THE BLOG

Stop Shaming Breastfeeding Women

11/03/2014 13:54 GMT | Updated 10/05/2014 10:59 BST

We shouldn't need breastfeeding champions to assert our rights as women. We shouldn't need to stage mass public breastfeeding events to assert our rights as mothers. We shouldn't need outpourings of support online to assert our rights to feed our children.

Yet following the actions of one anonymous internet troll, we are once again watching women come together to stand up for their basic human rights.

While the world celebrated International Women's Day over the weekend, a mother in Rugeley near Lichfield paused for a while during a shopping trip with her eight-month-old daughter. She put down her bags, sat on some steps on the street, and began breastfeeding her child.

A stranger took a photograph. Later, it was posted on Facebook alongside these words: "I know the sun is out an all that but there's no need to let your kid feast on you nipple in town! Tramp."

Emily Louise Slough, the breastfeeding mother in the photo, responded calmly with her own Facebook post. She announced that she was organising a public breastfeeding event in the town next weekend. Instead of being angry and replying to the abuse with abuse, she chose to be constructive. Slough is no doubt hoping that hundreds of women breastfeeding in public will do more than present a show of defiance. She is hoping the form of peaceful protest will help to change attitudes and to educate.

To see a breastfeeding woman subjected to such vile online abuse is hard to stomach. Slough, in the photograph, is clearly minding her own business. She is feeding herself and her child. That this most basic human act can provoke such a strong negative response is shocking and depressing. It is hard to believe we live in a world where a woman is publicly shamed for feeding her child. It is difficult to accept that a nursing mother can be ridiculed and bullied for simply nursing her baby. Watching a woman breastfeed in public might be an uncomfortable experience for some. Yet there can be no excuse for reacting with abuse.

Many women would not be able to react to the Facebook post with the same strength as Slough. Many would not have responded at all, let alone responded with such ambition, dignity and courage. Slough's actions are brave, yes, but it is also very sad that they are necessary. Another woman may have lost the courage to breastfeed in public, or lost the courage to breastfeed at all. Another woman, seeing the abuse, may never have gained the courage to begin breastfeeding a newborn baby. In these instances, the actions of one internet troll, one bully, one abuser - would have had far-reaching consequences for a mother and child.

On Saturday, mothers in Rugeley will come together to feed their children. They will carry out this most basic human act in the hope that they can change people's perspectives. If they do anything at all to remove prejudices or break down stigmas, they will have achieved a great deal.

The public shaming and ridiculing of breastfeeding women needs to stop. No woman should be humiliated or made to feel uncomfortable for feeding her child. For a mother to breastfeed her child is a gift, and it is a gift that should be encouraged. It is attitudes like those of the internet troll who photographed Slough that present massive barriers to new mothers. These are the barriers we need to erase - with education, with conversation, and with action.

Slough has organised an event on Saturday that will hopefully go some way towards achieving these goals. I wish her and all of the women who support her every success.