Breastfeeding in public, again

A cafe owner in Timaru asked a mother who was feeding her 3 month old baby to cover up. The mother didn’t have a blanket or shawl with her, so the cafe owner offered her a clean teatowel. The mother posted her experience on Facebook, and since then, the cafe owner has been subject to what she describes as abusive calls, and she has had to shut down the cafe’s Facebook page because it was getting so many negative comments.

The story is here: Breastfeed incident goes viral with abuse

Abuse is never pretty, and no doubt the cafe owner is very shaken and worried. To be clear, I do not support abuse of the cafe owner at all. However, I most certainly do not support her actions towards the breastfeeding mother. All the more so when under New Zealand law, no one may stop a mother from feeding her baby in public.

The newspaper article sets out “Mothers’ Rights”.


* It is illegal under the Human Rights Act for someone to stop you breastfeeding in public.
* The Health Ministry recommends exclusive breastfeeding until babies are about 6 months old.
* It also recommends that breastfeeding mothers should research the places they are going ahead of time, or take pieces of muslin and shawls to shield the breast and baby.
* In 2009, Plunket said 16 per cent of mothers exclusively breastfed babies until they are 6 months old.

It’s wrong about that third point. The Ministry of Health does not recommend that breastfeeding mothers research the place, or take muslin and shawls to shield the breast and baby.

Any woman reading that third point might feel that she is entitled to breastfeed in public only if she complies with certain behaviours. In fact, the Ministry of Health offers this advice for people who are feeling unsure about breastfeeding in public. It’s not advice for everyone who breastfeeds, just advice for people who feel unsure.

Plenty of new mothers feel iffy enough about breastfeeding in public without being told that the Ministry of Health recommends that they cover up. A small slip by the journalist, no doubt, but an unhelpful and misleading one.

On the positive side, it seems that although at times people in New Zealand can be deeply critical of parents with small children, there’s plenty of support out there too. I just wish that support was expressed in positive actions, rather than heaping abuse on someone.


13 comments on “Breastfeeding in public, again

  1. Raymond A Francis says:

    I often drive past that cafe while looking for lunch and I am inclined to think I will continue to do so
    To my male/farmer’s eye there is nothing nicer than seeing a baby being feed in the natural way, it is not sexy, it it is not unsexy it is just nice
    I imagine it is quite daunting to do at first in public without any other distractions, hence my stand

  2. robertguyton says:

    My mum breastfed me – thanks Mum!

  3. azlemed says:

    with my first I would sometimes put a shawl over us, more because she was easily distracted and we had latching issues, with the rest I have just feed them regardless and not covered up at all… don’t like it then don’t look is my attitude.

  4. Dayle says:

    I breastfed all my four sons from birth through to up to 18 months old.. I was only twice asked to cover up or stop. Once was on the ferry to Waiheke by a gran who was asking on behalf of her 13 yr old son who didn’t know where to look. I didn’t mind that and did so but did explain to him( and her) that he shouldn’t be embarressed as that was what breasts were made for. The second time was in an Auckland Cafe and I was asked to leave , stop or sit outside… On that occasion i loudly told the waiter where he could stick his coffee and opinion/request and continued to breatfeed until I had finished my coffee .. and baby had finished his lunch!
    IMO – it depends entirely on the circumstances and surroundings and attitude of the people around you – but every occasion deserves some education of the people around you!

  5. Julie Fairey says:

    So frustrated that this is still a big thing. ARGH! I’ve had to feed a lot in public, especially with my second, and while I haven’t had a negative comment I have had a whole lot of advantages that have probably helped me avoid criticism (white, not much boob to see, husband often present whilst feeding, baby generally quiet and cute, often feeding in an environment where I have some status, etc).

  6. M-H says:

    Depressing this is still happening. I only had one nasty experience, in a cafe (coffee bar in those days!) in Taihape in 1974. As I hadn’t ordered I got up and left. But I really thought that business people would have become more sophisticated in nearly 40 years.

  7. Donna says:

    I’ve not received any criticism from feeding GG in public (yet), and while I do generally try to be prepared and discreet – sometimes you don’t have much choice like the other day when he had a melt down at the supermarket there was no time to head to the parent’s room so I had to feed him sitting on a bench outside the supermarket. And then he decided to have a sleep there too. I got a few sympathetic looks from people which I appreciated.

  8. Isabel says:

    Telling us that exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for six months (while accurate) is pointless in this context as breastfeeding continues for months or years after the introduction of other foods and may still need to occur in public.
    I am a klutz and I had very nosy babies so even if I’d wanted to be discrete it would have been impossible to keep completely covered. I wasn’t going to let other people’s silly opinions stop my from caring for my kids anyway.

  9. Tamara says:

    I’ve breastfeed two babies in public and never had any negative reaction. I always used nursing tops (to be discrete and also keep warm) but not always a cloth so don’t know whether that had anything to do with it. I am still nursing my almost 2 year old but haven’t in public for ages. I am almost tempted to have a go just to see what the reaction is to nursing a toddler…

  10. Good Gravey says:

    This whole “I don’t want to see you flop it out when I’m eating” just pisses me off so much.

    I don’t go out of my way to look for breastfeeding mums, but when I do see them, there is bugger all visible anyway. There is a whole heap more cleavage shown by fully dressed women.

    Then we have the whole “some people are uncomfortable so breast-feeding women should show some consideration to those people” thing. Well, perhaps the people who are uncomfortable ought to follow this advice. Maybe they are the ones who ought to show consideration. Works both ways.

    OK – I know everyone is different. But when I see a woman breast-feeding, it gives me a nice warm feeling. Because it signifies love, caring and nurturing. It signifies togetherness and selflessness (well, selfless on the mother’s part – the baby is naturally self-centred).

    I am sometimes tempted to go up to breastfeeding mothers and congratulate them. To tell them that, regardless of what anyone else says, there are a whole heap of us fully supporting them. Tempted only – it would be more than just a little creepy to actually do it. But I do find myself watchful for other people’s reactions.

    With the original article, I found it rather disgusting that the cafe owner came back with a teatowel. Just ick.

    The danger with this argument, of course, is that it can go too far into the mother-goddess kind of thing, and also make women who can’t breastfeed (or choose not to) feel bad.

    • Deborah says:

      Me too with the watchfulness, GG. And I hear you (and agree!) about overdoing the mother-goddess thing. Another friend wrote to me about that during the week, and I’m brewing a post on it.

  11. Helen says:

    There is a lot of dependence on what the cafe owner said, in the linked report. She says the calls were “abusive” when perhaps they were merely angry. After all, it’s in her interest to appear the victim of nasty people.
    I breastfed both of my children but I have to say I was a bit circumscribed as I was so afraid of people like that cafe owner. It certainly is intimidating.

  12. […] And while we’re talking about breast feeding. It’s so fucking annoying that breastfeeding in public is still an issue (revolving door of assholes – when will you close for good?)A Timaru cafe owner asked a mother feeding her baby to cover up. Deborah at Bee of a Certain Age  explains that under NZ law “no one may stop a mother from feeding her baby in public”. […]

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