Should women breastfeed in public? One restaurant in Banbury is positively encouraging women and put up a sign ‘Breastfeeding is Welcome Here’.

The owner of Little Amsterdam, a deli and Dutch pancake house told me she is offering free herbal and fruit teas to any breastfeeding mother who comes into her North Bar cafe “because I know they get thirsty and need to replenish fluids”.

Ilja Harvey Andrews said: “I put up the sign and ordered 250 stickers for other businesses to put in their windows saying the same thing because then breastfeeding mothers will know where they stand – whether they are welcome or not – and at the same time other customers will know what to expect and be forewarned.”

I asked her what the reaction had been since she did this on August 12.

“So far large groups of pregnant women and young mums have come in and said ‘You support us, now we want to support you’,” she said.

“I didn’t want to offend people so I did some of my own market research and found only one person who said ‘breastfeeding makes me feel very sick’, and that was a woman.”

Ilja started a cooking school called Pudding Pie, now renamed The Banbury Cookery School. She likes her food to be as natural as possible and that’s also her stance on feeding babies.

“I know not all women can breastfeed but where it is possible it should be embraced,” she said.

“I don’t think it should be as big a taboo as it is. Obviously a young mother should not strip off and whip her breasts out. That’s not necessary; it’s disrespectful.”

She breastfed her two children, now 14 and 18. All those years ago she had to hide in the toilet area to breastfeed.

“That wasn’t pleasant and could produce stress which is not good for the baby. In my restaurant women will find a supportive environment.”

I asked her if she was ever told to stop breastfeeding. She smiled and said: “Only once…and it was at my grandfather’s house.

“He had raised a family of 12 children and during a visit when my child was hungry my grandmother came up and said ‘You can’t breastfeed here. Grandad doesn’t like it’.

“So how did he think his 12 kids got the nourishment they needed when they were babies? I was banished to the bedroom in my own grandparents’ house!”

Remember how breastfeeding hit the Oxford headlines in 2011 when 25-year-old Emily John was ‘discreetly’ feeding four-week-old Jacob in Debenhams?

A member of the Oxford staff found her in the shoe department and told her to stop or leave the area. When Emily organised a breast feeding sit-in Debenhams apologised for the “isolated incident” and said staff got the policy wrong.

Emily decided to turn the sit-in into a celebration. She said at the time: “After Debenhams apologised, it was agreed that since we all believe that breastfeeding should be encouraged – including in public – that we would like to work together to celebrate breastfeeding.

“The sit-in is no longer a protest, but Debenhams is welcoming nursing mothers to a party to celebrate breastfeeding.”

This wasn’t just “a storm in a D cup” as one wag put it. The social media comments came rolling in.

Oxford Mail:

  • Message: Owner Ilja Harvey Andrews with the sign at Little Amsterdam Cafe

“It doesn’t matter one jot whether one approved or not of breastfeeding in public – the rights of breastfeeding mothers (especially those with babies younger than 26 weeks) are protected by the Equality Act 2010.

“There is no way in which Debenhams were in the right here,” read one comment.

One supporter of Emily John said “I can understand that people who are not used to seeing women breastfeeding in public may feel uncomfortable.

“It is a shame that breastfeeding isn’t something that people accept as normal – and of course essential for small babies.

“I am sure that in time, and with law on the side of breastfeeding being accepted and permitted in public, this will change and hopefully we won’t even notice or care that women are feeding their babies.

“For a four-week-old baby, the need to feed is paramount. They don’t care how we feel about breastfeeding in public. They need nutrition NOW!”

But the question has not gone away. Just two weeks ago a radio DJ was suspended after saying that breastfeeding in public was “unnatural” and “must be stopped”.

During his morning phone-in show he said that only “librarian-type, moustachioed” women breastfed in public and men who were not repelled by breastfeeding were “wimps”.

He said “It was okay in the Stone Age when we knew no better… but now I just think a public area is not the place for it and fellas don’t like it.”

So what is he really saying here – that breast is best for the child or breast is best reserved for the men? What’s it all about, Alfie, survival, safety or sex?