Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Breastfeeding in public in the UK - do you dare?

Breastfeeding in public, do you feel comfortable?

Breastfeeding aids manufacturer Medela is circulating a press release on mums' perceptions of breastfeeding in public. As the UK is a bottlefeeding country [most mums try breastfeeding but after six weeks or so there is still a massive drop in the breastfeeding rate according to the latest Infant Feeding stats] people are not very keen on seeing women breastfeeding in public, especially if the baby is a bit older (six months upwards). I'm not sure why - after you get the hang of it, breastfeeding can be quite discreet [personally I used a Pashmina to make a "tent" but still felt eyes were on me anyway].

Mums on Twitter and Facebook were canvassed to find out what they thought about breastfeeding outdoors. This revealed that an amazing 90% of [breastfeeding] mums have breastfed in public. However, only 63% of these mums had felt uncomfortable doing so. More than 40% of mums felt uncomfortable because people gave them 'funny looks' while they were feeding. One mum said: 'I found public feeding was stressful, people can’t help but look...' Worryingly, 26% of the mums we asked were concerned that if they were feeding inside a café or restaurant they would be asked to leave [which is now illegal bty]. One mum said: 'I was once sent to a single cubicle toilet and expected to feed my baby sat on the loo!'

Sioned Hilton, Medela’s lactation consultant, has some tips for mums who want to breastfeed while out and about. She suggests [quite sensibly] that finding a quiet place or practising at home can help. "More than a quarter of mums said they felt uncomfortable because they couldn’t cover up properly, but as Sioned advises, wearing a good nursing bra or a breastfeeding vest can make this much easier." [Sorry to butt in but do make sure that you are wearing the correct size as a too small a bra can, in the worst case scenario, lead to blocked ducts and doesn't help with attachment as your baby won't be able to take a good amount of breast in the mouth. Also be wary of some too discreet breastfeeding tops as they won't bare enough breast, making latching on harder if you are still on a learning curve.]

Medela's press release continues: "It is not all about the mum though - the public have an important role to play too, if they can recognise that breastfeeding is completely natural, mums won’t have to worry about funny looks or comments. Interestingly 21% had never received any negative feedback while feeding outdoors, proving that slowly but surely people are becoming more accepting." [Hooray! but why there are still people on forums suggesting mums to go to the toilet as it's private, it's not the same as doing a No. 1 or No. 2. And why some bottlefeeding mums are suggesting breastfeeding mums should express after six months and give bottles? Not everybody can express successfully and at this stage you'd be better off using closed beakers, not bottles.]

"Breastfeeding friendly cities are springing up across the country and many cafes and restaurants now display a badge welcoming new mums, so with a little more awareness and expert advice, Medela hope breastfeeding in public can be a peaceful experience." [I have to relate a funny thing here: the Middle-eastern cafe where I used to live in London - yes, one with smoking pipes on display, had a breastfeeding friendly logo. I kept wondering if they wanted to be helpful and inclusive or provide "tittillation" to their customers because the clientele was male.]

Breastfeeding friendly places in the UK

Beware of fake slings! As babies are allowed to Olympics in a sling, apparently there are rogue sling businesses out there. I am not sure if to laugh it off or be worried about this statement.


  1. I do think there's a bit too big a deal being made of breast feeding in public and this is why new mums feel uncomfortable about doing it. Feeding your baby is such an individual choice and to stare at a mum bf'ing is so incredibly rude I'd be tempted to tell the person staring to eff off and get a life, no matter how old they were. I never breast fed for many reasons, but I know 100% that I could never have done it in public because I'm a very private person. I probably wouldn't have even done it in front of my husband - yes, that's how private I am. I'm not a prude and do consider myself to be open minded but if someone asked me how I felt about that cafe being breast feed friendly, I'd say "great, go for it", but I wouldn't go in. You said negative thoughts were welcome...

    CJ x

  2. Thanks Crystal, yours is not a negative comment, it's a frank comment. Well some relations I don't want to put on the spot used to walk out on me when I breastfed, while the Italian lot were gaping (not many women breastfeed anymore in Italy, so I guess it was interesting to see). I didn't mind if they were relations, but I did feel vulnerable outside.

  3. I once had a really negative day. Had some looks off a manager in a restaurant when I'd clearly explained when I walked in that I wanted somewhere quiet as I would be breastfeeding my baby (and he put me in the window!) Then gave me funny looks and the staff started to sit people further away from us. I complained and got an apology from the company (a large chain).

    Later that day I was feeding on a bench in the street as I didn't want to repeat the experience in an eating place and had a guy sidle up and try and have a good look!

    Apart from that I had some looks feeding my (then) 9 month old at a very posh Mums and Tots group near where my sister lives (BF rates in that area were very low compared with mine which aren't too bad).

    Personally I think covers, pashminas etc all draw attention to it if I'm honest. If you are breastfeeding, you don't need a special top, cover or sling as your breast isn't actually exposed. For example, my Dad once said to me "hand him over then" as I was feeding him, he had no idea!

    Personally I think the biggest thing any mum can do to help change attitudes is to breastfeed in public. It's only because it's an unusual thing to see that makes it a novelty. If people saw it all the time, it wouldn't create such a fuss.

    My recommendation though to build up confidence with breastfeeding is to go to some surestart centre groups. There will be some specifically for breastfeeding and other groups too but IME you find lots of breastfeeding mums go there and a very positive atmosphere towards breastfeeding. It can help get your confidence up before trying it out in the big wide world!

  4. Interesting post - I'm due shortly, and hoping both to breastfeed and to do it in public. It does seem things are slowly getting better, and the changes in the law really help, but it's such a shame it's still getting negative reactions. Maybe it's the pregnancy hormones making me extra feisty/stroppy, but I feel like I'll be fully prepared to stand my ground if necessary - why should it be so odd after all?

    I've come across the breastfeeding aprons, and I agree with MamaCook, they just seem to draw even more attention, although I have got some muslins and big scarves that I'm keeping in reserve...

  5. I don't really care either way, but I do think BF mums should be sensitive to others. For example, when my kids were babies, I would never have breastfed in front of my father-in-law as that would have embarrassed him to no end, no matter how much I thought he should get over it. If you're sitting round a table with a mix of people you know well and not very well, I think it's insensitive to start breast-feeding. They don't know you, and it's too up close and personal.
    Yes, I know that as a nation, we should stop making such a fuss about seeing a bare breast, but the fact is that it makes some people uncomfortable and we have to take things slowly. Shoving it in their faces isn't necessarily the way to go.
    Unfortunately, until boobs are recognised for their real purpose, a bare one in public is always going to cause some type of reaction.

    1. Hmm. I have mixed views about this. I did try breastfeeding in front of my father in law but he was obviously embarrassed which made my son tense so I then went to another room. That said, I don't think that should be the first response. I would say to try it, as I said earlier, people don't necessarily notice it so it's not necessarily shoving it in anyone's face!

      Sorry, shoving breastfeeding in someone's face has such a humorous mental image!!!

  6. Why should other people make you feel you are doing something wrong? Whether it's breast or formula, you are feeding your baby! Formula is a newcomer, around only since the 1920s. Before that if you didn't or couldn't breastfeed you paid somebody to do it for you.

    I wish I had another child so I could confront these people and shame them. I just cowered and tried not to catch anybody's eye.