Mindful Mum speaks to Claire Jones-Hughes

Following the social media frenzy following the release of TIME Magazine’s breastfeeding cover, we speak to the mum who organised the Brighton breastfeeding flashmob to take a stand against the stigma mums face when breastfeeding in public.

Claire Jones-Hughes breastfeeding flashmob

Claire Jones-Hughes, 38 of Brighton, was breastfeeding her daughter in her favourite vegetarian cafe when she was approached by some other diners. Four middle aged women and a man came over to her table at Wai Kika Moo Kau in Brighton and told her it was ‘unpleasant’ to see her feeding in public and that she should cover up using a towel like other mothers do. As she was alone with four month old Callie, Claire was thankful to another customer who came to her aid but was obviously shaken and was reduced to tears.

Following this incident, Claire appealed to local mums in her community and organised a breastfeeding flashmob at the Clock Tower to raise awareness. We caught up with the mum of two to find out a bit more about the flashmob and her views on how to improve the public stigma.

This week, TIME Magazine released their May 2012 cover of a mum breastfeeding her three year old son. What is your opinion of the TIME cover?
Claire: In my view, the cover is a cheap media trick to draw people into the article about a man who has been helping to empower mothers through attachment parenting techniques. It is irresponsible of Time Magazine as we really need to normalise various aspects of attachment parenting and sparking up this sort of debate over a cover picture to sell magazines is self-serving.

What about your own experience with breastfeeding in public. We know that the flashmob stemmed from your experience in a restaurant. How did it make you feel to be approached in such a way?

Claire: “At first I was pretty shocked, it was the third time I had fed my baby in that cafe that week. I didn’t properly understand what the woman was saying, it took her to repeat herself for me to realise I was being chastised (my initial reaction was they were going to say my baby is cute or something!). But my shock turned to anger, I defended myself and it turned into a full blown row in the cafe. When they left, I broke down in tears. I was on my own and felt very vulnerable.”

Was this an isolated incident or have other mums from your flashmob faced the same experiences?

Claire: “A friend of mine was asked to stop feeding her baby by the side of the local swimming pool, while she minded her 6 year old son swimming (it was in the shallow teaching pool for small children). I got involved, as she was distressed, liaising with the swimming pool and getting them to clarify their policy plus apologise, which they promptly did. It struck me then, there is a profound misunderstanding of mothers and why they need to feed in public.”

What did you hope would be achieved by the flashmob?
Claire: “Primarily it was to raise awareness, with the media attention we received we certainly struck up a debate. But most of all show other feeding mothers that it is OK to feed in public and they should confident doing so.”

Since the event happened, have you noticed any positive improvements yet?
Claire: “The best thing that happened was the number of mums sharing their stories with me and thanking me for taking a stand. It opened my eyes to the fact that women are hassled in public for feeding a lot more than we think. I don’t think we expected to change public opinion overnight, that would be an awesome task. Breastfeeding is already protected by law thanks to the efforts of organisations such as the NCT. But public mindset still seems to be stuck in the dark ages.”

How do you feel the public view breastfeeding in general?
Claire: “I’m quite shocked at how many people are willing to make comments to mums in public. Of course, I have no quantitive data on that but to me, one bad story is one too many. I understand that people feel uncomfortable with seeing breasts in public, which to me is illogical while feeding a child but nevertheless we have to accept people hold these views. What I am not willing to accept, is people approaching women in public and asking them to stop. That is quite frankly and plainly wrong. If they don’t like it, move or don’t look.”

Last year, the funding to support Breastfeeding Awareness Week was cut, what are your views on this?
Claire: “We are living in tight times, every one is fighting for their cause and claims it’s more important than others. It is sad, as it is probably a low cost campaign for huge benefits. The NHS is the only advertiser for breastfeeding and breastmilk, we desperately need the PR and education. Companies who make formula have huge ‘awareness’ budgets!”

Some mothers choose to bottle feed or some have no choice and must turn to bottle feeding, do you feel these mothers face a level of intimidation from the public and other mothers who believe breast is best?
Claire: “I’ve heard accounts of mothers being demonised for bottle feeding too. I have heard first hand accounts of the awful things health visitors and midwives have said to ensure a mother breastfeeds. I don’t want to be associated with that either. You should never patronise or push a mother. You can educate, encourage, coach and support but don’t tell them what to do. It is the most primal feeling in the world to care for your young and they will do what is best to survive. ”

Do you think new mothers know what the law is regarding breastfeeding in public and that they do have rights?
Claire: “So many women I spoke to were not aware they are protected by law to feed in public. I was terrified with my first child and since feeding her the law was strengthened.”

How would you like things to change in the future?
There needs to be more debate, more education for the public. We should be supporting new mothers, if only people would realise what benefits we reap for our society and national purse is breastfeeding and parenting in general is a success. Call me idealistic but we have so many other issues in the country, we should be nurturing new mums as it’s the best chance we have of building a better future for all.”

Photography: Oneworldbirth.net

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