I don’t normally run commentary on news stories, but the story in the Manchester Evening News today really got me (and a lot of other people) a little bit riled up.

A mother of 22 years of age sat on a bus breastfeeding her baby. According to her she was doing so discreetly, but the bus driver insisted she ‘put them away’ or get off the bus. The young lady was still a mile away from home, but chose to get off the bus and walk with her six week old.

What can you see?Now, all the benefits of breastfeeding, and the fact that we’ve just waved good bye to the eighteenth annual World Breastfeeding Week aside, it irks me that people are still so ignorant!

As many commenters on the article pointed out, people get away with terribly unruly behaviour on buses, but a breastfeeding mother is turfed out? Unbelievable.

I am not a particular fan in the ‘fire ’em’ philosophy whereby people lose their jobs just because something is public. I would much rather educate; if I were to choose, that bus driver and his customer service colleague would find themselves on a breastfeeding course, a breastfeeding councillors training course, or attending a set amount of La Leche League meetings!

The whole episode did make me think of something I experienced as a new mother though, and it made me smile and feel decidedly blessed.

When my daughter Ameli was two months old, my husband and I spent the day showing my in-laws around London. Ameli was in a sling and slept most of the day and also slept for most of the journey on the bus home.

She woke up about four stops from home, however, and realised that she had been asleep for hours and was hungry. And I mean hungry in that new born way where being hungry now meant she felt as if she’d never eat again and she began to cry.

I tried to shush her, tried to get her to suck on my finger and tried everything I could to distract her, as we were, as I said, only four stops from home, but she was screeching so much that every person on that bus had stopped to look at us.

In a short lull to catch her breath, I looked around me and said ‘sorry about this’ to the bus in general, at which point almost everyone on the full London bus laughed and said it was okay.

Someone from the front asked my mother-in-law why I don’t just ‘feed the baby’, to which she responded that I was still breastfeeding. Another elderly African lady then called back and said, ‘well, go ahead and feed her then!’

A full frontal - how much boob do you see?We explained that we were off at – by then – the next stop and there was a communal nod of understanding. I ended up walking the rest of the way home in the rain with my two month old under my shirt feeding peacefully, whilst my mother-in-law walked behind me trying to hold my shirt down so that I my middle wasn’t exposed to the December elements.

In retrospect it’s a bit of a funny story, but my feelings about that bus trip are serious: I felt part of a community and I felt as though that community cared about me and the well-being of my child (and their own ear drums!)

The confidence that experience gave me for nursing in public and for continuing breastfeeding was fundamental and I’ll never know who the ladies on that bus were, but I am so grateful to them for that.

And this is why it matters that we get angry when these things happen. This is why we have to defend mothers who breastfeed in public. This is why we have to care about situations where mothers are made to feel bad, are insulted and discriminated against – because it matters. Support matters to them. It makes a difference to them. And hopefully it inspires them to keep doing the best they can for their babies.


Another NIP Outrage and Why It Matters

  1. great story, isn’t it amazing how strangers can lift us up so much? i wonder if they’ll ever know what an awesome thing they did for you.

    1. @the grumbles, Doubtful, but I will always be grateful. And I guess there’s karma and ‘the wheel turns’, you know? Maybe someone supported them many years ago. Or not. But I’ll always remember it. And I guess it’s a real reminder to us too, to remember that our actions have consequences in the lives of others.

  2. I was nursing Luke at the zoo, with a cover when a young couple walked by, the guy could not stop staring, at which point his wife/girlfriend elbowed him in the gut and said , She’s NURSING, do you have a PROBLEM with that?!? The very wise young man said no! I just had to laugh!

  3. Good for you and good for those ladies on the bus! I am fortunate to live in Scotland where laws have been passed to defend breastfeeding mothers such as us but even without those I would not let anyone stop me from feeding my baby. I don’t end up feeding in public very often, only for the reason that we hardly ever go anywhere and Emily is getting older but I have fed in Starbucks, Tesco, the local park, at the village fete, in church, at the toddlers group etc and never has anyone said a word. Some old ladies gave me a smile and an old man a nod but that was it. People need to be educated – never mind about the health benefits etc as the everyday public don’t give a mmonkeys if your child gets ill or not – they need to be educated that there is absolutely nothing wrong with feeding and that it is perfectly normal… more normal than scantily glad girls promenading themselves… and not at all obscene. The fact that some always come up with ridiculous arguments like “well if it’s okay for you to feed your baby then it’s okay for me to pee in public” shows that people are not able to differentiate it in their mind.
    *Sigh* one day things will be different, but I doubt we will be here to see it!

    1. @Eleanor, Oh Eleanor! What a depressing thought! My hope is that by the time my daughter wants to nurse her child it will be different… but then, I don’t know if that’s just a dream. I think as long as there’s big money in formula feeding, it’ll never be something that’s truly and honestly acceptable. You are right though – people need to be educated.

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