It Is 2022, HOW Are We Still Reading Stories About Women Being Told Off For Breastfeeding?

“I just want to stop breastfeeding entirely now,” says mum who was told it was 'inappropriate' to breastfeed in a carpark

Breastfeeding in public

by Rhiannon Evans |

Whatever decisions women make about feeding are their own, very personal and should never, ever be questioned, shamed or up for debate. This is not an article where this is in any way up for debate.

To read again this week, that a mother has claimed a Sainsbury' staff member asked her to stop breastfeeding her baby in its carpark because it was 'inappropriate' is something that will surely enrage all of us. And if it doesn't, it should.

Perennially, stories about mothers being told to stop feeding, cover up, or kicked out of public buildings, cafes and types of public transport for breastfeeding, or posting pictures on various social media platforms, rear their heads and it's just EXHAUSTING.

Why, in 2022 is this still happening?

The latest story to hit headlines allegedly took place outside a Sainsbury’s store in Worcestershire on the evening of Friday 24 June. Beth Coles, 25, told The Independent she left her partner in the store and went back to the couple's car to feed their 4-week-old baby Rosie. She said she kept her t-shirt on and used a muslin cloth to cover Rosie, but was spotted by a female member of staff who she says came over to the car and knocked on the window. "She said, 'Can you stop doing that please? I think it's inappropriate'," says Cole.

In a statement to The Independent, Sainsbury’s said it has issued an apology to Coles and that it is investigating the incident.

“We have apologised to Ms Coles for this unacceptable experience, and we have reassured her that breastfeeding is very welcome in our stores,” a spokesperson said.

“We are investigating with the store and further training will be provided to our colleagues where necessary.”

This latest incident follows that of Swindon's Holly Chapman, who was kicked off the number 17 bus in 2021 with her daughters, Gracie, three, and Raiya, 18 weeks, after she started feeding Raiya on the bus.

As anyone who has ever had to breastfeed in a car or on a bus (or a wall, or the floor, or a rickety old chair in the 'breastfeeding lounge' at a department store) will attest, Beth or Holly should be given a medal. Instead, Holly says she was asked to get off the bus.

“My little girl was crying because she needed to eat, so I got her out of the pushchair to feed her, and then the driver told me not to," the 28-year-old told the Swindon Advertiser at the time. “I didn’t know what to do, a woman was tutting, but I don’t know if that was at me or him. I felt so choked up, I tried to brush what happened off, but it impacted me a lot more than I thought.”

No matter your thoughts on feeding, surely most will feel upset to read that Holly then added: “I didn’t realise how much it had affected me until I noticed I was asking people’s permission to feed her in public. This has never happened to me before and now I feel as if I can’t connect with Raiya in the same way because I’m too worried about what other people are thinking.

“I’ve had random comments made from people before. They’ve said ‘it’s disgusting’ and things like that, but I’ve never been thrown off a bus.

“People need to be educated and made aware that it’s perfectly normal and legal. I have postnatal depression, I had it with Gracie and now with Raiya, and this has really impacted that. I feel more anxious now. I'm getting the support I need, but with what happened on the bus, it hasn’t helped.”

The bus firm's manager promised to investigate.

Meanwhile, Beth says: "I just want to stop breastfeeding entirely now. It's hard enough anyway with BPD (borderline personality disorder) and post-natal depression to find the effort to do it, but there's no point if I'm going to get this reaction."

It would be easy to talk about low rates of breastfeeding in the UK (statistics from UNICEF found that rates of exclusive breastfeeding at six weeks were 24% and at six months are around one per cent) and how stories like this impact women choosing to breastfeed now or in the future.

But that just feeds into more debate around promotion of any kind of feeding over another and ultimately, surely we can swerve debates around the 'right' way to feed babies and just be outraged regardless that a woman was humiliated in such a way? For doing something she is allowed to LEGALLY DO, it's a law, it's written down.

And be frustrated that despite feeling like we've been reading these stories for decades and they're still happening?

To just feel TIRED, because sometimes it feels like no matter how much we're told the world is changing for women for the better it doesn't feel like there won't always be someone tutting, staring or making a face - or that this could happen to you too one day.

Sometimes it's great to end on a moment of hope, an upside or a solution. But sometimes, this time, there doesn't seem much more to say than FFS, WHEN WILL THIS END?

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