Meet breastfeeding’s biggest critics: new mums

Breastfeeding in the UK News

Last week, thousands of mothers from around the UK took to the streets in support of a mother from Staffordshire who had been branded a tramp on twitter, together with her photo, for breast feeding in public on a recent shopping trip.

As shocking as this incident is, and despite it being a criminal act in Scotland to challenge a mother on her right to feed her baby, the negativity around breastfeeding in public never dies, it just goes media quiet.

Choppy waters

My first bad experience with breast feeding in public occurred when my daughter was just seven weeks old. It was suggested to me by a lady behind the “customer services” desk that I might like to breastfeed my daughter in a toilet cubicle on the packed ferry to Northern Ireland. My question to her had been whether I could borrow a chair from her empty office to sit on to feed as all others on the ferry were taken. I ended up sitting on the floor of a corridor whilst people stepped over me. I considered this a slightly more appealing prospect than hiding in the loos for a half an hour to breastfeed my baby.

I never did get a satisfactory answer to the subsequent customer complaint about my poor treatment. I don’t think she would have sent an elderly person to go and eat a sandwich sitting on the toilet, do you?

I happened to be tuned in to a phone-in on BBC Radio Scotland only last week where a caller told another story so appalling, her knee jerk response to it was “high five” amusing. She was discretely feeding her daughter in a restaurant when an elderly lady approached to ask that she cover herself with a blanket as the breast feeding was putting her off her lunch. The mother’s retort was to tell the lady to go and eat her lunch under a blanket if she was so bothered, to which the complainant responded by marching out the restaurant.

Each to their own

Don’t get me wrong, I would class myself as an ex breast feeding mum with a moderate outlook. Like many, I was quite self-conscious about doing it initially, and, on reflection, tried to be as considerate to the general public as possible in picking my moments. I also admit that before I was blessed with my bambino, I had no real idea what was involved in feeding and as such found the concept of feeding in public a bit distasteful, yet had never witnessed it going on myself (probably because it’s so subtle).

Enlightened and fortunate, I breast fed my baby for six months but only did so in public if and when necessary, although I wouldn’t shy away from doing so immediately if my baby was hungry. Over the course of these early months, my confidence slowly grew, and I became increasingly proficient and discrete in “getting them out.” I soon got to know which cafés were “safe places” along with where all the purpose built baby feeding havens were in town.

I happily moved on to formula milk at what seemed an appropriate juncture for both of us, promptly burned my nursing bras and had a large glass of Pinot. Job done!

Mum knows best

All the recent media coverage about attitudes towards breastfeeding really got me thinking about a different kind of negative behaviour that I witnessed back then (and that I still see going on these days from time to time) on this subject.

Im sad to say, that by far the most negative attitudes that I have encountered on the subject of breastfeeding are from other women. Specifically, women who have been unable to breastfeed themselves. I distinguish the aforementioned group from those who actively choose not to breastfeed.

I actually respect those who choose to “opt out” for making a decision not to breastfeed and then stand firm at a time where would be easy just to be dragged along in the post labour daze. They have made the right decision for them and that’s great. I have not encountered any negativity from these friends and acquaintances, I suspect mainly because they have enough to deal with in terms of negativity from the extreme “pro-breast” brigade and such groups’ associated failure to recognise a woman’s choice to bottle feed.

I emphasise again that I only speak of my own experiences of attitudes towards breastfeeding and it is with a heavy heart that I do so.

I can only imagine the anguish that I would have felt had breastfeeding not worked out as I had hoped and/or planned for through no fault of my own.

I have heard many stories of overbearing midwives doing more harm than good in trying to help with latching on and so forth, eye rolling at tears and stiff upper lip being suggested as the cure for cracked nipples and hungry screams. God knows, it’s hard enough without all that.

Yet, week in, week out, these same mothers share articles and blogs on facebook and twitter telling the world how breastfeeding is bad because of food pesticides; consoling themselves with how breastfeeding mothers feel trapped and miserable, and if only their midwives had told them this rather than forcing them to do it, life would be sweet; and so called “balanced views” essentially bashing everyone under the sun for supposedly judging them because they are bottle feeding, all usually underlined by a midwife being applauded for bashing the boob and lauding formula. “A balanced view?”

I think not.

As if these articles, designed to give bottle feeding moms a boost, don’t make the breast feeding mum feel guilty enough, then there’s the passive aggressive comments delivered in person, fuelled by misguided resentment, jealousy and an inferiority complex associated with assuming that we think they are terrible mothers for not breastfeeding.

In my case, I recall disbelief being levied my way several times at my insistence that my breastfed baby (who fed every two hours at one point) shouldn’t NEED topped up
with formula. Or the little sly digs about the nursing tops and bras being frumpy.

They are indeed frumpy, but unfortunately are staples of modesty and therefore cannot be helped.

Or asking what the point of a whole week of expressing is just to achieve a night out on a Friday with the girls, and shouldn’t I just go on to formula if I want my life back.

Or being ridiculously over sensitive about feeling left out when breastfeeding mums compare notes in “mixed” company over coffee and cake.

Yes, I don’t deny that bottle feeding has its very public critics, leading to women feeling the need to defend their positions. The worst example I can think of in recent times is a very well known UK high street pharmacy store refusing to give loyalty points on formula milk, allegedly on the grounds that to do so would discourage mothers from breastfeeding. I mean, get real!

Yet I don’t see stories being shared on Facebook about how breast is best, and would never in a million years make snide comments to a fellow mum about her bottle feeding routine.

United we stand?

So come on mums. Let’s unite. We should stand together against any attacks on new mums.

Feeling bitter about not being able to breast feed is fruitless and thinking others will judge you for it is simply just not true in my experience. As a breastfeeding mum, I shouldn’t have to tread on eggshells or be made to feel guilty just because through sheer luck of the draw I can do it.

More than a year down the line, the same people are still at it and it really is time to move on. Surely your proof is in your little pudding?

The most important thing is not how you do it but your happy, healthy bouncing little one – irrespective of how you get there.

Have you ever encountered negativity towards feeding your baby? Or do you believe “breast is best”? Do you find breastfeeding in public distasteful? Or do you just disagree with me completely? As ever, would love to hear what you think.

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12 thoughts on “Meet breastfeeding’s biggest critics: new mums

  1. Looks like Netmums have picked up on my blog post in a chat room thread. Thanks go to Rebecca T for comment below…

    Originally Posted:
    Meet breastfeeding?s biggest critics: new mums | Glasgowdragonfly’s Blog

    Just read this article and its true, you just can’t do right for doing wrong. The only public “reaction” I got for breast feeding was the odd awkward glance (usually followed by a coy smile) an other mothers telling me how they couldn’t breastfeed before going on to tell me how it doesn’t matter and its better to formula feed anyway because their babies slept 12 hours a night from day one and the mother isn’t “tied” to the baby. I really couldn’t give a toss. All I cared about was my baby and getting on with my life.

    I for the record really couldn’t give a flying monkeys bum about how babies are fed and the ins and outs of why. I always listened to these people until they turned it into them justifying their decision by implying I didn’t have a life, didn’t sleep, never saw anyone, never left the house etc. I think it is every woman’s choice how to feed their babies and they DO NOT have to justify it.

    Sent from my iPhone using Netmums mobile app

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  2. Pingback: Interesting article on attitudes towards breastfeeding - thoughts?

  3. Karen R commented as follows via Netmums:

    Interesting!

    Come to think of it, this does mostly ring true (it did for me anyway). If there was ever any disapproving looks or comments it usually came from Mums that were currently bottle feeding. I don’t know if they were unable to breastfeed or had just chosen bottle feeding (when you are on your own and confronted by 5 other Mums, all with bottles you don’t really want to ask!)

    I think the only person that wasn’t a Mum was a guy working in a cafe, who asked me if I would be more comfortable in the toilets!!?! He had been responding to a request by another Mum

    I have found that older generations of women are fine about it and have even started a conversation with me to say so!

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  4. Suzy H also commented on Netmums:

    This article seems largely about friends she has who are pro formula or have tried to breast feed and not been able too. So in that respect, my experience is ….. I met with my first ever negative comment from a friend just last week. I breast fed my first for 12.5 mths and am currently breast feeding my second who is 13.5 mths (albeit once a day at his choice). My friend has one child. She breast fed for 6 wks and then went onto formula. She said it was due to low supply which she realises was due to feeding on schedule as per Gina Ford, rather than on demand. I suspect she didn’t eat much either. Her sister coincidentally fed her prem twins for 13 mths and her sister told me it was her greatest achievement in life. I told her I was still feeding my lo and she replied “God, it’s like something out of little Britain”. I can’t help denying I was a little hurt. She did however go on to say she wished she had done it longer and would if she had had a second. Deep down I know she probably wants another child but there is a conflict of wanting another with her oh, so I know there’s more to it than meets the eye. I also think she may may also feel a little jealous that I’ve almost done it by the book. But I don’t think its the be end and all (breastfeeding). I don’t feel she should have carried on. She chose the right thing for her at that time and that’s all any of us can do So I would never hold it against her (what she said) and I forgive her but I have to say, it’s buried in the back of my brain somewhere.

    As for my own mother!! She’s always droned on and on about “I thought breast feeding babies didn’t get colds” (mine have never been without!!). One day, having took it with the first, I told her when it started with the second, to stop saying it. My Mum is a perfect Mum. I had a brilliant childhood. I just wonder if it’s the only thing I have on her if you like, that she didn’t breast feed my brother and I. Who knows?!!!

    To be fair, I don’t really give other peoples thoughts and feelings much time. I do as I please with my babies always at the forefront of what I do … just as any Mum does, whether ff or bf. I just find it weird in this day and age that bf’ing is even is being discussed and that it is still taboo. It feels like the most normal thing in the world to me. x

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  5. Another Netmums comment on article:

    That’s awful comparing you to “something out of little Britain” for breastfeeding your LOs and I really admire you for rising above it. It also sums up perfectly the sort of passive aggressive comments that are all too common in my book. The sort of stuff that on the face of it should be funny were in not a right old dig.

    Interesting you mention your mum too. Funnily enough I overheard my mum saying to my husband one day that she “had her serious doubts that I would manage breastfeeding” the tone inferring that I’m bit of a prima Donna, and that she didn’t think I had the patience. Although I overheard it and didn’t mention it, my husband actually mentioned it to me once we were home as he was really upset on my behalf for my mothers belittling tone and his perceived disloyalty towards her for saying this to him (and possibly others) behind my back and not to me. I’m glad she didn’t say it to me but behind my back is just as bad. I never said anything to her because it wasn’t worth it at the time and moved on. Again my mum only “managed” to bf two out of the three of us and that is the only possible reason I can think of for her back handed compliment.

    I was a formula fed baby, and I turned out fine (I think) and so just don’t understand why as bf mums we can’t just be left to get on with it without these kind of unhelpful comments.

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  6. Katie D commented on Netmums about this blog post as follows:

    Whilst my sisters and I breastfed, no one else in our family has and very few of my friends.

    Yet I only received supportive comments or people expressing an interest.

    Both mum and mil had formula fed but they were nothing but supportive and helpful.

    I can honestly say in a combined total of over 2 and half years of bf I’ve never had a negative reaction, look or comment.

    I didn’t know people had bad feelings towards bf till I joined NMs.

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  7. I don’t have any children yet but I’ve always thought that I will try to breastfeed. I don’t understand why women are so judgemental about it- do what’s best for you.
    I work in a restaurant & had a female customer one day who asked me if I could stop another woman breast feeding as it was disgusting to watch as she was eating. Let’s just say I have never been so rude to a customer, practically spitting my reply out.
    Personally, I’d rather have the mum at the table next to me breastfeeding than a screaming baby (I also don’t mind screaming babies!) & I couldn’t care less about seeing a boob in public!

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  8. I worked for a bookstore chain during the time they switched public breastfeeding policies. I went from asking new mothers to please breastfeed in the children’s section to defending them whenever someone complained to me. As you state, there are adamant views on both sides. And as a man in the middle of it, I have to say I felt better defending the mothers. Did breastfeeding make me uncomfortable to see in a public setting? Absolutely. But my discomfort is petty compared to the health of a baby.

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    • Thanks for adding a perspective from the man camp. It’s an interesting debate to which my views have changed drastically upon since becoming a mother. It really shouldn’t be made such a big deal of. We were all hungry little babies once upon a time. Thanks for commenting!

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  9. Twenty years ago, when I was nursing my boys, breastfeeding was still not an entirely common thing. I would get the “are you sure he should be eating that often?” and “I’ve never heard of a baby only pooping every other day”, I find it hard to believe that this is still such a debated topic. I usually assume every mother makes the choice that allows them to best parent their own baby.

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