I’ve been wanting to write this post since I first heard Holly McNish’s spoken word, “Embarrassed”. It’s all about breast-feeding, so if that’s not something that interests you, maybe skip this one. To get things straight, I’m not talking about the debate between bottle and breast. That is one that has no right or wrong answer, and one you really shouldn’t be weighing into unless you have, or plan to have, children. The debate I’m talking about is the one relating to breast-feeding in public—the freedom to provide nourishment to your child whenever and wherever needed.
You see, some people think that nursing in public is unacceptable, claiming it’s too intimate, too lewd, or just plain inappropriate. Mothers have been asked to move to a more private location, which often ends up being the closest public bathroom or mother’s room. Others have been victims of nasty, negative comments. And even public figures have declared their aversion to public nursing.
Now, I’ve not yet breastfed a child but, when the time comes, I know for sure I’ll be popping my top and opening the milk bar whenever and wherever my kid asks. Why? Because my kid is hungry, that’s why. That’s really the only reason needed, and certainly the only explanation I’m going to provide anyone who questions me. Perhaps I’ll add that it’s my legal right and, if I’m feeling particularly sassy, offer them a sip. But I certainly won’t be hunkering down in a bathroom stall, or hiding out in my car.
I understand what those who don’t like public nursing are saying, but most of the arguments come from a place of negativity, closed-mindedness, or simple prudery. And all can be refuted with very simple logic and a handful of facts, as this brilliant post by Elsinora demonstrates. So, while I recognise the hesitations, I think they need a bit more thinking-through, if only because of the negative impact of such views.
Imagine a new mother, still nervous and unsure of her abilities in caring for this precious creature, tutted and frowned at for feeding her hungry baby on a bus. How does a single mother of three choose between two of her children finishing their lunch while her baby cries for food, or letting the older children go without because she must leave the café to feed the infant? What of the baby fed in a dirty restroom, its head butted up against a needle disposal unit, mum perched precariously on a toilet with no lid? Yes, these are all more extreme examples, but they are also all very real, and certainly not the way women would ideally imagine feeding their child. More importantly, the element all these scenarios lack is true choice—the ability to select the best possible alternative for mother and baby, and the freedom to carry it out.
This might not seem like a big deal, especially for the non-kid-friendly. But here’s the thing: by removing a woman’s right to breastfeed in public—by making it a privilege—we begin to take away freedom, which is a commodity that is all too rare. More importantly, we take away respect, for both the mother and the child. We take a beautiful, natural act and reduce it to something undesirable, damaging, and even abhorrent to some.
In a world where we accept adult magazines, blatant sexualising in advertising, and adult jokes surreptitiously hidden in kid’s movies, it seems crazy that public nursing should even be an issue of debate. It’s not about being impolite, or flashing flesh inappropriately it’s simply about the ability to provide nourishment and care to a small human being. Shouldn’t that always be something we encourage?