There is a data-fest going on at Playing it by Ear! 🙂

I’ve just ploughed through lots of it, including a fair bit of the Infant Feeding 2000 survey. Much of it confirms what you would expect, and it’s good to know that someone has done some proper anaysis of feeding statistics! – as against my pretty crude but nevertheless most interesting number-crunching over the last couple of days…

(An aside, before anyone gets completely the wrong impression of how much time I have on my hands: I did a lot of copy-pasting and got Excel to do all the actual crunching. Hooray for time-saving technology!)

In the context of public breastfeeding laws, the following points from the Infant Feeding 2000 survey struck me as relevant:

Table 5.7 (p103) – Mother’s reasons for planning to bottle feed

19% of bottle-feeding mothers did not like the “idea” of breastfeeding and 4% “would be embarrassed” to breastfeed. (There may be some overlap as mothers could give more than one reason)

To my mind, if the perception of breastfeeding is that it is icky and/or embarrassing, then part of the underlying thinking for some women has to be an embarassment about doing it in public. Although it may not be a common reason, some women do feel that way (and I’ve heard them say so!) A law giving them the undisputed right would not solve the problem but, on balance, my gut feel is that it would help. Nothing I’ve seen yet has dissuaded me from that view.

Section 5.4 (p106) – Factors associated with planned feeding method

The way women were themselves fed as babies and how their friends fed their babies were both strongly associated with their planned method of feeding. This suggests either that contact with other people who have breastfed may be influential or at least that other people may contribute to create an environment that supports and encourages breastfeeding.”

This seems to confirm the commonsense view that mothers care about what people around them think and do, and that breastfeeding is more likely to happen if breastfeeding is seen as “normal” and “ordinary”.

I can personally vouch for that, because I know that feeling “normal” has been very important for me. My own breastfeeding story might have been very different if I had not surrounded myself with breastfeeders and breastfeeding supporters who gave me the confidence and self-belief that is so essential to breastfeed successfully in our bottle-feeding culture.

As such, I personally believe that breastfeeding in public is vital – a mother should be and feel able to do it both because that helps her to feel normal and (secondarily, of course) because it helps others around to her to see breastfeeding as normal. If a legal right helps even a small number of women to feel confident enough to take the plunge – and, again, on balance I think that it could – then it would delight me to know I was part of the campaign…

That said, I do believe wholeheartedly that there are many more and better measures that should also be taken. I would support those too – and with much more passion and far fewer reservations, I suspect.

For example, numerous studies, and common sense, all show that measures such as the control of formula marketing and the promotion of the baby friendly initiative make a clear and significant difference far in excess of the difference that a mere public breastfeeding law could be expected to make. If I had to choose between this public breastfeeding measure and, say, a ban on the marketing of formula and other breastmilk substitutes – well, there would be no contest, would there?

But I don’t think we have to choose which idea to support. We can ask for both / all of them! And, who knows, passing this law might even dispose the government to look more favourably on other breastfeeding measures. Wouldn’t that be nice?