The World Health Organisation and Unicef currently are pushing the breastfeeding barrow on Twitter. As part of a WHO initiative on child nutrition, in a series of tweets over the weekend they highlight the importance of breastfeeding to both infant and maternal health, and pointed out that “just one in five children are breastfed in high-income countries”.
The tweets made a number of constructive suggestions promoting greater acceptance and use of breastfeeding, including making workplaces friendlier for nursing mums, dads betting more involved in parenting, so on and so forth. Worthy stuff.
But the kicker is WHO’s banner message: “Support mums to breastfeed, anytime, anywhere”.
Sorry, WHO, but you’re wrong. It’s not a matter of anytime, anywhere. It’s not a matter of unfettered self-expressing by expressing.
The UN mean-wells just don’t get that nursing mothers have responsibilities to others as well as rights for themselves and their babies.
One of the illustrated tweets has a lady happily suckling her bub on a bus, surrounded by equally happy men and women of the obligatory ethnic diversity. But let’s get real. In polite society, some things are best done discreetly out of consideration for one’s own modesty and out of consideration for others. Breastfeeding is one of them.
Not everyone wants in-your-face boob-sucking action if you’re on that bus, in a crowded aeroplane, in a café or some other public place. It’s considered offensive to look, but too often you’re a captive audience – even if you’ve come to that place of your own volition, and paying good money to be there.
And many, perhaps most, nursing mums never ask those around them “do you mind if I breastfeed?”, just as once upon a time a smoker would ask permission to light up. No, it’s just assumed “My baby wants it, I want it and, damn it, so I shall”. And they do.
If a smoker or vaper behaved like that they would be abused from all sides, even if those behaviours aren’t prohibited legally in the first place. I advocate liberalised access to vaping as a public health breakthrough, but I also deplore those militant “up yours” vapers who blow steam in everyone’s faces as a vindication of their personal rights and individuality, ignoring that others have rights too.
It’s very non-PC to say so, but the same principle should apply to those (by no means all) nursing mothers who value their rights above everyone else’s or simply don’t think about the sensibilities of others, full stop.
Whatever happened to finding a quiet or discreet place to breastfeed, and doing it there? Or planning around the need to breastfeed? Or taking a bottle of prepared formula if you’re going out with your baby to where breastfeeding’s not convenient or appropriate? Or simply covering up discreetly when you do it?
If there aren’t enough quiet or reserved spaces to seek out when nursing mothers are out and about, that is something worth addressing as a community. But one-way traffic in consideration, demonising anyone questioning the appropriateness of breastfeeding in a public place, is not on.
Much of WHO’s work in dealing with HIV, the Ebola epidemic and other disease scourges, is invaluable. WHO is, however, also the world’s nanny stater-in-chief. Promoting better child nutrition in itself is a worthy pursuit, but it is not for a pontificating set of UN bureaucrats to set social norms unfettered by propriety and mutual respect. Predictable, but out of line.
Social norms, recognising individuals have responsibilities as well as rights, apply to breastfeeding as for any other public personal behaviour. Good manners matter. The principle of showing consideration and good manners to others when in public applies to nursing mothers as well as those around them.
The nannies of WHO should suck on that.