Breastfeeding In Public

by Karen Tracey on
A Leap Year Proposal 2016 - Lincolnshire Magazine -

Over the past few weeks there have been several debates in the media around the issue of breastfeeding. One discussion centred on whether it is right to breastfeed in public after celebrity mum-of-two Kim Kardashian said 'I wouldn't breastfeed at a restaurant with a bunch of people I don't know staring at me'.

Just last month, fresh from his victory over the 'sugar tax', TV chef Jamie Oliver spoke out in favour of promoting breastfeeding as a way of improving the health of the country's children. His comments were met with hostility from many mothers who refuted his claims that it was 'easy' and others who questioned what role a man could have in this debate. So what is breastfeeding and why is the way we feed our babies such an emotive issue?

How it works

For many years, new mothers have been told that 'Breast is Best'. This is the slogan commonly used by the National Health Service (NHS) to promote the benefits of breastfeeding. Research shows it is undoubtedly the healthiest way to feed a newborn baby. Breast milk is specifically designed to meet the needs of a baby right from the beginning. Shortly after birth a mother produces a special rich milk called colostrum. This first milk is only produced in small quantities and is packed full of nutrients and special antibodies that are used to build up her baby's immunity. In the first few hours and days after birth, a baby's natural instinct is to root for his/her mother's nipple. The baby has a survival mechanism and baby's need is naturally fulfilled by a breastfeeding mum.

As time goes by, baby's suckling helps mum to establish the correct milk supply. This process of supply and demand, often through hours of cluster feeding, can be challenging for new mums. Breastfeeding isn't just about nutrition as a mother's milk also provides comfort and reassurance for her child. In the early days many new mums worry that they are not producing 'enough' milk for their infants. It is at this stage that mothers say they need a greater level of support and advice.

Breastfeeding in Lincolnshire

The latest statistics in England show that over three quarters of new mothers initiate breastfeeding shortly after giving birth. However, despite mothers' stated best intentions, by the time of the six week postnatal check, fewer than half of all babies in England are receiving breast milk. The figures in Lincolnshire are broadly in line with the national average which shows only a third of all six week old babies are exclusively breastfed.

The NHS supports the World Health Organisation's recommendation that babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months and then be breastfed for two years or beyond. Here in Lincolnshire, breastfeeding is promoted in hospitals and also community settings by Lincolnshire Community Health's website

With detailed advice freely available and promoted to new mothers locally, why are breastfeeding rates still so low in Lincolnshire? LincsMag has spoken about this issue to several mums in our area and here are our findings. Of those who struggled to breastfeed, many had concerns about pain from baby's inability to latch on properly. Others were worried that their babies were not receiving enough milk and therefore needed 'topping up' with formula milk. A lot of new parents talk about the pressures they face and often in a sleep-deprived state that pressure is to feed baby using formula milk. In society today we have new parents who do not know anybody who has breastfed. The popularity of formula milk for the past few decades has resulted in many well-meaning grandparents, aunts and friends recommending its use to struggling breastfeeding mums. This is a kind of pressure that often goes unreported. Once formula milk is used to 'top-up', the supply and demand process will be interrupted leading to a decrease in the amount of breast milk a mum produces. This results in the mother believing that she was unable to produce 'enough' milk for her baby and often leads mums to abandon breastfeeding altogether.

Another reason cited for the low breastfeeding rates in our country is society's lack of understanding of the issue. Whilst some local businesses such as Imagination Station in Lincoln are actively promoting themselves to nursing mothers, other places give a less welcoming impression. When breastfeeding women are singled out by people staring or commenting, this can lead to a fear of breastfeeding in public. Just this week LincsMag spoke to a lady from Lincoln who had been visiting Meridian Leisure Centre in Louth when she witnessed a breastfeeding mother being asked to leave the pool. A similar rule seems to be in place at the refurbished Sleaford Leisure Centre which has signs up asking mothers not to breastfeed.

We contacted Magna Vitae (operators of Meridian Leisure Centre) following this week's incident and they said that they support a mother's right to breastfeed, however they expressed concern that 'When feeding, especially young babies, there is a risk they may vomit so we do discreetly suggest mothers consider not feeding in the swimming pool itself'. Sleaford Leisure Centre have also told local mums that is the reason for their policy.

What support is available here?

In an effort to improve breastfeeding rates across the country, a mother's right to breastfeed her child is enshrined into law. In England the Equality Act 2010 protects breastfeeding mums from ill-treatment because of their decision to breastfeed. In practical terms, this means that if you are in a place where you and baby are allowed to be, you can breastfeed whilst you are there. If anybody tries to stop you from breastfeeding, the law is on your side.

Despite being a small minority, there are many breastfeeding mums throughout Lincolnshire. Support for mums-to-be and breastfeeding mothers is available in children's centres across the county. These friendly groups are usually run by volunteers such as those in the Sleaford Breaststart community.

However you choose to feed your baby, remember that while the first few weeks can be difficult, things do get easier. The stomach of the little newborn that needs to cluster feed will get bigger and baby will go for longer periods between feeds! Talk to your partner, share other tasks with family and friends that are willing to help out. Speak to other mums about their experiences. Parenting is hard but the same challenges you are facing now have been conquered by experienced parents before you. Share your story with like-minded others and there is a whole wealth of support available.