Breastfeeding in Public: How dare you do that ?????!!!!!!

by Stalo Lesta

June 24, 2015

Usually I don’t post in social media. But if something annoys me, really annoys me, I cannot just stay idle. While I was in a store at the Mall of Cyprus, my 4 month old son started getting hungry so I immediately and very discreetly put him on the breast. I was promptly approached by an awestruck shop assistant, who very threateningly started waving his finger at me, shouting in English «It is forbidden you do that! You need to leave now! Get the key to go to the room downstairs ». There was such a look of disgust in his eyes that it startled me! Apparently, being unaware of the fact, I had ‘defied’ the Mall of Cyprus regulations by which a nursing baby (and of course their mothers) need to be isolated in a special room , away from public sight.

I was shocked is the truth. On many levels. On one hand I was shocked that the shop assistant instinctively (and very stereotypically so) thought I was a foreigner. Perhaps in his belief only “foreign” women have the “audacity” to breastfeed their children in public. In his “morality” (and very traditional, puritan ethics), a mom putting her baby on her breast in public is something unimaginable. It was also quite interesting to notice that he did not refer to what I was doing as ‘breastfeeding’ (that is, he didn’t say «it is forbidden to breastfeed your baby») but instead, not being able to articulate this “abominable” word, he opted to refer to it as a simple «that».

Even though many organizations (such as the Breastfeeding Association, Birth Forward and many others) have made and are making tremendous efforts to change mentalities about breastfeeding, many people still find it difficult to even pronounce the word! Isn’t it sad?

And I still wonder about the shop assistant’s reaction. What was he so socked about? Why that horrified expression on his face? I was completely discreet and my body was completely covered with the sling that I use to carry my son. It was obvious that no ‘private parts’ were in public view and no nudity was in question. So the so common remark “but how can you take out your breasts in public” and “it’s provocative” did not apply in this case. And to be honest this remark is not applicable in any case!!!! Because breastfeeding is not a sexual act. And breastfeeding is not provoking! It is not women that provoke the sexist remarks; it is those that make them that are at fault and society at large for tolerating these reactions.

I am sure that the shop assistant thought that he was doing me a favor, by sending me to the ‘special’ room. He probably thought that he was supporting my choice to breastfeed my son (and also protecting my ‘honor’ at the same time). But did he ever wonder, or did the policy makers of the Mall who have made the decision to implement this policy of the isolated ‘breastfeeding room’, ever wondered that is policy is far from being supportive? That it is actually violating women’s and children’s rights? How different is this isolation policy for mothers and nursing babies from the so familiar “punishment in the corner” that used to be implemented in schools back in the day? Dear friends that have decided to implement this policy, how would you personally like it, if you were forced to take your meal in isolation, away from your friends, locked in a small, dark, unappealing room? Would you find it appealing? Pleasant? Would you work up an appetite? How would this have affected your socialization?

The isolation policy of breastfeeding infants and their mothers is completely punitive in my opinion and it clearly constitutes discriminatory behavior. Because breastfeeding is not only nourishment. Among other things, breastfeeding plays an important role in the psycho-social development of infants. What messages do we actually give to those babies when we are taking away their right to enjoy their meal and derive pleasure from it, when we diminish the importance of nutrition, nurturing, enjoyment and socialization? How does “covering” or ‘hiding’ babies at a time when they’re trying to enjoy their meal (and at the same time receive the so vital nourishment, attachment, comfort and security that is so important for their development) help them to develop healthy attitudes towards food, nutrition and growth in general?

During the last few years there have been many positive steps towards promoting, supporting and safeguarding the right of women and babies to breastfeed and engage in this beautiful, wonderful and vital connection. Let’s not allow or tolerate acts that do not respect this right and call for ‘hiding’ or isolation spoil these magical and so precious moments!

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