By Jacqui Cooks, Travel Writer & Blogger
Breastfeeding is a completely normal, natural, and highly beneficial way of nourishing your baby.
Sadly in today’s hypersexualised society, the mere mention of the word ‘breasts’ conjures up visions from Die Son’s page 3, rather than the purpose they were intended for.
It’s no wonder then that the mere sight of a mother nursing her baby in public may leave some feeling uncomfortable at this “inappropriate” display. Whilst deliberately walking around topless in public is undoubtedly indecent exposure, the same cannot be said about breastfeeding.
Benefits of breastfeeding
As a new mother, I made the decision long before my son was born to exclusively breastfeed him until at least six months old. My doctor and the hospital where I gave birth were very supportive and pro-breastfeeding.
Research suggests that breastfeeding lowers your baby’s risk of certain diseases and helps build a strong immune system. Breast milk is highly nutritious and contains antibodies, it can help prevent SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), prevent obesity, reduces the risk of allergies, help aid brain development, and many more.
On the plus side, there are many positives for the new mom who breastfeeds. Besides the obvious ones; bonding with your baby and saving money (way cheaper than formula). It could help you lose weight and lowers the risk of postpartum depression. Did you know that the total time a woman spends breastfeeding is linked with a reduced risk for breast and ovarian cancer? Thus the age-old adage: “Breastfed is best fed!” definitely rang true for me.
Though the first few weeks were rocky as I had trouble getting my son to latch and suffered an engorged breast; after that, I never looked back.
The first time
The first time I breastfed in public wasn’t planned at all. I remember I was having brunch with a friend who also had a baby recently. I had expressed milk at home and placed it in a bottle for when we went out. Whilst chatting and drinking our coffee, my little prince let out a loud hungry wail. I took his bottle from his diaper bag and attempted to feed him. He would not have it. My friend tried to assist me by kindly offering to feed him herself. Alas, this did not work either. Babies can smell the source of their nourishment. Why should they drink from the bottle when they can have milkshakes on tap? At this point, my friend encouraged me to just nurse him at the table and told me she didn’t mind.
I had not thought about what I might do should this happen when we were out, so I was understandably nervous about the anticipated gawking I’d receive. I gingerly threw the baby stroller cover over my shoulder and my baby’s head, anxiously unclipped my nursing bra and let him drink for 10 minutes. To my genuine surprise not a single patron, nor server at the cafe batted an eye.
For other moms, the experience is not as positive as mine. I think of the Australian mum who was told to stop breastfeeding by security guards in a well-known European theme park. They told her that her breastfeeding was “offensive” to the other patrons and that she should cover up or move. Shocking how such mum-shaming still exists in this day and age.
Know your rights
Under South African Law, not only is it legal to breastfeed in public but working breastfeeding mothers are protected under the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA). It stipulates that employees with infants must be allowed two breaks of 30 minutes each, every working day to allow for breastfeeding or expressing.
I’m thankful for the support of my boss, who hired me when my baby was a mere three months old. In the beginning, it was a bit tricky having to use a seminar room to express, but now thankfully I have an office with blinds for privacy and a mini bar fridge to store my baby’s expressed milk.
People with the taste for family life
In South Africa, I discovered a family restaurant chain, Spur Steak Ranches, which publicly recognises that “breastfeeding plays an important role in early childhood development” as stated in their breastfeeding policy. This is visibly placed in the restaurant for all mothers to see and feel comfortable.
Here are a few things to know before you head out:
- Ensure you wear comfy clothing that is easily accessible
- Make sure you have a reliable nursing bra that easily unclips
- Consider a blanket or stroller cover that could double up as a breastfeeding cover for additional privacy (if you so wish). Some moms even prefer using a baby carrier as it not only supports the baby but can also offer you some privacy.
- If you’re feeling some trepidation you can always call the restaurant or venue you’re headed to beforehand just to see if they have any designated breastfeeding areas.
- You may find it easier to breastfeed in public if you do it in a supportive environment for the first time.
- Know your breastfeeding rights. If anyone complains or asks you to leave an establishment, politely remind them of your legal rights. The law is on your side, so be confident and stand your ground.
- Be prepared for the occasional awkward stares, snickers, or even the brazen complaints you may receive. Do not let society’s stigma shame you into submission or dictate to you how or when and where to feed your baby.
In the end to breastfeed or not to breastfeed in public is entirely up to you… and that is the bare truth.