Tag Archives: public breastfeeding

Why I will not be staying at home to breastfeed my baby


Dear Natali,

I read your article in The Independent today, and to say it made me angry is an understatement. I’ve watched the responses unfold on Twitter, both in support of and against your view that breastfeeding mothers should stay at home with their babies, and have found myself quivering with rage.

I imagine you thought, with public breastfeeding a hot topic in recent weeks, that it might be a handy way to garner publicity for your forthcoming novel.

And I’m sure you’d tell me to lighten up, to not take your words so seriously. You tweeted after all that your intention was to be ‘tongue in cheek’, to be funny.

The problem I have though is not only that your words contain only the barest hint of humour, but that also the issue of breastfeeding – public or otherwise – really is no laughing matter in this country.

I wonder if you stopped to think for a moment about the realities we are facing. That despite the NHS recommending exclusive breastfeeding for six months, only 1% of British babies are exclusively breastfed for that long (with only 34% still breastfed at all at that stage). Not forgetting the WHO recommendation that babies are breastfed for at least two years. I can count on one hand the amount of mothers I know who fall into this category, and I have no doubt many eyebrows would have been raised if I had been breastfeeding my (very well behaved) 23-month-old over afternoon tea at Claridges.

But I would have done, because I know my rights and I know what’s best for me and my son. I have, to date, breastfed him in a number of establishments you would I’m sure have denied us access to – backstage at gigs, fancy restaurants and yes, swanky hotels. I have yet to be challenged, and I hope if I was I would have the courage to stand my ground.

The thing is though that there are many, many mothers who would not feel the same way. Numerous women who would read your article and nod sadly, convinced that their desire to breastfeed their child is not compatible with any kind of social life, concerned that they would be subjected to the judgemental gaze and comments of people like you. I have come across many cases where it is precisely this that leads women to choose bottle over breast, leading them in turn to miss out on the myriad of physical and emotional benefits breastfeeding offers them and their baby.

You say that you are qualified to pass your judgement – indeed are an ‘expert’ – by dint of having once breastfed yourself, but that doesn’t wash I’m afraid. Much as homophobia is still unacceptable when it comes from the mouth of someone whose ‘best friends are gay’, you don’t get to tell breastfeeding mothers to stay at home just because that is where you felt most comfortable.

You refer derisively to the fact that the breastfeeding mother whose mistreatment you were responding to burst into tears when told to cover up by staff at Claridges. This surprised me, as surely being a mother of two yourself you remember the cauldron of hormones of the early months? Or maybe you don’t. Having read this and some of your other articles it’s clear that you practise detachment parenting almost religiously.

It’s sad, really. Almost a reason to feel sorry for you. Apart from the fact you’ve chosen to express your views so publicly in a supposedly respectable newspaper.

The Independent of course has a case to answer here too. In a society where bare breasts are fine as long as they’re being used to sell something and yet establishments from local cafes to world-class hotels openly discriminate against breastfeeding mothers despite this being against the law, it is a travesty that a newspaper that prides itself on its liberal views can give yours air.

But it is you whose words made me so very angry. On the blog you contribute to you proudly refer to yourself as a Selfish Mother. And sure, there are times when us mums need to put ourselves first. But to be so selfish as to advocate denying mothers the right to leave the house and to contribute to the incredibly damaging dialogue that denies women the freedom to choose the best start for their babies? That, I’m afraid, is a step too far.

Yours sincerely,


Linking up with Sara at Mum Turned Mom for her prompt: ‘I read the news today…’


Why we cannot afford to get complacent about our right to breastfeed our babies


A storm erupted on social media yesterday which reminded me that we still have a long way to go before society fully accepts that it is perfectly normal and natural for babies to be fed from a woman’s breasts.

As I’m writing this, my toddler is nursing in the sling. It’s easy to get complacent in my own little corner of the universe – to forget that there are still many people who would look on what I’m doing as disgusting. Sure there are reminders now and again. The woman called a ‘slut’ by an elderly couple for breastfeeding her child in a coffee shop in London. The nursing mother subjected to abuse by teenagers on a local bus route. But it’s relatively easy to dismiss these as little pockets of ignorance – important to stand up against, yes, but situations that arose in the heat of the moment.

And then yesterday it emerged that a popular ‘family friendly’ cafe in leafy Surrey had decided it was appropriate to display this sign on their front door:

Tillings breastfeeding notice

I, like many others, was gobsmacked. I mean – what were they thinking? A woman’s right to breastfeed her child – and indeed that child’s right to be nourished and nurtured – is entrenched in law. It is illegal in this country to tell a woman she cannot breastfeed her child, or indeed to discriminate against her in any way for that reason.

But here is an established business telling its clientele, openly and publicly, that they have the right to tell breastfeeding mothers to feed in the toilet.

This is wrong on so many levels. There is the fundamental idiocy of suggesting that it is in any way appropriate for a baby to eat in the place where people defecate. I have yet to find anyone who has expressed this as well as the poet Hollie McNish, so I’m just going to leave this here:

There is the thinly veiled implication that well-behaved dogs are more welcome than breastfeeding mothers and their babies, the mind-bending logistics of a group of mums taking it in turns to leave their friends and their coffee and cake at the table and take their baby and the thoughtfully provided chair into the disabled toilet. Or perhaps the whole group is expected to relocate, coffee and cake and all.

All of this aside though, there is a psychology at play here which is insidious and dangerous, and that is where for me the biggest problem lies.

I’m not too worried about me. I hope I’d have the guts to tell the cafe where to stick their sign. I know my rights, and I’m confident enough in the many benefits to me and my child of continuing our breastfeeding relationship that I wouldn’t be put off by such an impolite notice.

But what of those who are less confident? What of the mum in the early stages of breastfeeding her child who is self-conscious and embarrassed? What if she decides that this precious social time with her friends is so important that maybe she’ll just take a bottle to feed her baby when she goes out? What of her dwindling supply, her feelings of failure and resignation to not being able to follow through on her desire to breastfeed? What of her child, missing out on the many benefits that nursing can bring?

Not forgetting the rest of the cafe’s clientele. Like with many forms of discrimination, there are the people whose discomfort at being in the company of a breastfeeding mother simmers just below the surface. Seeing an official sign like this normalises their attitude, perhaps increasing their confidence in expressing their inappropriate views in another situation.

The cafe has claimed that there was a misunderstanding. Using the oldest excuse for bigotry in the book, the cafe owner has claimed that having breastfed her own children how could she possibly be discriminating against breastfeeding mothers. But there is nothing I can find in that sign that is ambiguous: she claims she has the right to ask breastfeeding mothers to feed in the toilet. And that is unequivocally wrong.

The cafe’s ratings on various online sites have plummeted after people expressed their disgust at their gall. The prospect of a nurse-in protest was clearly not one the owner wanted to face, and I understand the sign has now been taken down.

This is ultimately a good thing. But it took five weeks for this story to be picked up by social media – that’s a long time for something so damaging to be in the public sphere.

So whilst this particular tale of discrimination might have something approaching a happy ending, it is clear to me that this is not a time for us to be complacent. Not at all.

Breastfeeding a toddler


If you had asked me at the beginning of my breastfeeding journey if I’d still be nursing my son at nearly 21 months I would have said no. No way. I mean, I had nothing against the idea of breastfeeding an older child theoretically – I wasn’t freaked out by it like so many readers of this article seem to be (I know, I know – never read the comments on the Daily Mail). I was just pretty certain that by the time my tiny baby had grown into a toddler our breastfeeding days would be long gone.

But like so many things about this parenting lark, I was wrong.

It’s not like I’ve made a conscious decision to keep feeding him, but rather that there just doesn’t seem to be any reason to stop. We’ve got our technique down pat now and there’s not much I can’t do whilst he’s feeding in the sling. He’s feeding right now – dozing in and out of consciousness as I tap away at the keyboard. I’ll certainly miss the time it gives me when he can be close and nurtured and safe whilst I can still get on and write. If all goes to plan our breastfeeding relationship will have seen me through at least two novels by the time he stops which can’t be bad!

There are of course many benefits for him as well. I mean, he loves his booba. He asks for ‘booba feed’ when he just wants a quick snack, or ‘booba bed’ when he’s ready to sleep, and when I say yes he bubbles over with glee. He’s even starting to express an opinion about which one he’d prefer, though I’m not sure I’m going to encourage that…

I do think it’s still an important part of his diet too. He eats well, don’t get me wrong – he’s had porridge and banana for breakfast today, followed by mackerel and poached egg and kale for lunch. But he’s growing so fast – both in body and mind – that I’m not surprised he needs the extra calories.

But there’s more to it than that. It comforts him, in this world which is more full of wonder every day. It gives him pause, time to reflect and recharge. It reminds him that I am here, and I am his, and gives him the confidence he needs to embrace all the new experiences that are presented to him. If he is sick, or falls and scrapes his knee or bumps his head, then a bit of booba is better than any medicine.

My milk helps to warm him up when he comes smiling out of the Devon sea, and when we were in Barcelona this summer, traipsing round the city in the scorching August sun, my milk stopped him from becoming dehydrated. Of course he drank water too, but the nutrients in the breastmilk did a far better job of reviving him. He’s not interested in drinking anything else – we’ve tried watered down juice and other kinds of milk but he won’t touch them – which is one of the many reasons I know he’s not ready to stop quite yet.


It’s not all plain sailing. There are moments when he calls out for booba or puts his hand down my top in public when I feel like I need to make excuses for the fact I’m still feeding him, though if anyone else were to actually challenge me on it they would most certainly feel my wrath. It can get exhausting, and I do sometimes wish he fed a little less frequently. We’re essentially working on the principle of ‘don’t offer, don’t refuse’, but he still rarely goes for more than four hours without asking. It’s not that I can’t say no – and sometimes I do – but that doesn’t sit very comfortably with me. There’s plenty else I put my foot down on, but not this.

Though I may need to break through that soon for the sake of both our sleep. Nights are hard at the moment: he’d dropped down to waking me for one or two short feeds which was totally manageable with the co-sleeping. But in the last few weeks it’s been almost like having a newborn again – last night he woke up almost every hour, scrabbling for me and crying bitterly if I tried to soothe him in any other way. I thought for a while it was maybe just backlash over the lack of routine we fell into over the summer, but having done some research it seems this is a fairly common ‘thing’ for the breastfeeding toddler. So we’re looking into gentle methods of night weaning him. There are lots of techniques out there which I think we could handle, but it’s one thing rationalising them in the light of day and quite another negotiating with an angry toddler at three in the morning. I’ll let you know how it goes.

And as for weaning entirely? Well I think now that’s up to Arthur. I’m certainly not about to deprive him of something he loves so much, especially as both of us will be losing out when our breastfeeding relationship is finally over. And really, for all of his confidence and agility and words, he’s still my baby. He’ll stop when he’s ready, and only when he’s ready will it be time to stop.





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