Another day, another breastfeeding scandal in our backyard. The story of Christie Rea humiliated by staff for breastfeeding at the National Gallery of Australia last week made my blood boil.
Stories just like Christie’s cycle through our media all too regularly, and despite the laws protecting breastfeeding mothers, negative attitudes to public breastfeeding are still widespread and are no doubt a contributing factor to low breastfeeding rates across Australia: With around 15% of babies still breastfeeding at five months, we fall well short of the World Health Organisation’s guidelines for exclusive breastfeeding until six months.
I am currently breastfeeding, and like many other mothers, have experienced anxiety around breastfeeding in public since before I gave birth. It seems like everyone has an opinion on public breastfeeding, whether they have breastfed or not, and the discourse around it does little to encourage or support new or expectant mums.
The first experience I had with the discussion came at my antenatal class run by the midwife at the hospital where I gave birth. She told us the story of a young mum she had cared for who was accosted by an older couple at a local shopping centre for breastfeeding in public. The poor mum was mortified, but another woman overhearing the exchange came to her defense and kindly brought the attackers up to speed with the rights of a breastfeeding mother.
“Moral of the story” our midwife said “you are by law, entitled to breastfeed your baby wherever you need to, and as a society we need to stick up for other breastfeeding women”. Empowering stuff I thought, until she added this barbed caveat “but don’t be provocative about it”.
This baffled me. How can you be provocative with breastfeeding? Don’t’ be sexy about it? Don’t rub your nipples and offer everyone else a suck? Don’t hover over your infant on your hands and knees and then allow them to latch on like a cow does with its calf? If that’s what she means, yeah sure, I won’t be provocative about it.