Babies, like any human beings, need to eat. This is true even when that baby’s mother so happens to be a member of Australian parliament. So, when her baby was hungry while she needed to move a motion, Greens senator Larissa Waters breastfed her baby while giving a speech to parliament. Thus making Waters the first woman (and her daughter Alia the first baby) the first to do so.
Waters was working to move a motion on lung disease, which coincided with when her daughter needed to eat. When asked by BuzzFeed News why she breastfed while giving the speech, Waters said because “black lung disease is back among coal miners in Queensland and Alia was hungry.” Waters successfully moved her motion while feeding her daughter.
This is not the first time Waters has made headlines for breastfeeding. Earlier this year, she became the first person to breastfeed in the Australian parliament. While happy her actions sent an empowering message about women in politics, Waters still hoped for a time when her choice to breastfeed would be less newsworthy. “The fact that it is news that a young woman... can breastfeed in parliament, goes to show how far we have to go in making our parliament look like our community," she told BuzzFeed News. “It's been 116 years in the coming, and it's tragic that it's taken that long.”
Public breastfeeding is still heavily stigmatized in many cultures. Women have been asked to “cover up” while breastfeeding on planes and at church and shamed for posting breastfeeding selfies by strangers and spouses alike. A quick Google search will show you plenty of stories in which women have been told their choice to breastfeed in public is inappropriate, offensive or distracting. Thankfully, some companies, like Target, have put into place breastfeeding-friendly policies, making those spaces safe and comfortable for parents to feed their children as they choose. However, we’ve still got work to do to before it becomes widely socially acceptable.
As many mothers will tell you, breastfeeding isn’t easy. Is it natural and a fine way to feed a baby? Of course. However, a parent’s choice regarding breastfeeding shouldn’t be further complicated by cultural opinions on whether or not it’s polite or appropriate. Women’s bodies are constantly policed for being too sexual or not sexual enough. That sexualization happens even when doing something as nonsexual as feeding a child. (A friendly reminder that breastfeeding is meant to feed a baby, not the male gaze.)
Waters told BuzzFeed News, “Women have always worked and reared children, whether that work was paid in the workplace or unpaid in the home. I hope [this] helps to normalize breastfeeding and remove any vestige of stigma against breastfeeding a baby when they are hungry.” Actions like the one Waters’ made yesterday are small but significant in the fight to destigmatize breastfeeding overall. When these actions inspire policy change, like in Target, and help make breastfeeding more socially accepted, we in part have women like Sen. Waters to thank.