KBBF2013: Nursing in Public

Following on from yesterday’s post about the importance of breastfeeding support, today I wanted to write a bit about nursing in public (also known as NIP in social media parlance).

If you don’t support nursing in public, you don’t support breastfeeding. Katharine McKinney, for the Huffington Post

While there is a lot to be said about the convenience of breastfeeding, especially in the lack of equipment required, nursing in public remains a controversial topic and is often cited as a reason to mix feed (breastfeed in the privacy of home, and use formula while out).  How has our society become so skewed in its thinking about women’s bodies that nurturing a baby in the most natural way possible is viewed as somehow offensive?  And that it is preferable to spend money on equipment, artificial milk and big bags to lug it round in?  Or even worse, expensive (but admittedly beautiful) blankets to hide baby under?

We should be celebrating mothers, not ostracising them.  Telling them to cover up or go somewhere private is not acceptable and mothers that are made to feel that they are somehow committing a sexual act in public and then are too intimidated to continue nursing in public are victims of abuse.  We must continue to nurse our babies and children whenever and wherever they need it.  As long as both mother and child are comfortable and safe, there should be no restrictions on nursing location.

Yet, here we are with nurse-in’s, nursing in public websites, and battles with social media giants for censorship of images of mothers’ breastfeeding.  Society has gone mad.  Breasts are first and foremost for nourishing newborn babies.  Any secondary or supplementary benefit bestowed on them by men, media or society in its entirety is merely an opinion.  Their biological function is to feed a baby. And if baby needs feeding (which they do, frequently in the early weeks), then mums should feel supported to do so, regardless of where they are.

Nursing in public on London's Southbank

Nursing in public on London’s Southbank

I have breastfed my babies anywhere and everywhere and, despite not being overly confident and hating conflict even more, I have never felt I should cover up or hide away.  When I had Bunny, my mum suggested that I take her into the bedroom to feed as it was making my dad uncomfortable.  I think I did it that one time, but unfortunately, the next time she needed a feed, we were out and I wasn’t able to hide away, and I think he kind of got used to it!  But I still feel quite sad that my own dad felt embarrassed by it and this said so much to me about how normal formula feeding has become.  Once upon a time, families would come together to support the breastfeeding mother, offering advice when things got tough.

Now families are divided by breastfeeding – my mother’s generation was encouraged (no doubt by dubious formula manufacturer practices) to formula feed.  That was their norm and, in fact breastfeeding longer than necessary (I have heard 6 weeks quoted) is quite bizarre to a generation brought up on the miracle milk that gave them back their freedom.  Fast forward a few decades and science and evidence has shown that actually, breastmilk just can’t be bettered or even matched.  Like with so many things, we’ve gone full circle in our knowledge and thinking, but society is yet to catch up.  Add in the sexualisation of women and breasts through near constant media imagery and the evidence is drowned out by the cries of indecency.

We have a lot of work to do to normalise breastfeeding, and breastfeeding in public is just another hurdle in this fight, especially when, if we do hide away, it’s often in a room marked with a bottle sign.  The best tip I ever read for anyone nervous about nursing in public, is to try feeding in front of a mirror to get an idea of  just how much others can see when your baby’s body is in the way.  And as I always said about Mary Whitehouse and her bleating about inappropriate programming, if you don’t like it, look away.  No-one’s forcing you to watch.

This post is part of the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt.

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Here are some more bloggers involved in the KBBF blog collective:

Mummies Waiting

Me, The Man and the Baby

Life Happens, So Smile

Let’s Walk Together for a While

Keep Up With the Jones Family

And these are some wonderful breastfeeding supportive companies:

Ardo

Mumba

Big Book Little Book Cardboard Box

Bravado

Mama Scarf