Verbal attack leaves breastfeeding mum 'shaking and crying'

Mum Tabitha Rickard criticised for publicly breastfeeding son Caleb, 2


National News
Tabitha Rickard and two-year-old Caleb. Picture: Adam Trafford

Tabitha Rickard and two-year-old Caleb. Picture: Adam Trafford

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Breastfeeding mother and toddler told to cover up in public.

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Tabitha Rickard felt "anxious, judged and ashamed" when she was berated for breastfeeding in public and told she was being "sexually explicit".

The verbal attack on Sunday left her in tears and fearing for the mental health of other less-experienced mothers who receive criticism about feeding their babies.

It was upsetting and unsettling for the mother-of-two who has been continuously breastfeeding for the past six years.

Ms Rickard took a break from volunteering to breastfeed her hungry son Caleb, 2, when a bystander verbally attacked.

"I stopped in the foyer and sat down to breastfeed like I always do, and a person came and touched me on the shoulder and started asking me whether I had a t-shirt or shawl or anything to cover up because there were men around who find it sexually erotic.

"She said I shouldn't be breastfeeding in public and I should go to another space if I don't want to cover up."

When she told the person it was illegal to discriminate against breastfeeding mothers, the attack continued.

"She continued and I felt like I had to stand up and run away from her," she said.

"Not once did she consider the damage to my son, who was trying to feed while he witnessed this onslaught of offence."

Shaken and crying, Ms Rickard was comforted by staff and others who heard the harsh words. She did not wish to name the venue where the incident occurred because everyone else present had been supportive and come to her aid.

Those in charge spoke to the perpetrator who apologised later in the day, but continued to tell Ms Rickard she needed to cover up while feeding Caleb.

Ms Rickard said the attack was the first opposition to public breastfeeding she had encountered.

If that had happened to me in the first few weeks of my journey of becoming a mother I would have quite easily isolated myself and been anxious to leave the house because of judgement, or I might have stopped breastfeeding all together. - Tabitha Rickard

"I was really shaken by it. In six years I have never felt ashamed, and later that day I had an incident where my son asked to be fed and I found myself for the first time offering him water … until he was an emotional wreck then I had to build up all my confidence to sit outside where that person actually sat to feed him.

"It's the first time I have ever felt anxious and judged and unsure of myself feeding my son out in public after that one incident."

Ms Richard, who runs Kangatraining Ballarat, a fitness company specialising in workouts involving mothers and babies, said many of her clients had reported similar criticism.

She said many people did not recognise the real harm that could come from those words.

"A third of women have post natal depression and anxiety and to think some women, because of these sorts of comments, could shut themselves off is not good for mental health and wellbeing."

"I'm grateful I'm experienced. I'm a mother that has six years of confidence to draw strength from and I'm surrounded by an overwhelming amount of support from other mothers," she said.

I'm grateful I'm experienced. I'm a mother that has six years of confidence to draw strength from and I'm surrounded by an overwhelming amount of support from other mothers. - Tabitha Rickard

"But if that had happened to me in the first few weeks of my journey of becoming a mother I would have quite easily isolated myself and been anxious to leave the house because of judgement, or I might have stopped breastfeeding all together."

But it's not just breastfeeding mothers copping unwelcome criticism, with some of her clients receiving unsolicited harsh feedback about bottle feeding their babies.

"This just should not happen in this day and age," she said.

Ms Rickard sought counselling from the Australian Breastfeeding Association Hotline and, to help process her experience, wrote a poem on her Facebook page.

"This poem will be something I will give to that person and I want to write a letter to explain how it is affected me," she said.

Ballarat Courier

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