My breasts are becoming a more common sight on the train than ticket inspectors. I’m breastfeeding everywhere, in the library, in the window seat of at least three cafes, on a sofa outside the men’s toilet, in front of the postman, on the bus, in a pub, during therapy, standing up at an exhibition, on the tube, at a private members’ club and sitting on a log in the middle of Epping Forest. And here’s the bit you’re probably not expecting – people are great about it.
I’m not a breastfeeding exhibitionist and my breasts have never been much to write home about. But after years of stripping off in the cold light of day to swim outdoors, combined with a somewhat lackadaisical attitude to sterilising, not to mention, oh I don’t know, the fairly essential need to keep my child alive, I have precisely zero qualms about getting my pink and lightly-chewed nipples out wherever I need to these days.
When my baby was just four weeks old, a man on the bus with very few teeth and a somewhat deflated padded jacket smiled, helped put my baby’s hat on straight as I fed and then gave me a Korean red ginseng sweet that tasted like old soil, saying it would be good for my health.
As I breastfed by the entrance to my local library a lovely woman with spectacles came over, gave me a conspiratorial wink and said: “I got told off for doing that in John Lewis once. Thank God things have changed.” When I walked into a cafe at the top of my road, a beetroot-faced and screaming baby on my shoulder, the woman behind the counter rushed over, put me in a seat, brought me over a pint of tap water and ordered me to feed my baby before worrying about the menu.
I live in London – a city of immigrants, blow-ins, the young and busy. These great people bring to my breasts their own cultural associations from everywhere, usually far more positive than the sort of an older British white men shouting you about how the sight of 4cm of naked maternal breast ruined a perfectly good pint of Speckled Dick down at The Dog and Todger. More often than not, people just ignore me.
The feeling that we should leave any social space the moment our baby makes a noise is hard to shift, even for such a hardened nipple-airer as me. The pressure to go and stand out in the cold, on a hard pavement, trying to dodge the smokers and dogs, to bounce, rock or sing your baby back to silent passivity can be enormous.
Don’t give in. Whether you’re breastfeeding, bottle-feeding or both; feed your baby. Feed them anywhere and everywhere. Do it for your baby, do it for yourself but also, if you don’t mind, do it for women like me, because the more of us there are, the easier it becomes.
And if you’re not a mother, be great anyway. If you see a woman feeding a baby in public make her feel welcome; give her a nod of encouragement, get her a glass of water, ask her if she needs anything and for God’s sake give her a seat. It doesn’t take much but it means a lot.