In honour of World Breastfeeding Week which has just concluded, I wanted to share some breastfeeding experiences and to clarify the real reason why moms should not be expected to feed their babies in a bathroom stall. This is mainly in response to the recent news story about a British nursing mum who sprayed a passerby with breast milk after being told to go “somewhere private”. All I can say to that mom right now is cheers, mate and will continue on.
Why is it is so difficult for a breastfeeding mom to complete simple tasks within our current society?
I remember, with my first child I was so meek and concerned about breastfeeding in public. Are they looking over here? Did they see my stomach? Is my nipple showing? Are they going to say something to me? Were common questions I would ask myself.
I would literally have heart palpitations when my baby started fussing in public, knowing that she was going to need to feed soon and I would try to search out a quiet refuge. With my first I also sat in a lot of rocking chairs all by myself, so that I could enjoy my “privacy”. I often felt disconnected and alone, tied to our house just in case my child had to feed while running errands.
And this is just the juxtaposition that mothers have been put in nowadays: We are told by every one and their mother that breast is best and we are doing our tiny infants a disservice if we choose not to breastfeed. Some mother’s have even been called out as being selfish for not giving their children their “liquid gold”.
But then, in the same breath we are scolding and isolating mothers who choose to breastfeed and who are feeding their babies in a public setting – so basically, we are condemning mothers of this generation to live in the shadows while they provide any sort of nourishment to their infants… Seriously. What are we living in, the Stone Ages? No? OK, the Victorian Era? What?! It’s still 2016 and we have women wearing nipple tassels (OK, I’m not 100% on this but I bet it’s true) while selling hamburgers, but we can’t keep it together enough so that breastfeeding moms can feed their babies AND get shit done?!
You can’t be serious.
When I had my second child, there was no hiding at home watching episodes of Ellen with my baby permanently attached to my breast. Oh no, there were groceries to pick up and soccer practices to attend and play dates to organise and shopping trips and excursions and on and on… Because as a new mom with older children, if you choose to stay home all the time not only are you isolating yourself, you are isolating your children. They may become indignant that their lives have changed so drastically when their new sibling was born. It’s just plain not fair to expect a new mother to stay at home, and I would even say that it’s cruel to expect that from a toddler or preschooler.
Just when I was still learning to breastfeed in public comfortably, an unfortunate circumstance happened. Lo and behold, I found myself nursing my infant while locked in a single bathroom of our small town’s discount grocery store. Standing not sitting, partially because I didn’t want to be that sort of mother who breastfeeds her child on a toilet and also because there was no lid to sit on. I even had the thought of, “well, should I just do this full tilt and pee while I’m in here?” But no.
So, there I was, bare-chested and standing up nursing my infant, feeling like a caged animal, with nothing better to do for a solid 45 minutes other than to look at my sad reflection and wait for my worst nightmare to unfold: That someone else would inevitably need to use the washroom, and would knock very loudly.
Meanwhile, my baby would continue to be nursing away, no end in sight. What do I do then? Should I explain my current predicament to the stranger through the closed door? Should I tell them I had a bad bit of shrimp last night? Or wait it out and pretend that we’re not in there at all, only to have them call the manager and have them open the door to see me half naked and sweating profusely?
This experience was traumatising for me as a mother. It happened to me well over a year ago and the very thought of it still makes me shudder and I still that store like the plague.
But onward and upwards. With my three year old and newborn baby in tow, I tried to live life as normally as possible. I learned the tank-top-under-the-shirt trick which helped me feel more comfortable staying covered in public. It became second nature, mostly because I had no other choice and I was so busy carting the two of them around that I never had the time or energy to think of what the passerby’s were thinking.
The only thing I was trying to do was to provide nourishment to my baby, and, of course, to stop him from screaming bloody murder. I vividly remember being in a busy food court in a mall, and when my husband came back to the table with our food, he was surprised to see me nursing our baby with all those people milling about. Not that he was upset or disturbed about it – he has seen more than he would care to share already I’m sure – but he was shocked that I would bare myself like that in such a public setting. Meanwhile, the only thought that had come into my head was “well, we better feed our little gremlin before lunch so that mom and dad can actually eat a meal in peace for once”.
Because that’s what breast milk is: FOOD.
So, to all of those people wondering what is so wrong with breastfeeding in the public washroom, here it is. The problem is not that we as adults would not enjoy eating our food in a stinky stall or under a hot cover – though this should be reason enough.
The real problem with asking a mom to nurse behind closed doors, is the fact that motherhood is isolating enough. We already have to deal with postpartum depression, dealing with the changes our body goes through postpartum, learning to travel with baby and what to carry in the diaper bag, the transition of parenthood and the high expectations we as a society have on mothers, especially to breastfeed.
And within breastfeeding there are a whole host of other problems many mother’s face – engorgement, mastitis, plugged ducts, difficulty latching, tongue tie, pumping, nipple shields, cracked nipples, bleeding nipples, over-supply, under-supply…
So there. I said it.
Please, don’t make feeding our babies any more difficult than it already is.
And just an FYI, the Equality Act 2010 has made it illegal for anyone to ask a breastfeeding woman to leave a public place, such as a cafe, shop or public transport.