At Claridge’s, a luxury London hotel at the beginning of December: Lou Burns, a young mother is sitting in the café and starts breastfeeding her young daughter. Nothing that special you might think. But what follows is a huge discussion and debate on how young mothers should be treated in public and whether breastfeeding is a social nightmare or one of the most natural things in the world.
Mrs. Burns is breastfeeding her daughter Isadora, as a staff member of Clardige’s requests her to cover her baby and her chest with a napkin, because it might cause offence to other guests. Burns is totally upset and cannot understand all the fuss. Later, she gives vent to her anger on twitter. The young mother tweets a picture as she breastfeeds her baby and writes: „so much more obvious with it than without!“ The ball gets rolling and many people, not only women and mothers, show their sympathy for Lou Burns. According to the „Equality Act 2010“ it is illegal to discriminate against breastfeeding mothers in the UK. Fortunately the hotel apologised to Mrs. Burns. So what are the reasons for being offended by breastfeeding? And most importantly, who is actually offended?
In summer of 2013 the poet Hollie McNish uploaded a video called „Embarrassed“ on her YouTube account and finally spoke about the elephant in the room. McNish is a mother as well and shares her experience regarding breastfeeding in public. She writes: “ But after six months of her life sat sitting on lids, sipping on milk, nostrils sniffing on piss, trying not to bang her head on toilet roll dispensers, I wonder whether these public loo feeds offend her.“ McNish used to fed her little baby in public toilets in order not to offend anybody. Furthermore she writes: „It took me eight weeks to get the confidence to go into town. Now the comments around me cut like a knife as I rush into toilet cubicles feeling nothing like nice.“ Everybody can imagine a public toilet and also the uncomfortable feeling you get when you are in this invidious situation. Anyway, it creates by no means the atmosphere you wish for while breastfeeding your baby. McNish complains about the effect that breastfeeding obviously has on some people and she cannot understand the reasons why. So this brings up the question of who actually is offended? The people in a café for example or the mother and her baby? Is it not totally degrading if a young mother has to feed her baby in a public toilet just because some people feel importuned? If it is the fact of seeing the uncovered breast, McNish argues that you see uncovered breasts everywhere, whether in the media, on TV or in commercials. So how far have we come that a natural thing as breastfeeding offends some people?
The alternative to breastfeeding is apparently formula milk. But as McNish says, why should young mothers pay for something that has always been free? So we are not talking about the women who just prefer to use bottles, but about the women who use bottles, because they are too ashamed and embarrassed of breastfeeding their baby. It is well-known that breastfeeding is healthier than formula milk, although feeding formula is the best alternative. Breastfeeding a baby helps to prevent allergies and defends against infections and provides natural antibodies for instance. Hollie McNish ends her poem by putting it in a nutshell: „Because in this country of billboards, covered in tits, I think we should try to get used to this.“
You don´t understand a few words? Now you might know them better:
to breastfeed – when a woman breastfeeds, she feeds her baby with milk from her breasts
to request – the action of asking for something formally and politely
napkin – a piece of cloth or paper used at meals for protecting your clothes and cleaning your lips and fingers
to cause offence – Ärgernis erregen
fuss – unnecessary excitement, worry or activity
to give vent to one’s anger – seinem Ärger Luft machen
embarrassed – shy, awkward or ashamed, especially in a social situation
degrading – treating somebody as if they have no value
importuned – to ask somebody for something many times and in a way that is annoying