Discretion is the better part of valour


Discretion is the better part of valour. This Shakespeare derived quote implies that a large part of courage & bravery is thinking before you act. Discretion is all over Australian social media today.

Australian social media is in a bit of a furore over breastfeeding in public, after a seemingly well meaning male media figure, Kochie (David Koch), said a woman feeding her baby at the side of a public pool, whilst supervising her other kids, should have been “discreeter”***, and moved away from the pool up on the grass, or been out of a “high traffic area” to breastfeed. In a rapid backtrack he implied it was a safety issue…but it was too late, the view was out there. Despite public breastfeeding being enshrined in law here, the woman was asked to move away from where she was, to stop feeding. And Kochie was implying that it is not ok to breastfeed anywhere or anyhow.

***(Or more discreet, and no, not discrete, people, sort out that whole english thing….and your opinion would mean more if you could spell….but I digress…..)

Of course, there’s been a backlash, and there’s a few camps in the discussion on the various Facebook pages/ discussion boards:

1. Hell yeah, get the girls out whenever, wherever, breastfeeding should be normalised and shutthef#%^up Kochie
2. Breastfeeding is ok BUT….you should be more discreet/cover up/ use a feeding room/ use a muslin / never show nipple / be careful of offending the delicate little flowers around you
3. This is a first world problem and you’re all whinging feminist nazis

This was my 10 cents worth:

dear Kochie, I think as part of Monday’s mea culpa, you should make a personal donation to the Gidget foundation AND The ABA. (the Gidget foundation deals with pre and post natal depression and anxiety, the Australian breastfeeding association supports breastfeeding in this country).

When you have a new bub, planning to leave the house is daunting. The timing of feeds is a big part of this challenge. It is only when women can feed anywhere and anyhow that it can become normalised and new mums feel it’s possible.

With my 9 week old son at a family funeral, I was terrified how to manage feeds, rang ahead to find out about feeding rooms etc. and when it came time to feed, my family said “no. Don’t go away to feed. Stay and talk.” And I did. Now he’s five months old, I still get embarrassed, but I still feed him out and about. Without muslin, Often without the limited wardrobe choices of feeding tops. And if I hadn’t got out that door and occasionally “whipped the girls out” in a cafe? I reckon I’d be sitting at home with post natal depression. There are many layers to this issue, and it is much more than just a feed. It is about the well being of the woman and her child. And it is different for each woman.

I am never going to advocate what another woman should do. I find breastfeeding in public hard, I’m paranoid about people having a go at me ( but I do it anyway), and I can’t cover up because I get all hot & flustered, the jman gets all hot and flustered, and HIS idea of a happy feed is to see and feel as much boob as possible. So I get all my clothing fixed, I drape a nice muslin over my shoulder to cover my stomach, side-boob, whatever, I think, I’m doing a good job here, and he grabs the muslin, rips it off, then pushes my top up and away. Helpful!

I also can’t plan that well, because I feed on demand, and his demand changes day to day. I choose to go with that rather than adopt a rigid schedule, because this is what the world health organisation recommends.

In a way, I feel draping muslin wraps and so on all just draws more attention to what you’re doing…not that there’s anything wrong with drawing attention to it! Hell, I’d like to be discreet, because of who I am and I’m easily embarrassed, but I don’t bother anymore. Because when he says he’s hungry, it’s now, not in five minutes time. When he wants to see and feel boob, it doesn’t matter how carefully I arrange things, he’ll have me exposed in seconds. When I’m feeding, it’s his boob, not mine.

But I think it’s wrong to say women should try to cover up. It has nasty echoes of “women should be careful about what they wear so they don’t get raped”, or ” rape is wrong, but….”. Women should breastfeed how they want to…breastfeeding is brilliant, anytime, anywhere. No buts. No “you can breastfeed, but you should…”, no. I don’t believe Kochie was totally anti breastfeeding by any means, but it wasn’t an informed comment, and he should have thought more about it. I certainly hope it wasn’t a transparent grab for ratings; we all know how that has worked out for some Australian dj’s lately. He should not be lambasted or abused for his bumbling into a minefield, but he should get informed, clarify, apologise, and use this as an opportunity to do some good.

For some, feeding in public is covering up, for others, this is letting it all hang out. And frankly, I love the “letting it all hang out”ers; they make it easier for the rest of us. They make it easier to feel that breastfeeding is normal, they make it easier to feel “hey I could do that”, they make it easier to think “actually I can go and meet that friend for coffee today even if his feed is due.”

And as an aside, no judgement from me if you can’t breastfeed, or choose not to. It can be a pain in the ass, it can be incredibly wonderful, it definitely is full of health benefits for baby, if you can manage it.

There were a couple of key moments in my breastfeeding career that changed it all.(and it is a career: 8 hours a day, seven days a week at first). The first was that moment at a funeral, noted above, the next one was meeting my old school friend I hadn’t seen for years (thanks ‘Tish), when she got the girls out for her daughter in a cafe facing the shopping centre about 50 metres from a baby change room with feeding cubicles. No muslin, no nursing top, no turning to the wall, no sorry nice seeing you but i have to go now and feed…..and no one even noticed. Except me. I noticed, and ten minutes later, I fed the jman, sitting right there next to her. All of a sudden the “how the hell do I ever leave the house with him” feelings lifted, in that instant. I felt different altogether.

When jman was new, I would create so much stress for myself before an outing, ringing ahead and googling “facilities” to see if feeding & change rooms were available, finding out where they were on arrival, planning ahead when to hit the cubicle and feed. When they’re newbies, feeds go on for almost an hour; that’s a long time to be away from what you were aiming to do, and it is often on an hour on/an hour off schedule (ie two hourly feeds). I had an added layer of embarrassment because I’m 40 (41 now!)… I was worried I’d get more disapproving looks as a 40 year old first time mum.

Breastfeeding can be annoying, and painful, and messy. My commitment to breastfeeding will slow down my return to work, now that my boobs are suddenly on a “no expressing without a trumpet fanfare and four days notice” binge. Breastfeeding lacks the control over modern life we’re so used to. You don’t know how much bub is getting. You don’t know when he’ll want his next feed. You don’t know if you have enough milk, or too much. You don’t know if you’ll spring a leak in a public place, or if the little bugger will pull off your boob in a sushi bar and leave your right one spraying across the table while you madly grab the baby wipes and hope no one noticed. It’s a great metaphor for parenthood, really.

Recently, after a bad night with jman and a visit to the paediatrician, I desperately needed a coffee before I could safely drive home. And jman desperately needed a feed. The doctor ran late, the planned feeds stops went all awry. All cool. I stopped in the hospital cafe, ordered my flat white, and sat down in an arm chair in a quiet corner to feed. Forgot to wear a breastfeeding top. Bugger. And then next to me, sat an older man. Damn. Here we go. Ah well, offence or no offence, I’m feeding the boy. You do not get into a car with jman when he’s hungry. You will only ever make that mistake once.

Jman of course had to make eyes and gurgle and giggle at the man, doing his “aren’t I cute” routine before turning, grabbing my top and reefing it up. At five months old. Lordy.

So I feed him, and I can feel the man’s eyes on us, and I think “ah well. Sorry mate. Jman comes first.”

And as I finish, and jman sits up, belches loudly, and starts grinning again, the man says

“Excuse me?” In a lilting German accent. here we go I think…”i hope you don’t mind me asking.”… oh dear, I think, here it comes…”how do you know when he’s had enough?”

“Sorry?” It just wasn’t what I was expecting.

“It is probably very rude of me to ask, but I am so curious you see, how do you know when he’s had enough?”

“No no! It is not rude at all. It’s fine! Umm, well often, you don’t! But when he pulls off, and looks around, and stops and starts, usually that means he’s had enough. I was just giving him a quick top up before the car ride home.”

“Oh thank you! I just wondered, I hope you don’t mind.”

No, I don’t. And no, he didn’t. And there should be more of it. More of these conversations around breastfeeding. It was a great moment, it turned my fears on their head.

Bugger discretion in breastfeeding…but we can be discreet about what we say to feeding mums. Sure, they’re not starving or fighting for survival, yes it’s a first world problem, but it speaks to the health of a future generation and the current & future mental & physical health of feeding mothers.

Once I decided I’d feed anytime, anywhere, a weight was lifted off me. I felt more mobile. I felt like I could embrace the world with the jman at my side, not hide away from it. I felt more like a mum.



14 thoughts on “Discretion is the better part of valour

  1. Exactly, EXACTLYI haven’t got this hot under the collar since the infertility wars I used to get involved in till like this I realized I wasn’t go to change the views of such uneducated people. True, he never said he didn’t support breast feeding, I believe he is very much on board with breast feeding but he felt it should be done with class and honestly that’s how I reckon it started. He managed with just one word to completely belittle and marginalized all woman who can’t be arsed with a muslin wrap and he made it such we were all exhibitionist breast feeding ho’s. Ok he didn’t say it but y’all know what I mean.

    And then the who,e my daughters turn around to feed in restaurant? Big daddy just STOP!

    Oh sorry high traffic safety area, um correct me if I’m wrong but when was the last time there was a near death experience sitting on the side of gh swimming pool.

    Man here I go AGAIN!

    jman sounds like a dude that gets it, those boobies are his vending machine and I will not feed in a stinky arse change room again. Evah.

    Sorry for The rant! Ha ha

    Ps your PAIL link is the wrong one!!

  2. Donna Jackson

    It’s the most natural thing in the world. The poor woman had more than one child and she was a responsible parent watching one or more children in a pool and feeding another. How did they expect her to supervise children swimming and feed another?

    1. Totally agree. Silly Kochie. He didn’t mean harm, but it was kinda dumb. People like her make it easier for others. And promoting breastfeeding, not criticising it, is important. I have had to re-educate my mum about “it’s ok with a muslin wrap” comments, and she gets it now.

  3. Corinne

    I hadn’t yet read anything that I 100% agree with in every way – until your post. SINCERELY THANK YOU! I wish there were more people out there like you and that lovely old German man. It saddens me that the worst instigators in this mess are women, most of who haven’t yet had children of their own.. I would love to witness their change of heart when they are handed their own brand new starving crying baby. It also saddens me that kochie feels proud that his daughter’s turn their chair away to breastfeed near family. His poor daughters feel that uncomfortable around their own father that they turn their chair away to make everyone feel better. Kochie has definitely released some demons.

  4. Very well said!
    When I was pregnant with the Butzerl, I had wondered whether I’d be able to feed in public – I knew I’d definitely want to, for the exact same reasons you write about, but didn’t know if I’d comfortable with it. Thankfully, I’d been out with a friend with two little kids several times, who never minded breastfeeding in public. So I already knew about some places where this wasn’t a problem. Since I had to use nipple shields for the first couple of weeks, I wasn’t exactly comfortable with feeding in public, but knowing those “breastfeeding-friendly” places made it easier. Also, I absolutely can’t stand covering up with a muslin, since that way I can’t see what he’s doing and can’t help him latch on. Besides, he doesn’t like it, either.
    Now that the Butzerl is nearly 3 months old, and I have some nice-looking nursing tops, I feed him nearly anywhere – as you said, when he’s hungry, then he’s hungry. I do try not to feed him in places with extreme exposure (such as next to a street-side window). Through my network of moms, I also know of one cafe where breastfeeding is rumored to be frowned up – we simply don’t go there anymore, or only in the summer when they have outside seating that isn’t frequented by their usual clientele.
    Besides, nobody is forced to look! If you don’t like seeing a woman breastfeeding her baby in public, you can simply turn your head and look away.

  5. nat

    Exactly my thoughts and my own experience. Your concerns and experiences were exactly what led me to ‘give up’ on breast feeding. It became too difficult. Kochie unfortunately is making it more difficult for new mums. You have put it in the most apt way that hopefully Kochie will understand.

    1. Wow. The show was just on, and the guy JUST DOESN’T GET IT. as one man wrote on his Facebook page, it’s all about nuance, and Kochie is too thick to understand. He STILL didn’t understand, and said breastfeeding in public needs to be a two way street! Ugh. Just not worth our energy. Hopefully the rest of the Aussie media will pick up the story, run with it, and get the issue discussed.

      As you said, fear of feeding in public contributes to low breastfeeding rates, and changed your experience of it. How sad that a supposedly educated man fails to understand that. He has all the depth of jman’s paddle pool.

  6. Ugh, it’s like people have never seen boobs before and they’re the most disgusting thing ever. What is WITH them? Hello, the boob isn’t for YOU. Jeez.

    I love your anecdote about the German. That’s exactly how things should be.

  7. You’ve summed it up very well.

    I’ve breastfed in front of people (mostly fathers in law or unmarried male friends) who have been uncomfortable with it, but it was always a discomfort born of being unused to the situation and unsure of where to look (and scared of being accused of staring at a woman’s breasts!) I’ve never had someone look or act disgusted, though. For the sake of my, er, modest friends, when I see that someone might be out of their depth, I would try to choose a spot that’s not in their direct line of sight, so they have somewhere else to look (very nice of me, I reckon). I’d be horrified if someone was disgusted by my feeding in public, though, because disgust implies that I am doing something socially unacceptable or deviant. Nobody has yet made a convincing argument that breastfeeding is in any way a deviant act (or a sexual act (for crying out loud!)).

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