Over the last few days, there's been a lot of fuss and bother about a baby's right to be breastfed in public, after a woman was asked to cover her baby's head with a napkin while breastfeeding in Claridge's. Some commentators have argued that, while breastfeeding is natural, so is urination - and we don't do that in public, do we?
Why can't mothers just discreetly go to a little room, as we do when we want to urinate? they ask. Good question - with good answers.
Firstly, you know, urine is waste. It's dirty - the unsanitary, bacteria-laden product of human digestion that, like its solid and equally unsanitary counterpart, needs to be expelled from the business end of the alimentary canal. No-one wants to be in splashing distance of either while they're chowing down. Eew.
Boobs, on the other hand, make nutritious food which keeps a baby alive. And just as you wouldn't wish to put fork to four-course in a public convenience, so a mother and baby do not wish to feed and eat respectively in a germy loo, scented with eau de stale pee and Dettol.
Breast milk is providing all sorts of nutrients to the baby quietly attached to that bosom. When you're hungry, you eat - naturally - and for a baby that's even more important. If you think that argument is only for bleeding-hearts, on a purely pragmatic basis, reconsider: hindering a mother trying to breastfeed will most likely result in a screaming child - guaranteed to be more distracting to digestion than a bit of flesh poking out of a jumper.
Other ways breastfeeding isn't like peeing? Well, unless you're planning some Bear Grylls-level survivalism, you probably don't drink pee. And, unlike public urination, breastfeeding is perfectly legal. Showing a breast while feeding a baby in a restaurant won't result in a swift visit from the rozzers - if you try whipping it out for a wee at a restaurant table, do let us know how you get on.
At the heart of the kerfuffle is a desperate irony. The most vociferous critics of public breastfeeding (a phrase which betrays its agenda - one rarely hears of 'public eating') seem to be those least likely to be horrified by the genuinely sexualised, and very public, display of breast on Page 3 and its competitors. It's totally acceptable to show boobs every which way, apart from with a feeding baby attached. It's almost as if we can't compute boobs if they're not there to titillate.
Which confusion may explain the ultimate in foolhardy comparisons between breastfeeding and other natural acts, viz. the 'well, we don't have sex in public' line. Let's get this straight: breastfeeding is not like having sex in public because it's not in any way sexual. If it makes you think of sexytimes, you're in what's politely called a 'niche interest' group, and should probably keep it quiet.
Finally, we come to Nigel Farage's important contribution to the debate: the suggestion that mothers shouldn't feed in a way which is 'openly ostentatious'. We're still puzzling out what ostentatious breastfeeding might look like - flashing bosom beacons? Blinged-up breasts? A regal wave of a tiny hand? Whatever he had in mind, the act of feeding an infant is as likely to be ostentatious as the act of feeding oneself: which is to say, very unlikely.
"This is just a matter of common sense, isn't it?" he said. No, Nigel, it's precisely the opposite. In the year in which a mother suffered a vicious social media attack in which she was labelled a 'tramp' for breastfeeding on the street - no doubt causing plenty of of new mothers to think twice about breastfeeding at all - it's time for society to get over its squeamishness about boobs and babies' needs. Of course, breastfeeding is a choice - but it's one women should feel empowered to make wherever they happen to find themselves, even if it is Claridges.
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