Not in public please: breastfeeding as dirty work in the UK
Although breastfeeding has been increasingly promoted as important to the health of both the infant and the mother there are still many in the UK who object to it being undertaken in the public arena. Recently, a mother was told to stop breastfeeding in Hampton Court Palace (Narain 2005) and mothers are also asked to leave restaurants (Narain 2005) and deserted bars (Sears 2000). Breastfeeding is perceived as primitive and crude by many men and women. It is the cause of embarrassment, and the butt of smutty jokes and innuendoes. It arouses feelings of disgust and disdain. Bottle feeding is seen as sterile and clean whilst breast milk is considered a pollutant, a bodily fluid that should be contained. There are limited facilities available for mothers to feed their infants outside of the home; they either breastfeed openly to the disdain of those around them or alternatively are pointed towards mother and baby rooms, which are either attached to the public toilets or within the public toilet. Why is there this objection to mothers breastfeeding in public? And is it just in public? Do mothers also encounter difficulties with breastfeeding within the private domain? The aim of this chapter is to explore the issues and feelings associated with breastfeeding under the public gaze. The basis for this study is drawn from a review of the pertinent literature and also from data collected for my PhD research. This entailed data collected during interviews of 39 breastfeeding mothers and 10 midwives, and a survey of 291 midwives who had personal experience of breastfeeding in the north of England (Battersby 2006). Within the text these will be referred to as midwife-mothers.