Breastfeeding in public: why I do it – and why you shouldn’t be offended

Offended by breastfeeding in public places? First-time (and breastfeeding) mum Danielle Meaney wants to clear up a few misunderstandings

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Why do people get so offended by breastfeeding?

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I breastfeed my baby. I have always felt comfortable feeding my son in public, and, luckily, have never received any negative attention or comments.

But I am always being alerted to those who have. And I really do struggle to see why anyone could find breastfeeding so offensive.

Obviously, my opinion is naturally biased but, since I started writing my blog about being a mum, I’ve been trying to understand the reasons behind some people’s negative reaction to breastfeeding – and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s all based on simple misunderstandings.

I first realised this when I started discussing breastfeeding with a friend of my husband. It was the first time that I really had a insight into the mind of those who find it offensive.

My husband’s friend had come round to our house – his first visit to us since our son was born – and I asked whether he and his girlfriend minded if I fed the baby in the lounge where we were all sitting.

Of course they didn’t mind, they said – which was lucky, as I had no real intention of feeding him anywhere else! But our friend did say that he thought it a bit much when women decide to start breastfeeding in coffee shops and restaurants.

From a stranger, this comment would have horrified me, but this was a friend and I knew that there was no offence meant.

It was only when I pointed out that the alternative would be for the hungry baby to cry that he conceded that I had a point.

And it was at this moment that I realised that his vague distaste at the idea of breastfeeding in public was perhaps born out of a lack of comprehension – and that this was probably the case with the vast majority of those who disapproved of breastfeeding in general.

So, instead of joining in a general “breastfeeding’s right, breastfeeding’s wrong” bunfight, I thought that I’d try to shed some light – from a new mum’s point of view – on some of these common misunderstandings. If just one person who finds public breastfeeding inappropriate reads it and changes their mind, then I’ll take that as a small triumph.

First of all, despite the fact that it is called breastfeeding, it seems to be the opinion of many that mums should wait until they get home before breastfeeding their child.

Anyone who has ever looked after a small infant will know that babies won’t wait patiently for their food when they’re hungry. This is as true of breastfed babies as it is of formula-fed babies (or mixed-fed babies), yet no one expects the mothers of bottlefed babies to make them wait; it’s just not worth the inevitable meltdown.

It seems to me, then, as though, for some people, the connection between a baby, a breast and the actual act of feeding has got lost.

Breastfeeding exists to nourish and calm the child; it’s not something that either mother or child chooses to do for no good reason. If you don’t breastfeed when your baby needs food or calming, the alternative is usually very loud crying – and I know which I’d rather witness when out for a coffee. 

Secondly, let me reassure you all that, for a breastfeeding mother, there is absolutely nothing sexual about boobs. 

From the day that my baby was born, my breasts have become completely desexualised. They are a tool for keeping my baby healthy and nothing more; certainly, no longer my husband’s playground. (In fact, I haven’t been able to so much as sleep topless in the past 4 months for fear of milk leakages.) For most nursing mothers I know, a nipple is no more erotic or private than the rubber teat of a bottle.

I didn’t decide to breastfeed because I had an exhibitionist urge to show off my breasts to all and sundry. Truth be told, I used to show far more breast on a night in the pub than I ever do when feeding my son.

I decided to breastfeed because I was convinced it was healthier for me and my baby (few pregnant women get to the delivery room without being told of the digestive benefits for your baby and the lowered risk of female cancers for you). And I’m lucky that I was able to breastfeed; I know not everyone can.

But I do think breastfeeding is misunderstood. I live in hope that those who are outraged when they see a baby being breastfed will one day understand why, and will suspend their horror at the sight of a little breast tissue. 

It’s time all this outrage stopped and we remembered what’s really important: the mum in the corner of the restaurant or cafe, ‘brazenly’ feeding in plain view of customers, is doing so because her child is hungry or thirsty – same as the other diners. 

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What could be more natural and wonderful than that?

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* Mother called ‘slut’ for breastfeeding in Costa Coffee

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