And so, despite my brother’s occasional jibes, I’ve no particular feelings of pride or embarrassment about my breasts and was therefore quite surprised by my own inhibition when it came to thinking about how I’m going to feed my baby.
I would like to breastfeed and am hoping to do so exclusively for the first six months of my child’s life, beyond that I’m not sure. In theory, this seems a very practical solution, after all, I shall hopefully be producing all the milk my baby needs and food will therefore be on tap as and when it’s required. The thing is, “as and when” could be in any place and in anyone’s company, and while I appreciate breastfeeding is a natural process and am in total agreement with the 50% of voters in the Family Vie poll who believe women shouldn’t have to hide when feeding their children, the idea of whipping my own boobs out in the park, on the train or at the supermarket is ever so slightly daunting.
Like most women, I have body issues. Some of them, like the chin acne I’ve acquired throughout my pregnancy, are (I’m hoping) temporary. Others, such as my wonky right shoulder – the consequence of an erroneous spare rib discovered by a ballet teacher when I was five – are more permanent. But whether with me for the short or long haul, most of these not-so-endearing features can be down played, be it with heavy-duty make-up or tactically placed long hair and, at the very least, I’m usually able to sufficiently address them in the comfort of my own bedroom before I make my way into the world at large. But unless I’m to remain a hermit in the early stages of motherhood, the breast issue isn’t one I can tackle privately in the sanctuary of home.
If I’m to breastfeed and socialise, my choice, then, is to grin and bare them, or acquire something akin to a Hooter Hider. These breastfeeding covers, as written about in the Guardian, have received a mixed response on Family Vie, where readers, while generally accepting women may feel self conscious about exposing their breasts in public, are divided, with some, such as @jenniferhowze, deeming the covers unnecessary and others, such as @luschka2, declaring them a “life saver”.
For those who aren’t so in favour, one of the main issues, as @flobo says, is that ‘nothing screams “breastfeeding mum” louder than one of these things.’ And that’s probably true. The Hooter Hider website may claim their designs are ‘inspired by exotic holidays’, but the apron-style garment is, for me at least, more likely evoke memories of shouting dinner ladies in tabards than peaceful ‘summer picnics in the park’.
There are, however, more discreet versions available, and I must confess in a moment of breast-baring panic, I did order a nursing poncho, because, as @edsarah suggests, it will give me confidence about feeding either in public or, as @cazza2 found, in front of male relatives and friends.
This last point is perhaps the most intriguing to me because, if I’m honest, the prospect of offending a stranger by inadvertently exposing myself to them isn’t my main concern. @Luschka2 recently posted the Consumerist’s article ‘Breastfeeding Moms Stage “Nurse-In” at Arizona McDonald’s’ to Family Vie. Brilliant, I thought, US mothers are taking demonstrative umbrage to the manager’s request that a nursing woman leave his restaurant. What is that if not progress? When I went on to read the comments which followed on the source website, however, I was less encouraged.
For the most part they were narrow-minded and misogynist, with the majority suggesting that women shouldn’t be exposing their breasts to feed in public especially, as several commentators said, if those women are “fat” or “nasty”. That there were guys like peebozi proposing breastfeeding was condonable so ‘so long as the chick is hot or her face is hidden’ was disheartening enough, but what surprised me more were the comments made by women. Broadway96, for example, said she hates ‘women that think it’s okay to [breastfeed] in public places. I am a female. I don’t want to see your fat tits in some kid’s mouth. Go hide in the bathroom.’ Now there’s a lady doing her bit for sisterhood.
Rather than put me off feeding in public places, the attitudes evident on the Consumerist website made me all the more determined to get over my fears and feed my baby wherever necessary. Like @cazza2, however, I don’t know if this newly discovered gung-ho attitude to feeding in front of those I don’t know will translate into feeding in front of those I do.
In the same way as I’d sunbathe topless on a beach with my female friends or my husband, I don’t think I’ll have any problem with feeding the baby in their company. But just as I’d rather keep my bikini top on in the presence of male friends or relatives, I imagine my preference would be to keep myself covered while feeding in front of them too. This is no reflection on them, rather an indicator of my own hang-ups and, more than likely, evidence of the way in which most people – men and women – view breasts as a predominantly sexual, as opposed to functional, part of the body. Sadly, I’m not sure the six weeks I have remaining of my pregnancy are sufficient time for me to change this entrenched perception.
Perhaps the best advice I read was miscinnamon’s comment in response to the Guardian piece. ‘I would recommend,’ she said, ‘any woman concerned about breastfeeding in public find a mirror and feed her child in front of it. It’s quite incredible how little flesh is actually on display.’ And so it seems, as with my spotty chin and wonky shoulder, the bedroom mirror should be my first port of call after all.
For more information on this subject, check out Breast & bottle.