Two out of three moms ‘fear stares if they breastfeed’

This from the U.K.’s The Independent, but bound to be true in the U.S. too:

Despite decades of initiatives to persuade mothers that “breast is best”, most still prefer using infant formula milk because they believe society at large is anti-breastfeeding, a poll for Mother & Baby magazine has found. The survey comes on the eve of World Breastfeeding Week as the Government debates whether to introduce legislation protecting a mother’s right to breastfeed.

Nearly two in three mothers believe the UK is “not breastfeeding-friendly”, prompting concerns from nursing mums that they would struggle to breastfeed while out and about. Miranda Levy, Mother & Baby’s editor, said: “Every mum we questioned understood the health benefits of breastfeeding, but a huge percentage were put off even trying because of the fear of people staring.”

She added that many of the 1,200 readers surveyed cited stressful breastfeeding experiences, with one commenting that she was even asked to be more discreet at a “mums and tots” group because the lady running the group had her husband there.

Although the World Health Organisation recommends mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies until they are six months old, barely a third of British babies are still exclusively breastfed at one week and just one-fifth still are by six weeks. By the time babies are four months old, that figure has plunged to 7 per cent, giving Britain one of the worst breastfeeding records in the developed world.

Following the article are a number of comments admonishing moms to not care what other people think, and to whip out their boobs in public, as well as some rants for or against covering up when nursing in public.  

First of all, admonishing moms to get over their shyness is counterproductive.   Sure, we’d like to see moms be empowered to nurse in public, but beating them over the head with it is not going to help any more than beating them over the head with the benefits of breastfeeding is going to help when they are being handed a bag of free formula on their way out of the hospital.  What we really need is to change the public perception of breastfeeding.  Let’s start by giving mom accurate, unbiased, evidence-base information and then respecting her decision on how to feed her baby, whether that is formula-feeding, breast-feeding, or a combination of both–and let’s promote donated, screened, pasteurized human milk as the next best choice to mother’s own milk.   Next we need to change the public perception using glamorous, mainstream images, celebrities, and an ad campaign to coach, cheer on and celebrate moms who decide to breastfeed, just as Nike did for fitness and Demi Moore and Vanity Fair did for maternity.  Moms need to be inspired, but so does the general public, to view with awe and admiration the act of breastfeeding.  Moms face a myriad of “booby traps”–the cultural and institutional barriers to breastfeeding that are preventing them from succeeding, and certainly don’t need more pressure, judgment or to be made to feel guilty.   Finally, we need to shine the spotlight on those “booby traps” and remove them through a well-coordinated strategic approach.    When we remove the barriers, we’ll find that more moms will make the decision to breastfeed and be able to carry it out. 

Second, let me take a minute to address the covering up in public issue.   This is hotly debated in the breastfeeding movement, with many breastfeeding advocates insisting that women should not be forced to cover up, and that it is only when our culture sees more moms breastfeeding openly that it will become socially acceptable.   Well, in my opinion, it’s a bit of a which-comes-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg syndrome.   As long as moms are squeamish about nursing in public, no amount of cajoling will get them to do it.   And while we at Best for Babes absolutely agree that no woman should be told she HAS TO cover up, we also think that if it makes some women more comfortable, then let’s encourage and cheer them on.   I was one such woman who didn’t feel comfortable nursing in public, and although I made it an adventure to find hidden spots to nurse it was always a bit daunting.   So I implore the breastfeeding advocates who are against cover-ups categorically to consider that they can be a useful stepping stone.   More nursing in public whether covered or not is a GREAT thing, and if a mom can be made to feel more secure or even stylish by using a lovely product in the form of a poncho, bib, blanket or even wide-brimmed hat then let’s let her be.   After all, some of us are a bit more motivated to go to the gym by the chance to wear cute work-out gear, or feel more confident going on an interview when sporting a snazzy suit, so let’s not deprive new mothers of the same props that may make the difference in how long they carry on.

By the way, upon checking out Mother and Baby magazine online, I was very happy to see that they advertise right on the home page a gift bag for moms that carries no formula samples and is breastfeeding-friendly  and code-compliant by adhering to the  World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing Breastmilk Substitutes.  Kudos to Mother and Baby!

10 thoughts on “Two out of three moms ‘fear stares if they breastfeed’

  1. I think covering up with big blankets and nursing covers draws more attention to yourself.
    I did that with my 1st or I would find a place to nurse and often times it was either in a bathroom, dressing, or a car.
    With my 2nd I started out nursing with a cover and it made me very uncomfortable. Trying to get the baby latched on while keeping the blanket over my head, while trying to keep an eye on my oldest. It was annoying!

    I started wearing those tanks with the built in bra under my clothes. I wore cotton nursing bras and I could easily pull them both down w/out any trouble lift my shirt and latch her on. I became very good at being discreet about it.
    I also cared less if anyone saw, I actually hoped I made an impact on people.

    My daughter is now 2 yrs old and I still use the same technique with my tanks. She mostly nurses at home now. If your in my house be prepared to see a lot of boob because I’m not so discreet in my own house.

    Great post!


  2. While it is VERY true that we should support Moms in using covers if it helps them to feel comfortable, most babies reject covers and after fighting with them for a while, eventually most Moms give up on trying to cover. Unfortunately, for many, this means choosing between giving up going out and giving up breastfeeding. We need to recognise that covers ARE NOT THE SOLUTION. Putting time and energy into them is a complete waste.

    Rather we all need to make a concerted effort to confront anti-breastfeeding attitudes EVERYWHERE that we find them. When someone is loudly and belligerently insisting that Moms need to be covered, that breastfeeding is disgusting and/or offensive and/or shameful, we need to loudly and belligerently confront them. Only when society as a whole gets the message to the extent that THEY are too embarrassed to do it, will they stop attacking Moms. It’s just like making racist comments. Once upon a time there were signs and laws and public opinions about the right “place” for a person of colour. Now however, everytime someone publicly uses the “N-word” they are publicly lambasted and quite often lose their job. We can’t change peoples attitudes. But we can work hard to change their behaviour. I think creating laws that address anti-breastfeeding comments and acts as the hate-crimes that they truly are is a required next step.


  3. With baby #1 I was terrified to nurse in public even if I was covered. The baby hated having anything cover her face and I just preferred to sit in the car. After teaching childbirth classes for a year, and having a second baby, I could care less about covering up. In fact, I organized an outing for all my new moms so we could go and “practice” nursing in public, ensuring them that they would all be more discreet than I was… simply because I didn’t care anymore. As long as I can turn on the TV and see exposed breast used for something other than breastfeeding, I’ll happily expose mine to nourish my child. Thanks for a great post!


  4. I couldn’t agree more! Not every breastfeeding mom will be comfortable doing so without a cover. For me, I had zero issues with breastfeeding whenever/wherever I needed to, but it made me so much more comfortable and able to do that because I used a cover. Not because I was ashamed, but because I’m just a little shy about it. Being critical of that action is a backslide we can’t afford!


  5. I am mom to 4 and breast fed all of them but only until about 4 months old. I always carried a blanket, not because I was ashamed of breastfeeding in public but because I think that it is common courtesy for those that do not want to witness the breast of another woman. I never had to find a place to “hide” and no one seemed to mind me doing it in front of them but they couldn’t or didn’t see anything they didn’t want to. Let’s face it, there are still perverts out there and I, myself don’t care to flaunt my breasts around. Breast feeding was just my preference and lucky for me, I was able to. There are a lot of women that are not able to breast feed and it bothers me more to hear moms being criticized for formula feeding.


  6. I am an IBCLC who owns a maternity and breastfeeding boutique and nursed all 4 of her own children for at least 2 1/2 years each. I teach breastfeeding classes and have written a book for Christian mothers about breastfeeding. Obviously, I am extremely pro-breast.
    However, I am also extremely anti-guilt! I couldn’t agree more with everything you said in your post. Many mothers do feel more comfortable with a cover. Anything we can do to support breastfeeding mothers is vitally important.
    Would I like to see every mother I meet exclusively breastfeed? YES! If I support and encourage that mother who is struggling with her first baby and ends up weaning early, will she be more likely to nurse baby #2? YES! If I make her feel guilty and treat her like a bad mother for giving up, is she likely to seek my help with her next baby? Absolutely not!
    All of us who work with mothers should recognize the incredible opportunity we have to make a real difference not only with the present baby, but with future babies. Guilt is a lousy motivator, but a little genuine support and encouragement goes a long way!
    Thanks again for your great post.


  7. I breastfed my first for 16 months and I’m in my 3rd month with my second.
    I thought I’d be more comfortable nursing in public with my 2nd, but its still hard! Especially when they’re little and don’t latch well unless you guide them well.
    I remember after my first had weaned I was in a restaurant and a family was escorted to a booth with the mom nursing her baby as she walked. Her baby was completely under her shirt so you really couldn’t see a thing! Yet the staff was snickering behind her back! I saw red, but didn’t want to make a scene because I knew my husband would be mortified. With peiople like that, no wonder moms are concerned about feeding in public!


  8. Fantastic post – I can relate to almost every situation you described. I nursed my preemie daughter for 17 months and struggled with a nipple shield for the first 4 months, which made breastfeeding in public a messy and stressful event, but I still did it pretty often. I didn’t use a cover early on, so once I started she was old enough to swipe it away…

    Thank you for keeping this important conversation alive…


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