Posted by: learningwoman | June 17, 2008

Breastfeeding and choices

So I went to a parents event on the weekend. It was an event where people bring baby and children’s things that are barely worn or used and sell them on to other parents.

While I was having a cup of tea with Z, I noticed a woman trying (unsuccessfully) to feed her baby with a bottle. He didn’t like it and was squirming away and crying. I smiled sympathetically when she looked up at me, despairing. “Is he just starting with a bottle?” I asked

“Yes, I breastfeed but I don’t like to do it in public, so I’m trying to get him to do both.”

We chatted for a short time and then Z. and I went off to look at books. When we were leaving, with our few books and a puzzle game to do at home, I stood talking to one of the organisers at the door. As we talked, the same breast/bottlefeeding woman came up and asked the organiser if there was a quiet place she could breastfeed. She was by now frazzled and desperate and the baby was crying a full-throated cry.

“oh” said the organiser, a young woman with two small children, ” You can go over there if you like” She was offhand, and the place she indicated was barely on the fringes of the activity.

“Is there not a room she could go to?” I asked. We were in a church hall and there were a number of rooms off the main entrance.

“No, I think they’re locked.” she was impatient now.

“Do we have a key, or could we set up a chair in the kitchen or something?” I was mindful of the conversation I’d shared with the baby’s mother.

By this time, the mother had gone to try and feed her baby and for the organiser, that was that.

“It’s just that she doesn’t feel comfortable feeding in public.” I said.

She rolled her eyes. “Oh for God’s sake, women should be able to feed in public without worrying. I mean, would you want to eat in a bathroom? She should just get on with it and people’ll have to deal with it.” She continued telling me about the rights of women to breastfeed their babies in public without shame.

She was right of course, but in her eagerness to jump on the breastfeeding wagon, she’d forgotten that it’s also the right of mothers to choose where they feed their babies.

The mother she’d just dismissed to the corner of the room was uncomfortable, for whatever reason, with the idea of feeding in front of a hundred or more people and it should have been okay for her to feed somewhere quiet, away from the crowds.

I tried to explain this to the young organiser but her lips thinned and she turned to talk to someone else. I felt exasperated. In my experience, it’s a vulnerable time, the early days of mothering. A time when we need to feel supported. It’s a new and often scary experience, the mothering of a very small human. We’re flooded with hormones, tired and responsible for a tiny and helpless babe.

Even very confident women have been known to crack under the strain, or at least feel uncertain of their abilities.

This experience may not stay with this mother for a long time, or it might, I don’t know but I was conscious of a sense of disappointment in the women running the event, an event run by an organisation devoted to helping parents to have a positive experience of parenting. The same organisation that was so helpful when my babies were small. How many other mothers have been made to feel inadequate for their choices?

After avoiding being on committees for so long, I might have to rejoin this one. Put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. Dammit. 



  1. It’s a good point that you raise.

    When my daughter was born, I chose to stay home with her for the first year and a half. One of my mother’s friends (who all, to a one, irritate me, which is baffling since I like my mom quite well) made a comment to me about, “Oh, so much for feminism.” And I was shocked, because to me, choosing to be a stay-home mom was one of the most feminist decisions I ever made – to have the ability to work or stay home and to choose the harder, more isolating, demanding decision.


  2. I’ve always been more of a fighter for a person’s right to do whatever they damn well want without people trying to make them feel guilty about it. I think it’s the human being in me struggling to get out. Sometimes I think people forget humanity for the sake of a cause. The cause can then end up being a greater strait jacket than the thing people were reacting against, if you see what I mean. Poor woman. She should have got up her courage and squirted that organiser woman in the eye with a nice jet of warm breast milk. 🙂

  3. Hi Kate, yes, I stayed home to mixed reviews too and it’s been good for us. I was grateful to have the choice.

  4. I do see what you mean Katy. I agree, and next time I’m going to suggest the squirting thing. 🙂

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