Sunday, September 6, 2009

What’s so wrong with breastfeeding?

Feeding an infant is the most natural thing in the world to a mother, but shockingly sexist views still exist, particularly in the 18-24 age group

It's time to get on the soapbox. Something in the news this week makes me feel compelled to speak out.
A Newspoll survey has asked the Australian public what they think of women who breastfeed their babies in public.
Never mind the fact this is a completely legal and natural thing to do, let’s just ask people these questions to stir up debate.
Lo and behold, 36 per cent of respondents said breastfeeding was unacceptable in a cafe or at work, despite 65 per cent of people saying breastfed babies had a better chance of surviving beyond a year old.
So, breastfeeding mothers, it is back to toilets, carpark or closet for you, or better still, just stay at home for good.
Not surprisingly, it was young adults aged 18 to 24 who were the least supportive of public breastfeeding. They are uncomfortable because they are ignorant and have only one thing on their minds: sex.
It seems it is OK to ogle at topless tourists at the Lagoon, but not acceptable for a woman to feed a hungry, and often screaming, infant.

The study of 1000 men and women was commissioned by the Australian Lactation Consultants’ Association (ALCA).
ALCA vice-president Dr Jennifer James said: “It is unacceptable to expect that women should be locked inside their house to breastfeed.”
“Australia needs a paradigm shift, and it has to start in our schools with education that normalises breastfeeding and prevents young adults being shocked or embarrassed.”
I tend to agree with Dr James, but it’s not easy when almost all children’s books and toys portray bottlefed babies.
I will digress a little bit here to add I am in no way vilifying mothers who feed their babies formula – I also bottlefed my daughter so I can see two sides to the breast vs bottle debate.
According to the study, a church was the most unacceptable place to breastfeed, followed by work, cafe or restaurant and then shopping centre.
Considering shopping centres are, on the whole, frequented by mothers, and women who love to shop, this finding is bizarre. Are women ostracising other women?
Shopping centres have taken big steps from when we were children, providing parents’ rooms with toilet facilities for mothers and young children, as well as change tables and private nursing rooms.
However, when I was feeding my four-week-old daughter in the parents’ room at Cairns Central,
I was shocked to see two young men walk in and stare at me.
I was in a very vulnerable position, and if I had been alone (there was another mother in the room) I’m sure I would have been robbed. From that day on, felt much safer breastfeeding in the back corner of a coffee shop, and not once was I made to feel unwelcome.
I did breastfeed in the back seat of my car a few times, but there was no way I was going to go into a toilet cubicle, nor was I going to let my child starve just so the general public would feel at ease.
There is plenty of sexually explicit images and nudity on television, music videos and magazines, but as soon as a woman tends to her hungry baby, she is seen as vulgar.
Most breastfeeding mothers are discreet when breastfeeding, and there are now a number of innovative breastfeeding garments and shawls on the market in order to remain that way.
I don’t know any mothers who actually want to show their breasts off to the whole world, but they do want to give their child the best start in life.
What many people forget is that breastfeeding is not easy.
It takes a lot of time and effort, and quite often accompanied by emotional and physical pain, so women who do achieve a successful breastfeeding relationship with their babies should be commended.
Breastfeeding is normal, not obscene, and in this day and age when there is plenty of studies, government campaigns and support groups touting the benefits of breast milk, it is absurd that this sort of study sees the light of day.
To remind our readers, the World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding exclusively for a baby’s first six months, continuing for up to two years while solid food is introduced.
So here’s my message to anyone who thinks breastfeeding in public is obscene: get over it. It’s time to put an end to this blatant discrimination.


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