OPINION: Commons defeat is a blow to breastfeeding mothers

Sophie Kendall and her son Alex. Pic: Submitted.

Reporter Sophie Wyllie with her son Alex, when he was a few months old. - Credit: Submitted

I remember vividly the first time I breastfed in public.

It was on a cold Saturday morning in Buxton Lodge, on Catton Park, while my husband was running the Catton parkrun a week after having my first child, now aged five.

I decided to sit in the corner, facing away from the door, and wrapped myself in my coat with a big scarf as a cover.

A woman, who I later came to know as Sue who was one of the Friends of Catton Park volunteers serving drinks and brownies to runners, came up to me and for a second I feared the worst.

But to my relief she asked me if I wanted a drink or a snack and said I didn't have to face the corner when feeding.

As a new mum getting used to my drastically new and scary life, that simple act of kindness gave me a boost of confidence.

From then on I felt able to feed Alex in public until he was 14 months old when I decided to stop.

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If I had received a negative comment on my first occasion of public feeding that might not have been the case.

It is with sadness that an amendment to the government's Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill introduced in March to make taking a video or picture of someone breastfeeding without their consent an act of voyeurism was not passed in the House of Commons.

Breastfeeding may be a natural act but I can tell you from my experience and knowing other mothers' experiences it is not easy.

From getting your baby in the right position so their latch is correct and comfortable and the pain which can sometimes come with that to mastitis and dealing with a baby getting distracted by their environment - it is difficult to establish breastfeeding.

Don't be afraid to ask for help with breastfeeding Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Don't be afraid to ask for help with breastfeeding Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

There are some people who make comments underneath newspaper stories where mothers were told to cover up in public places saying breastfeeding is a private act and ask why mothers cannot stay at home to feed their children.

I can tell you that if I had done that i would not have left the house much in the first three months of having my son as he always wanted to feed, sometimes for over an hour at a time due to tongue-tie - something I only found out about later on.

Getting out of the house was a lifesaver for me as a new parent and I know that if I had not have left my home in the early days my mental health would have suffered.

There was one day when I had to stop about seven times in various points around the city including various coffee shops, the bench outside John Lewis and even outside the toilets in Chantry Place.

Over the several months of feeding Alex and then my daughter, who switched to formula at three months old because I had to undergo a back operation, there are not many places I have not breastfed.

These include the Cleveland Way in North Yorkshire and under a tree in Waterloo Park to the side of the finish line at Snetterton Circuit while watching a 10K running race.

I feel lucky that the only slightly negative experience I had was in a cafe near Whitby where the waitress gave me a slightly off look and an older man who did not look best pleased while I fed outside the toilets in Chantry Place.

Both times I had a scarf on and looked like I was just giving Alex a cuddle but the reality is there might be a flash of breast when getting into position.

But when a baby needs feeding it needs feeding and generally breastfed babies feed on demand.

So the longer you leave it the more distressed they become which in turn makes the mum stressed. And no-one wants that.

Which is why the fear of negative comments from people and the worry that strangers might take pictures of you breastfeeding is a definite barrier to continuing breastfeeding as well as being incredibly intrusive.

But why is it important to focus on breastfeeding rates in the UK?

An analysis of global breastfeeding prevalence found that in the UK, 34pc of babies receive some breast milk at six months compared with 49pc in the US and 71pc  in Norway.

Another poll carried out by Woman’s Hour in 2019 also found that three in 10 women who formula-fed their baby said that they would like to have breastfed, but felt embarrassed to do so in public. 

I believe in the mantra that when it comes to babies, fed is best, and there should never be judgement on how mothers choose to feed.

But if they do want to breastfeed they must have as much support as possible.