Why it's time to stop shaming mums breastfeeding in public

Women are being shamed for breastfeeding in public [Photo: Getty]
Women are being shamed for breastfeeding in public [Photo: Getty]

When it comes to breastfeeding, new mums are under a lot of pressure – pressure to actually do it, pressure to keep doing it and pressure from society to cover up while doing it.

Because hardly a week seems to pass without a story about a mum being shamed for breastfeeding her baby in public. The latest woman to find herself on the receiving end of the shamers is Lisa Wilson.

The new mum was taking her first day trip since giving birth to her premature baby and was left feeling “humiliated and shamed” after being told she couldn’t breastfeed her son in Pizza Express.

“We were told there was no breastfeeding in the restaurant like it was a shameful thing to even consider,” she told Belfast Live.

“It is a total disgrace in 2017 that a woman is basically turned away from anywhere because she plans to breastfeed her child.”

“It’s not even as if I would be on show or making an exhibition of myself. It’s a very personal, intimate moment between a mother and her baby and it’s a beautiful thing.”

A spokesperson has since issued an apology for the incident: “We are so sorry that Mrs Wilson and Mr Morrison had this experience in one of our restaurants.”

“We have a policy which welcomes breastfeeding across all of our restaurants. In this instance, our policy was obviously not adhered to and we will make sure to communicate this again to our staff to ensure this doesn’t happen to anyone again.”

But Pizza Express is by no means the only culprit. From restaurants and pubs to shopping centres, breastfeeding mums are constantly being told to cover up. And left feeling embarrassed and humiliated for merely just trying to feed their babies.

While a lot of the shaming is done by men (and in one instance by an actual policeman! Yes, really!), in many cases it’s fellow mums who are spitting the dummy about women nursing in public. Unsisterly much?

It is illegal to ask a breastfeeding mother to leave a public place [Photo: Getty]
It is illegal to ask a breastfeeding mother to leave a public place [Photo: Getty]

It seems the shaming is having a knock-on effect on breastfeeding rates. The UK currently has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world and a recent Start4Life poll revealed that though 72% of those surveyed thought women should feel comfortable breastfeeding in public, almost two thirds (60%) of mums try to hide what they are doing.

The same survey also found that more than a third of breastfeeding mothers shy away from doing so in public, with 1 in 5 (21%) feeling people do not want them to breastfeed in public.

And stories of breastfeeding shaming add fuel to the idea that public nursing in public is something shameful and could actually cause offence.

The benefits of breast milk for babies has long been shouted about, so it’s clear something needs to be done.

Dr Ann Hoskins, deputy director of health and wellbeing, for Public Health England told the Guardian: “Breastfeeding gives babies the best start in life and it comes with a whole host of benefits for the mother, too. Anxiety about breastfeeding in public certainly shouldn’t be a barrier to breastfeeding in general.”

Siobhan Freegard, founder of ChannelMum, is keen to point out that asking a woman to leave a public place while she’s breastfeeding is actually illegal.

“Breastfeeding is normal and natural and no mum should be shamed for doing it. It’s legal to breastfeed your baby in public so if you shame a woman for doing it you are on the wrong side of the law.”

She wants the pressure to be taken off mums no matter how they choose to feed.

“Mums are fed up of being told how and when and where to feed their baby. What should be a personal choice is being turned into a political issue with everyone from family members to health experts to strangers pushing their opinions onto new mums.”

“Feeding a new baby is stressful enough – so don’t boob. Whether she’s breastfeeding, bottle-feeding or doing a mix of both, support a mum and help her out. After all, your mum had to feed you once.”

Hear, hear.

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