Breastfeeding in public is not an illegal activity in the UK. The laws of our country state the only time you can be discouraged from breastfeeding is if you whip a hooter out in a dangerous place, next to a nuclear reactor for example, or if you wanted to do it somewhere that, designated by law, provides a service solely for men.
Guided by this then, as a breastfeeding mother, where you choose to whip your wobblers out and sate your baby’s appetite, is limited solely by your imagination.
Yesterday I dared do it on a train (I know, outrageous). It was a mid-morning service, not a rush hour one, and the carriage was half empty. Even so, I sat in a seat designed for ‘those less able to stand’ and minding my own business I quietly breastfed The Babe.
Midway through our feed the lady sitting next to us stood up, turned to me and told me she ‘felt uncomfortable’ and then walked away.
I was unsure what she felt uncomfortable about, so just in case it was me breastfeeding my baby in public, I whipped out the other breast, switched The Babe onto it, and carried on.
I held my tongue (unusual for me). Her opinion is her opinion and my decision, when and how to feed my child, is my decision. I could have asked her to clarify her statement, but I chose not to engage, I didn’t want to hear her justifications for why my baby eating in public disgusted her so.
But I’ve been thinking about this incident ever since and I feel I ought to explain myself now, publicly, because I didn’t do it then, privately. I’m not ashamed or shy of being vulnerable in public, so on the off chance she might be reading this, here are a few reasons why I choose to get my melons out in public:
- My baby is hungry.
- My baby is hungry.
- I’m not a heartless, selfish monster who would rather my baby went hungry than risk offending the delicate disposition of a woman (with a small child herself I hasten to add) through a potential glance at a hint of a nipple, before it is quickly sucked into the tiny black hole that is my daughter’s mouth.
Just in case those reasons aren’t enough here are a few more as to why I deign to open my shirt, pull down my vest top slightly, unclip my bra and reveal a micro portion of a giant orb:
- My baby is tired and on the verge of having a meltdown of gargantuan proportions that could indeed be her tiny world coming to an end, it certainly feels like mine is.
- My baby is midway through said meltdown and needs calming down.
- My baby is overstimulated and needs a safe and comforting haven away from the storm.
And just in case I need to explain what I’m not doing when I whip a chesticle out in anticipation of feeding or soothing The Babe, I’m not:
- Trying to catch your attention so that I can either be sexy and flirt with you, or ask for your opinion on what I’m doing.
- Being inconsiderate to those around me.
- Making a statement.
- Flaunting my rights for the sake of it.
If I’d had the gumption to write a list, pre-Babe, about things that I would come to care about post-Babe, breastfeeding would not be on it.
I genuinely had no idea how divisive breastfeeding was. I assumed, rather naively, that everyone understood that however one chooses to feed their child, simply being fed is always going to be best. I know, stupid right?
For me, nine times out of ten I will feed The Babe with my homegrown sustenance, but when the tanks are empty I will feed her with shop bought provisions. My tanks aren’t bottomless, unlike her stomach.
So yes, I could have avoided the ‘situation’ I found myself in yesterday by preparing a bottle to take with me, but why would I spend my time:
- Sterilising a bottle
- Measuring out formula
- Boiling a kettle
- Cooling the boiled water to the right temperature
- Packing it into an insulated bag to maintain said temperature
When I could simply* pop her on one of my spheres that has been so kindly provided (by nature**) for such an eventuality?
*Not in a million years did I imagine the struggles that we would go through, the hours we had to put in, the lessons we had to learn and the pain I endured in order to be able to now ‘simply’ do it, all for something that is **‘so natural’ (as a dear family member commented).
So in case you’re now wondering if I’m passing judgement on those who choose to bottle feed their babies, you’re mistaken. I completely understand why you choose to feed that way. I’m merely stating that I am able to breastfeed and because it’s taken me a long time to get to a place where breastfeeding is comfortable for me, I want to take full advantage of it.
I’ll digress for a moment.
Breastfeeding in theory sounds so easy. As a woman you have breasts and when you have a baby said breasts produce milk. The baby has a mouth (and is hungry). Put the two together, eh voila.
Our shocking breastfeeding rates in the UK tell another story: they tell the truth about how hard breastfeeding actually is. If it was that simple we would all be doing it, and still doing it past six months.
But that’s a tale for another day, so for now I’ll get back to addressing the lady on the train.
Opinions are like bum holes, everyone has one. Your opinion may not be right, but you’re entitled to it (within reason), so allow me to express my opinion: might I suggest you un-bunch your knickers and take a long hard look at your own life, because if the sight of an innocent babe having a morning snack is so offensive to you, you yourself have much larger problems to contend with.
This post was originally published on my blog - Bertie and Other Stories