subscribe: Posts | Comments

Breastfeeding takes balls


2098589457_31ff7653ae_oA few weeks ago, for the very first time, I breastfed my baby in public.

Guest post from Cassandra Fox.

Nothing to trouble the squeamish – I was just sat in a cafe, amongst a clientèle largely made up of other mothers, with a strategically-placed muslin cloth saving my modesty.

For many breastfeeding mothers, no biggy. But, nonetheless, it had taken me 8 weeks to build up the courage to do this. And this is my second child – my first son I breastfed for 6 months, only ever in my own home.

So this was a biggy for me, and I was nervous.

Scoping the room for potential peeping Toms/disapprovers/former work colleagues, and arranging my ridiculously complicated clothing to allow the minimum necessary flesh exposure, I took a deep breath, held my baby close, and whipped out a bit of a boob.

To my huge relief, no one (besides my grateful son) noticed. No sirens went off, no hazard lights illuminated, no torch-bearing mobs descending to pull my baby from me and brand a scarlet ‘B’ on my forehead.

People drank their coffee, chatted their chats, and may or may not have noticed that I was breastfeeding my baby at the table. I simultaneously patted myself on the back for being brave and doing the thing that had scared me, and kicked myself hard for having been scared in the first place. (Quite a manoeuvre to pull off while breastfeeding a wriggly baby, I can tell you.)

So why had it taken me so long to do what should come naturally? Well, I have many excuses. Here are a few.

Firstly, I’m blessed with an above-average size pair of knockers, which does make public feeding a little more ‘showy’ than those mums whose babies’ heads are bigger than their boobs. Yeah, yeah, I know – “poor me and my lovely big rack”, and as a good friend pointed out while I was hiding indoors feeding my first baby, I often wear tops so plunging I will be displaying far more tit on an evening out than I would have done by public nursing.

Somehow this feels different though – choosing to display a selected area of flesh, as opposed to having to get the whole thing out,  and it is, after all, my flesh. My post-pregnancy body feels both unfamiliar and appropriated – revealing intimate parts of it in public makes me uncomfortable.

Secondly, breastfeeding is not an easy thing to do – and our cut-back NHS services don’t help.

My introduction to breastfeeding began with 3 days in hospital with my first son, where every few hours a different midwife would come over to see me and give me different advice on how to do it. ‘Lie down.’ ‘Sit up.’ ‘Don’t worry that he’s not latching on yet.’ ‘Hold your baby like a rugby ball.’ ‘Hold your breast like a hamburger.’ ‘Feed your hamburger to your rugby ball.’ (What?) ‘Don’t worry that he’s turning yellow now.’ ‘Lie on your side.’ ‘No, the other side.’ ‘Lie on your back and let him feed himself.’ ‘Don’t worry that he’s asleep all the time.’ ‘Wake him up.’ ‘Blow in his face.’ ‘Tickle his feet.’ ‘Here, let me grab your sore, swollen boobs and shove them into your weak, sleepy baby’s mouth.’ ‘Stop crying.’

A paediatrician eventually intervened and insisted that my by now very yellow and skinny baby was given a formula, much to the disapproval of the midwives, who warned that letting a baby so much as look at a bottle would mean the end of breastfeeding.

However, with some food energy inside him, we took our anaemic and sick baby home, and in my own calm bed, away from the conflicting advice and poking gloved fingers, my son and I learned how to breastfeed.

I’m quite amazed that we managed to do it at all, let alone continue for a further six months. Every feed was a little victory, and I lovingly devoted hundreds of hours to feeding my son up to be healthy and plump.

It was emotional. And I didn’t necessarily want to get emotional in the John Lewis cafe.

There’s also the complicated logistics of holding a big jubbly in the right position so as not to suffocate baby, which is more difficult to attempt on the move. (Too icky for you yet? No? Good.)

Plus there’s my over-active milk supply and fast let-down, which means that when my baby breaks off from his feed to have a look round the room, and whacks my nip with his little fist, there’s a good possibility of milk spurting across the cafe in a perfect arc of lactation, straight into someone else’s skinny latte. Now, how’s that for icky?

None of these issues are unsurpassable, although I’ve used all of them as excuses for not feeding in public.

But there’s another more seedy issue adding pressure on my reluctance, and that of course is a lifetime of thinking of my boobs as symbols of my sexuality.

Boys at primary pinged my bra straps to embarrass me; barmen served me alcohol with a wink when I pushed my teenage elbows together; workmen hollered that you wouldn’t be getting many of those to the pound; and partners came and went and generally always were ‘boob men’.

Thirty-two years of my Devil’s Dumplings being bouncy conductors of both unwelcome and welcomed sexual attention, and suddenly my breasts take on a completely different function as baby feeders.

I knew that breast milk is the best food for my babies during the first months of their lives, and I would do anything to keep them healthy, but nonetheless it took me a while to get my head round this new unsexy role.

Which is hardly surprising. Mainstream media is overspilling with big round boobs, in and out of clothes, selling us everything from yoghurt to life insurance.

Page 3 has taught a generation that a woman’s tits should be big, firm, and exposed every morning for male titillation. And the internet taught the following generation that those dirty pillows are available to aide sexual gratification 24 hours a day, once your credit card details have popped that bra clasp.

That kind of availability clearly isn’t compatible with a 3-hourly newborn feeding regime: so capitalism dictates that breasts become synonymous solely with sex, their nourishing and nurturing function obfuscated by lace and whipped cream.

Freud would, I like to imagine, be frothing in his beard over the irony that the source of this sexualisation of breasts is the way we fed as babies, a method that capitalism is killing in favour of lucrative powders.

You can see 10 foot titties on billboards across the nation, but images of breastfeeding women are classed by Facebook as ‘obscene’ and removed.

And of course it’s the most vulnerable mothers – the poor ones, the ones living in rural communities, and the young ones – who are most under pressure to live up to live up to capitalism’s glamour myth.

And those are, unsurprisingly, the ones spending money (and time) they can ill afford on bottles of formula for their newborns.

I fully appreciate that mine was a very minor step forward for breastfeeding mothers, sat covertly feeding my two month old baby in my child-friendly cafe in my leafy suburb of London.

The conflict I feel between my boobs as both sexual and child-nurturing objects (and, let’s not forget, part of MY body) was eased in surroundings that were positive and welcoming to me and my baby.

Had I taken that (for me) big step, only to have been scorned by onlookers, leered at or, worst of all, asked to leave the cafe, I imagine this might have sent me right back to hiding behind the curtains in my living room, stuck in the house for weeks on end.

So next time you notice a woman breastfeeding her baby in a cafe, on the bus, in the pub, or anywhere else that her baby has decided is a dining area, know that however confidently she may be acting, it has quite possibly been very difficult for her to do so: breastfeeding takes balls.

Give her space, give her respect, and, give her baby the chance to have one more vitamin-packed, bug-fighting, free feed.

And here’s the brilliant Hollie McNish saying this in a much better way:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *