When Jem was 5 months old we took him to Turkey to visit his grandparents. I was settled into bf by this point and although a little anxious about travelling keen to go before we started weaning.
“How do women bf in Turkey” I asked the Turk. “Dunno” he said. [note to self: this should have been my first warning].
“Could you ask your mum/sister/sister-in-law” I asked the Turk. “Ok” he replied.
Long story short I find myself on an aeroplane none the wiser about the attitude towards bf. In my head Turkey is the kind of country that actively encourages bf, therefore presumably it’s pretty acceptable. I am equipped with my bebe au lait nursing cover (an expense I wasn’t convinced about but once I had it wished I had one earlier). This assumption was incorrect, I later found out that take up of bf is relatively low, despite Government policy to encourage exclusive bf until 6 months. Upon arrival at my in-laws I was desperate to feed, we’d had 2 hours in the airport and over an hour in the incredibly hot and un-airconditioned car without a feed…that was a long time in Jem’s world. I was encouraged to feed, but in the bedroom, away from the men. OK so I accept my father in law may not want to see my boobs, but I am pretty discrete having finally got the hang of it, and I had my nursing cover. Jem was desperate for a feed so I went with it and was glad to get him away from the hysteria of family reuniting anyway.
What I didn’t really appreciate at the time was that this was how every feed would be, at any cry my in-laws would insist that Jem was hungry (he wasn’t he was usually tired…but they don’t believe in tiredness in Turkey – more on this in another
rant post!) so I would be banished to another room to feed. Whilst out the next day I horrified my mother in law by suggesting I feed using my nursing cover, again I had to resort to sitting in the car out of public view. I was getting confused, for such a bunch of people who clearly wanted me to feed my baby as frequently as possible they didn’t want me to do it around them!
In supermarkets or shopping centres I discovered something interesting. The baby changing rooms were usually great, clean, large, sometimes with supplies, good quality changing tables and mats and hand washing facilities. This wasn’t all, they were almost always equipped with somewhere to sit, often a comfy high backed chair with arm rests ideal for nursing. Whilst my story is generally negative about the experience I had, I really wish I could transpose this good practice to the UK, all changing rooms should be somewhere pleasant to sit and feed your baby rather than a cubby hole created just because you “have to” have somewhere to enable parents to change their baby.
I would never sit in a public toilet to feed my child and in the UK I’ve fed all over the place, so whilst I appreciate that there were lovely locations to feed in Turkey, having worked so hard to become a competent bf’er I really resented the feeling of being sent away to feed my baby. I understand that around the world there are different sensitivities to adapt to and I have no objection to being more discrete even than I might normally be, but it was a real shock to me to not feel able to even feed my (“starving“) baby in the living room if there were men present. It made me feel unwanted, dirty and like I was doing something wrong. I have never felt like this in the UK and that is why I am so pleased that recently so many women have made a stand against negative attitudes towards bf. I think it is now relatively uncommon to have such a reaction towards bf in the UK, but I appreciate that only a few short years ago many women would have felt the same as I do now. Given the changing attitude in this country to bf I believe we should all do our utmost to ensure free and open opportunities for bf, it is only through this that we will be able to encourage mums like me who struggled so much with bf to be able to continue. When I started bf I had genuinely never seen anyone close to me nursing their baby, I had no idea how to hold a baby or what it should be like, I felt it was shrouded in some great mystery! I hope that my open approach and that of others is helping to demystify the process and encourage more and more mums to try bf and overcoming a fear that it is somehow offensive for others to see.