I find it sad that there is a currently a debate in the UK on whether mothers should openly breastfeed in public. It makes me angry because I believe it shouldn't even be a debate. If eating in public is natural, why is breast-feeding any different?
Recently a mother was criticised for "flopping out her breast" in a pub whilst she breastfed her baby on Mother's Day. TV presenter Holly Willoughby then sparked a huge debate by defending the breastfeeding mum when she said some babies are afraid of the dark and mothers should not have to cover up.
As a mother who recently gave birth to my fifth baby and is enjoying the joys of breastfeeding, I completely agree with Holly. I do not see any reason why any mother should cover her breast in public whilst she is feeding her baby. The baby should be free to feed without being covered up. Do adults cover up when they eat in public? So why should babies be abused by being covered by blankets and hidden away whilst they feed? Why punish the baby? I believe there should be more rights to protect breastfeeding mothers in the UK. If anyone is offended by a breast of a nursing mother, then they are the one with the problem.
When I was growing up in Africa, I never saw the breast of a woman as something inappropriate or indecent, especially that of a woman nursing a child. I saw women breastfeeding their babies in parks, on buses, sitting under trees, and at the markets. Even walking in the streets, a woman would just take her breast out and feed her child whilst walking. If a baby cried in public, the normal thing was for the mother to get her breast out and feed her baby, regardless of who was in her presence. No men were turned on or offended by the breast of a nursing mother. It was seen as the beauty of mother nature, where the well-being and life of a defenceless little child were solely dependent on the breast of its mother.
But today I live in a totally different society in the UK. Women who breastfeed in public are often shamed and deemed immoral. The irony of it is that this is a culture where women posing topless in magazines and social media are seen as embracing their sexuality. Recently Beauty and the Beast actress Emma Watson posed topless for Vanity Fair and was celebrated as expressing her womanhood. No one was offended by Beyonce's pregnancy shoot where she posed semi naked and broke the record on social media. But people will be offended by the breast of a nursing mother. Oh the hypocrisy of it all!
I remember reading a story of a woman who was ordered off the bus for breastfeeding because a man had complained to the bus driver that she was indecently exposing herself. How can it be indecency? What's even sadder is the attitude breastfeeding mothers have developed because of the persecution. Most mothers are not comfortable to breastfeed their babies in public because of fear of being judged, humiliated, and shamed. When you are a new mother, you already feel vulnerable enough as it is, and it is awful that breastfeeding is seen as almost a crime.
I recently took my new born baby and my 12-year-old daughter shopping. When I sat on a bench to feed my baby, my daughter looked disturbed and said, "Mum cover your breast. You will get in trouble, breastfeeding in public is illegal you know". She was worried for my safety and kept looking around. I reassured her that breastfeeding in public was legal in the UK though the society can be quite hostile towards breastfeeding mothers. I told her I was safe to breastfeed and no one was going to arrest me though she wasn't convinced and thought I was somehow doing something wrong. This is how the society she lives in has conditioned her.
I do not care that breastfeeding openly in public is like taboo in the UK. I am a proud mother and I intend to enjoy all the blessings that comes with motherhood. There is nothing sacred or private about breastfeeding. It's simply called being a mother. The breasts where made for the purpose of feeding babies. I choose to feed my baby anywhere where she feels hungry, and I will not cover her up whilst she does the most natural thing. I will not punish my baby for being hungry. If everyone around me can eat in public without being ashamed or covered up, I see no reason why I should cover up my breast or the face of my baby whilst she feeds. I hope that one day there will be more rights and protection for nursing mothers. If anyone should be offended by our breasts, they should have the decency to simply not look and walk away, not the other way round. Breastfeeding is a very hard but rewarding job and no mother deserves to be castigated for it.
This article first appeared on www.jeangasho.com.