When I was pregnant with Luca, Bren and I had lunch with a couple who had an 18-month-old daughter. They seemed a happy family and apart from the lecture we received about the perils of epidurals and c-sections (both of which I ended up with during my first labour), we had a nice day.
But in the car on the way home, we turned to eachother and said, "What the fuck was with the breastfeeding?"
The woman had a kind of "open bar" policy with her toddler who fed countless times in the few short hours we were there (as well as eating regular food). The little babe – completely adorable by the way – would help herself to boob whenever the mood struck, and inbetween feeds, Mum would sometimes leave her shirt open. It was….a teensy bit awkward. We didn't know these people well at all but I could probably describe her areola to you in detail. Incidently, they were lovely breasts.
In addition to that, bub was a bit of a tweaker whereby she would feed from one breast while playing "tune in Tokyo" with the other. As it turns out, many babies will do this and it's actually ingenious of them as it helps to stimulate let down which means they get more milk. Smart.
When my first baby arrived, I was a demand breastfeeder who never cared much for being 'discreet' but in comparison to this woman, my nursing style was positively repressed.
But why am I telling you this story?
Firstly, because of the woman who was told she could not breastfeed her baby at a public pool because it was making other patrons uncomfortable.
From the Courier Mail:
"A staff member came up to me and told me I wasn't allowed to feed there, that I had to refrain from feeding out in the open,'' Ms Webster said.
"I said I was sure it was illegal to tell me to do that but she said it was a grey area…and had to insist I didn't feed there.''
The staff member offered alternatives to Ms Webster, including going to a changeroom or moving to the corner of the centre and covering her baby with a towel while she breastfed.
And secondly, because of the comments Kochie (an Australian morning television host) made regarding this incident. I have always found him to be a koch-head of the highest order and his comments in relation to the discriminatory and illegal actions of the pool management involved fully support my original position.
Here is what he had to say;
"I totally agree with breastfeeding in public but I think you've gotta be a bit classy about it – that feet on the edge of the pool isn't discreet enough."
"That's a high traffic area. I can understand why people were uncomfortable in such a high profile place."
"I have two breastfeeding daughters. They breastfeed in restaurants, everywhere. But they'll turn their chair around so, you know, do discreet things like that. Or have a muslin over the baby."
Supporters of Koch are crying foul of the "bullies" posting pictures of themselves breastfeeding on his Facebook page. He's entitled to his opinion, they cry. But he identifies himself as a "Public Figure" on that very page and in doing so, must expect to be held to account for the statements he makes. Using the vehicle of high rating television is a powerful way to espouse harmful and antiquated attitudes. He has a responsibility to carefully consider the messages he sends – and what he said comes dangerously close to endorsing discrimination.
But the worst thing about David Koch's comments is I've heard them all before. And it's always a rehash of the same tired line, "I fully support it BUT.." You, too, can enjoy our full breastfeeding endorsement if you'll only adhere to a few simple rules! Apparently, there is a right and a wrong way to breastfeed a baby and it appears the rules are being made by a society who have completely lost touch with the purpose of a woman's breasts.
In addition to breastfeeding women having the terms of how they feed their babies dictated to them, I have read the following (almost always prefaced with "I support breastfeeding but..");
1. Breastfeeding is a "private bond" between mother and baby – not for the whole shopping centre!
2. There are breast pumps! Make up a bottle if you need to feed in public.
3. That's what Mother's Rooms are for.
4. Kids shouldn't have to see a bare breast without their parents' consent.
5. I would be worried about all the pervs getting off on it.
6. Use a breastfeeding blanket.
7. Breastfeeding women need to be respectful of the people around them.
Well, if I might, allow me to respond;
1. Breastfeeding is a way to FEED A HUNGRY BABY. This is the primary purpose. The bonding is a supremely gorgeous but secondary part of the equation.
2. Pumping breast milk can be awkward, time-consuming, painful and in the end, might produce well short of the amount required to feed the baby while you're away from a "suitable" space in which to breastfeed. Or like my second son, the baby might completely refuse a bottle.
3. Yes, Mother's Rooms provide small cubicles in which to uphold that all important discretion but guess what else happens in Mother's Rooms? Dirty nappies get changed. LOTS and LOTS of nappies. And those bins ain't getting changed with any kind of frequency. Fill in the stinking blanks.
4. I seriously read this comment today. And I seriously have no appropriate words of response. What. even. the fuck?
5. I have breastfed three babies in public and I have never encountered anyone lurking suspiciously. And if someone on the other side of the food court was playing a dirty movie about me in their mind, I suspect that could happen whether I was breastfeeding or not. Not about to quit breastfeeding publicly because studies show men think of sex every four minutes.
6. This might work for a very newborn baby but the older the baby, the more likely they would be annoyed or distracted by the cover. I attempted to use a muslin while feeding once and the whole thing was so awkward and made me so flustered that I drew far more attention to myself than had I put babe straight onto the boob. And those breastfeeding capes are a beacon that scream, "Just breastfeeding my baby! Nothing to see here!" Beyond which, why cover up? Where is the offense in seeing the top of my breast (almost always visible anyway because I am the kind of whore who likes to wear….t-shirts!) and the back of my baby's head?
7. Classy. Respectful. Discreet. Modest. Antonyms of which are – Unrefined. Crude. Indelicate. Dirty. Because if I feed my hungry baby without first considering the feelings of the strangers around me who should be minding their own business, I am some kind of lactating whore?
And then there's the inference that breastfeeding mothers are exhibitionists at their core. Which brings me to the mother at the beginning of this piece. She was a "tits akimbo" kind of woman but never for one minute did I suppose it was because she actually wanted us to see her breasts. Her relaxed attitude was all about how she wanted to feed her child and the discomfort Bren and I felt was all about US and OUR hang ups. I completely support this woman's right to breastfeed in a way that works for her even if it is not how I would personally do it.
Some are arguing that Kochie never said he was against breastfeeding. But you can't be truly for a thing if your approval comes with conditions. Breastfeeding can be a difficult and emotional journey for many women who struggle through those challenges because they understand how brilliant breast milk is for infants. Setting arbitrary, moralistic rules and then humiliating or shaming a mother when she doesn't adhere to them doesn't just complicate the matter, for some mothers it can be the tipping point to giving up altogether; cue mother lode of guilt.
The only way to genuinely support a breastfeeding mother is to recognise that it is her purpose by nature and her right by law to feed her child anywhere and at any time she sees fit.