Maternity

French women rally in support of mother assaulted while breastfeeding

French women have taken to social media to show solidarity with a mother who was verbally and physically assaulted while breastfeeding in public.
French women have taken to social media to show solidarity with a mother who was verbally and physically assaulted while breastfeeding in public. © RFI

Women across France have flooded the internet with pictures of themselves breastfeeding in public as a virtual banner of support for a young Bordeaux mother who was slapped by a stranger for doing just that. 

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Under the social media hashtag #soutienamaylis (support for Maylis), hundreds of women expressed their horror at the reported assault, which took place on 19 May.

The mother in question, Maylis, said she discreetly began feeding her six-month-old son, who had become restless, while queuing in the street to pick up a parcel. Taking offence, another woman in the line told Maylis she should be ashamed, before smacking her across the face while she held her baby.

In an emotional testimony posted to the Instagram account of Doctissimo, a health news website, Maylis said nobody who witnessed the assault came to her defence, adding that an elderly lady even congratulated the woman who had slapped her. 

When she filed a police complaint, Maylis said she was asked by an officer to describe the percentage of her breast that had been exposed.

“I said zero, because I was wearing a t-shirt adapted to breastfeeding and a jacket … but he kindly made me understand that it was also my fault.” 

The encounter was so traumatising, Maylis added, that her milk had since dried up and her son Nino, who up until then had been exclusively breastfed, was now forced to take a bottle.

A million views

The post clocked up more than a million views and generated thousands of reactions from mothers across France eager to express their anger and indignation, and to applaud Maylis for having the courage to report the incident to police.

“To assault a woman who is breastfeeding is to assault her baby,” said one mother, while others offered reminders that breastfeeding was a natural act and a basic human right.

Many said they were shocked the violence had been perpetuated at the hands of another woman.

"No mum gets pleasure from showing off a breast in public,” one woman wrote. “She is simply feeding her baby who doesn't know the difference between a supermarket, a train, a parcel shop or a cafe.”

An article on the website of La Leche League, an NGO that supports breastfeeding, pointed out there was no law in France banning women from breastfeeding in public.

The country has one of the world’s lowest breastfeeding rates despite World Health Organization recommendations that babies should be exclusively breastfed for six months.

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