I wanted to comment on a local news story and was drawn to a halt by the fact that it now seems to be untrue. I decided to move forward nevertheless because even though this particular story may not be true, it is true that breastfeeding in public can produce quite the negative stir. At the height of the story, our local CTV news station ran a poll and asked: “Does breastfeeding in public make you feel uncomfortable?” While we do not know how many people responded, their gender, age or life’s circumstance (i.e. childless or not), the results were, for myself, surprising: 60% were OK and 40% were “uncomfortable.” Not that far from half the respondents had “uncomfortable” feelings about seeing a mother breastfeeding her baby. How sad. We have a long way to go to be able to publicly breastfeed without judgment, possible negative harassment and shame. It certainly has been my experience with any breastfeeding woman and baby I have witnessed, Mom has been discrete, calm, only focused on the task at hand and most placed a blanket over baby and her shoulder. Literally, there was nothing to see or take offence to!! Recently at a train station, I watched a woman breastfeed her young baby quietly, efficiently and without fanfare or ado. How anyone could perceive what was going on as “uncomfortable” or offensive is beyond me. I witnessed love, being available, caring, comfort, gentleness, and necessity. I have never yet, and I am a senior, been subjected to a nursing woman who made a spectacle of herself, who flaunted or drew unwanted attention to the breastfeeding. I feel safe in suggesting that if there are any negative feelings they are those felt by the viewer and projected onto the mother, rather than the viewer taking ownership of his or her (yes, some of the negative comments come from women against women) “uncomfortable” feelings. It would be so helpful if “uncomfortable” viewers would take responsibility for their suspect feelings (and perhaps look at why they feel “uncomfortable” – but that is another story) and focus on a natural, normal occurrence in which the most vulnerable (and our future) in our society are nourished and comforted. It is as it should be. I would wonder if those same viewers also make charges against the skimpy outfits and lingerie that society is constantly subjected to in magazines, billboard, TV advertising and shows?
It is said that a picture speaks a thousand words. I remember seeing a photo several years ago and while I have searched around for it again, I cannot locate a copy of it. As my recollection goes, Che Guevara (a politician from Argentina, now deceased) was at a political rally and animately carrying on a conversation with a mother. Both were staring into each other eyes, focused on making whatever their political point was and, from the body language, not really agreeing with each other. What was most astounding (by North American standards) and meaningful was that the woman had a toddler at her breast and he was feeding contentedly. The photo, IMO, was powerfully focused on two people with opposite opinions each intent on making their point and one of them was, incidentally, breastfeeding her baby, a natural and accepted occurrence in Argentina. There are many areas in the world who are strides ahead of what is be deemed “uncomfortable” in North America.
Here’s an overview of the story which was recently in our local news:
You may have been following the story about the woman in the Ottawa Ikea store who was breastfeeding her 9-month old in the check-out line. Apparently Mom, her baby and 2-year old and a friend had gone to Ikea, made their selections and at the cash there needed to be a price check. After some minutes, the little one began to fuss, so Mom, as was usual for them, began to breastfeed to help sooth her baby while they waited for someone to complete their price check. The story continues that a supervisor came to the mother in line and said to Mom she had would provide the price when she finished her “disgusting” behaviour and “why didn’t she take it to the bathroom as she was holding up the line?” Both Mom and her friend were taken aback by these nasty comments on nursing her baby and Mom filed a complaint with Ikea as well as went to the press. As an aside, Mom reports that her 2-year old, whom she was also still nursing, would not nurse that evening as he went to bed and was their ritual. He cried and said it was “yucky.” It took some time to settle him that night.
Ikea issued an apology to Mom, offered a gift pack to the toddler son and stated that women are welcome to breastfeed their babies in any area of their store. The Ikea employee who made the initial statements has apparently not yet been identified and Ikea was making an effort to track her down.
An update on Ikea’s side of the story: After extensively reviewing their tapes, Ikea reported being able to identify the mother and her children going through the cash. She did not breastfeed her child at all, from the tapes, nor engage an employee to do a price check for her. In short, they feel the alleged altercation did not happen. Nevertheless, this past Sunday, there was a sit-in at Ikea of about 20 breastfeeding Moms, several of whom stated that the story was not as important as the fact that there are many places in Ottawa were breastfeeding in a public area is not accepted, and this story has raised an important issue so they were taking advantage of the chance to raise the profile of breastfeeding in public. A couple of Moms noted that Ikea is a welcoming store and they have previously breastfed their baby in the store without incident.
There is a caveat here though: it is a challenge to breastfeed two babies at a time in public and quite likely that there will be greater breast exposure on Mom’s part. It could even be a proposed Olympic sport to then place a blanket over two nursing babies when both arms are already full. Having said all of that, one has to do what one needs to do. One twin Mom shared that both of her babies were fussing while they were at the mall and she needed to quickly find a quiet place to feed them. She chose a bench in a corner where she thought they would not be too conspicuous. She just got both babies latched when an older man “marched over” towards them, mouth set and teeth clenched. Before he could open his mouth, she reportedly said: “I’ve got two hungry babies and two breasts – you do the math!” The fellow backed down, tusked, and walked away. Mom still felt bullied, picked on and embarrassed. This type of even wordless guilt trip shouldn’t happen to any nursing mother.
An important issues about simultaneously feeding two babies is that they are safely held and not in any danger of being dropped. At home it can be easily assured that all is in place to ensure babies are safely held for a simultaneous feed. In public, there could be a higher anxiety level on the part of Mom regarding feeding two fussy babies, quickly picked up on by the babies, as is their ability, and if this is the case, add to any possible challenges. Removing yourself to a designated or friendly feeding area of the public space could help everyone relax, ensure babies are held safely and easily fed. If Mom is self-conscious about having to breastfeed two and the babies begin squirming, they can be a challenge to safely hold. Do take care.
I would like to offer another piece of advice if I may. If you are breastfeeding in public and subjected to judgement, criticism or negative posture, try not to argue back in kind. Responding negatively has the power to escalate the interaction. Try to keep calm, perhaps look at the person, smile, make some eye contact and smile some more. Being non-defensive can defuse a situation. You are the best judge for the situation you are in, but if suitable cut them off – you do not have to listen to mean, nasty judgement or bad language – and quietly ask them to keep their voice down as it is disturbing the babies or you might say you will discuss things with them only when you are finished, now your focus is your babies and you need cooperation. When the babies are safely finished and back in the stroller, you can then simply walk away. You are not required to justify your choices, especially to someone who does not feel the need to understand. The object would be to defuse the interaction so that you and your babies can safely walk away. Responding may also lead you to say something you will regret or bursting into tears and still not liking how it ended. Each situation will need to be handled as you see fit, but keeping calm, maybe focusing on the babies feeding and humming to them, will help you get to a time when you can leave. I sincerely hope that you are not ever faced with anything belligerent.
Do you have any thoughts that you might like to share? Have you been challenged about breastfeeding in public, even with a singleton? What did you do? How did you handle it? Where did you feed? Where there any store or mall employees who might have come to your support? How did you feel if you were challenged? What do you think would have helped you and your babies to have a more relaxing experience? If you have a story to share you can reach me at email@example.com
Reprinted with permission in #14-03: The MilkyWay, Multiple Births Canada’s Breastfeeding Support Network e-newsletter
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