Why 75% of mums now feel more anxious about breastfeeding in public

"I was terrified about breast-feeding in public."

By Laura Longworth
Tuesday, 18th August 2020, 12:30 pm

Those are the words of a Preston mum-of-four who feared being branded "disgusting" by onlookers.

Jessica Haslem-Bantoft is not alone in that fear. In fact, the pandemic has ignited additional anxieties in women, with a new study indicating that three quarters of mums feel less confident about breastfeeding in public due to the coronavirus. Only two in five now feel comfortable doing so and 43% will also take measures to avoid it, according to baby company Lansinoh.

Jessica said: "In the media, it is seen as being sexualised, so I was scared about what people would think of me.

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Chorley first-time mum Ruth Fowler is worried that breastfeeding in public could increase her baby's exposure to Covid-19.

The blogger, who has since overcome her anxiety, added: "Many mums worry that people will think they're disgusting. But breasts are made for feeding babies, not dressing in pretty underwear on Page Three.

"It's not the worst thing for people to see - and it doesn't make you an alien."

On top of the stigma, Chorley first-time mum Ruth Fowler is now worried that it could increase her baby's exposure to Covid-19.

The 34-year-old, who gave birth on June 20 to her daughter Lydia, said: "It's anxiety-provoking being a new mum but even more so during a pandemic.

Preston mum-of-four Jessica Haslem-Bantoft feared being branded "disgusting" by onlookers.

"Some people don't respect social distancing and come closer than you would like and you don't know where they've been.

"I try to only use outdoor seating to feed Lydia but that's limiting because it has to be a nice day.

"There's no way I'd feed her in a cafe. In parks, if it's not busy, I will. I'm just worried about people coming too close."

But Marley Hall, a midwife and antenatal educator, is reassuring women that the benefits of feeding their babies as normal outweighs any risks associated with Covid-19, according to the World Health Organisation.

And Ruth herself admits that her fear has only become worse by avoiding it.

As she added: "Because I'm not going out as I would normally, I'm not getting used to it.

"It feels like the first time every time."

It's also the loneliness of being a first-time mum during a pandemic that makes her fretful. Ruth says she is missing out on a vital support network that women on maternity leave can offer each other - sharing not only their worries about their baby but also handy tips and tricks to make life easier.

"It's hard when you're not seeing other mums for a coffee with and to share experiences. You can do it online but it's hard to know who with or when to strike the conversation up.

"It is a lonely time on your own with a baby, especially when you can't see family. Lydia hasn't been able to see my family and friends and she's only seen my mum from a distance.

"And when breastfeeding, you don't know how much milk the baby is getting, so it'd have been reassuring if baby clinics were open."

Despite sharing her caution, many women do want to celebrate their natural ability to nourish their baby, with 30% saying they would love to have the confidence to share pictures of themselves breastfeeding on social media, Lansinoh reveals.

Only 10% do.

In fact, women are more than twice as likely to post a photo of the birth (22%).

It's something that Lansinoh aims to tackle with its annual Feed with Confidence campaign, which helps to empower ladies to breastfeed outside of their own home.

Jessica, who gave birth to her fourth child in February, knows the difference that a little more confidence and knowledge can make. Now a breast-feeding support worker, she was determined to read up about the issue after struggling the first time round.

"I was 21 when I had my first child and breast-fed for seven and a half weeks. It wasn't something that came naturally to me," she said.

Wracked with nerves, she would instead give her son a bottle when out. But the reduced demand on her breasts to produce milk meant the supply began to dry up.

"For my second child, I made a point of educating myself a lot during pregnancy to get my confidence up," she added.

Understanding both her rights and the benefits of breast-feeding not only empowered her to do it for more than two years but also tackle the stigma head-on when she challenged All Seasons Leisure Centre in Chorley to change their entire policy around it.

Jessica said: "They told me it was against the law but I stood my ground. They asked me to move to a changing room but I said that's illegal.

"I threatened a protest.

"I also gave the manager lots of information and now they've said mums can do it anywhere in the leisure centre.

"That's the only time I've had a negative look or comment."

She added: "In total, I've been breast-feeding for five years. It's been amazing and I'm so proud of myself. It's been a tough, hard slog but worth it for the health benefits for both my children and me, as well as the convenience of have everything I need already at my disposal. It's honestly the best decision I've made.

"In the end, I was worried about nothing.

"And if people sexualise it, then that's on them. What do they think breasts are made for?"

Breastfeeding advice for mums

To help mums feel more confident about breastfeeding in public following Covid-19, midwife Marley Hall recommends the following tips:

Plan your outfit beforehand – choose clothing that is easily accessible as well as comfortable, such as tops and dresses with buttons or zips, wrap cardigans and stretchy tops, which you can easily pull down and back up again.

Know your rights - the UK law gives mums the right to breastfeed their babies in any public place, such as shops, hotels and restaurants. You are also covered by the law to feed in cinemas, theatres, petrol stations, and hospitals.

Lansinoh is also encouraging mums to upload a picture of them breastfeeding to Instagram with the hashtag #FWC2020, to help boost their confidence, with all posts being entered into a monthly prize draw.

World Health Organisation recommendations

The WHO and UNICEF recommend that children initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth and be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life – meaning no other foods or liquids are provided, including water.

Infants should be breastfed on demand – that is as often as the child wants, day and night. No bottles, teats or pacifiers should be used.

From the age of six months, children should begin eating safe and adequate complementary foods while continuing to breastfeed for up to two years and beyond.

Health benefits of breastfeeding

The WHO claims that breast-feeding offers the following health benefits:

Breast milk is safe, clean and contains antibodies which help protect against many common childhood illnesses.

It provides all the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life, and it continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year, and up to one third during the second year of life.

Breastfed children are less likely to be overweight and prone to diabetes later in life.

It also reduces women's risk of breast and ovarian cancers.