Oh, do stop milking it! BBC veteran LIBBY PURVES says young stars moaning about its breastfeeding facilities today don’t know they’re born
- Libby Purves worked as a BBC presenter in 1985 whilst breastfeeding
- She is half amused by current staff who are outraged by the BBC’s ‘facilities’
- She half sympathizes but says today’s women expect everything laid on
- She recalls feeding her children in challenging circumstances whilst working
- Libby suggests some should try Guerilla breastfeeding, as practised in the 1980s
My reaction was half sympathetic, half frankly amused when I heard that BBC presenter Alex Jones is outraged at the lack of ‘facilities’ for new mothers at the glass palace of new Broadcasting House in London.
She had her first baby, Teddy, 18 months ago, came back to work after three months and has already written a book on parenting.
Fast work, Alex! I took three whole years to pop out my own How Not To Be A Perfect Mother back in distant 1985 — while also working as a presenter at the BBC.
Ms Jones sadly says that the ‘male-dominated environment’ of the BBC, where she presents The One Show, made her give up breastfeeding because there wasn’t anywhere to express milk. There is no creche or dedicated room in the fancy new half of the building, and (she claims, astonishingly) not even a fridge in which to store the milk.
Libby Purves (pictured) advises working mothers to try old-styles of breastfeeding such as the Guerilla method practised in the Eighties
She adds that there is a breastfeeding room in the other half of the building, but when she went in she found men off the night shift sleeping on the sofas who resented being woken.
Blimey. Some news items really make you feel like a dinosaur. Women these days rightly expect everything laid on (and ideally not full of snoring blokes). But it was not always so.
While I sympathise with Ms Jones, and agree that employers should make life easier if possible for those breeding the new generation, I could pass on a few hints on old-style, pioneering working-mother craft. Guerilla breastfeeding, as practised in the Eighties.
After both my babies, I went back to working regularly at Broadcasting House as a freelance well before three months.
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When my daughter Rose was still being fed six times a day, I had a crafty system for my job on Radio 4’s Midweek programme.
I would arrive at 7.30am, feed her, pop the carrycot on the desk, check the research with the producer (often while waving a Sooty hand puppet with the other arm to keep Rose quiet) then hand the baby over to an agency nurse, hired at my own expense for a two-hour shift.
In that time I could do the show, thank the guests, and belt back upstairs to feed the baby again. Rose delivered her first proper smile to an agency nurse in a BBC cubbyhole —nothing like early socialising.
Earlier still, when my son Nicholas was born, if a job came up I would park him close by for the few hours between feeds with a babysitter or family member.
Libby recalls breastfeeding whilst meeting with senior police officers during her time as a presenter. She claims nobody saw an inch of flesh as she wore a loose top (file image)
I presented a curious show about DIY — like Gardeners’ Question Time with wallpapering advice.
Once, we had a meeting with senior police officers to discuss home security and my babysitting collapsed. I had to bring a tiny baby boy with me, since rearranging the meeting would annoy everyone even more.
All went well, until from the basket under the table came a grizzling sound. I said: ‘Gentlemen, mind if I feed? It’ll be quieter.’ No problem: anything to prevent a meeting going on longer than it should.
And if you have the sense to wear a loose top and the baby is concentrating, nobody sees an inch of flesh.
However, don’t do this after three months, girls: bigger babies get sociable and will suddenly turn away from your breast, revealing it in all its splendour as they deliver a wide, milky smile to onlookers.
Libby says her brother advised her not to worry about offending anyone when feeding in public (file image)
I also spent a lot of time on trains and the same common sense applied: discreet feeding. As my brother said: ‘You’re not going to offend anyone you’d actually like, so who cares?’
When one man did harrumph, on a train to Exeter, I just said: ‘OK, squire, you choose. Two more hours. Feeding, or screaming? Your call!’ He muttered: ‘Oh, feeding I suppose . . . ’
The most alarming work journey I ever made was to Scotland, for some ridiculous programme at Floors Castle with the Duke of Westminster.
I assumed that on the train up I would sneak off to a quiet carriage, but it was packed and we had reserved seats.
So, to my horror, I was trapped for three hours at a table, baby on knee, opposite the other panellists: smart media gents Auberon Waugh and Peter York.
I quailed. But Auberon was a parent himself and Peter York, inventor of the Sloane Ranger, was very polite about it all.
Libby says it’s important to respect both the working world and your baby. She advises women in powerful jobs to use their influence to change their workplaces for other mums (file image)
I like to think it was an educational experience for him, because after some whimpering while Nicholas was feeding, I looked down and found his first tooth had appeared.
I exclaimed in surprise, and remember Mr York’s shocked: ‘Is that what happens? I know nothing of babies . . . ’
The most important thing about meshing babies and the working world is that you have to respect both.
When my eldest was four months old, I was spending four days a week at Vogue House in Hanover Square for an ill-advised period as editor of Tatler. I didn’t bring the baby in, to avoid distraction.
But I expressed milk each day in the ladies’ and popped it in the office fridge, next to the Art Editor’s Veuve Clicquot.
So, is there a moral to all this reminiscence from a desperado Mum, sneaking milky new babies through gaps in the patriarchy?
It’s this: women should be cunning, cheerful and never ashamed of their own needs or their baby’s.
And to Alex and women like her in powerful jobs, please, use some of that cunning and influence to see to it that rooms, creches and flexible hours are available for your younger, less confident sisters.
Up the guerilla breastfeeders!
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