#FreeTheFeed in London: breaking the taboo of breastfeeding in public
Giant breasts in London? Earlier this year we planted five giant inflatable breasts on the rooftops of various East London based buildings the morning of UK Mother’s Day to launch our campaign #FreetheFeed! Today, many people still think that seeing a woman breastfeeding or breast pumping in public is not acceptable, that some things should remain “private”. The #FreetheFeed campaign is a way to help fight the stigma around breastfeeding and breast pumping in public. We wanted to reopen the conversation around public breastfeeding and pumping, as unfortunately women are still be judged and shamed for choices that are completely legal and for something that is completely natural.
The stigma on breastfeeding and breast pumping in public still exists. In the UK. In 2019.
According to UNICEF, people have difficulty watching women breastfeeding, firstly because they’re not used to seeing it, largely influenced by bottle feeding culture. Breasts are also - for many people - only synonymous with sex and need to be kept private, and so breastfeeding (that can imply showing a nipple or the breast) might be seen as too personal or worse, offensive. Finally, there’s a belief that breast milk is akin to urine or other bodily fluids like vomit according to Lisa H. Amir, a medical practitioner, in an article published in the International Breastfeeding Journal.
Know your breastfeeding rights
The NHS defines breastfeeding in public as breastfeeding in a public place but also in front of someone in your own home. According to a survey done by Star4Life, 72% of people approve of women breastfeeding in public. This is good but there is still some work to do! In the UK, breastfeeding and breast pumping in public are legal under the Equality Act 2010, except for certain very specific situations in the UK that Maternity Action details here. So in general, no one can prevent you from expressing in a public place, ask you to leave or make you feel uncomfortable about it because one thing’s for sure: you’re not doing anything wrong! In the US, it is a bit more complicated. Whilst almost all the 50 states allow women to breastfeed in any public or private locations, only 29 recognize that breastfeeding is not public indecency. There is also no law that clearly states that it allows breast pumping. We recommend you to check your rights according to the state you live in on FindLaw or on the NCSL website for more information on breastfeeding in public.
At Elvie, we think that women (maybe you) who breastfeed and breast pump in public shouldn’t feel judged or scrutinized. This choice and many other parenting choices should belong to you and only you.
Hanna (@the_cherry_mama) tells us what the #FreetheFeed campaign means to her: “Elvie are running a campaign to break the stigma around breastfeeding and pumping in public. I have always been one to champion breastfeeding and for my girls and I it has always been the best option. I have never felt shame, embarrassment or judgement for feeding in public and nor should anyone else! However, that said, I can completely understand why women do feel those things, because unfortunately there is a stigma around public feeding, and it needs to be broken. I know that I have been lucky to have mostly positive public feeding experiences, this is partly because I don’t care what others think and I acknowledge that it is my decision, my choice, my body and my baby. Recently a lovely old man in John Lewis cafe went out of his way to tell me how proud he was of me and how he admired me for breastfeeding in a public space.
How lovely is that? If only there wasn’t the need for him to have said anything at all though. If only it was normal. No matter how you feed/fed your baby, no mother should ever feel like they are making a wrong choice. No mother should have to stop breastfeeding their child because they don’t feel comfortable pumping to keep up their supply, or because they have to pump in the toilets . No mother should ever feel judged for the choices she makes. [...] Do what is right for you, not anyone else!”
Erin (@erin_doulight) breastfeeds her baby wherever she wants and she tells us how she used to feel awkward when she saw people breastfeed in public: “We are 1 year into breastfeeding and going strong but you might be surprised to know that I wasn’t always so comfortable with seeing breastfeeding in public. It took time and education for me to not feel awkward talking to a friend while she was nursing her baby (I never knew where to look!!- hint- it’s at her face). That’s why I love the #FreeTheFeed campaign by Elvie. They put up 4 giant breasts around London to get the conversation started. The more we normalize feeding babies in public the less awkward it becomes for everyone. Because babies need to eat. Whether that’s at the breast, a bottle or even pumping in public.”
Join in our campaign on social media and share your public breastfeeding or breast pumping photo with #FreeTheFeed, share your story!