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I’d always felt that I would like to try to breastfeed if I had children, but let’s face it, breastfeeding doesn’t always get the best press. Before I had Rita, what I heard was the difficulties with feeding, the problems with latching and predominantly – and the most daunting, was the reported public backlash against women wapping their boobs out where others can see. (Or more specifically the backlash against women wapping their boobs out to feed their child – not so much in other bra-less, melon-waving situations).
I decided that to try to get past the first two of the three issues above, I would take as much help and advice as I could. I also came to terms with the fact that breastfeeding – for a variety of reasons – may not ‘work’ and that bottle feeding would be an option I was also happy with. The third problem – society, the general public, the backlash, I was worried about.
We are 8 months down the line now and I thought it might be a good idea to spread some positivity about getting your nips out in public …
I had Rita at Bolton hospital and the care and support I got in establishing a latch and starting to feed was superb. There was 1-1 support, meetings, staff dropping by, friendly advice, forceful help – and all of it meant that when we left, feeding may not have been perfect but we were finding our way. I was confident that we would get there. In addition to this I spoke to friends, joined Facebook groups and approached feeding in what I hoped was a calm and success-inducing way. (It later transpired that sometimes it was neither of those things. Mainly the 4am nightfeed when it is the third nightfeed that night. There is little calm about that experience.)
And so we went home. Feeding continued (frequently) and life continued (hap-hazardly), there was leaking and squirting, even massaging my newly formed cannon-ball-boobs, and after a few days it became clear that there was only one feeding hurdle remaining. Feeding outside of our house.
I realised that I was actively avoiding it. By this point Rita’s latch was established and fortunately comfortable. I had controlled the spurting, stocked up by bulk ordering breast pads (who even knew they existed??) mastered the one handed bra release, put all my dresses to the back of my wardrobe and established a capsule wardrobe of huge t-shirts and comfy jeans. There were no excuses left.
As it turned out, breastfeeding ‘in public’ was thrust upon me in Halfords car park as we had gone in to look at roof boxes (for the endless amounts of crap we were now going to have to take on any stay longer than 24 hours). As is often the way with shopping for exciting items such as roof boxes, time ran away with us and before too long Rita was unhappy. I knew that there was nothing for it but to take the plunge and in the car, with the bloke from Halfords walking around and checking out the roof, I fed Rita. And surprise surprise the whole event passed without incident! We all survived unscathed.
My confidence crept up a little – the Halfords man had genuinely not seemed to care.
Our next major outing which meant being out of the house over a feed was the obligatory trip to IKEA which every new baby has. There cannot be a baby born within a 10 mile radius of the beastly blue building who has not been into its maze of flat-pack within the first 4 weeks of its life. IKEA is a magnet for new babies and their parents. It has the answers to all the things you forgot to buy pre-birth and it always, always has at least one other washed out, unkempt parent feeding their child in the cafe. Once again, no-one appeared to give a toss that Rita was feeding. This may well have had something to do with the meatballs, but the ‘general public’ just got on with life. It was as if breastfeeding was – dare I say it – the norm.
I got braver after this and basically I too just got on with life. Feeding took place in car parks, cafes, the library. During baby massage class, half-way through baby sensory and (thankfully) part of the way through a painful set of squats at buggy bootcamp. I have physically got my tits out in standstill traffic on the M56 when we didn’t move for 4 hours and a lorry driver came to offer me some water, on a steam-train in Wales, in various pub gardens, restaurants and on the beach. Nobody cared. Nobody batted and eyelid. Certainly nobody showed us any negativity.
My positive breastfeeding experience can be summed up as such – At Yo Sushi in Liverpool a woman came over to tell me what a beautiful sight we were – how comforting she found it, and how seeing Rita feed reminded her of her own children. This made me stop trying to wrestle my tuna sashimi using chopsticks with my left hand and wonder at this situation I found myself in. This situation so far removed from the bad press and the horror stories. This beautiful, wonderful, perfect situation which doesn’t make others uncomfortable but rather, makes them happy.
Breastfeeding is not for everyone and this blog is not about those differences. This blog is about patting society on the back because for 8 months Rita and I have been supported and looked after, cared for and checked upon. We have not suffered discrimination or abuse or bullying. We have not been made to feel uncomfortable or out of place or that we should leave.
To new parents who choose breastfeeding, my advice is not to fear this press-hyped backlash that I have no evidence of. I know it exists but it is not commonplace, it is not everywhere you go and it is certainly not a reason to only feed within the safety of your own sofa. Enjoy the magic, the calm, the love.
And now, for us, it’s time to move away from breastfeeding….. But that’s a (gut-wrenching) story for another time.