Pre-baby, when I saw women breastfeeding I used to literally think ‘wow, they are so brave’. Even back then, when I knew nothing about breastfeeding or babies, I was still massively aware of how people shrink in horror or become uncomfortable and awkward at the sight of a breastfeeding woman. But why? It’s one of the few natural behaviours. left that humans do, and yet there’s this weird cloud of controversy that hangs around the neck of breastfeeding. And I’m not sure it will ever shake off this controversy now; it feels too late, and I think that’s really sad.
When I first started breastfeeding it was a bloody mindfield. It was seriously tough. But once it clicked, it was something that I felt comfortable doing, and the more I did it the easier it got. I fortunately didn’t ever get cracked or sore nipples so had an easier time than most. Until I gained confidence, I was petrified of breastfeeding in public. I used to only leave the house immediately after a feed, and rush back home before the next one. I didn’t even want to do it in front of friends. And it wasn’t even the bit about flashing your boobs that was the main issue for me, (I think the whole world and his dog saw my boobs during a particularly hot summer in Bournemouth in 2005) it was more about being seen as a mum who ‘knew what she was doing’. And lets face it, I didn’t for a while, and even now I feel like I’m winging it most of the time (but I like it like that!) I had to have quiet, I needed my chair to support my back and I had to know that I wasn’t in a rush and that no one was waiting for me, or even worse, watching what I was doing. I still prefer to have all of these things but you can’t let breastfeeding take over your life and now I can do it cross legged and standing on my head in a car park if needs be.
A major part in my journey out of the dark depths of solitary feeding, to nursing in public (I still never get why it’s called nursing, I’ve never needed a stethoscope) was watching how other mums did it. I remember reading bits of advice about going to breastfeeding groups and being shown by ‘experienced breastfeeders’ what to do. The whole idea of that just made me cringe. I imagined hippies in flowing skirts with their baps out while making daisy chains. But it was when I went to take Phoenix to get weighed at the children’s centre that I spied a mum breastfeeding and had a eureka moment. She was so discreet, practically nothing was on show, and she just carried on chatting casually. Now I know this sounds stupid, but I had no clue how to get my boobs out discreetly (I know, what can I say, I’m a tart) and Phoenix was born in the summer and I was opting for clothes that I could just pull down from the top and flop my boobs over – not so discreet, hey? So when I saw this woman sneak a muslin square under her t-shirt, tuck it under her bra to keep her body covered, then let down a nursing bra and lift up her top revealing little more than a peep hole for the nipple, I was wide eyed: ‘this girl has got it sussed!’. See, it’s things like that you never get told, so maybe the suggestion of going to a breastfeeding group isn’t so ludicrous after all – there was no way I was going to waltz into Starbucks with the way I was doing it “Hello sir, would you like a nipple with your latte?”.
Generally if I’m out shopping I still prefer to use the feeding rooms in Mothercare/John Lewis as they’re more relaxing, it’s nice chatting to other mums and you can send your husband off to buy you chocolate buttons, but I am no longer scared to feed in other places. There comes a time when you just don’t have a choice but to feed in public, and once I’d done it, it was a barrier overcome (that happened to be in a pub in Waterloo for me!) You also develop an innate skill for seeking out ‘quiet corners’ and transforming tables and chairs into a set up that gives you a bit more privacy. So if you are breastfeeding, when you’re ready, don’t be shy, and don’t be put off by the silly ol’ general public, the more we retreat, the more this ridiculous controversy around breastfeeding will grow. The end.
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