As breastfeeding in public comes under fire, we ask: why are we even still debating this in 2014?
Last week, 35-year-old Louise Burns was breastfeeding her baby in London hotel Claridge's when a waiter approached her and explained that Claridge's have a policy that means breastfeeding mothers should cover themselves up. She tweeted about it and later said the conversation had made her feel humiliated, shocked and appalled.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage then added fuel to the fire, by saying on LBC Radio, when asked about breastfeeding in public: “I’m not particularly bothered about it, but I know a lot of people do feel very uncomfortable, and look, this is just a matter of common sense, isn’t it? I think that, given that some people feel very embarrassed by it, it isn’t too difficult to breastfeed a baby in a way that’s not openly ostentatious." He was then asked whether he thinks breastfeeding women should do it in the toilet, and said: "Or perhaps sit in the corner, or whatever it might be – that’s up to Claridge’s. It’s not an issue that I get terribly hung up about, but I know particularly people of the older generation feel awkward and embarrassed by it.”
Many women feel, understandably, upset and frustrated by both Claridge's policy and Nigel Farage's comments, with some even holding a protest outside the 5 star hotel in Mayfair. At the weekend, a group of mothers gathered outside and sat on the pavement, breastfeeding their babies and holding signs saying 'That's what breasts are for, stupid".
But why are we even having this debate, now, in 2014? Shouldn't we be well past the time of discussing whether it's appropriate or not to breastfeed in public? "I have no idea why we are still having this debate," says Jessica Cherry who is a mum of two and blogs at Along Came Cherry. "It makes me so sad and angry that people think pouring breastmilk from another species on their cereal is normal but a woman breastfeeding their child is wrong. Women have a choice how to feed these days which is great, no-one should have to do anything they feel uncomfortable with but both those choices should be supported in the same way."
Alice Judge-Talbot, a mum of two who writes for More That Toast agrees. "It's a ridiculous thing to debate when it is the law. It's a black and white as that; the Equality Act says that it is sex discrimination to treat a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding. Some people think it is acceptable to steal things from others yet we don't have a debate about whether or not is is offensive because to steal is against the law. Just as it is against the law to ask a breastfeeding woman to cover up. Offended people should wear a towel on their heads until they're over their prejudices."
Meanwhile, mum Penny Alexander, who blogs at Parentshaped, is glad this is back in the news and creating a backlash. "Our society still holds very contradictory and damaging ideas about women's bodies," she says. "Page three is still acceptable, despite huge protests, yet women are still made to feel uncomfortable for breastfeeding. I hope the backlash we are seeing marks a turning point."
Whether we see a turning point, or not, what matters is that women aren't discouraged to breastfeed in public because of this. "It worries me that mums who are already feeling sensitive and intimidated by the idea of breastfeeding in public may be further put off," agrees Gill Crawshaw from A Baby On Board. "Remember that your baby is the first priority and legally, no-one has the right to ask you to move or cover up. I've breastfed both my daughters in a huge variety of public places and never received anything but positive comments. It's sad that this isn't the case for all mums, but don't ever let swanky hotels, politicians or newspapers stop you."