It’s Just Natural: Public Breastfeeding

Sophie Austin talks to local lactation consultant, Kathleen Cusack, about why babies being fed in public is such a big deal.

Picture this. It’s lunchtime and you’re hungry. But people are staring at you while you eat. Some even scowl. So you’re forced into a broom-closet sized room. Or you hide away under a blanket, even in the sticky, sweaty heat.

Sound familiar? Probably not, unless you’re a four-month-old baby. But this scenario is very familiar for breastfeeding mothers.

Many parents practice the routine of ‘feeding-on-demand’. That means even if mum and bub are out for a morning coffee, there may be a feed involved. So what’s the problem?

Kathleen Cusack, Lactation Consultant and midwife at John Hunter Hospital, spoke about society’s obsession with all things sexy. “I think it’s a sexual connotation,” she said. “People view breastfeeding as something other than nutritional. They’ll think ‘your boob’s out for everyone to see, my kids don’t see that at home, men don’t see that at home, so I shouldn’t have to see that’.”

“Our world today is very sexualised.”

It’s no secret that sex sells, which is a marketing campaign that media-owners cling to. Magazines and television have warped the image of female breasts, taking them from natural to naughty. Social media sites are known for banning pictures of exposed female breasts, a concept that seems to have caught on in today’s society.

“You can put a cover over you if you’re feeling self-conscious, but a woman shouldn’t be made to feel self-conscious,” Cusack said. “She should be able to sit down and feed her baby where ever she is without having to think about other people.”

The Australian Breastfeeding Association has assured mothers that breastfeeding is “a right, not a privilege” in their guidelines.

”Under the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 it is illegal in Australia to discriminate against a person either directly or indirectly on the grounds of breastfeeding,” they said. “A hungry baby shouldn’t be expected to wait, and no mother can be forced to ignore the needs of her baby.”

Although public breastfeeding is reliant on the mother’s preference and opinions, it is important that she has support every step of the way. Babies are hard work, whether they’re in the privacy of their home or out with mum on the weekly shop.

“One of the things I encourage women to do is to have people around them who are supportive,” Cusack said. “Be comfortable where they’re sitting, be comfortable with their convictions that what they’re doing is right and know that the law is on their side.”

Next time you see a mother feeding her baby beside you, you might want to give her a smile. She earned it!

Feature image: Jordan Whitt, Unsplash, no changes made.