Frack You, That’s Why (Breastfeeding in Public)

After not posting anything last weekend because the Wolf was on a call out, I thought I’d take advantage of Mother’s Day (UK – don’t panic if you’re elsewhere) and write two this weekend.

I’m devoting this post to something that’s been in the news a lot recently: breastfeeding in public.

Considering the subject, this post may well mention such things as boobs, nipples and breast milk.  *Gasp!*  If this makes you feel uncomfortable my advice to is – pleasingly – the same as my advice to people who don’t want to see a mother breastfeeding: don’t look.  Seriously, there are so many awesome things to see in the world (I hear there are a few cat videos on the internet, for instance) so why you’d waste time complaining about seeing something that’s harming nobody and no-one’s forcing you to look at is beyond me.

So, that’s really the take home message here but that seems like a very short blog post so maybe I’ll go into a little more detail.  We’ll run through some of the things I read that anger me because who doesn’t like to spend a day that’s set aside for relaxing getting worked up about something that angers them?

The first thing that pisses me off: ‘Why can’t you just express milk and use a bottle when you’re out?’

Tyger had a tongue tie when he was born but it took four months for me to realise.  This – coupled with terrible advice and lack of support from midwives – meant for several days after I got home from hospital Tyger wouldn’t latch on to feed and I had to express every three hours.  Sounds kind of rough, right?  You have no idea.  My three hourly cycle (and we’re talking all through the day and night) was to spend half an hour doing ‘skin to skin’ with Tyger and trying to get him to latch on (in the desperate hope he’d actually feed and we could break this terrible cycle).  After that I’d have to express milk.  The people who moan about women who could ‘easily just express’ need to pay attention to this part.  I had to make sure he had 30ml of milk every three hours as an absolute minimum (this increased after a couple of days).  Only 30ml.  That’s a pretty tiny amount of liquid there.  You can practically sneeze and produce 30ml of snot (or…a less gross example).  And you know how long it took me to get that much milk out of my agonisingly sore nipples?  Up to an hour and a half.  Then I had a further hour in which I could choose to eat, wash (advisable when you have stitches) or sleep.  There were eight of these cycles every 24 hours.  So, eight hours of this ‘free time’.  Deduct three for meals and one for having a shower and maybe just sitting not doing anything for a bit and that leaves four hour long (or maybe a little longer if I’d done particularly well expressing – yay, go me!) slots for sleep.  And if Tyger showed any signs of actually being inclined to feed during those slots my mum and the Wolf were under strict instructions to wake me so I could try latching him on.  I have suffered from depression for a long time (I’m currently on antidepressants I’ve been advised to stay on for at least two years because of the frequency of my depression) but those early days of trying to feed Tyger were the absolute worst of my life.  They were nothing compared to the fog of depression.

Why have I brought this up?  Because I like to include a downer in my blog posts?  Because I want sympathy or admiration?  Well, for two reasons.  Firstly, to show how hard breastfeeding can be.  Some people seem baffled by how heated the whole subject can get but don’t realise the sorts of struggles mums might have gone through or still be going through just to keep feeding their baby every day.  Yeah, when I’ve gone through the crap I have to be able to breastfeed I will get Goram worked up when I feel my decision is under attack from small-minded people.  Secondly, to explain – in a roundabout way – that not all women find expressing easy or even possible at all.  Even after those hellish first few days when my supply was more established I struggled to express.  Tyger was not a good sleeper and the Wolf used to get me to express a bottle’s worth of milk a day so he could stay up with Tyger and I could get two or three hours of sleep.  It took me several sessions of expressing through the day in order to get enough milk for that one feed.  If I was out for several hours in the day Tyger might want two or even three feeds in that time.  That’s several days of expressing to get enough milk and forfeiting hours of sleep.  On top of that, of course, is the fact nobody should have to go to the effort of expressing when they can just bloody well breastfeed!

So, why can’t breastfeeding mums just express?  Frack you, that’s why.

The second thing that pisses me off: ‘Feed in the toilet and/or breastfeeding in public is the same as peeing in public?’

Okay, so the toilet thing first.  Yuck.  Why would I take my baby (one of the most vulnerable groups susceptible to nasty germs in our species) into a place where people wee and poo in order to feed him??  Does your dislike of the possibility of seeing a human breast (if you choose not to look away) really trump a baby or small child’s right to eat somewhere that isn’t full of faeces and urine?  No it does not.

As for the second thing…what is wrong with your brain?  Seriously, were you dropped on your head as a baby?  Breastfeeding is pretty much the exact opposite of someone peeing.  You know what it is the same as?  Someone eating or drinking, you moron.

The third thing that pisses my off: ‘Why can’t you just cover up/breastfeed discretely?’

In some ways, this is the worst one.  It’s certainly the most insidious because it’s often said by people who say they ‘support’ breastfeeding and they’re fine with breastfeeding in public or they have breastfed their own babies…but…  Ah, that ‘but’.  ‘Of course you should be able to feed your baby in public but there’s no reason to flaunt it.’  ‘Just use a breastfeeding cover or drape over a muslin cloth.’

It seems so reasonable, right?  Except, you know what happens when I put something over Baby Bear’s head when he’s trying to feed?  The same thing that used to happen when I put something over Tyger’s head when he used to feed and probably the same thing you’d do if I put something over your head whilst you’re trying to eat your dinner.  He pulls it right off (probably thinking, ‘What’s wrong with you?  I don’t want to have a snack with a blanket over my head!’).

And, yeah, I could point out that actually every single breastfeeding mum I’ve come across would rather the general public didn’t see her boobs.  And, yes, I could also point out that by putting some huge cover or blanket or cloth over me and my baby I’m actually drawing more attention to us and to the fact I’m feeding than if I simply pulled down my top and got on with it.  But all that’s missing the point.

The point is: why should I have to be discrete??

I’m not doing anything wrong!  I’m sorry if you have been told over and over by our society that breasts are sexual objects and their sole purpose is to arouse and sexually please and sell stuff but that’s not their sole purpose.  It’s not even their primary purpose!  Their actual purpose – for those of you who are so bad at Biology you think your eyes will fall out if you don’t close them when you sneeze – is to feed our young!!  Why should I have to cover up the fact I’m doing something totally normal and natural and good?

When I was pregnant with Tyger, I couldn’t wait to breastfeed and I actually hoped someone would make some sort of comment when I was out and feeding him.  I pictured myself laying into whatever monster dared to insult me for feeding my baby.  I was so confident…before the reality of doing it.  Then I had him and breastfeeding was so much harder than I ever thought possible and I had to listen to him screaming and screaming and screaming as I tried and failed to get him to latch on and I felt like the worst mother in the entire world because I couldn’t even feed my own baby.  That knocked my confidence a little.  Okay, a lot.  I dreaded feeding in public in case he wouldn’t latch on.  In case he cried and people looked and judged me or – worse – said something.  Luckily, I’m largely a recluse and rarely went anywhere other than baby groups with other breastfeeding mums, anyway, but it was still one more stress and worry I could have done without at a time filled with stresses and worries.

Then I had Baby Bear.  I actually had a home birth because I couldn’t stand the thought of being in the same hospital I had Tyger in with those same midwives who had failed me so badly when I was desperately trying to feed my child.  As it happens, Baby Bear’s breathing wasn’t great when he was born so we were rushed to hospital anyway where it turned out his breathing was fine but – haha – he was now really cold from being taken outside and bundled into an ambulance as soon as he entered the world, which meant we had to stay in a night and most of the next day.  So, despite my careful planning I found myself in a hospital bed with a newborn once again; trying and failing to get my scrunched up pink bundle to latch on once again; dealing with the stress of a tongue-tied child once again.  This time, however, I knew what the problem was.  I knew what to do about it.  I was assertive and got on with things and never had to go through the three-hourly awfulness of Tyger’s early infancy.

Best of all, my confidence was back.  I have breastfed Baby Bear whilst walking round the supermarket, whilst chatting to a pharmacist in Boots, in cafes and restaurants and on the train.  That’s how confident every mum should be about feeding her baby wherever the baby needs feeding.  There are so many things to worry about as a parent.  Legitimate things that are worthy of concern like whether you remembered to put spare clothes in the changing bag in case of a poopsplosion or whether that twat Gove’s policies will still be in place by the time your kids start school.  Panicking about the possibility of abuse whenever your baby is hungry is not something that should be an issue.

The law is on our side.  In the UK, at least, it is illegal to ask a breastfeeding woman to leave a public place and that’s great but it shouldn’t be necessary.  People are ‘offended’ by me feeding my baby in public?  And?  There are things I come across all the time when I’m out and about that offend me: incorrect use of apostrophes on signs, football being shown on TV in public places, Ugg boots, hot drinks served in tall glasses instead of mugs, people constantly using the word ‘ignorant’ when they really mean ‘arrogant’…  I don’t go around telling everyone these things must be hidden from my view, though.  That would be ridiculous because it’s me with the issue.

You know what, my hero and most favouritist person in the whole world has expressed what I want to say much better than I.  I am, of course, talking about Stephen Fry.  His view on ‘offense’:

“It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’  As if that gives them certain rights.  It’s actually nothing more than a whine.  ‘I find that offensive.’  It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase.  ‘I am offended by that.’  Well, so fucking what.”

And with that reference to Stephen Fry I have calmed down.

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