First published on The Contented Calf website on Wednesday 24th July 2013. 10YO was approaching 4YO, and 8YO was was almost 18 months old.)
I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘nursing in public’ aka #NIP lately, which is bizarre since I finished breastfeeding nearly six months ago.
I think it’s because I’ve recently come across @Wolf_Mummy on Twitter and her tireless work to normalise breastfeeding in public and challenge head-on Tweeters who write offensive and often aggressive tweets about/towards mums nursing in public. A slightly more tame example:
I also recently watched this fantastic poem by Hollie McNish. She says of it:
“I wrote this poem in a public toilet after my 6 month old baby fell asleep. I was in town on my own a lot with her and the first time I fed her someone commented that I should stay home. …. I was embarrassed and for 6 months took her into toilets when I was alone without the support of boyfriend, friends, mum etc. I hate that I did that but I was nervous, tired and felt awkward.”
Whether it’s because I live in the particularly ‘Nappy Valley’ish South West London, I consider myself lucky as personally I’ve never had to deal with any negative comments when feeding in public.
That’s not to say that I found the whole experience relaxing and comfortable. I was desperately aware of everyone else around me, in particular men, and whether they might feel uncomfortable with my feeding my baby. I didn’t avoid feeding in public. It’s just that it was never one of the more pleasurable experiences of having a young baby. But I’d ended up going down the breastfeeding route, so if I needed/wanted to feed while we were out, the breast it was. I just got on with it the best I could.
I hadn’t realised, though, how much stress and anxiety about feeding in public I’d buried deep down inside me until during my second pregnancy.
A male friend recounted a situation where he was in a pub with two friends and their new baby. The baby had needed feeding. So the mum had breastfed the baby at the table where they were sitting. My friend told me how he hadn’t wanted the mum to feel uncomfortable or excluded, so had carried on talking to her and including her in their conversation. He wanted to know whether he’d done the right thing. I said that it was hard to say for sure as each mum feels completely different, but in my opinion he’d done the right thing. I was truly touched by both his thoughtful response to his friend and the fact that he’d wanted to double-check it with me later.
As the discussion continued and more people joined in, I realised my heart had started racing and my stress levels were rising. Imaging myself as that girl in the pub, all the emotions I hadn’t realised I’d felt when feeding in public began to surface. I realised just how uncomfortable I’d felt; how just because I had fed in public, I too was a product of a society where breasts are primarily seen as sexual and/or private, not a method of feeding a child; how much courage it had taken me to put my anxiety to one side to feed my baby with other people watching (even though I mainly used a feeding cover when we were out, which I personally found a godsend – but everyone knows what’s going on under there).
While mothers who breastfeed in public often have to deal with negative comments, thoughts or emotions and societal attitudes need to change, mothers who formula feed don’t have it at all easy either.
Although I pretty much exclusively breastfed my two girls until around 6 months (and then combination fed), I myself was formula fed. And you know what? I’ve made it past 30 (and the rest!) OK, I’m generally pretty healthy, I don’t think my IQ has been impaired (though maybe if I was BFd I’d have been a nobel prize winning scientist, who knows? ;-)) and I have a close relationship with my mum. In fact, I think the fact I was formula fed completely took the pressure off me when I had my baby. I knew I’d be able to feed my baby and have a loving relationship with her, no matter what method we ended up using. I aimed to get to three days, then three weeks, then six weeks, six months and ended up at 10 and 11 months respectively, breastfeeding each of my girls.
However, when I attended both NCT and NHS breastfeeding workshops prior to the arrival of my first daughter, they were so evangelical and militant about breastfeeding. Practical questions about combination feeding when returning to work were (un)answered by repeatedly telling the mum-to-be she had the right to express at work, and refusing to give any practical tips on breastfeeding morning and night, and formula in the day. It was as if formula was an option to be avoided at all costs. As a formula fed baby, I honestly felt like I was being made to feel a second-class citizen for having been formula fed.
And with inflammatory and judgemental comments such as these floating around online, who can blame me?!
“When your fellow citizens are not breastfed, it costs you. If you were not breastfed, it is costing you. It is costly for all members of society, whether or not you are a parent or grandparent. …. Health costs to society and taxpayers. People who are breastfed are less likely to be get a host of mental and physical diseases throughout life and are less likely to end up in prison.”
– Darcia Narvaez, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Collaborative for Ethical Education at the University of Notre Dame: www.psychologytoday.com/blog/moral-landscapes/201107/it-s-breastfeeding-week-why-should-you-care
Well that’s my hopes and dreams for a happy, healthy, successful life dashed then!
Just as breastfeeding mums are judged when feeding in public, so too are formula feeding mums. The slogan “Breast is Best” is rammed down our throats virtually from the moment we conceive. We are made to feel like formula milk is virtual poison and by giving it to our babies we are endangering their health, intelligence, future achievements and bond with us. We are made to feel that if we formula feed, we obviously just don’t love our babies enough!
It makes me so angry!
An NHS breastfeeding counsellor recently commented to me that she was incredibly surprised I’d managed to breastfeed at all because my baby had had a single ounce of formula when she was one day old. I said that for me, that one ounce had probably saved my breastfeeding experience, not derailed it. That maybe so, she said, but had I thought about what that formula had done to my poor baby’s ketones!!? She then went on to essentially blame me for being induced (my waters had broken two days previously and I hadn’t gone into labour, so the hospital was fearful of infection), and so being exhausted, and so needing a break from constant feeding to sleep, and succumbing to Evil Formula. I felt battered, bruised and incredibly judged by that encounter, despite the fact I have two beautiful healthy girls. And this woman was supposed to be a (supportive) breastfeeding counsellor, speaking to someone who had (almost) exclusively breastfed two babies for over 6 months!!
So sticking up for formula feeding mummies is Fearless Formula Feeder (@FormulaFeeder).
And just like @Wolf_Mummy she is doing an amazing job too. She recently wrote an excellent article entitled How the other half lives: Negative perceptions of formula feeding and breastfeeding, and why they both suck having come to the same conclusion as me, when feeding our babies in public all mums seem to be judged and criticised. This is crazy and has to stop.
It seems to me that as a society we have a problem with feeding babies in public full stop. Once babies start eating food, we can deal with that. But drinking milk of any form, then we’re just a bit weirded out. We’ve got to get over ourselves, and stop mummy-bashing. Babies, even very young ones, are part of our social lives, are part of our public lives. And they’ll keep getting born. They’ll keep being out with us in public. They’ll keep wanting milk. We have to become OK with it.
As a parent all we want to do is to be able to go out in public with our beautiful babies and feed them without judgement and criticism. After all, the only thing we’re really feeding them with is love.
As ever, with love from our family to yours,
Stay safe and keep well,