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by Alice Mahtani
Three hundred breastfeeding women held a flash mob/demo in Bristol, UK, in reaction to an incident last week whereby a breastfeeding mother was asked to move to a corner for being ‘impolite.’
Kelly Schaecher was breastfeeding her baby Sasha in a café when she was asked to move to a corner. There was a woman at a neighbouring table bottle feeding her baby at the time. More disturbingly, upon leaving the café she was chased up the road by a woman from the café in her car who told her to ‘never come back to my café and get your fucking tits out again!’. Of course this incident left Kelly shaken and upset. (Ironically, this took place during Breastfeeding Awareness Week.)
Schaecher has been breastfeeding Sasha for 6 months and is completely committed to it. However, for some mothers an occurrence like this could have shaken their confidence enough to stop breastfeeding. In Kelly’s words "When I was asked to move I just felt so ashamed. It made me feel really self-conscious and embarrassed even though I wasn't actually doing anything wrong.’
After the incident, Kelly and some fellow breastfeeding mothers posted about it on the various Bristol mother/baby Facebook groups and forums calling for support in a ‘feed-in’. This snowballed and so the Bristol Mother Suckers were born. Within a week three hundred people were signed up to attend the flash mob and the news had spread so far that the café heard of it. The night before the protest the manager Davide Pontini offered an apology and explanation – the man who asked Kelly to move was Italian, it was a miscommunication due to limited English, he simply wanted her to feel more comfortable. He welcomed the group into the café, supplying free tea and coffee and apologised in person to Kelly, telling the group, "I want to reassure you all that breastfeeding is totally OK in my cafe.
"It's not within my character to hang my head in shame and that's why I'm here today to speak to you all and apologise.
"This whole thing started from a misunderstanding but now things have changed for the better and I hope that women will feel comfortable breastfeeding here."
As the breastfeeding mother of a four month old I have breastfed in many public places. Although I sometimes feel a little self-conscious I have never felt that what I was doing was offensive or that I should feel ashamed in some way. I thought that views like this were, quite frankly archaic yet since this has happened I have met other mothers that have had similar experiences and some that don’t breastfeed in public for fear of such reactions. Judging by some of the responses to the various reports of the event on news sites there are many people that feel women should not breastfeed in public.
The café is situated on a road that houses many clubs and bars, a night club is in fact directly next door. Come 7 pm it would not be unusual to see a woman wearing a low cut top. Do we really live in a society when breasts on show in the interest of the male gaze is considered appropriate yet the beautiful act of breastfeeding is not?
Thankfully the overwhelming response to the call to join in shows that there are many, many people in support of public breastfeeding and the protest had a wonderfully celebratory air of the beautiful act that breastfeeding is.
In the words of one supporter, don’t be a fuckling with the babes who are a suckling.
Join the Bristol Mother Suckers.
:: photos courtesy of Jem Grismshaw and What the F4 Photography ::
Alice Mahtani lives in Bristol.