Fiona McCade: Please, let's not create a breastfeeding frenzy

FUTURE generations will probably call it The Air-Freshener Incident. The unfortunate event happened in Dulwich, south-east London, when a woman taking refuge in a charity shop changing room to feed her baby was sprayed with the aforementioned by the manager, because "your breast milk stinks".

I'm not going to defend what borders on psychotic behaviour. Attacking women and babies with spray cans is as unbelievable as it is unacceptable, but, sadly, this deeply unpleasant episode might end up making life more problematic for everybody.

My heart sank when I read a statement from Mrs Baker, the Dulwich mother, after she fled the Mind charity shop. "I want Mind to announce a clear policy allowing breastfeeding in changing rooms," she demanded. And immediately, a good chunk of my sympathy for her went flying out of the window.

No, no, no, Mrs Baker! You had a bad experience because you took a chance and fed your baby (who, by the way, is ten months old and therefore eating solid food. Couldn't you just give it a rusk?) in a changing room – a place designated for the trying on of clothes.

Please don't climb so far up on your high horse that you can't see where this could lead. If Mind capitulates and says, "OK, everybody breastfeed in our changing rooms", other shops will feel pressured to follow suit. There will be a domino effect and soon, all the fitting rooms of England and Wales will be fair game for breastfeeding mothers. This will hardly encourage everybody else, standing in endless queues waiting to try on some clothes, to champion your right to breastfeed.

Living in Scotland, it's easy to be smug about England's breastfeeding battles, because for nearly five years now, we've had the Breastfeeding Act (Scotland), giving women the right to breastfeed wherever and whenever they like, but a quick glance at the latest statistics makes grim reading.

The fact is that both the overall breastfeeding rate and the exclusive breastfeeding rate in Scotland have remained almost unchanged since 2001. The Breastfeeding Act has made no difference at all, and I believe this is because it simply doesn't address what breastfeeding women really want.

Yes, they want to be accommodated; no they do not want to be sprayed with air freshener – but do they genuinely want to feed absolutely anywhere? In my experience, no.

I began breastfeeding only months after the Breastfeeding Act was passed. It was specifically designed for women in my situation, but even then I could see it was useless to me. I breastfed my son for a year, but the act never affected me because I always took two simple precautions: I made sure my efforts were invisible (for my own satisfaction – I don't do topless in public) and I only went where I was obviously welcome. Like most lactating ladies, all I really wanted was easy access to warm, cosy, quiet places where I could relax and enjoy feeding my baby. I never wanted the right to breastfeed in pubs, on top of mountains or in McDonalds.

Militant Mothers for Breastfeeding (and, yes, such an organisation does exist – how sad is that?) may fancy staging a changing-room protest, but not all of us want to make a point. Most of us just want mother-and-baby rooms, or other breastfeeding-friendly places, where we know we'll get acceptance, understanding and help.

All anybody wants is to make breastfeeding easy, effortless and therefore more popular. Yet mothers in Scotland haven't been liberated by the Breastfeeding Act; instead, they've been forced out into the big, cold world and they've rejected it. We should scrap the act and instead legally oblige any shop or public place above a certain size to provide top-class breastfeeding facilities, such as the ones at blessed John Lewis. Then mothers will always be confident they can reach safe, comfy havens whenever they venture out. That's what gives women the confidence to breastfeed – not the knowledge it's illegal to stop them, but the reassurance they are genuinely welcomed.

Educating our society to accept breastfeeding everywhere is admirable, but it'll take years. In the meantime, all you breastfeeding-friendly places, why not form an official network and advertise yourselves to those women (most of us, I reckon) who would prefer to feed somewhere more salubrious than a fitting room?

Mothers and babies across Britain will thank you – and so will everyone waiting in the queue.

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