Around a year and a half ago, a man on Australian television discussed a woman who had been asked to leave her local pool for breastfeeding her daughter. This man felt that breastfeeding should be done with discretion– covered, perhaps, or in a private area. The woman in question, Bribie Island Mum Liana Webster, quite rightly, did not.
This other woman also heard his words. She was coming out on the other side of her own struggles with breastfeeding and after the worry and stress over low supply, dodgy latch, mastitis and general new-baby related exhaustion- she also took offence. She had been struggling from the start to get it right- now someone wanted to shame her for breastfeeding in public- because she didn’t have enough to worry about?! She was supposed to struggle with blankets or covers or sit next to nappy bins in parents rooms and hide away? She was outraged at the idea. She wasn’t the only one. She banded together with another nursing Mama, Ash Zuko, who also took exception to the words of this man and they staged a nurse-in that made headlines all around the country and was even reported internationally.
There were a few reasons I found Koch’s words offensive. The obvious reason was that women have the legal right to breastfeed anywhere and any time they need to. This right has been protected by Australian law for 30 years.
The other thing that bothered me was that David Koch felt entitled to tell women what they should and should not do with their bodies. He put his discomfort/inhibitions (or the discomfort/inhibitions of others) above the right of mothers to breastfeed and children to be fed. By doing so on national television, he sent out the wrong message entirely.
Our breastfeeding rates here in Australia are not crash hot. By the time they reach 12 months, less than a third of Australian babies are still being breastfed- which is far below the “up to 2 years and beyond” recommended by the World Health Organisation. There are many factors that contribute to these rates- but it can’t be ignored that the way we view breastfeeding is one of them. Having a well known person publicly state that women should be “discreet” implies that those who don’t cover when feeding are somehow indiscreet– therefore shaming them (well, us, I should say!).
It’s just so backwards! The way I see it is that women who breastfeed publicly are doing the public a favour by showing breastfeeding as a normal way to feed a child. It is healthy, it is safe,it is free and it’s good for the environment. The more people see it, the more ordinary and commonplace it becomes in people’s minds. Young women who see mothers breastfeed grow up seeing this as the normal way to feed a child and they don’t begin their own breastfeeding journeys like I did- clueless! In times gone by and still in other cultures, women would and do grow up seeing female relatives and other women breastfeed- it’s how they begin to learn what to do- we are lacking that. So many women are like me- they have a baby and breastfeeding is something completely unfamiliar on so many levels. So those that breastfeed in public are, often unconsciously, doing their communities a service and should not be shamed for it.
This is where my blog began (see my first ever post which explains the origins of “handbagmafia”!)- the experience helped me to find my voice here (even if, at times, it’s a voice only heard by me!). I was lucky enough to meet some inspirational people through all this, both online and in person, who have inspired me to learn more about breastfeeding… and to keep on boobin’!
Breastfeeding Week Link Up here.
Linking with Essentially Jess for #IBOT