Dinner and a Show? Ostentatious Breastfeeding

The phrase ‘calm your tits’ has perhaps never been more appropriate than this week.

By now, pretty much everyone will have heard of the Claridge’s Incident, the latest in a few thousand examples of a parent being pilloried for that most heinous of crimes, using a breast to feed a baby. The middle-class press exploded with columns explaining why this was Not The Done Thing. Nigel Farage argued that ‘ostentatious breastfeeding’ shouldn’t be allowed in public, or at least should be done in a corner. (I’ve been amusing myself by thinking up other sorts of breastfeeding. ‘Austere breastfeeding’. ‘Coquettish breastfeeding’. ‘Faustian breastfeeding’.) Several people, including Jeremy Clarkson, compared breastfeeding to urination – something that should be done in private.

It’s that last one that really baffles me. I’m not surprised when people are prudish about boobs, and I’ve never expected anything resembling logic from Farage. But comparing breastfeeding to peeing? That raises all kinds of questions, none of them pleasant.

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I’m no expert on breastfeeding, but I had this idea that it was…well, feeding. It’s a way for a baby to eat. It’s literally the opposite of going to the toilet. If the woman at the centre of the Claridge’s storm had been changing her baby’s nappy on the table, then yes, she should certainly have been asked to go and do it elsewhere. The phrase ‘don’t shit where you eat’ exists for a damn good reason – it’s incredibly unhygienic, as well as smelling gross.

The phrase ‘don’t eat where you eat’…doesn’t exist. Because that wouldn’t make any sense. If someone can find me evidence that breastfeeding is much less hygienic and more likely to spread disease than adults eating solids, then I’ll reassess my opinion of people breastfeeding in restaurants. But I have an inkling that, in fact, it would be the other way around. Babies might get a bit sick or dribbly after feeding, but they don’t tend to talk with their mouths full or spray saliva everywhere, unlike a few overenthusiastic dinner partners I’ve known.

“Fine,” the anti-breast brigade might say to this. “It’s not about hygiene. It’s about decorum. All right, the primary purpose of a breast is to feed babies – but, in a lot of contexts, a breast is sexual.”

Well, yes. So what? There are a lot of body parts that are sexual in some contexts and not in others. Hands and mouths, for example. And yet, you don’t see anyone rushing to ban those in restaurants. It’d be a bit of a blow for the food industry if they did.

“Oh, right, then,” the columnists might scoff. “So I suppose, according to you, we can expose any part of our body in a restaurant as long as it’s not intended sexually?”

No, that would be rather silly. For example, I’ve never got my bare feet out in a restaurant – because I’ve never needed them in order to eat. Same goes for my armpit, my backside, or my bellybutton. But my hands and my mouth – yes, I use those regularly. They’re necessary – just as necessary as a breast is for a nursing baby.

Now, if someone was engaging in some truly ostentatious breastfeeding, I can see that there might be a problem. If they’d brought in a full marching band, or had their breast gilded and jewel-encrusted, then that might be offputting to a fellow diner. If they stood up and yelled “EXCUSE ME, EVERYONE, BUT I’M ABOUT TO FEED MY CHILD USING MY BREAST! YES, THAT’S RIGHT, MY BREAST! BETTER KEEP YOUR EYES TO YOURSELVES!”, before squirting some milk in the air while turning a cartwheel, then I wouldn’t turn a hair at a waiter asking them to go elsewhere.

But this has never happened (at least, not in the restaurants I go to. I can’t afford Claridges, so I have no idea what goes on there). Every time I’ve seen someone breastfeeding, it’s actually taken me a moment to realise what they’re doing. It’s a pretty subtle process. I’ve never seen what the ‘do it in the loo or at home’ lobby seem to fear most (dun dun DUN) – the breastfeeder’s nipple. That’s because a) there’s a baby in the way, and b) I don’t tend to gawk at other people eating, especially when I’ve got a plate of delicious food all of my own.

So, please – save your rage for the day when someone actually pees in the middle of a restaurant. Concentrate on the food you’ve ordered, and not what some random baby is eating. And if it really, really bothers you, then go and eat in the toilet, or put a napkin over your head.

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About Alice Nuttall

Alice Nuttall is a caffeine-guzzling knitter who divides her time between Oxford and the various worlds in her head. She is the author of a YA fantasy novel, Spider Circus, and three webcomics, Footloose, Cherry, and Black Market Magic, as well as several short stories.
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