I was recently asked by a friend when am I going to challenge breastfeeding on my blog. And my first thought was, ‘Um, I’m a massive advocate for supporting breastfeeding, what the hell kind of a question is that?!” I think that must have registered on my face, because she immediately clarified what she meant, and it is in fact something I want to challenge because it boils my blood.
My friend is a manager in a local high street store, which is one of the market leaders for expectant parents and baby products. A week or so ago she was approached by a lady who asked her if there was anywhere for her to feed her toddler. A perfectly normal, rational question. She immediately directed the customer to the back of the store which has a lovely, quiet room for Mums to go and feed in private or change their baby in a clean and comforting environment. Let me be clear, this is not a scruffy room. The room is clean, with slightly dimmed lighting to provide a calming atmosphere and has seating that is both comfortable and supportive for mum to feed on. There are also complimentary breast pads, wipes and nappies in the room. If every store had this type of room, our breastfeeding equality demands would be well on their well to being met, I’ve fed in here and been more than happy.
Yet the woman came back to the very front the store, with her husband in tow, to “confront” my friend. The woman, who incidentally kept her nursing bra unlatched and top lifted without the child latched, came to my friend to demand a feeding area on the shop floor. Her argument was that her daughter was uncomfortable in the small room and she felt it was more appropriate to be able to feed her out in the open. To credit my friend, she immediately asked her to wait for a second while she went to get her a chair from the staff room that would be comfortable for her. This store is a big supporter of breastfeeding mums, and had just finished a breastfeeding week campaign with a vast array of health visitors, breastfeeding specialists, breastfeeding support groups and many others hosting a stall at the front of the shop.
The woman sneered at this suggestion, with the dutiful husband smirking in the background, like some ridiculous cheerleader supporting his wife’s latest attack. The woman demanded to know why there wasn’t a feeding area in the middle of the shop floor, and pointed to the area which contained the boxed pushchairs for pushchair promotions, and suggested that this would be an ideal place. The attitude was that, by not having an area where women could sit and breastfeed in a very public manner, the store was doing nothing to normalise breastfeeding. It was hiding the women away as if they were doing something wrong. Again, the lady was offered a seat, on the shop floor, but insisted it wasn’t the point. My friend calmly explained that it wasn’t possible for the store to do so because they have a designated amount of floor space that has to be for sales, the same as they had a designated amount for stock storage, staff rooms, office space and so on. It also isn’t possible to put a feeding/seating area on the shop floor for health and safety reasons as they wouldn’t be able to that with heavy car seats, pushchairs and other objects being taken past it would be a concern the mothers, or worse the infants/toddlers/children, could be knocked into. Furthermore, it isn’t the best idea to have the only possible feeding area in the middle of the shop floor because generally women prefer somewhere quiet to enjoy that bond with their baby, not to mention the fact that surrounded by toys that are beeping, flashing and generally being enticing to any child above the age of the 3 months to about 6 years, is most likely to end up with a mother who has very sore nipples as a result of a quickly detaching baby and a baby who is still hungry!
To me, what the hell did this woman want? She wanted a fight. She wanted a reaction. She wanted my friend to say something “wrong” so that she could flaunt the Equality Act in her face and say, you are in big trouble.
The Equality Act is there to protect breastfeeding mums and their rights. It is there to ensure that no woman has to be made to feel degraded, disgusting or ashamed that she is nurturing and providing for her child in a most wonderful and natural way. It is there to ensure that employers, store owners and the general public respect breastfeeding mums. It isn’t there to be used as a weapon to intimidate others, something that so few women do, but the impact of their abhorrent behaviour has far reaching consequences that damage the campaign to normalise breastfeeding. It isn’t there to help you pick an argument with someone who wants to enable breastfeeding mothers and support them. It isn’t there for bullies to give breastfeeding mamas like me a bad name.
To those of you who think that this is ok, it’s a perfectly acceptable way to behave, you are the very reason that breastfeeding is not treated as it should be. Did you see the bottle feeding mum demanding to know why she was discriminated against because she didn’t have a designated area on the shop floor to feed but had to go to a clean, comfortable room if she wanted to sit, or she would have to walk, browse and feed (something I’ve seen many a breastfeeding mum do in this shop)? NO. Do you expect a baby food stand in the middle of the store with a mini baby cafe? NO.
So why would you expect one for breastfeeding?
Equality is just that. Equal. It isn’t one-upmanship, it isn’t using laws designed to protect to intimidate or bully. It’s about respecting a range of choices and treating them equally. Don’t expect equality if you aren’t prepared to offer it.
I’d love to know your thoughts on this matter, does it boil your blood too? If you disagree then please tell me! I’d love to hear form you all!