Our research shows that some women feel uncomfortable about their bodies and don’t like the idea of breastfeeding, especially in front of other people.
If this feels true for you, it might be helpful to reflect on why you feel like this. In Western cultures, even where we have relative gender equality, women are still treated differently and depicted differently to men. This contributes to women feeling that they need to attempt to achieve a particular type of body ideal. It is very difficult not to feel this way, but you can choose to try to ignore those messages and focus on you, your baby and what is best for you both. Your baby does not care how you look.
For some women these concerns are around the look and shape of their body. Other women are worried that breastfeeding is dirty or sexual in some way. On the one hand breasts are everywhere – still all over page 3 of some newspapers. At the same time some mothers feel concerned about showing just a small amount of bare skin when they are breastfeeding. These conflicts are a particular concern for women in the UK. In contrast, in many countries around the world (in Europe or South America for example), there is far less concern around breast exposure when breastfeeding. Be reassured that breastfeeding is a normal and natural behaviour – and is what breasts were intended for.
Any level of breast exposure can certainly feel strange at first, but many mothers find that this reduces as they get used to feeding. Most mothers find ways to keep covered while breastfeeding. See our pages on ‘breastfeeding in public‘ for ideas on how to manage this in practice.
For more specific worries see our ‘can i breastfeed if...’ page of FAQs about breastfeeding and your body.
If these issues feel difficult for you, consider speaking to someone about how you feel. You might want to speak to a close friend, or to someone who has breastfed before – perhaps try going along to a breastfeeding group in your local community; they really welcome pregnant women.
If you feel that concerns about your body image affect you or your mental health then you might consider talking to your GP. Or visit the following websites for more support: