A stranger called me 'unhygienic' for breastfeeding in a GP waiting room

Welcome back to How I Parent, where we get a glimpse into how the nation is raising their kids.

This week we chat with Lea Henry, 27, from London, who is married with two children aged three years and eight months, and runs creative nanny agency, CocoRio.

A negative experience in her GP surgery made Lea painfully aware of the stigma that still surrounds breastfeeding in public.

Now, she’s on a mission to empower mums to get their breasts out wherever they need, whenever they need.

‘I was breastfeeding my baby in the waiting room of my GP surgery. He had just had his 12-week jabs and needed some soothing, but I was told I was being highly irresponsible and unhygienic by a stranger,’ she tells Metro.

‘I would love to say I fought back and defended my case, but I was lost for words. I felt vulnerable and at that moment questioned if the person was right.

‘The problem is that many mothers feel exactly that: vulnerable, watched and judged when they’re feeding their babies, and we should all feel saddened by this.’

Prior to the incident, breastfeeding had felt like ‘the most natural thing in the world’ to Leah, but she soon realised not everyone shares her view.

‘As I started to become more aware of mothers feeling the need to hide for fear of judgement and as I experienced myself, I found myself really saddened by the fact that we weren’t being empowered to feed our babies,’ she shares.

‘There may be a fear of it not being a ‘smooth’ feed – for example if the baby is struggling to latch, which adds to the stress.

‘So I began making a point of breastfeeding in public and forcing myself to not make a big deal about it in the hopes that it would help empower at least one other woman to do the same.

‘I have had mummy friends asking me, “do you think it’s OK to breastfeed here?” and I am always the first to say “absolutely!”’

From that moment, Lea decided to be an advocate for breastfeeding, but she points out that shaming and judgement is also thrown at formula-feeding mums.

‘Mothers who don’t breastfeed are constantly made to feel like they aren’t giving their child the best, and that’s not fair either! We’re all doing our very best. After all, fed is best.

‘Those breastfeeding seemed to be hiding and those formula feeding are being shamed for not breastfeeding – it’s absolute madness!’

Lea personally had a ‘very difficult first few months’ trying to breastfeed with her child, where it all seemed ‘bloody hard work’.

Now, she’s calling for more support for mums regarding the emotional toll of breastfeeding, as she thinks this will help empower more mums to do it in public without fear.

‘I believe there should also be more day-to-day practical talk, for example, what can you do if your child needs a feed while you get on the train?’ she adds.

Outside of feeding, she describes her parenting style as ‘pretty laissez faire’.

‘Many would view my parenting style as ‘child lead’ because I occasionally co-sleep, I carry my babies in a sling, I do baby-led weaning,’ she says. ‘I’m pretty ‘laissez faire’ as opposed to instilling lots of rules.’

Lea believes mothers should support and uplift one another, and she believes that breastfeeding in public is a means to encourage solidarity, particularly in new mums.

‘For me, breastfeeding in public is about feeling free to feed your baby wherever you want. Some women prefer privacy and that’s totally fine, but it should be their choice, and they shouldn’t be hiding away to make others more comfortable.’

She adds: ‘We need more open discussions about how we feed our babies, the challenges involved and the benefits of feeling relaxed and comfortable during that bonding time.’

‘It’s just not about anyone else, but the mother and the baby.’

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