Why I’m angry about breastfeeding

This is a guest post by Jill Wells. Jill is a lifelong feminist and reader of books. She works for a charity and lives in the North West. This article was inspired by two common occurrences. First was an astonishing NHS poster with the tagline “Yummy Mummy” suggesting that free breast milk leaves more cash for accessories (the picture was of a pair of very high, very red, so-called “killer” heels). The second was a plethora of stories local to Jill suggesting women should cover up when breastfeeding.  

I’m angry about breastfeeding.
I’m angry that breastfeeding has become a stick to beat women with.

I’m angry that women who struggle with breastfeeding are made to feel they aren’t trying hard enough, aren’t persisting and want an easy way out. The assumption that it can work for everyone, if only they found the right latch/position/supporter. If only they’d given it another week. Not everyone has another week to give.

I’m angry that women who happily breastfeed their children are told to cover up or hide in toilet cubicles. How have we come to this place where a mother and her baby come second to someone else’s unjustifiable indignation?

I’m angry that the NHS thinks pointing out that breastfeeding is free so women can use the money to buy shoes is an acceptable public health campaign. It’s not. It’s misogynistic, and quite frankly incomprehensible. I doubt any mother is motivated by shoes when working out how to feed her hungry infant.

I’m angry that women who breastfeed for more than a few short months start to be seen as strange, somehow deeply unsavoury, as though there was some perfectly timed cut-off point at which all babies were ready to stop.

I’m angry that after several days of trying and failing and trying and failing in hospital to breastfeed my distressed new born I was the one who had to say “stop”. I was the one who had to say “bottle” because I was frightened the professionals might never call for it and that my daughter would shrink away.

I’m angry that I still feel I have to qualify this by explaining that I expressed milk for weeks and that my baby was tongue-tied. As though bottle-feeding needed an explanation, an excuse, because it can’t ever have been a positive choice made by loving parents.

I’m angry that we live in a culture where it’s acceptable to use breasts in images all over our public spaces, to sell everything, but it is not acceptable to accidentally flash a nipple on the way to a baby’s mouth. Where our female bodies are so completely sexualised that using them for the function of sustaining life is viewed as unnatural.

I’m angry that women have to get angry to claim their right to inhabit public spaces while breastfeeding, rather than expecting it as a fundamental right. Women shouldn’t need to spend time writing complaints and getting apologies after being shamed and humiliated for public breastfeeding.

I’m angry that some women take each other down over this issue, rather than building each other up because motherhood is hard enough without every choice being wrong.
I’m angry that women feel they are failing.

I’m angry that, after feeling so much guilt and frustration and envy, women’s decisions on breastfeeding can be met with a shrug as though it wasn’t that important in the first place.

I’m angry that our societal response to breastfeeding is so confused and contradictory that no wonder some women feel a sense of conflict.

I’m angry, yes. But much more than that, I’m proud.

Of women taking decisions that support their children and protect themselves. Of women persevering in the face of pain and exhaustion. Of women doing what they feel is right and standing firm. Of women who try and sometimes fail. And of women who succeed. What a beautiful and courageous thing to have so much love.

Jill has previously blogged for The F-Word (Being a feminist parent of a disabled child).

Image by Mothering Touch under Creative Commons License.
Image is of a mother breastfeeding.