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Women2Day: The public breastfeeding debate

This week's Women2day looks at the issue of nursing your babies in public

Should women be made to feel ashamed of breastfeeding in public?

Last week, a mum in the USA found herself on the receiving end of a random act of kindness when she was breastfeeding her baby.

When the woman, known as Katy, was feeding her child at a restaurant, she was surprised when another girl ran over, dropped something on the table, smiled and then walked out of the door.

Katy wasn’t expecting what she found – some money and a note which said: “Thank you for breastfeeding in public and helping to reduce the stigma for future mums like me. You rock.”

Understandably touched by this gesture, Katy later wrote on social media: “So amazing to see what we are doing is having an impact on future generations.”

The post has gone down a storm on the internet, with many praising both Katy and the girl in question.

Refreshing change

It’s a refreshing change from the stories that pop up on social media every few weeks it seems, highlighting another incident when a woman tries to breastfeed her child in public but gets criticised for doing so.

Public breastfeeding has become one of the most controversial social issues of our time and even though there are laws to protect mothers who breastfeed their children, it still sparks a huge debate between those who say it makes them feel uncomfortable and those who ask why it is acceptable to see a woman’s breasts when sexualised by the media but wrong to see them being used for their intended purpose.

Many public places now offer special breastfeeding areas for mothers, but most do not. What is a mother to do then, when a baby is hungry and wants to be fed? Should they really be made to feel uncomfortable feeding their child without passers by looking at them with disgust? If they are discreet about it, surely there is little harm?

In England and Wales, the Equality Act states that it is actually sex discrimination to treat a woman unfavourably because she’s breastfeeding, and in Scotland, breastfeeding is protected by the Breastfeeding etc (Scotland) Act 2005 under which says it’s an offence to stop someone in a public place from feeding their child, if under two, with milk.

'Embarrassed'

I was surprised to find that a recent survey found that six out of 10 breastfeeding women take steps to hide it in public and a third of them feel embarrassed or uncomfortable nursing outside the home.

The poll, carried out by Public Health England’s (PHE’s) parenting advice service, Start4Life, also found one in five believed others did not want them to breastfeed in public and one in 10 who chose not to nurse their baby were influenced by the worry of doing so outside the home.

“Women were blessed with the ability to produce food for their children. It’s a miracle in itself that one’s body is able to make a necessity for survival on its own,” a young woman was quoted as saying in a blog in The Easterner.

And that’s quite a good way to look at it.

Advice for mums

Breastfeeding in public can mean breastfeeding in front of a relative or friend in your own home, or in a public place, such as a cafe or shopping centre. The NHS has issued some help and information for mums breastfeeding outside their home:

Plan ahead

Before you go out, it can help to think about where you will feel comfortable breastfeeding when your baby gets hungry. Ask breastfeeding friends or your health visitor if they know of a spot, such as a cafe, that they’ve found to be breastfeeding-friendly.

Clothes

What you wear when you’re breastfeeding is a matter of personal taste and what you feel comfortable in. For example, some mums like to wear loose tops that can be lifted up. Others, who prefer to keep their tummy covered, wear two stretchy tops, so that the top layer can be lifted up and the bottom layer can be pulled down. A soft non-underwired bra can be easily pulled up or down when you want to feed your baby.

Baby slings, scarves and cloths

Some baby slings are designed in such a way that you can breastfeed while your baby is still in the sling. Ask your health visitor for more information. Some mums feel more comfortable laying a scarf or muslin cloth over their chest while they’re breastfeeding.

Know your rights

You shouldn’t ever be made to feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public. In fact, 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.

What are your views on breastfeeding in public? Let us know in the comments box below:

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