Bordeaux woman slapped for breastfeeding in public

The woman’s account of her story has inspired a wave of online support and raised questions about French attitudes towards breastfeeding

26 May 2021
Person holding a baby. Bordeaux woman slapped for breastfeeding in public

The woman said no one offered her any support after she was assaulted and police were disinterested when she reported it Pic: Wes Hicks / @sickhews / Unsplash

By Joanna York

A Bordeaux woman is pressing charges after being slapped by another woman for breastfeeding her six-month-old in public.

The mother, Maÿlis, had gone to collect a parcel when her child became agitated. She began breastfeeding to calm him in the street, while in line to collect her parcel. 

She had covered herself with a jacket to feed her child “discreetly” on the busy street when a woman began to harass her, she told the site Doctissimo

“There was a woman who began to shout, and said to me ‘Aren’t you ashamed?’” Still shouting, the woman approached Maÿlis and slapped her in the face.

She said an elderly woman in line behind her praised the woman for doing so, while the rest of the line “kept their heads down and ignored it”.

Mother reports incident to police

Shocked, Maÿlis returned home, but later went to the police to press charges against the woman. 

She said: “The police officer took down my statement as if he had other things to do. He even asked me what percentage of my chest had been visible. I said zero, because I had a specially adapted T-shirt, and I was also covering myself with a jacket.”

She felt the police officer was implying she was to blame for being slapped, and likened the experience to a police officer asking a rape victim what they had been wearing prior to being attacked.

Online support from other mothers

Maÿlis has received strong support online. A friend launched a petition for people to show support and share their own experiences of receiving negative attention while breastfeeding, which currently has over 26,000 signatures.

On Facebook, mothers around the world have been sharing their own stories using the hashtags #soutienamaylis and #iwanttobreastfree.

One, who goes by the name Naturelle Maman, wrote on Facebook: “NO mother enjoys showing her breasts in public. She is simply feeding her baby, who cannot tell the difference between a supermarket, a train, a parcel collection point, or a café terrace.”

Breastfeeding rates low in France

Breastfeeding is widely recommended by health experts. The World Health Organisation recommends that all mothers breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of their baby’s life.

But France has some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.

Le Figaro Santé reported in 2017 that 71% of women in France breastfeed their babies at birth. This goes down to 50% after one month, and 25% by six months. On average babies in France are breastfed for three months.

In the UK, UNICEF figures from 2010 show that 81% of women breastfeed from birth, with 34% still breastfeeding at six months.

In the US, 81.4% of women breastfeed from birth, with 58.3% still breastfeeding after six months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2017.

One explanation for the lower rates in France could be shorter maternity leave. Mothers are given 10 weeks leave in France, compared to up to 52 in the UK and 12 in the US.

Mothers in France encouraged to use bottle 

Cultural attitudes also play a role. Many women in France are advised against breastfeeding by medical staff and specialist breastfeeding advisors are not reimbursed by French social security. 

Lactation consultant Carole Hervé told RFI: “People say you will be enslaved by your child when you become a mother… [but] give them a bottle of infant milk and you’ll be free.”

Maÿlis said she had not always intended to breastfeed her son, but found it was the best way to help him gain weight quickly after he was born prematurely. 

She continued to breastfeed for six months as she enjoyed it, but since the stress of the incident her breast milk supply has dried up. 

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