I wrote this post over at my personal blog, but I think Lactivist readers might find it of interest. It’s called “I’m sick of discreet”, and here it is:
Discreet: careful not to attract attention or cause offence (according to the Oxford English Dictionary).
Well I’m sick of discreet. Absolutely sick to the back teeth of discreet.
Think of things you’re told to do discreetly. Normally things that are a bit “naughty”, not really allowed. You’d meet an extra-marital lover “discreetly”. You’d slip a few extra bits and bobs from the supermarket into your pocket “discreetly”. Oh, and… that’s right, you’re supposed to breastfeed in public “discreetly”.
Thing is though, I wouldn’t mind so much if this edict only came from the usual misogynistic culprits like the Daily Hate et. al. (And it does, oh it does). But it actually comes from the very people that are supposed to be supporting breastfeeding.
NHS literature tells us “it’s perfectly possible to breastfeed discreetly”.
Shops that sell nursing tops and clothing tell us they are especially designed for “discreet breastfeeding”.
People who think they’re being tolerant and understanding say “I don’t actually mind breastfeeding in public… as long as its discreet.”
Even- sometimes – other nursing mothers tell us that they managed perfectly discreetly so why can’t we?
Okay. First of all, even if it was desirable to be discreet, I have a newsflash for you: it’s not always possible.
I’m a 32HH bra size. Not nice Loaded mag-friendly pneumatic titties, but matronly, floppy, cushion-like, drop to my tummy as soon as the bra strap is unhooked 32HH bosoms. Seriously, the whole boob falls out of my bra when I’m breastfeeding. The whole milky orb. So getting my child latched on showing as little boob as possible? No can do.
Newborn to about two or three month old babies are not so much of a “problem” in the discretion stakes. Attach them, and there they stay put until they’re finished, or fall asleep, sometimes both. But once they get a mind of their own, they start to look around! In the middle of feeding! And leave the heinous crime of exposed nipple! Oh noes, won’t somebody think of the children!1!!!!11 (Oh, that’s right, someone was thinking of the children.)
In my time as a peer supporter this was actually one of the main “problems” I was approached about. Sometimes I’d sit Mum down with a brew and we’d talk. When she finished her brew I’d ask her why she didn’t just down it all in one, why did she pause in between sips, why did she take her hand off the cup sometimes? Babies aren’t much different. Why should they want to stay put in between sips of milk? They’re out having a meal. So like adults, they want to chat, to look around, to stare. And that means coming off the boob sometimes and leaving Mum exposed!
And if you’ve ever tried to be discreet with a verbal toddler or child who announces “milk!!” – or “boobie!” – very loudly as soon as you’ve sat down and pulls up your top to help themselves… you’ll know that discretion is neigh on impossible.
If you’ve ever tandem nursed, or nursed twins or multiples – basically if you’ve ever nursed more than one child at a time… well, you have to lift both sides of your top! That means exposing an awful lot of breast and… even… stomach!
Anyway, secondly, why is it desirable to be discreet? Well, I could rant and rave about why it shouldn’t be, but I’ve done it before, and other people have said it better than me, so I’ll leave it to them. Suffice to say that there is no genuine reason why mothers should have to be “discreet”.
However, we live in the real world. The reason breastfeeding mothers often want to be “discreet” is not often out of some sense of “modesty” but because they want to protect themselves and their children from nasty comments, the embarrassment of being asked to move and what (I think it was) Morgan calls that very British protest, the tut and head shake (I’ve had more than my fair share of those).
I understand that need. I’ve felt it myself. The older my son gets, the more I feel it, as normal-term nursing is still misunderstood and stigmatised, sometimes even to the point of it being labelled “child abuse”.
But I really would like to lose the word “discreet”. It implies breastfeeding is something to be ashamed of. Something to hide away because it is disgusting. Whereas, the real reason we’re hiding it away is fear of all kinds of harassment. In fact, I think that hassling a nursing mother is a form of “street harassment”, although normally it happens indoors. In fact, it’s a particularly nasty form of street harassment, in that because the mother has a young child or children with her, she feels even more vulnerable than she would were she on her own, as she has not only herself to protect but also her charges.
Suggestions for other words? Morgan I think has used “camouflage” in the past, which I like. (So, “our nursing tops are designed facilitate camouflaged breastfeeding”). I’ve used “comfortable” myself. Or maybe we could just come out and say what it is: protection. “Our nursing tops help protect against stupid sexist smegheads.” Now that’s a nursing top I’d buy! Especially if that was the slogan written across the top!
And why did I write this post?
Yet another mother been shown to a completely unsuitable place for breastfeeding. If we didn’t have such a hang-up about being “discreet” she would have been able to sit wherever she liked. But for her own camouflage, her own protection, she asked to be moved to another room. And was given a storage room, full of medical equipment – including needles! Way to go, NHS!
And we wonder why breastfeeding rates are so low in the UK when the very people who should be supporting breastfeeding are undermining it!
[I wonder what it is about the NHS? My two most ridiculous breastfeeding moments also came in hospitals. The first, in St Helens Hospital with my husband and baby. I was nursing him happily in the waiting room when a nurse came up to me and said, "I can show you where the disabled loo is if you like." Seriously. I told her I was fine, thanks.
Second time was when I was in hospital with my baby after he fell down the stairs. Nursing him was such a comfort to him. Or at least, it was, until (a) a Doctor brusquely walked past and pulled the curtains around us without even asking and (b) I overheard the nurses talking, when they thought I was asleep, about how odd it was to be breastfeeding a year-old baby and how if he were their baby they'd nip it in the bud. I did actually complain about (b) afterwards and was informed they'd been told not to talk about the patients again.]