Why David Koch's breastfeeding comments hurt

David Koch's assertion that women who breastfeed in public should try to be discreet attracted the ire of young mothers. Last Friday the co-host of Seven's Sunrise tweeted: "Women should be able to breast feed in public. I have 2 breast feeding daughters at the moment." And then shortly after: "But I don't think it's unreasonable to expect breast feeding in public is done discreetly. I think that's just a common courtesy to others."

How quickly the sentiment can turn. If Koch had stopped after the first tweet the 100 breastfeeding mothers who stood outside the Channel Seven studio in protest yesterday would have instead embraced him as someone who understood.

It's tough being a breast feeding mum. At least it was for me. I persevered for as long as I could bear the physical discomfort for the sake of my children's health. Like many new mums I had been told that breast milk is better for babies for a multitude of reasons and felt guilty even considering the alternate. So I put up with blocked milk ducts and cracked nipples until my model mother plans were thwarted by mastitis.

And for me the physical pain wasn't the toughest part. Breast feeding my baby in public was often a nightmare. My oldest son is 19 so I was breast feeding while out and about before people were strung up for disallowing or criticising the practice. Instead I often had to endure the disapproving glances in my direction. I had no choice but to develop a thick skin and get on with it whenever and wherever, because when a baby needs to feed there's no time to find a discreet location.

I lugged around a small towel that I attempted to use to cover up when in exposed locations. But if I could turn my back towards other diners in a cafe in order to be more discreet then of course I would. It would be a rare new mother who would choose to get their breasts out in public for the sake of a breast feeding show. That's the main reason that many women found Koch's comments offensive. The very suggestion that breast feeding women need to be told to be discreet was quite insensitive.

There are times when even the most organised mothers are unprepared. On more than a few occasions I discovered that I was without my modesty towel and wearing a top that would make discreet public breast feeding an impossibility. When you're surviving on an hour's sleep per night for months that sort of thing is bound to happen. So then what do you do with your screaming, hungry baby? It is actually too much to ask a baby to be quiet while mummy finds a way to breast feed discreetly.

In almost every case it is the comments of someone who thinks they understand and are qualified to comment due to association: "I have 2 breast feeding daughters at the moment", rather than personal experience, that causes offence. I would never have suggested to my husband that childbirth wasn't a traumatic experience for him (after all he seemed to need the gas as much as I did), just as he would never have told me how to breast feed. Hopefully there is a lesson in this for all of us.

Marina Go

Marina Go is Chair of the Wests Tigers NRL Club, a non-executive director of Autosports Group and author of the business book for women, Break Through: 20 Success Strategies for Female Leaders. She was previously GM of Hearst Australia at Bauer Media. Boss magazine named her as one of 20 True Leaders of 2016.  Marina has over 25 years of leadership experience in the media industry, having started her career as a journalist. She was appointed Editor of Dolly magazine at the age of 23, before spending the next decade editing a number of leading women's magazines. She has held senior leadership roles at Fairfax, Pacific, Emap, Bauer and Private Media, where she was CEO and founder of the career website Women’s Agenda.  

She is a director of digital startup Daily Siren, and also a member of the Advisory Boards of the Walkley Foundation, The Australian Republican Movement and Women’s Agenda. She is a former director of Netball Australia, Odyssey House,  Sydney Symphony Vanguard and The Apparel Group. She lectures on digital media at the University of Technology, Sydney, is a Mentor with the Women In Media and NRL Women programs and a UNSW Alumni Leader and Ambassador. She has an MBA from The Australian Graduate School of Management, a BA (Mass Communications) from Macquarie University and is a member of the AICD. She is a mother of two young men and passionate about diversity and equality. 

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