Get ya tits out for the…

Baby. Breasts are for babies, not lads. Lads may like them, but babies need them for nourishment. And yet our Western fetishising of boobs means that breastfeeding mums are stigmatised; they’re made to feel as if they’re doing something naughty.

While pregnant with Joni (my firstborn, six-week-old baby) I was sat in a cafe. A woman walked in, pulled out her entire breast, pushed it into her infant’s mouth and walked up to the counter. Now that i’m a breastfeeding mum, I think: wow – that takes some skill (and courage) but at the time I thought: is that really necessary? Why not just sit in the corner, drape a scarf from your shoulder over your baby’s head and feed her discreetly?

However, I now get why she did that – and fully endorse it. Covering a baby’s head in a scarf not only upsets the already hot, sweaty baby but it also means that the mother can’t observe the baby as she feeds. Keeping a muslin covering both the breast and the baby is quite an art. And all so that the men (and women) around you don’t feel uncomfortable.

That woman got her breast out because her baby was hungry and newborns will NOT wait to be fed – when they realise they’re hungry, they need milk immediately. So finding a muslin, positioning herself, latching the baby on and making sure they were both covered up – so as not to offend – would have been a faff, probably resulting in a screaming baby. And the reason she walked across the cafe is because she wanted to order a drink. If her baby was settling down for an hour-long feed, she was going to get thirsty. There was no other option.

As a society, we frown upon women openly breastfeeding. Women who dare to do so are accused of being exhibitionists, of trying to flirt with the men around them or of showing off. But in most other cultures, feeding a baby milk from your breast is the norm and so needn’t be hidden. We’re not a prudish nation when it comes to baring flesh if it’s on display for men to gawp at – and we shouldn’t be in a breastfeeding context, either.

I was in the supermarket a couple of weeks ago and Joni started pursing her lips, signalling her hunger. I decided to finish my shop then walk home to feed her. Except as I mentioned earlier: baby doesn’t wait for mum to be ready because she’s not yet a rational being. And so she started crying softly, and then loudly and then she was WAILING. People were looking at me like I was an incapable mother. So I dumped my trolley, found a seat by the toilets, got my tit out and shoved it in her mouth. She was instantly appeased but the people around me were appalled.

I was frowned upon for having a crying baby and I was frowned upon for stopping my baby from crying.

Many of the women within close proximity were wearing burkas, as there’s a large muslim community in Walthamstow. So here were two ends of the spectrum: these women completely covered – with only their eyes showing – and then me, exposing a part of a breast, as well as arms, legs etc. Perhaps each of us making the other feel uncomfortable.

The Qur’an encourages women to breastfeed and within female only groups, behind clothes doors, muslim women often breastfeed openly. But in public they’re told to dress modestly and breastfeed discreetly so I wondered what they made of my behaviour.

Before Joni came along, I didn’t understand anything about breastfeeding in public and how taboo it is, how difficult it is to do discreetly – and comfortably – and about the stick (perhaps unspoken, but we’re sensitive to every glare) women get for feeding their baby with their breasts. So I get that other people feel the same. But it’s high time we made breastfeeding public again and dropped this limited view on what boobs should be used for. Enjoy them during sex, if that’s your thing, but let mums enjoy using them to feed their babies; in private, as well as in public – if they choose to.

Sometimes I want to go to my room and feed with no one else around, and at other times I’m happy to be around friends and family. Then there are times when we’re out – because mums, like everyone else, do need to leave the house – and Joni needs feeding. Whether I do it behind a cloth or openly, in a park, supermarket or café shouldn’t matter to anyone else because these are my tits and right now: they’re for feeding.

So get over it and cast your judgmental gaze elsewhere. Maybe on the woman with the hoiked up cleavage who has hers out because she wants you to look – and gives a shit about what you think.

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