I understand why public breastfeeding descends into heated debate. Boobs are rare beasts in that they cater to two vastly conflicting target audiences. They are both a sexual invitation for a little bit of howsyerfather and a functional baby milk-cart. It was the sexual that got us the baby in the first place (unless you’re the Virgin Mary in which case we need to talk) and the functional that took over like a renegade tractor when the baby was born.
This conflict, when played out in the public domain, can get very messy. And I’m not talking about the occasional milk pistol that squirts you in the eye.
When women breastfeed in public, others get offended, confused, “Put it away!” they cry! They’re not used to having a heavily marketed and sociologically sexualised object so out there for a purpose they’re not familiar with. Women defend their right to breastfeed whenever and however they want to and they have every right to do so. And so the cycle—the debate—continues.
I struggled to breastfeed when my first daughter was born in 2006. I struggled physically, emotionally, and interpersonally. But I was damn well determined to breastfeed her, particularly with my history of asthma.
Scout had tongue-tie (it was quite severe but wasn’t diagnosed until after my second daughter was born in 2010). The first experience of breastfeeding Scout, moments after she’d been born, was wonderful. The following 3 months were Hell.
Scout was born in a Birthing Centre which for the most part was brilliant, but there was one particularly militant breastfeeding autocrat who had little sympathy for my pain. She was really rough about thrusting Scout onto my breast chanting, “You must breastfeed”. To her there was simply no other option. As a new mum, shattered after birth, it was a tough time. I considered giving up every. single. motherflipping (no pun intended). day. I went to breastfeeding clinics, lactation consultants, drowned my breasts in papaw ointment, but it was agony every time my little girl latched on.
I came to dread those 3 hour alarms when Scout would need a feed. I’d grit my teeth and dig in. After 3 months, as Scout’s mouth grew and she could latch on properly, her tongue-tie became less of an issue and we spent the next 10 months in a relatively pleasurable breastfeeding relationship (with the occasional blocked duct and bite to deal with).
When I had my second child, Inky, Husbando stepped in on the first day and pep talked me about not being so determined to breastfeed her, taking the pragmatic approach, “if she needs artificial milk then that’s what we’ll do”. He had a long memory and mine was short.
I had nearly lost my mind with my determination to feed Scout. I was so desperate to breastfeed her that I put my mental health aside. In those first three months with her, I was a heaving, exhausted, defeated pile of custard. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I persevered, but I think if things hadn’t gotten easier when they did, I may have dived down a very slippery, unhinged slope.
But Husbando had underestimated those intense feelings of doing what I considered was best for my child. And unluckily for him, he’d forgotten how bloody-minded I could be.
Inky’s first ever milk was artificial. They whisked her away to NICU moments after she was born and I wasn’t allowed to feed her until hours later (I was lucky, they warned me that she could be in NICU for weeks). When I did, the same thing happened. She couldn’t latch on properly so the first few days were spent in physical pain and psychological “no, no, not again” descent. Thankfully a lactation consultant suspected Inky had tongue-tie and once she had the snip a couple of days later, my breastfeeding ride was instantly much smoother.
I struggled with my breasts being considered anything but milk cartons when I fed both my kids. Sex was off the menu. It put pressure on our relationship, I won’t lie and there were other factors—exhaustion being the main one, but that first year with both my kids was difficult. But to give them the very best start in life was my priority. It meant that Husbando was relegated to second place for a time, and that is hard on anyone.
I breastfed in public whenever I needed to but I was far more comfortable at home (particularly if Husbando was making cups of tea). There was only one time I was made to feel embarrassed, at a cafe in Richmond that shall not be named. But rather than put me off, it made me more ballsy about doing it in public. Not in an inflammatory way, just in a “no-one is forcing you to look at my breasts” kind of nonchalance.
This is my story. It’s not the same for everyone. I was lucky that I was eventually able to breastfeed, but many women can’t. Some won’t. To be candid, I don’t really understand the rationale of “won’t” breastfeed, but at the same time I can’t judge. Breastfeeding is not only about the physical ability to feed, it’s also about the emotional and interpersonal. It is so multi-layered that every woman’s trip to the Milk Bar is different. As well as a baseline of education, we all need support to do whatever we choose.
I’m supporting the crowdfunding campaign, “The Booby Trap“.
The Booby Trap is a web documentary that has been 18 months in the making and is sorely needed to promote awareness of, and support for, breastfeeding.