Breastfeeding in Public: A Taboo or a Right?

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I’ve done it on a train, in the back of a car, on an aeroplane, in countless restaurants and pubs, in the library, in the park, and on the beach. I’m talking breastfeeding, by the way. And not once have I been criticised or even caught a disapproving look for breastfeeding in public.

So I was dumbfounded when I heard the news that a woman was asked to cover herself up while breastfeeding in Claridge’s hotel restaurant.

Picture the scene—you’ve braved the cold to go for a special afternoon tea experience at one of London’s finest, most beautiful hotels, a treat amidst the often hard work motherhood presents. You get dressed up, you dress the baby, and you look forward to the whole experience for weeks. You relish the finery, the baby-sick-free upholstery, the twinkling lights of the chandeliers. You feel like the old you.

Then just as you’re feeding your baby someone points out you should cover up a bit where so many other people are trying to enjoy their food, where bare breasts simply aren’t welcome. This is what happened just a few weeks ago when a mother was told to use a napkin to cover her breast and feeding baby whilst having tea at Claridge’s. It’s caused quite a furore—days later over forty protesters returned to the hotel to breastfeed their babies outside. Some have weighed in suggesting women find somewhere private to feed; others have defended a woman’s right to feed wherever she pleases.

It might sound a bit weird, but I never once considered where I might feed my baby and who may or may not enjoy the view. That’s not to say I am militant on the subject—I wasn’t flouting tradition or proving a point to anyone—I was just too tired and feeding on demand too often to be choosy about venue. I did sometimes use an oversized muslin to keep her snug (she was a September baby) or to shut out some noise and light when she was feeling sleepy, and for a while because I needed a shield to catch the sprays of milk before they hit the neighbouring table—not because I worried my nipples might upset someone. I felt incredibly lucky to be able to feed my daughter with few problems—that’s where thoughts on it all ended. But what would I have said if Claridge’s had asked me to cover up? I think I’d have done so and then felt angry when I got home and realised what had gone down. How can it be offensive? I honestly fail to see the problem.

But the publicity is a great thing in many ways. As long as it doesn’t make anyone more nervous to feed wherever they like, it could force the debate and show other restaurants that a request to cover up is unacceptable—a big “don’t go there” memo to anyone who had considered making anyone feeding uncomfortable. So well done, Claridge’s—the egg on your face might actually help us bare breasted women to feed without fear or shame.

Have you ever been publicly shamed for breastfeeding?

image: Getty / Andrew Burton

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