Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The only bad public breastfeeding reaction I have had....

To date I have only had one negative reaction to breastfeeding in public.  Overwhelmingly people are positive, save for the odd askance glance.

I was out for lunch with my mum, brother and nan.  We went to a local family restaurant.  We were the first shown to the dining area and chose a large table in the corner.  I sat with my back to the wall, facing the room.  A few minutes later a couple in their fifties sat at a table opposite me. 

When baby (my son, this was a few years ago) started to fret I pulled my feeding apron over my head, squirreled baby underneath and started to feed.  I was being quite brave.  He was only a few months old and I was still a bit nervous and awkward about breastfeeding around people.  I kept noticing the man of the couple looking at me, but I ignored him and carried on with the family dinner. It was very pleasant, four generations having the chance to bond over lunch.

When we left my nan suddenly chose to pipe up.  She had been nearest to their table.  She said that the man had been disgusted and had made quite a few comments about me.  I was infuriated on two counts.  Firstly, they had arrived after us.  If you have a problem with breastfeeding then you do not sit at a table near a small baby, or even go to a family restaurant in the middle of the day. Secondly, I had been entirely covered up.  I could not have been more discreet.  Was just the knowledge that I was feeding my baby near him so very abhorrant?  I sort of vaguely understand people taking issue with seeing a naked breast, but what could be wrong with me feeding my baby if it couldn't be seen?  Had I got an artificial teat out, essentially a rubber nipple, and fed my baby right next to him he would likely not have objected.  But using my own breast for what it was intended under cover was disgusting?  Would he prefer to have the baby scream throughout the meal because he was hungry?

Well, my mother and I were livid.  We both declared that we wished we had known while we had still been at the restaurant so we could have reacted (although maybe that would have been counterproductive).   Given the time again I might have uncovered, squirted some milk in his eye and said "There. Now you have something to complain about." :D

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Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The power of the blog

I went to a baby group today.  A popular one that is attended equally by men and women.  Midway through I left with the kiddies to take them out into the cafe for a snack.  We were alone in there and baby was squarking, so as my son ate his food I latched my daughter on.  A few mums came in and I didn't bother covering up.  Then a dad came in.  I considered reaching for the cloth in front of me.  Then I remembered my musings in a previous blog concerning feeding in front of men.  Why cover up?  I hadn't covered up for the women and you couldn't see anything anyway. 

The man walked right by me and sat down at the next table.  The slight tenseness I felt dissipated.  If he didn't care then I didn't care.  In fact I almost felt a solidarity from the fact he'd sat so near.  Some may question me, but to me breastfeeding isn't a sexual thing, sex doesn't come into it.  So, if I am not showing any flesh I wouldn't happily show in a bikini then why should I cover up.  What am I covering anyway, a bit of shoulder and cleavage?  Pointless.

So, here is the power of the blog.  I am referring to its power to me, not to my readers.  I don't think I would have remained uncovered like this before I started writing this blog.  But, putting your thoughts in black and white helps you to understand what you really think about something.  What I think is that breastfeeding should be completely normal and everyday.  So why do I continue to cover up?  Small steps of course.  As my blog has shown there are still places I would be uncomfortable to openly breastfeed.  But I like to think that my emancipation may have some tiny knock on effect.  Even if it is just that I am seen by one person who then feels a tiny bit more comfortable feeding in public.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Academic lactation

When the lecture by Joan Wolf at the University of Kent at Canterbury was advertised, I felt I just had to go. The title immediately raised my interest: 'Is Breast Best? Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood'. The lecture was based on her 2011 book of the same title. One tiny problem – I have a 7 week old baby. Well, I thought, this may be a good opportunity to breastfeed in public. What better place than a lecture that questions the rhetoric surrounding breastfeeding promotion?

I was a little nervous. I wasn't too concerned about breastfeeding at the lecture as I wanted to make a point by doing so. My greatest concern was that baby has been somewhat colicky for the last few weeks. At around 7 o'clock she starts up crying and goes on till around 9, with the only solution being relentless laps of my house with her in a baby carrier. So, I was a little worried that the cries may begin at some point during the lecture, meaning that to be fair to the other attendees, I would have to leave.

The lecture began and baby was feeding, but a bit squirmy – which is often a sign that colic is coming. Around 10 minutes in I decided to wind her in an effort to postpone the screeching and she proceeded to throw up over me and the floor. I wondered if this was he critique of the lecture? However it did seem to offer her some relief and she breastfed quietly for the majority of the remainder.

I must say that I cannot agree with my daughter's nauseous verdict on the lecture.  I found it fascinating. I feel that in some articles I have read, Dr Wolf has been misrepresented and quoted out of context. In my opinion her reasoning was sound and I would like to offer my interpretation of what I heard.

Dr. Wolf began by questioning the scientific research surrounding breastfeeding, as many studies are methodologically flawed and can only suggest correlations rather than causal relationships. They cannot, ethically, remove all bias as it would be wrong to randomly assign mothers to breastfeeding or bottlefeeding groups to ascertain the outcomes. Therefore, there may be other cultural or social factors that influence the outcomes such as better hygeine or higher levels of education in one group or the other.

Today's society is one that puts great value on risk minimisation. We do all we can to prevent death or disease. In particular, mothers (more so than fathers) are expected to minimise all risks to their children. Dr Wolf claims that in the case of a mother, it is expected that she will do so regardless of the personal cost. For example – does it make sense for a mother to breastfeed if it puts her at emotional or psychological strain? We may argue that it is right given the health benefits to the child. However, as already established, many of those are not irrefutable. Also, why do we so easily disregard the maternal cost? So then perhaps, are there cases where it is less risky to formula feed?

Equally concerning is the advocacy of breastfeeding. Dr. Wolf highlighted that while breastfeeding is promoted by governments with the caveat that women must not feel pressured, in reality this is something of an oxymoron as it surely only adds to the pressure. She also descirbes the 'viciousness' of some advocates in their responses to her book, where she has even been compared to a holocaust denier. It seems that it is inconceivable that one would question that breastfeeding is best for all babies.

As a breastfeeding mother I am of course pro breastfeeding. However, I have seen the emotional struggles of my friends who 'fail' to breastfeed, and therefore feel they have 'failed' as mothers. It seems that to be a good mother, you have to be a breastfeeding mother and I cannot help but disagree. When you look at the experiences of some women it appears that the stakes were against them when it came to breastfeeding and why should that be something that they should feel guilty about? What if they are unsupported, ill informed, or quite simply find breastfeeding abhorrent? Don't get me wrong, breastfeeding has been life-changing for me, but, for others it could be a very negative experience. Surely then it is wrong for it to be promoted at all costs?

What I want to see, and I doubt I will in my lifetime, is a culture that accepts maternal choice. If you can and want to breastfeed then you should be able to do so, fully supported by your peers and by health professionals. You should have information and emotional support. You should have seen breastfeeding as a normal everyday occurrence. You should feel comfortable to breastfeed wherever and whenever you want. However is you want to formula feed then that should be acceptable. No good mother would purposefully harm her child – a decision to formula feed comes from a good place. Formula feeding mothers should be able to do so without fear of condescension or vilification, they should be awarded the same respect as any mother. Equally, they should be supported in their decision and provided with information that allows them to formula feed safely.

As a scientist (I have a bachelors degree in a science discipline and am awaiting the results of my masters degree in a social science) I cannot help but feel that it is only a good thing to question, to criticise. Those who are 'afraid of the big bad Dr Wolf' should feel assured that should the findings of breastfeeding research be correct, her critiques can only result in strengthening them by stimulating further, more rigouous scientific study. But I also cannot help but think that we need to realise that our reasoning for breastfeeding has to come from reasons other than those from science. Science is not the answer to everything, in fact really all that scientists do is generate more questions. So here I must turn to my personal experience.

Personally, I do not doubt the health benefits of breastfeeding. Here I disagree with Dr Wolfs statement that she 'does not think the results are causal'. But putting that aside, breastfeeding has had a myriad of experiential benefits for me. When I leave the house, I do so with a nappy in my pocket. I don't need a big bag full of bottles and other equipment. I am a bit lackadaisical about sterilisation – my baby is exposed to normal bacteria from my skin and is provided with passive immunity in my milk. I don't have to clean and sterilise bottles or worry about when I made a bottle up or what temperature the water is at. I just 'wap 'em out'. For me, breastfeeding is easy and convenient. Also, where a lot of formula feeders say that it is nice that it allows other people to feed the baby, I feel the opposite. Several times a day, my baby is mine, all mine. One day she won't be. My son already is a big daddy's boy and has less and less time for his mummy. But when he was very small, he was mine. That time is more precious to me than I can say and I do feel that it has provided a bond between us. I look back with fondness on those quiet moments every evening when I would feed him till his lids were heavy. But, I would be lying if I said there haven't been costs. It is time consuming. Nobody can help me in the night, so the sleeplessness is all mine. I don't often get a break away from my baby (she wouldn't take a bottle even if I could be bothered to express any milk). But then, having got used to these costs, I think for me it is a good thing I am tied to my babies, for I am the kind of person that would easily have lots of other things to be busy with. Nonetheless, this is just my experience. I have been lucky in that I could overcome the difficulties I have had through researching the issues,and for all health issues to have been small. I am also lucky enough to be able to afford to take long maternity leave. Also, I have a lot of support around me. For others the situation is different and so the scales of profit and cost will tip in different way. While we can use these sort of experiential advantages as reasons to breastfeed we must recognise that they do not outweigh the costs for everyone.

On talking to Husband last night he summed up what I took away from the lecture succinctly I think. “So, basically, if you want to breastfeed that's great, and if you don't then that's quite OK too?” Who could disagree? But, there is a long way to go for society to be that tolerant. I feel that neither choice is a free choice at the moment. When information, support and tolerance are commonplace then perhaps we will be allowed to feed our children however we see fit. But we must be wary of the research and advice that we believe. Equally, we must be supportive of each other's right to feed our children in the way that seems most suitable. I hope that when I read the book (which I fully intend to do) it does have this pro-choice message and isn't the anti breastfeeding rant that some have reported it to be.

Baby settled down for the rest of the lecture. Colicky signs only reared their ugly head towards the end of the lecture and she started to cry as I left, so I was fortunate to be able to hear the whole thing. I am proud that I breastfed at this lecture. Although, I did cover up as it seemed appropriate. What made me especially glad was that somebody else had brought a baby. I think that is a wonderfully good sign, for two babies to be welcome at an academic lecture, allowing their mothers to do so too. Given that the babies were not disruptive there was no reason for either of us to have missed out on a lecture that we wanted to attend. Would two women and their babies have attended a lecture even 30 years ago? Would they have openly breastfed in that academic setting? I very much doubt it. That is a good sign of the times.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Mayfair dontcha know

Today was a big breastfeeding adventure.

One of my best friends, who I met at University, is shortly getting married. I am one of her bridesmaids, along with our other Uni friends and her sister. Today was her hen night. The plan was to have afternoon tea at the Athenaeum hotel on Picadilly. This is a 5-star London hotel, just along the road from the notorious Ritz. Initially I declined as I was worried about taking the baby and upsetting the other well-heeled customers with her crying. But, as bridesmaid I really felt I should, and if I went, then baby went. Eventually one of my friends cajoled me into going. Since then I have been worrying that we may be refused entry or that breastfeeding could be a problem. I couldn't have been more wrong.

I travelled to London on the train, a long boring 2 hour journey. Halfway there baby began to cry. I am happy to say that I just turned my shoulders slightly towards the wall to preserve my dignity, latched her on uncovered and fed her. I was all nonchalent. OK, there wasn't anybody sat next to me, but it was still quite a busy train.

On arriving in London I walked from Victoria to the beautiful Athenaeum hotel, with it's lovely foliage covered frontage. My heart fluttered a little as we were greeted by a waitress. What if she threw us out, or argued? I certainly didn't want to make a scene on my friend's special day. However, the waitress simply smiled and said 'Oh, a little one, how lovely!'. I beamed and we went and joined our friends at our table. The baby was immediately borrowed by the mother of the bride to be and she was stripped out of her coat and declared lovely by all of the hen party. However, on beginning the game of pass the baby (when the music stops, whoever has her has to keep her :D) she began to put up a protest. I grabbed a scarf feeling that decency was probably a good idea, latched her on and proceeded to drink my champagne (only one glass of course). Many tasty crustless sandwiches followed, then cream teas with the most delicious jam. Completely stuffed, we were then presented with plates of beautiful little cakes. During this time the baby was passed around several times and had three bouts of breastfeeding. The staff were amazing and did not react in any way to my breastfeeding.

It was truly a wonderful afternoon and I felt completely at ease. My friend was beautiful as ever and appeared to have a great time. As she, and the rest of the party, went on to have cocktails, another friend and I left to catch our trains home. I must take a moment to praise a kind man on the tube. I jumped on a packed train with baby in a carrier on my front. Most of the commuters continued their careful stares at the floor. He immediately offered me his seat even though he wasn't in one of those priority ones. So, kind, ginger haired man on the Victoria line, should you ever read this, thank you again.

I now sit, typing this on my way home on the train. I have plenty of time having caught one of those extra slow trains that stop at every tiny village station. I am feeling proud of myself for my breastfeeding exploits today. Busy train and top London hotel and still only positive responses, just the way it should be. Baby is currently quietly feeding, having been the only thing that has made the two paddle boat/steam train enthusiasts sat on the other side of the aisle from me stumble in their conversation. However they quickly continued unperturbed.  Occupants on this train have definitely seen my pasty flesh, but I am totally unworried by this, and if anything, just a bit dozy.  Maybe a little sleep with my little girl...

(Photo borrowed from tripadvisor)

Tuesday, 5 February 2013


I went out with some girlfriends at the weekend.  Inevitably we went shopping.  A lovely lunch was had, where, of course, the boy ate virtually none of the meal I had paid good money for.  He is a proper little con artist.  I suppose I should know better.  The baby, surprisingly, slept for the whole lunch.  But, as babies are wont to do, she awoke just as I was trying to pay and get the boy ready to leave.  A great deal of stress ensued and I departed from the restaurant as quick as I could, having drawn the attention of most of the customers thanks to the baby's cries.

On reaching cool air and open space outside I considered my options for quieting the baby.  I didn't want to inconvenience my friends by sitting down again elsewhere (although I knew they wouldn't mind) so I decided to breastfeed on the move.  This is a method I have employed a few times at home.  It is very useful in those moments when you are cooking, with the toddler shouting 'I want play trains!!' on repeat and you really need full mobility and both hands, or actually preferably some extra hands.  

Baby was already in my babycarrier.  This is a new fabric one that I purchased on hearing that you can breastfeed whilst 'babywearing'.  I'm not sure how I feel about the term 'babywearing' but it seems to be the cool way to refer to it at the moment - like the baby is an accessory to your 'look'.  Anyway, baby was lying in the carrier as I was using it like a sling.  I spun her so she was belly to belly with me and moved her arm to my side and then latched her on.  This was all quite slick, but there is one issue. I am around 5 foot 3.  Therefore, when my breast is out, anyone taller than me (and that's most people) can pretty much see what I am doing, so haste can be a necessity.  However, other than my friends and one or two passers by, nobody was close enough to see.  With a scarf draped over to cover my dignity I proceeded to shop without having to stop to feed baby.  A triumph!  This is the first time I had tried this outside of the home, but it was definitely a useful technique.

As an aside, I was recently 'babywearing' (not feeding, just carrying) when in a charity shop.  The old lady behind the counter was admiring the carrier (and the baby).  She said "Those are wonderful things.  When I lived in Africa we used to watch the local ladies going off to work in the fields with their babies like that.  And you know what?  We never once heard them cry."  A wonderful advocation I think.