Are the people of Chelmsford really against breastfeeding in public?

Woman nursing a baby

Are the people of Chelmsford really against breastfeeding in public?

Unless you live under a rock you’ll know that breastfeeding, particularly in public, can be quite a controversial topic.

Woman nursing a baby in a shopBefore I had my own babies, naively, I never understood the need for the #normalisebreastfeeding movement. Maybe that’s because to me, it was already normal. My mum fed me and my sister, I remember as a child seeing my aunties feeding my cousins. I didn’t really see many bottles growing up, until the babies were a year or so old. As an adult I witnessed my sister feeding my niece and nephews, my sister in law fed my nephews and my cousin in law fed her babies too. It was only when I had a baby of my own that I realised it was such a hotly debated topic, and that actually some people are really against it. It genuinely shocked me. It hadn’t ever even occurred to me to feel uneasy feeding in public, either infront of family and friends who visited, or really publicly in a shop, in a pub garden or whilst walking around the supermarket. Baby needs feeding; I feed him. It was only after I started that I realised I did occasionally get a look from someone, or hear a whisper. I’m pretty thick skinned, I now have a whole repertoire of sassy comebacks and legal quotes stored up ready for the day that someone so much as dares to say something negative to me. I don’t know if I’m happy or sad that I’ve never had to use any of them in the three years since I started breastfeeding.

Like most breastfeeding mothers I watched Breastfeeding Uncovered last week.

It’s the Channel 4 Dispatches show on breastfeeding, released to coincide with World Breastfeeding Week 2018. The programme showed television presenter and new mum Kate Quilton speaking to scientists from London’s Imperial College who explained why breast milk was better for babies than formula, due to the hundreds of antibodies that formula can’t emulate. It also showed video diaries of mothers throughout the UK struggling to feed without support, due to cuts in public health funding. The last part showed Kate breastfeeding in public, and then asked for opinions from passing members of the public.

I was particularly excited to see the last part as it was filmed near me. Chelmsford is my nearest big town and I’ve sat and breastfed all over the city.

In fact, I have sat and fed on the exact same bench as Kate Quilton did in the programme, and not once have I ever had a negative comment or had so much as a look from members of the public. Sometimes I feed very discreetly in a t-shirt designed for nursing, so I actually doubt anyone (other than seasoned breastfeeding pros who usually give me a knowing smile) would even know what I was doing. On the other hand, sometimes I wear a strappy top or even a jumpsuit if it’s a really hot day and I have to get my whole breast out to feed in them. When I do this I do put a muslin over my shoulder and cover the top of my breast so I don’t feel so exposed, but I feel like this actually makes it more obvious what I’m doing and draws more attention to it. Either way, feeding discreetly or indiscreetly I have never experienced negativity from the people of Chelmsford. Woman and baby standing in city centre

I was disappointed twofold when I watched the last part of the programme. Of all the interviews they showed, they didn’t show a single positive comment. Firstly, I was disappointed on behalf of the people of the city of Chelmsford, as it’s really not as anti breastfeeding as the documentary made out. Secondly I was disappointed at the lack of positive comments on behalf of all the mothers who aren’t confident feeding in public for fear of a negative reaction; it just reinforced their view that members of the public aren’t accepting of it. I feel like this would just put them off feeding in public even more, rather than give them the boost that they need.

I caught up with Sarah, the sister of one of the ladies interviewed for the programme, who was shocked and saddened at the editing of the programme; it took something she said out of context and made it look like she was not supportive of breast feeding, when in fact the case is quite the opposite. A few months ago Louise told Sarah that she had been stopped out in Chelmsford and asked about her opinions on breastfeeding. She said she was chatting to the tv researcher for about 5 minutes about Sarah, who at the time was breastfeeding her nephew Archie, telling her how supportive she was of it. Both ladies were looking forward to watching the documentary, and Louise was quite excited to be a part of something that helped to promote and normalise breastfeeding. Unfortunately for her, the only clip they showed of her was a negative comment which she had given in reply to a leading question asked by the production team ‘Why do yoy think some people don’t like to see breastfeeding in public?’ to which she replied ‘I think people may think it’s indecent exposure doing it out in public’. The way it was edited made it look like this was her opinion, as the voiceover prior to her comment said ‘How do people feel about me feeding my baby in public, when he’s hungry?’.

I’m disappointed that Channel 4 sensationalised the opinions of the people of Chelmsford by only showing the negative reactions, rather than giving the balanced responses that they were given on the day. I went into Chelmsford City this weekend to do my own research. I spoke to four breastfeeding mothers and asked each one if they had ever had a negative reaction whilst feeding in public there, and I’m pleased to say that not one of them had ever had a negative reaction. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, of course. I just think that the programme made out that it was likely to happen, rather than unlikely.

If you live in or are visiting Essex, it is in fact very breastfeeding friendly, so don’t be put off feeding in public by what you saw in the show. If you do need somewhere to breastfeed, you can find a list of places that are registered as breastfeeding friendly, categorised alphabetically by towns here. If you need support with breastfeeding, contact your local La Leche League, if they can’t support you they will point you in the direction of where you can find it.

Technically, everywhere a mother can legally be should be breastfeeding friendly, so it somewhat saddens me that this list is even necessary. I don’t quite know what it means to be ‘breastfeeding friendly’? Perhaps it means that they have space for you to sit comfortably and have access to drinking water and toilet facilities? Maybe it means they make a real effort to train their staff on the matter so that they don’t accidentally break the law, for example by telling a breastfeeding mother to move on or cover up. Nonetheless, if it gives people confidence to know that should they not be able to find somewhere to feed they can go in to the places listed, then I think that’s got to be a positive.

I would love to hear from you if you’re breastfeeding, have you had positive or negative reactions, and where were you?

Kate Hitchens
  • Karen
    Posted at 13:58h, 06 August Reply

    I too watched the programme to see how it was going to make a positive impact on the topic of breastfeeding. Having been on both sides with my first who I had latch issues so expressed for 5 months and my second who just turned one and has been exclusively breastfed. I felt the programme was too short to give a balanced viewpoint and did focus a lot on the negative views of the public (I to live near Chelmsford so was disappointed by the views aired) . I have always used a breastfeeding apron as I have been too worried about people’s views on bf and although I have had a lot of positives from other mums/ family and friends, I have also experienced glances more than once, conversations which I could hear about me feeding from a family while on holiday on Caister, which was not positive and at a year old having people say that I should stop now etc. I hope that we can get to the point we’re no matter how a parent feeds their baby they can do them t without being judged but we aren’t there yet. #normalisebreaatfeeding

    • Kate Hitchens
      Posted at 13:43h, 07 August Reply

      Thanks for commenting and sharing your experiences; I’m sorry to hear they haven’t all been positive. I think we are ‘damned if we do; damned if we don’t’ when it comes to infant feeding, however we chose to do it. I’ve never formula fed I’ve always breastfed (I take my hat off to you for pumping for 5 months that is hard going!) and I started to get comments on how long I was going to feed too. I think people judge in some way or other however we feed, and it is a shame.

  • Rachel
    Posted at 15:39h, 06 August Reply

    I’m from Chelmsford. I’m really pleased to hear that some of those interviews may have been out of context. Currently feeding my second and I’ve been a lot braver feeding in public this time. I’ve not experienced any comments positive or negative, which is great because I think that means everyone I’ve encountered sees it as the normal thing it is!

    • Kate Hitchens
      Posted at 13:40h, 07 August Reply

      Thanks for taking the time to comment 🙂 I’m so pleased to hear you’ve never experienced negativity. I agree that it must mean that it’s seen as normal, which can only ever be good.

  • Cassie
    Posted at 17:34h, 06 August Reply

    Pooh I didn’t know about this list! How useful! I’m the same as you though. If it had to be I used to just do it. That’s not to say I didn’t ha e a few fiddly stressful moments in the early days. My mum encouraged me to stop trying to hide and just got on with he task in hand and forget what others thought. As soon as I did that it all went smoothly. I even did it in packed footie stadiums although eventually I started to express as he got too distracted and trying to feed when your bubs is wearing ear defenders ain’t the easiest lol.

    Brilliant post! Love that you went and did your own research and I’m so pissed of that the media edit things to make them appear less accurate.

    • Kate Hitchens
      Posted at 13:38h, 07 August Reply

      Thanks for your comments Cassie, I’m glad you like the post and appreciate the research I did (even though all it meant was sitting and drinking coffee and chatting haha). I’m so pleased you found the confidence to feed in public after a struggle; supportive friends and family make such a difference!

  • Gill
    Posted at 15:36h, 07 August Reply

    No negative comments when I fed both mine, though as I have been mistaken for my youngest’s Nan a couple of times I was probably lucky that no-one thought I was feeding my grandson!!!
    Well done on setting up this blog x

    • Kate Hitchens
      Posted at 19:55h, 07 August Reply

      Thanks Gill, something to keep me busy during the long feeding sessions! I’m glad to hear you’ve never experienced negativity either. I think the media make out there’s more of a problem than there actually is.

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