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A thank you letter to those who shame mums breastfeeding in public

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"Perhaps this is not what you've set out to achieve, but to counteract your attitudes, there now exists a small, but slowly growing campaign to normalise breastfeeding, to de-stigmatise nursing in public, and to de-sexualise the female body..."

If you are made acutely uncomfortable by the sight of a woman nursing her baby in public; if you think this is just plain wrong, even disgusting; if you think a woman who needs to breastfeed in public must cover up every inch of exposed flesh – you get my drift and you know who you are -- this letter is for you.

But the purpose of this letter is not to shame you.

Instead, it is to thank you on behalf of mothers who choose to breastfeed their babies in public.

To the young woman -- made brash by youth -- who felt it was your duty to tell a nursing mother that you found her ‘disgusting’: thank you for highlighting a gap in the education of our youth.

Because of your attitude towards breastfeeding in public and your limited knowledge about the (real) role of breasts, many parents are now taking it upon themselves to educate their children about the biological function of breasts and the important role they play in nurturing babies.

Hopefully, we will see a generation of children who grow up educated about the human body and how it works, rather than feeling ashamed of and disgusted about its functions.

So thank you for contributing to this education. Perhaps, someday, you will get your own practical education in breastfeeding when you are a mum and your baby lets out a 'feed me now!' wail while you are at a restaurant.

To the newly-married woman who is okay with mums breastfeeding in public… provided that it’s done in a toilet or nursing room:

Let me explain. Toilets can be very dirty places, especially if they are open to the public. And a baby’s immune system is still developing.

So, place a little one in a toilet to eat his meal and what could possibly be a potential outcome? Sickness, of course. Also, would you like to eat in a toilet? I think not.

The same goes for nursing rooms. I have to say that you do occasionally stumble across absolute gems in the world of nursing rooms. They are clean, equipped with comfy chairs and other requirements, well lit and not located near the toilets.

But sadly, many are not like this. They are dirty, neglected, and sometimes even used by people who don’t need to breastfeed.

So, by demanding that breastfeeding mums should always go a nursing room to feed, you are, in fact, encouraging these mums to speak up about the horrific conditions of certain nursing rooms.

This in turn, puts pressure on the management of the establishments where these rooms are located to up their game and to provide better facilities for mothers.

By thinking there’s nothing wrong with a mother feeding her baby in a toilet, you are helping to create awareness about the rather shocking attitudes to breastfeeding in public that still prevail. So thank you for this.

breastfeeding in public shaming

Do you really expect a mother to feed her baby in a toilet?

To the mother of one who thinks breastfeeding mothers should only nurse their babies in public under a cover or shawl:

It’s pretty simple – some babies just do not like eating under a cover. We live in the hot and humid tropics and some babies feel the heat more than others when their heads are covered during meal time.

Of course, other babies are perfectly happy to feed away under their nursing cover, which is just awesome.

But here’s why I am grateful to you. There’s a bunch of breastfeeding mothers who are just not confident enough to nurse in public, meaning that they are restricted to their homes for the duration of time that their babies need to nurse frequently – months, sometimes.

Not going out – at least once in a while – is not too good for these mums’ health, in both physical and mental terms.

But by drawing attention to the availability of nursing covers to these mums, you’re encouraging them to step out of the house with their babies for some exercise, company and fresh air – knowing that if their baby wants to feed, they can do so freely with the help of a nursing cover.

So thank you for alerting such mothers to the availability of this handy breastfeeding accessory.

Finally, to the husband who thinks breastfeeding in public is like sex: It’s not. Breastfeeding and sex are two different things.

Breasts are associated with sex, but you can’t really blame women for that. Go point your finger at the pornography and advertising industries, as well as the media, who have played a big role in sexualising breasts to a point seemingly beyond redemption.

Men like breasts, but so do babies – and for very different reasons. I hope you understand this.

A baby sees his mother’s breasts as a source of comfort and nourishment, while you may see a woman’s breasts as objects of desire. No problem here.

But please do keep in mind that when a mother feeds her baby in public, she is not whipping out her breasts to tantalise and seduce you. She is just fulfilling a few of her child’s basic needs, such as his right to be nourished and his right to feel loved and comforted.

But here’s why I really should thank you. You actually highlight the need to stop sexualising women and their bodies, which, in the larger scheme of things, may hopefully influence those in the media and advertising industries to take a firm stance against portraying women as objects.

By loudly vocalising your negative opinions, you are also being heard by public health policy makers who, understanding your lack of understanding, may spearhead more public awareness campaigns about the value of breastfeeding in order to encourage better rates of breastfeeding among mums.

To all of you: Your negative attitudes to breastfeeding in public have encouraged mothers around the world to speak up, to stand up for their rights.

Perhaps this is not what you've set out to achieve, but to counteract your attitudes, there now exists a small, but  steadily growing campaign to normalise breastfeeding, to de-stigmatise nursing in public, and to de-sexualise the female body.

Thank you for this.

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