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Is it just me or does this border on exhibitionism?

I’ve given nothing away by this title, have I? I’ve been illusive! Unfortunately the title would have been too long, so here you go, this week’s blog is about breastfeeding in public. I have no issue with breastfeeding and I am sure there are many times when I’m not even aware women are breastfeeding around me – this is not about those women.

But lately it feels like I can go no where without someone making a very public display of feeding their baby. It’s a case of “look at me, I’m breastfeeding!” Take for example a while ago at work. We are in the position of having hired more staff which is great, except it means now we have lost our meeting room area. Fortunately we have a rather excellent coffee shop barely a minute’s walk from the office, so whenever we have a meeting we head over. It’s a two room affair with sofas, chairs, homemade cakes, drinks, sandwiches, jacket potatoes and all day breakfasts, nestled around unique personalised items to sell and friendly staff. Normally getting a table in the further room is not a problem, and while voices do carry, when people see our notepads and hear our conversations, they recognise we are there for a meeting. There are of course a few people who can be a bit louder than most, but as with any public setting this is to be expected.

The last time I was in the coffee shop, we were busily discussing sales figures and targets, when I realised that one of the women at the table next to us was breastfeeding. For some reason that I can’t quite fathom the woman had draped a napkin over the baby’s face. Why, why do some people do that? It is not the baby that people feel uncomfortable about or they wouldn’t stick their head in every pram and declare every baby beautiful. Surely if she was going to put a napkin over something it would be her exposed chest!

It’s beautiful you say, it’s natural, but why do it so obviously and did I mention it was in the window of the coffee shop? Instead of having a private moment with her baby she had everyone walking past the window and all the traffic stopping at the red light who were free to innocently look over and notice her. She had chosen the worse place.

Last summer in a completely different event, we were alerted from tapping away at our work screens, by the Animal Rescue guy outside our office suddenly looking harassed, waving his hands around and repeating “No no, no no” in a fearful tone. When we went to see the subject of his anguish it was a little girl, toddler age walking down the street all alone without any clothes on. Moments later a mother with her children came down the street and recognised the child and knew where she lived – she had escaped from her garden and was easily returned to her mother, no harm done. But everyone felt uncomfortable at the sight of a naked child. What if the wrong person had been around to notice her? It was the same feeling I had in the coffee shop.

On a separate occasion one weekend I walked to the local cathedral. It was a strange day. I was happy to be there as I had a new camera lens I wanted to test out, but the day was also tinged with sadness as I knew it would be the last time I would be there as I was moving, and would no longer be within walking distance. I walked around the cathedral taking my photos, as happy with the result as I could be viewing them on a three inch screen. I came to the cloisters, but a sight at the last corner stopped me. There was a gaggle of people and what looked like a family. The mother was sitting on the wall of the cloister breastfeeding. She was being so obvious about it that I could see what she was doing from the other side of the cloister. There was absolutely no effort to cover herself up meaning she was fully exposed to the waist. Why she felt the need to have both her breasts exposed, I will never know. As if that wasn’t strange enough, out of all the places she could have put herself, she had chosen right inside the entrance door where every visitor to the cathedral had to enter. She could have chosen alongside the wall where she would have barely been seen, or one of the further corners of the cloisters, but no, she wanted to be seen. This surely has to count as voyeurism. In my effort to leave the cloister I had to wait while a group of people all came in the door, all of which noticed the mother.

I am not saying she should have hidden in a toilet cubicle, but there are better ways to do this in public. The word that seems to be lacking here is privacy. Breastfeeding is meant to be a private, intimate moment between a mother and baby, not a public show. We live in a world where unfortunately other women feel it’s their place to judge a woman who admits she is not breastfeeding or at least appears to hold a bottle to a baby’s mouth, but so obviously breastfeeding in public like this is not the answer. I admit I am not a mother, but I don’t have to have a baby to know that when taking a baby out of the house, feeds are one of the main things to be considered. There are ways around this. First off perhaps getting a grandparent to babysit so the mother can have some free time. Who wants to cart a pushchair around the shops or when seeing a friend if you don’t always have to. If you do choose to take your baby with you, then you don’t always have to travel when a feed is shortly due. If it is then surely that is why breast pumps were invented. If none of these are an option then take yourself to another room while the feed takes place. I certainly wouldn’t think exposing myself in public was fine. I wonder if this is a case of daring someone to confront them and then the mother has grounds to say she has been discriminated against for feeding her baby. She can take to Facebook, Twitter, etc in an effort to shame the person who confronted her. We all know how quickly something like this could go viral.

My current role initially came about as maternity cover for a woman who wanted to have the first year with her baby before returning to work. She arranged a time when she would come in and see us and show off her new son. On the day in question we all looked at our watches as she was late. Half an hour later in she came, apologising for being late, but saying she wanted to get the baby settled before bringing him in. He had just been fed, burped and had his nappy changed. He was now in his relaxed, quiet state, perfect for the obligatory passing around for hugs before drifting off to sleep. It meant as he was calm, the mother was calm too and everyone was content. She had indeed proved there was a better way. 

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