Breastfeeding: Shameful? Hardly!

Cimon and Pero – Hans Sebald Beham; writing translated states: “I live on the breast of my daughter”

The story of “Roman Charity” (Caritas romana) is recorded in De Factis Dictisque Memorabilibus Libri IX by the historian Valerius Maximus as an example of Roman honour. Pero secretly breastfed her elderly father who has been sentenced to death by starvation. Her act of selflessness impresses the officials when she is found out and it wins her father’s release. This is the image of a woman represented charity for a number of centuries and presented the idea of sharing what you have, however strange it might seem at first.

Yet, something happened to make breastfeeding something hidden and unnecessary for a civilised society. Why?

Biologically there is one primary function of breasts: feeding our young. Our bodies are created with these glands and fatty tissue on our fronts not for groping or sexual appeal but in order to assist in the survival of our families. In fact there’s a lot to suggest that subconsciously breasts are seen as sexually attractive due to the perceived potential to bring up children. They provide the immunity, and the exact requirements for a young child to survive on, and our man-made substitutes do not always live up to the natural option before us (literally).

So why do we as a society seem to have an issue with this long-held long-experienced part of our existence? Just something to think about.

We seem perfectly happy with drinking the milk from other breasts. We drink cows milk despite humans generally not being great at processing lactose. We also have goats’ and sheep’s milk in cheese and yoghurt and powdered forms outside of the usual cartoned product. You can even find buffalo milk in mozzarella cheese pizzas. Each of these animals produced the milk primarily for their young and we have diverted it for our own consumption. We constantly use the products coming from breasts and think nothing of it.

But we seem to find it disturbing when someone sets up a (human) breast milk ice cream stall? Just something to think about.

Honestly breastfeeding still feels a bit weird even when you’re doing it. To suddenly be producing a food item or using a part of your body in such a way is a bit odd. But pregnancy is odd when you think about it, growing a person inside you is odd, so much of how we work is strange, but it is also natural, very natural. I also found breastfeeding is something that is part instinct and is part taught. The babe in your arms might seem to quickly understand a certain movement of her tongue releases sustenance, and you might have already experienced a little bit of flow when you weren’t expecting it, but it still helps to have someone there to point you in the right direction and latch properly. On the other hand, sometimes a woman just can’t: something goes wrong, they don’t produce what they should, their child needs something more than they can give and they make a decision hoping for the best. Don’t you dare judge them or blame them. That’s not OK.

Despite this strangeness I am passionate about the natural place of breastfeeding. That didn’t stop the nervousness and modesty felt about breastfeeding in public. I was not sure I would feel comfortable, but I questioned myself: did I feel nervous because of what others might think, how they might look at me, whether I might be asked to leave? Yes. Part of me felt that even if I believed no-one had any right to ask me to leave/stop etc, I wasn’t sure I had the energy or confidence to have that fight. I still felt this way when I had no other option but to feed my baby in public: she was hungry and screaming, there was nowhere comfortable to go and no time to search anyway even if I had wanted to. So be it. Boob out, baby fed, done. Thankfully no-one made any comments, and I even got a supportive smile from a mother walking by.

Niceness obviously made everything easier, but one event made me stronger and braver and more resilient; this event didn’t even happen to me.

Yesterday I showed Bear this image and asked if he noticed anything odd/bad/strange/unusual. He said no, he looked confused as to why I was asking about a blurry photo of someone we didn’t know. I agreed that there was nothing particularly obvious about this image, and yet this woman (Emily Slough) had been called a tramp, by a stranger, anonymously on a Facebook page, behind her back, because she had been breastfeeding her child.

Since then there have been protests by thousands of mothers and supporters to make a stand against such a ridiculous idea. There has been a backlash too, a number of comments have talked about modesty, and in part I understand. However, if you can point to a piece of flesh you wouldn’t have seen in the commonly seen v-neck t-shirt I say you’re not looking at the same picture. It is hardly like women walk around topless just incase their child needs a drink; we don’t hang everything out hoping to annoy other people or get a bit of a look from whoever might be walking by. The aim is to feed a hungry child and anyone who has heard the unhappy scream of a hungry baby knows that you instinctively try to solve the problem as quickly as is physically possible. Simple answer: feed the child!

Personally this helped me feel stronger. I started to feel that if I hid myself and this part of my body and its function I would be letting mothers down. I would be insinuating that it was something to hide, something shameful, something others shouldn’t see. I was also horrified that the UK was being tarnished with this attitude as the story went viral. The UK has a lot of things wrong but we do not need to be known for such a stupid comment!

Don’t get me wrong, if I happen to find a nice comfortable baby changing room where I can sit and chat to a friend, or read, whilst feeding my baby, then yay for me! I am also planning on expressing and bottle feeding on the odd occasion I want to wear a dress that isn’t flexible, or maybe just want to go out alone for more than an hour at a time. I completely understand any woman deciding how they feel comfortable, having the choice, and each to their own. On the other hand, I personally refuse to leave because others think I’m being disgusting, or immodest, or a tramp. I refuse to leave my meal or my friends to sit in a toilet after being made to feel I should hide. I refuse to live by the insults and standards set by others who don’t seem to understand biology, children, or nature in any useful way. I refuse to listen to anyone who pulls down a mother for wanting to feed their child the way their bodies were made to do.

And to those who are insulting me silently, or will do later socially, I have something to say to you paraphrasing a well-known comedian: Don’t be a penis!

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