastfeeding." I declined, complained, and got an apology. My friend told me that at her own first daughter's christening—when her baby was weeks old and breastfeeding was still difficult and stressful—she was asked (by one of her elderly female guests at the luncheon afterwards) to stop feeding her baby and leave the room. It's your party, lady, and I'll thank you for the champagne, but don't do that in front of me.
Why does it bother people to see a baby being fed, particularly when everyone else is eating? Watching a baby latch onto a mother's body and begin to feed is such a visceral, powerful thing, a reminder that we are what we are—blood, flesh and bones, driven by biology, and this could be uncomfortable to confront. Or is it simply that boobs, when not hanging out of a plunging V-neck, when their sexy becomes utility, disappoint? Maybe it just makes everyone remember their order hasn't yet arrived.
Partly, I think that my breastfeeding-in-public-ease comes from having a strong sense that not doing so would be inconvenient and dumb, and would result in much screaming and unnecessary hunger. The desire to keep your baby alive is a strong one. And I have never felt that public toilets were particularly nice places to hang around in, by yourself, kind of lonely and feeling a bit unacceptable, breathing in the stench of pissy floors.
Also, it must be admitted, I have small boobs—so small that the baby's head pretty much obscures any kind of view. Any breastfeeding fetishist is going to be disappointed when my measly, milky orbs disappear behind a tawny head. You'd have to shove the baby out of the way to see anything very titillating. I think even the baby struggles to find them, sometimes.
For me, breastfeeding was (and still is—there's a little fella attached to my breast as I write, all snuffly and warm and fat) a lovely thing to do, and I would defend to the end my right to do it anywhere. In case we need the legal backup, the Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal for anyone to ask a breastfeeding woman to leave a public place including a cafe, shop, or public transport.
So, my lactating, fierce, and wonderful sisters, put the pashmina down. Shrug yourself out of your weird, flappy, special breastfeeding top and bare your lovely, bosomy flesh. Feed that baby, and the haters be damned.