Amongst all the other things new mothers need to think about, how to manage their baby’s breastfeeds when they’re out in public is another burning topic. Experience has shown that this is one of those processes which just tends to sort itself out, no matter how much pondering has gone on beforehand. Hungry babies need to be fed no matter where they are. Prioritising their needs as being the most important issue means that most mothers just get on with breastfeeding wherever they are. It is this attitude which is so valuable in normalising breastfeeding in our society.
Staying at home with a young baby in the early days is a great opportunity to develop skills and confidence in breastfeeding. Many babies take their own sweet time in learning how to attach and suck effectively on the breast. Although some seem to have the exact opposite of this experience and would happily stay there sucking all day and night. Mothers too, can take weeks to feel as if they know what they are doing with breastfeeding and until they do, prefer the relative privacy of their own home when building confidence.
However, the time soon comes when it becomes essential to venture out and resume normal activities. Babies are not known for their good timing and care little for the convenience of when and where they demand to be fed. It’s not always possible to predict or even plan for breastfeeds. Even if a baby has fed well before leaving the house, they may want to be fed again shortly afterwards. This is simply the nature of breastfeeding. Which is why it can be better to assume your baby will want a breastfeed when you are out and then you can be prepared. Not that you will need to take much.
Some mothers prefer to cover their breasts when they are feeding and others don’t bother. The important issue is that you feel comfortable and at ease. If you don’t, your baby is likely to sense your discomfort and may not feed as well as they would otherwise. Some mothers can have a delay in “letting down” when they are tense which can lead to the baby becoming fussy whilst they feed.
Society’s attitude towards a woman’s breasts being (primarily) sexual objects has almost certainly impacted on breastfeeding practices. In our current time, we think nothing of seeing women in short dresses and skirts and perhaps wearing tops where their cleavage may be obvious. It is only fair that the same degree of acceptance is extended towards women who genuinely need to expose part of their breast so their baby can feed.
Though for some people this can be a very confronting image. The closeness and intimacy of breastfeeding can cause feelings of awkwardness, but this has nothing to do with the individual mother and her baby, more about the observer’s attitudes. You will find that if you are relaxed they will soon learn to be too.
Many people tend to see a baby being breastfed as something precious. Even though you may feel people are looking at you, don’t assume they are being critical. Older women particularly can view breastfeeding as a pleasant reminder of their own experiences. Similarly, small children who have never witnessed a mother breastfeeding her baby can be fascinated. Don’t be surprised if you feel you are being stared at. A smile and comment like “My baby’s having a drink of milk” will soon fill in the gaps.
You may find that some cultures are slower to embrace breastfeeding in public than others. Unless you are feeling particularly strong and wish to advocate for the rights of the breastfeeding mother, you may find it easier to avoid any confrontations.
The days of breastfeeding being seen as something personal and certainly not suitable for public viewing are, fortunately, over. Breastfeeding mothers can do a lot to teach others about what it means to hold a baby securely, communicate appropriately and offer their baby nourishment in the most natural way possible.
It is important for breastfeeding mothers to not adopt a superior attitude towards mothers who bottle feed their babies. Breastfeeding does not make a mother more authentic or more emotionally attached to her baby. Every family is unique and every mother has her own reasons for the choices she makes. It is not essential for every woman to share her feeding history with others; nor should she feel she has to. When mothers support each other and recognize the hard work each is doing, it is an incredibly useful exercise.
If you feel you are being discriminated against because you are breastfeeding your baby, you do have recourse. Under the Human Rights Act it is illegal for someone to place any limitation on a mother or her breastfeeding baby.
You may find it necessary to gently remind some people of this fact if you find you are not being made to feel welcome because you are breastfeeding. Contact the Human Rights Commission to get more information about your rights or to make a complaint about discrimination – 0800 4 YOUR RIGHTS (0800 496 877).