Earlier this week an incredible story emerged in world news. A Nigerian grandmother, fleeing from insurgents who had killed her family and with no food or money, managed to keep her starving baby grandchild alive by breastfeeding her. This story may seem remote and galaxies away from anything we may ever experience, yet it reminds us of the life-giving, nurturing properties of our bodies and the fact that breastfeeding is a natural and important process.
In the UK, however attitudes to breastfeeding in public can be mixed at best, downright shameful at worst. Women have reported being called names, humiliated and thrown out of places, simply for giving their child sustenance.
If you choose to breastfeed you will undoubtedly need to do so in public places at some point. Here’s my five point guide to doing so discreetly and happily.
- Plan ahead – thinking about the places you’ll be visiting or your route somewhere can help you to feel less anxious about trips out – especially when you have a newborn. For example, use the internet to check the nursing facilities for department stores and restaurants.
- Pick a quiet spot – if you can find somewhere calm it will make the whole process quicker and smoother as your baby won’t be over stimulated and popping off the breast constantly to look around.
- Dress smart – make sure you’ve chosen an easy access bra and a top which means that your breasts are accessible. You don’t want to waste time removing hundreds of layers or fumbling with straps and clasps while trying to soothe a fretful baby.
- Use a nursing scarf – there are many great nursing covers, wraps or scarves which you help you feed discreetly and which serve to protect your modesty while creating a cosy, calm nook for baby. If these aren’t your cup of tea you can always tuck a muslin square under your baby’s chin and use the excess corner to drape over any bits you don’t want in full view.
- Keep calm – if challenged when feeding, have your responses ready and try to keep your tone calm and upbeat to prevent upsetting yourself or your baby. For example if someone asks you why you can’t feed your baby in the toilet you could say, “We’d rather be here thank you, it’s cleaner.” If they suggest you wait until you get home, you could reply, “Would you prefer it if my baby was screaming? She/he is hungry, I won’t be long.” If the manager of a café says a customer has complained you could suggest the customer be relocated so that they can’t see you.
Sometimes however, there’s just no getting through to people. In the face of extreme prejudice or unfair treatment such as being asked to move or leave an environment because you are feeding your baby it helps to know your legal rights, which are as follows:
- In England and Wales your right to breastfeed in public is covered by The Equality Act 2010.
- This states that ‘A business cannot discriminate against mothers who are breastfeeding a child of any age.’ In simple terms it is against the law for owners or staff of a business such as a shop, restaurant or café to refuse to serve you or ask you to leave because you are breastfeeding. You are also within your rights to breastfeed in public open spaces, on public transport, in hospitals, theatres and cinemas etc.
- In fact, there are few places where you are not allowed to breastfeed. It is only legal to prevent a woman breastfeeding in public if there’s a serious health and safety risk or in a place that’s lawfully reserved for men only, such as a religious organization reserved only for men.
So, if you are breastfeeding in public remember to do so with confidence and a big smile.