I originally wrote this post about why dads are important when it comes to breastfeeding in order to mark World Breastfeeding Week in August 2013. I have also linked up with The Breastfeeding Diaries link-up on the Zena’s Suitcase blog to mark British National Breastfeeding Week (20-26th June 2014).

I recently watched a YouTube video of the British spoken word poet Hollie McNish performing a poem called Embarrassed that talks about breastfeeding in public toilets due to negative attitudes towards being seen feeding one’s child.

One of the questions that it led me to ask is why are some people actually uncomfortable about seeing women breastfeeding in public? It’s not as if the act is something that is unnatural, immoral or particularly explicit. Indeed, much has been written about the health benefits associated with breastfeeding.

In Hollie McNish’s poem, she mentions being told of the possibility of a nervous man or child feeling awkward about breastfeeding. One might well add that it is also the case that not all women are comfortable about seeing other women breastfeeding in public, but the fact remains that men have an important role to play when it comes to supporting breastfeeding and women who breastfeed.

Like many men, I was breastfed as a baby. Now, I am a dad of a child who is breastfed by my wife. I think that society as a whole needs to talk more about breastfeeding, why some people have issues with it and the best way of dealing with these issues. As probably goes without saying, I certainly don’t think that women should have to shut themselves away in public loos in order to feed their baby.

If you look at some of the facts and figures about breastfeeding, the importance of dads becomes clear. It has been reported that research suggests that the attitude of a women’s male partner generally has more influence on whether or not she breastfeeds than health professionals.

Men consequently have an important role to play in supporting their partner’s choice to breastfeed and the whole breastfeeding procedure. In some ways, breastfeeding sounds like a simple means of feeding a baby. However, there’s a lot more to it than following the mantra of ‘nose to nipple and tummy to mummy’ in order to get the baby to feed.

The fact that things don’t always instantly work out easily with breastfeeding means that men whose partners are breastfeeding have a role to play in being there to listen, support and encourage. Just as breastfeeding can help to create a bond between a woman and a baby, problems with breastfeeding can be hard for women to deal with on an emotional or psychological level.

As Hollie McNish mentions in her poem Embarrassed, opposition to breastfeeding often exposes hypocrisy in society given the ways in which images of topless women are present in so many magazines and newspapers. This sort of issue was was also alluded to several years ago on the website Peaceful Parenting. The Sun is the most popular daily newspaper in the UK and is famous for featuring photos of topless women on its third page. Indeed, the term ‘page 3’ has become shorthand for images of topless women.

This year has seen the launch of a campaign in the UK entitled ‘No more page three’ and a petition has already been signed by over 100,000 people and endorsed by organisations such as the National Assembly for Wales, the UK Girl Guides movement and several trade unions. In addition to women’s rights and feminist groups, men’s groups such as the White Ribbon Campaign – Men Working to End Violence Against Women have signed up.

The problem with page three of The Sun is not simply about the public exposure of women’s breasts; it is about the way in which it objectifies women for the titillation (…pardon the pun!) of men. A society that is happy to see women objectified in this manner but that has issues about breastfeeding in public is a society ill-at-ease with itself as well as the place and roles of women in society.

Such a predicament could also be said to be very much a sign of male anxiety. Just as women who breastfeed shouldn’t be shut away out of view, I also feel that male anxieties (as well as female anxieties) on this issue need to be tackled and discussed rather than ignored. There needs to be a dialogue here about what it is that makes some people feel ill-at-ease about breastfeeding and how such feelings can be dealt with.

In the UK, the 2010 Equality Act means that businesses are not allowed to discriminate against women who breastfeed a child of any age. Indeed, page 4 of the document available at the link in the previous sentence includes the following pieces of advice to businesses:

– “DO make sure women you’re providing services to are allowed to breastfeed on your premises if they want to.”

– “DO train all your employees, especially those who deal with the public, to be aware of the protection from discrimination given to breastfeeding mothers under the Equality Act 2010.”

– “DON’T forget, under the Equality Act 2010, discriminating against someone because they are with a breastfeeding mother is also prohibited, so companions of breastfeeding mothers who are also treated unfairly may have a claim, too.”

The last of those three points is particularly relevant to men as it means that it is not acceptable to discriminate against dads because their partner is breastfeeding. In Scotland, the Breastfeeding etc. (Scotland) Act 2005 actually makes it a criminal offence to prevent someone from feeding milk to a child under the age of two years old in a public place.

Whilst the ethos behind such legislation is a positive step, it would also be of great social benefit for men and women to discuss breastfeeding in a more open manner so as it becomes something with which both men and women feel fully at ease.

I’d love to hear your views on this article. What did you think of it? What are laws and attitudes to breastfeeding like in you country? Please feel free to leave a comment below or on the ‘Dad’s The Way I Like It’ pages on Facebook or Google+. Remember that you can subscribe to this blog by entering your e-mail address in the box on the right of the screen.