Why No Woman Should Ever Have to Breastfeed in a Toilet
Feeding a child is entirely natural — the world needs to get on board.
It should not be breaking news that breastfeeding is entirely natural. Yet in many places, women who “dare” to breastfeed in public are still treated as indecent and unwanted. Even those who appreciate that breastfeeding is necessary still express discomfort when they see a woman feeding her child in an open space — many regard it as necessary, but best practised behind closed doors.
British poet Hollie McNish wants to break this stigma. Her poem, “Embarrassed,” highlights the double standard society places on women’s bodies.
Since the video went viral when it was released three years ago, it is still as relevant ever. Recreated in a new film released this year by Channel 4 and directed by Jake Dypka, McNish’s words confront the viewer with the absurdity of social taboos around breastfeeding.
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Describing her daughter “sipping on milk, nostrils sniffing on piss” as she feeds her in a public bathroom, McNish asks: “I wonder whether these public loos offend her?”
The image of a mother perched on a “cold toilet lid” trying to discreetly feed her child is deeply unsettling, capturing the humiliation too many women are forced to endure.
Step back into the outside world and the film bombards you with images of “billboards covered in tits,” questioning why female breasts are banned, “unless they’re out just for show.” It’s a powerful juxtaposition that exposes the hypocrisy of a society that relentlessly objectifies and shames women for their bodies.
And this is not just a dramatic visual tool. This photo, shared last week by a mother after she was told she had to go to a restroom to feed her child, proves this is a daily reality for women around the world:
McNish is quick to point out that this does not only affect women in the West, but contributes to inequality around the world as companies exploit vulnerable mothers for profit:
“I can’t get my head round the anger, towards us,
And not to the sound of lorries off-loading formula milk
Into countries where water runs dripping in filth.”
As the poem states, no mother should be coerced into abandoning breastfeeding due to social or corporate pressure. For mothers who are able to breastfeed, the benefits to their child's health are proven. A study released this year by The Lancet announced that increasing breastfeeding worldwide could prevent over 800,000 child deaths every year. Breast milk provides all the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals an infant needs for growth in the first six months, and carries antibodies from the mother that help the child fight diseases.
Something so crucial to a child’s health and wellbeing should not be marginalised. McNish’s words are a rallying cry for mothers (and anyone born to one everywhere) to break the stigma attached to breastfeeding once and for all. "Embarrassed" is a powerful reminder of the need to reshape our public spaces, our workplaces and institutions to make our society more woman-friendly, or simply human-friendly. The only thing embarrassing about breastfeeding is a society that can't handle it.