Don’t be! Breastfeeding babies in the company of other people is a long standing tradition, the earliest recorded in a 17th century painting! So let’s just ignore the raised eyebrows and unapologetic stares and give the little tot the bosom it craves!
Every woman is told repeatedly that breastmilk is the best nourishment she can provide her baby. Medical studies record the limitless benefits of breastmilk to the growth of a baby (you might just be raising baby Einstein or Newton). And yet, the ‘modern’ woman thinks twice before lifting her blouse and feeding a hungry baby in public. Perhaps it’s the unblinking stare of curious onlookers that prevents her from doing the good deed.
So why make such a big deal out of something so natural and normal? Some men (who really don’t know the half of it) find it vulgar that a woman should choose to feed her tot in plain view. They regard it an intrusion on their privacy and often feel that staring at such women will shame them into applying the brakes. But let me remind you that we all have spent ample time at our mother’s breasts (yes, we have suckled too). You only need to ask her and I’m sure she will have a story to tell you about it.
But the blame doesn’t lie with men alone. Even women (the orthodox, unmarried, childless or simply opinionated types) are guilty of shaming mothers of hungry babies. While there is a thin red line between what’s decent and indecent, we seem to slip in an out of conservative yet liberal mindset, where we accept a woman’s right to display her cleavage if she is an entertainer and look the other way when men answer the call of nature as and when they see fit (even if it means flashing ding dongs in full view of the public). But we cry shame shame on the woman who breastfeeds in a crowded bus or in a park.
The right thing to do here would be to give the mother and tot some privacy. While earlier women used their sarees to cover their suckling babies, today we have nursing covers and scarves and ponchos that allow us to comfortably feed babies outdoors. It may take others some time to get used to, but as a new mother your concern is fulfilling your baby’s demands and not that of the hierarchical society we live in! Today, malls and airports (only two places I’m aware of) provide rooms where a woman can attend to her baby’s needs but these are often not well-equipped!
At times I don’t bother making that trip to the baby room. I pull out my nursing scarf and feed my baby while I’m sitting at a restaurant having a casual conversation. I have fed my baby on flight and in a number of restaurants. There is no need for you to deprave yourself of company or stay at home for six months hidden in the confines of your private room. Of course, women have the right to choose when to feed or not feed.
But why make the baby suffer while you are travelling? It’s the responsibility of society to make life easy for new mothers. Encourage her to feed unashamed and freely. It would be a great service to mankind (bigger than stepping on the moon, I guarantee). Breastfeeding in public is not a feminist concept. It’s been around for ages and woman from all walks of life have done it. From Eve, to Victorian ladies, to village women and even me! Don’t condemn us by calling it vulgar. As someone famous once said (in another context but it does apply here) there are so many here who have different opinions but more than opinions, the intentions matter. If you view it sexually, you will find it sexual. If you need to look, then look at us with love, respect and understand that we nurture the future generations (even at the risk of overpopulation). Don’t judge us too quickly or too harshly. Just accept us for who we are – The Mother Brigade!