There are too many stories about a mother being publicly shamed for breastfeeding her child in public. Is this practice really wrong, or are people getting it all wrong? Let us discuss it!
According to Edinburgh Live, Gemma Balmbra, 26, was told to “cover-up” by a female staff member at an Asda store in Edinburgh when she breastfed her crying six-week-old baby at the checkout.
Following the incident, the 26-year-old was left “shaking with rage” and, after filing a complaint, received an apology from Asda, which stressed that its breastfeeding policy was not followed in this instance.
“We have spoken to Gemma and reassured her that we are looking into this with the Straiton store and we will remind our colleagues of our policy on breastfeeding in our stores,” an Asda spokesperson said.
Balmbra’s story, unfortunately, is not unique. Every week, it seems like a new article is published about a parent being shamed for breastfeeding in public. So the question is, why do some people still have a problem with it?
Breastfeeding mothers are legally permitted to do so in public, whether in a café, shop, library, or on public transportation, and it is discrimination to treat a woman unfavourably if she is doing so, according to The Equality Act.
Nonetheless, they are subjected to comments or unwanted attention that make them feel uncomfortable or embarrassed for feeding their babies in what is, after all, one of the most natural acts between a mother and her child.
Caroline Marshall was breastfeeding her six-week-old baby near the back of her church when a female choir member suggested she could go and feed her baby in the children’s play area.
“At first I was surprised! Of course, a little angry,” says Marshall. “But then I actually felt sad for her – it was another woman and perhaps she just didn’t understand we are trying to make feeding in public so much more normalised now.”
A survey by NHS Start4Life suggests 72% of people say they support women breastfeeding in public. A majority, yes. But when you break the stats down, it means roughly one in four people (the remaining 27%) still take issue with it.
Here is what the problem is.
Both experts and studies unanimously agree it’s mostly to do with the sexualisation of women’s breasts.
“Some people are uncomfortable with public breastfeeding because we’re conditioned to see breasts as sexual objects first and foremost,” Dr Kimberly Jamie, associate professor in the department of sociology at Durham University said.
“But mothers are expected to be pure, asexual, even virginal.”
On top of that, society is only conditioned to see the ‘right type’ of breasts in this sexualised way.
Breasts are all around us in magazines and on screens, but not saggy, uneven, scarred or lumpy breasts – “and most definitely not lactating breasts,” Dr Jamie explains. Breastfeeding in public disrupts this sexualised narrative. Add a baby into the mix and it further complicates the issue.