Keeping Mum

Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

Dita De Boni: Banning the bosoms of Mt Eden

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It seems to me there's a growing backlash against breastfeeding. Photo / Thinkstock
It seems to me there's a growing backlash against breastfeeding. Photo / Thinkstock

About a year ago now, a group of women staged a breastfeeding "nurse-in" at a cafe in West Auckland where, it is alleged, the owner had attempted to move along a woman breastfeeding her child.

I can recall being pretty shocked at the attempted banning of breastfeeding in a cafe, but somehow it's not really that surprising.

It seems to me there's a growing backlash against breastfeeding. Women who can't - or won't - breastfeed are increasingly strident about their rights to bottle feed and it's not uncommon to hear people say, albeit usually in an online, anonymous way, that a breastfeeding woman is distasteful in a public setting.

I have been frequently lectured by bottle feeding women about their rights - and I agree they have the right to do that without harassment.

But I've never been harangued in general about breastfeeding. I've done it everywhere I've needed to throughout my breastfeeding history, trying valiantly to be discreet about it because I thought that was wise.

Usually my efforts have been scuppered by infants who scream, cry and whimper while getting on, and burp loudly on coming off, as well as the usual highly unsuitable choice of clothing that leaves me sweating as I try to simultaneously get it out of the way and stuff the baby's head as close to the milk bar as possible.

The whole scene could possibly be mistaken for infant-smuggling from behind. So, not graceful and far from serene I grant you, but I have never been prevented from doing it.

Until this week.

Wandering into the local Japanese cafe, still well before the midday rush (we were the only ones in the place) I asked for a table at the periphery of the room where we could order and could feed the little one.

Please don't, said the waitress/owner, we don't like women to feed in the restaurant.

I was directed upstairs to a sofa near the toilets (not IN the toilets) where I could feed.

Aside from the fact the upstairs part of this restaurant requires navigating a treacherous set of stairs with a small baby, I cannot in good faith say this request was inherently unreasonable.

These guys had probably complied to the letter of the law by providing a sofa, and if they said they didn't want women feeding in the restaurant, they are probably within their rights to do so.

Nevertheless, it took us just a few seconds to hand back the menus and leave the place, less with anger than with disappointment, because the food is so damned good.

I stewed on the experience all the way home. One thing that struck me was that in laying down that precondition in Mt Eden, a business is taking a few chances. This suburb is heavily populated with young families, and with mothers (and fathers) who stroll up to the village during the day, before the witching hour renders night time dining impossible.

The act of asking a client to remove themselves for part of their meal is, despite perhaps being fair enough, pretty confronting - and pretty impossible if there are other young children with you.

More than that however, was the fact it seemed to me the underlying assumption was that breastfeeding is unhygienic.

Despite the fact I have lived in Japan in the past I have no idea whether this is a cultural idea or not (although it seems to occur in people across cultural divides). I find this off, regardless of which culture (if any) believes it.

A restaurant is a place where people eat, and breastfeeding is the act of a baby eating. Breast milk is not a waste product of the body. Most of the time no breast milk escapes the vacuum created between the child's mouth and the mother's breast. And most of the time, breastfeeding takes a few minutes before the child is back to sleep or burbling.

I can't say I was tempted to stage a "nurse-in" at the cafe like the strident breastfeeders of West Auckland, but I can't bring myself to go back and I'm sure there are many like me in my circle of friends and acquaintances who will feel the same.

I guess its our right to avoid the place in the same way it's the cafe's right to ban breastfeeding - but to my mind it's an unnecessary stand-off all the same.

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