I breastfed for seven years between my two children and there were many an occasion when their need for feeding coincided with being in public. The reality is that for children to exist, they need to eat. And for children to exist in public, they need to be able to eat in public. Breastfeeding is a way in which our children eat, exclusively for part of their life and then still in some capacity as they age. Breastfeeding is also a form of security and comfort, something a child could very understandably require whilst trying to navigate the world beyond their home.
Whilst breastfeeding in public is a right protected by law where I live, there are many who still do not support public breastfeeding.
When my first daughter was born, breastfeeding in itself felt uncomfortable. It was something completely new to me and I wasn’t sure what to expect. When she required feeding in public, my discomfort expanded as I was now also anxious about how others would react.
When my second daughter was born, breastfeeding didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. It was something I was familiar with and I knew what to expect. When she required feeding in public, I felt confident in my ability to navigate the situation.
So what changed?
Experience. I now had not only a number of years of breastfeeding under my belt but my sphere had grown to include other people who were also breastfeeding. Exposure had grown my comfort. Breastfeeding had become a part of my everyday life, for myself and my children and for others.
And this is why I feel it is so important that people feel supported to breastfeed in public. We need to see breastfeeding!
But right now, perhaps you see somebody feeding and you feel uncomfortable.
Well, feeling uncomfortable is not an indication about the validity of a circumstance. Asking for help can be uncomfortable, firing someone can be uncomfortable, trying to explain when somebody has heard or interpreted you incorrectly can be uncomfortable. Feeling uncomfortable does not suggest the situation is something which should be avoided. When we are faced with something unexpected we can be resistant in our desire to navigate it for fear of doing so incorrectly.
Feeling uncomfortable can be our initial reaction but to then infer what that suggests about the situation is a choice. Yes, you could try and demand somebody adjust to make you more comfortable but perhaps there is a way for you to explore inwardly the source of these feelings so you can process past them, you have the most power to influence you after all. Why is it that you are uncomfortable? Is it actually justifiable?
Breastfeeding in public is fairly scarce whilst breasts used in other more adult contexts is far more abundant so it actually makes complete sense that people might find it difficult to view them in a biological setting comfortably. The same problem is not found with other multipurpose body parts such as hands or mouths because there is much more balance within their connotations; we might see a sexually suggestive mouth several times a day but we see people talk and eat and laugh at a much higher frequency.
Brains are wired through association, the more you see something in a certain light the stronger you will continue to see it in that way. If we continue to hide breastfeeding from the public eye this division from breast’s biological purpose will only get stronger. To indulge ones discomfort with breastfeeding is to seek to protect the sexual image of breasts. To support breastfeeding in public is to protect the biological image and protect a child’s right to nutrition and access to public spaces. What is your priority?
The reality is that when you see me feeding in public I’m not trying to make a point, I’m not trying to turn you on, I’m not trying to make you uncomfortable; to be honest, I’m not really thinking about you at all, I’m just trying to get on with my day which involves feeding my children, whenever and wherever they require so. People act like it is beyond our ability to see breasts in different lights based on context. I have more belief in us than that.
When I look at your hands, I don’t see what you did last night. When I see your mouth I do not think to wonder what it has done behind closed doors. When you see me feeding my baby, that is all you need to see because that is all there is happening here in this moment. You have a choice in your thoughts, you have a choice to discredit your discomfort and grow. Challenge yourself and support mothers, it can be difficult enough without adding extra arbitrary conditions.
The more we see breastfeeding, the less we will see it. It will become no more notable than a red car or blue shirt. Children are a part of our communities and children require feeding; our public spaces should reflect and honour that reality.