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Interview with Holly Rankin, the Creative Force Behind Jack River

From Parliament House to Music Festivals: Jack River's thoughts on breastfeeding with confidence

By Emily Carrolan

Holly Rankin sitting outside Parliament House in the courtyard breastfeeding her daughter Maggie

Despite national state and territory legislation enshrining breastfeeding as a human right in Australia, there is still societal belief that women should limit their breastfeeding to private spaces, exercising discretion. To put it simply, it is against the law to discriminate against breastfeeding in Australia, including requesting a mother to cover up or relocate to a private space.

Within this social context, the prospect of breastfeeding in public can be initially daunting for some mums. It is important for mums to know that they are not alone and that they have the right to breastfeed whenever and wherever they and their baby needs.

In December 2023, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to engage in a conversation about various aspects of breastfeeding with Holly Rankin – Australian musician, business owner and mother. During 2023, Rankin launched her second album, “Endless Summer”, toured and performed at festivals across Australia, including Splendour in the Grass. Beyond her music endeavours, she passionately advocates for the rights of Australian artists and labels, First Nations rights and respects, promotes gender equality and addresses climate change. Rankin was able to share these experiences with her one-year-old daughter, Maggie.

Rankin discussed the immense support she receives from her partner Brett and her parents. Reflecting on her mother’s incredible support, she expressed, “My mum’s been an incredible help this year. I wouldn’t be able to do all of the stuff that I do without her kind, free labour”.

Supportive partners, families and friends play a pivotal role in supporting a mother’s confidence during her breastfeeding journey. The Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) promotes for a mothers’ support circles, emphasizing the importance of reassurance, fostering a relaxed environment and offering practical aids such as a pillow when needed – just a glimpse into the extensive support available for breastfeeding mothers.

In the course of my work with ABA, I love hearing the experiences and stories of mums through their breastfeeding journeys. When speaking with Rankin, I asked if she was willing to share a story from her personal breastfeeding journey, in which she recounted two incredible experiences. 

Initially, Rankin spoke about her post-birth experience at the Prince of Wales Private Hospital in Sydney, praising the midwives for the guidance in those crucial first weeks, “The midwives at the hospital were absolutely incredible in teaching me how to breastfeed in that first week at hospital”.

Secondly, she discussed her experiences of breastfeeding in unconventional space, emphasising on her commitment to overcome fears of judgement or exclusion. “This year I’ve tried to just like breastfeed in random locations and experiment with my kind of confidence to breastfeed wherever and whenever”. Rankin then went on to talk about some of these locations, “I guess some fun locations are like the courtyard at Parliament House, I’ve got a photo breastfeeding Maggie. Backstage at Splendour breastfeeding Maggie.”

“Wherever I go, I kind of make a point to go beyond any fears that I have about judgement or inclusion and just breastfeed her.”

Rankin also shared a time early on in her breastfeeding journey, “She was 12 weeks old, and I was at a climate conference. It was like a closed private conference and we were sitting in a room in a circle of like 20 kind of energy philanthropy executives. And I just decided to, like, breastfeed her in front of everyone”.

“And it was early in my journey but a moment of like, no, just continue, you know, letting yourself feel like or making space for yourself in these spaces where it might not be, I don’t know, usually done”.

Speaking about the reaction of the people around her, Rankin said “I had some woman come up to me like, right after and say like that was just an incredible moment of you just breastfeeding in front of everyone and, you know, whipping the tit out. So yeah, I find it really interesting to play with”.

In our conversation about returning to work, especially now in society where the traditional nine-to-five office job is no longer the norm, Rankin shared her experiences. Given her work which involves performing and advocacy across various locations of Australia, I asked her how herself and her partner about their approach to continue breastfeeding during this period. 

“I work from home still. So, I’m a small business owner essentially with Jack River and my other work in politics. I’m able to work from home and continue to breastfeed, because my care, my care for Maggie is often my mum. I work like two and a half days a week at the moment on my laptop and my mum or partner looks after Maggie and they can bring her to me to breastfeed. So, I’ll just breastfeed her during meetings or take a quick break”.

Reflecting on her journey, Ranking shared some advice she wished she had known before returning back to work. “I guess because my work’s been locationally flexible like that, I’ve continued to breastfeed her as much as possible and it just hasn’t really been an issue because I’ve had the support there to do it”.

“I guess that it is like don’t be afraid of going back to work or experimenting with working from home when it comes to breastfeeding, ‘cause there’s always a way that it can work for you. And I guess the key is like talking to other mums and people like you guys and demystifying things as quickly as possible. That would be my tip. Like don’t be afraid and don’t worry”.

As a fan of Jack River, appreciating not just her music but also her role and commitment to her advocacy, I couldn’t help but admire Rankin when she shared a photo of herself on Instagram breastfeeding Maggie outside Parliament House, captioned 'Random places we’ve breastfed edition no. 17489929'. I thought it was a truly remarkable moment worth sharing.

Breastfeeding in public often captures media attention, often for unfortunate reasons related to discrimination. Articles on this topic often coincide with public opinion polls, querying the general public about their perspectives on breastfeeding in public or whether it was appropriate for a breastfeeding mother to be asked to cover up or leave. Unfortunately, these type of polls tend to undermine the fact that breastfeeding is legally protected.

I asked Rankin if she could offer advice or words of encouragement for other mothers to breastfeed whenever and where they need but may not have the confidence or support to do so. Her response conveyed a powerful message aimed at dismantling the negative stigma surrounding public breastfeeding.

“I guess I would say I could write a novel on this. But the act of breastfeeding a baby, a woman breastfeeding a baby is literally the most normal, human, natural, needed, essential thing that a human in society can do. So, like, why on earth should it feel shameful? Weird? Nor right to do that in public, wherever a women wants to, or wherever a baby needs to”.

“I think it’s the stigma, shame, whatever it is around public breastfeeding is a product of a grossly patriarchal society that has made all the rules to make, you know, a certain type of man feel comfortable or not sexually aroused. And that is, I’m so done with philosophy being allowed to exist, like to govern our public spaces or private spaces”.

When speaking about advice for other mums, Rankin says “I think just like stop and having a quick, like check in with yourself about the thing you’re doing, which is like growing a baby up for you and the world and the society that you’re sitting in and thinking how incredible and important that is and that there should be absolutely no weirdness around doing it”.

“And secondly, on the matter of like showing your nipples in society, I’m really like really confused about that stigma as well because they go hand in hand. And I think that we don’t have enough public conversation around the public act of breastfeeding publicly and the weirdness around a woman showing her nipples publicly. It’s just not talked about. So, I’m down to like drive a conversation around that.”

Advocating for breastfeeding rights in public spaces is not solely the responsibility of mothers; it is a collective societal obligation.

In my discussion with Rankin, we explored a recently relaunched breastfeeding-friendly initiative by ABA known as "Breastfeeding is Welcome Everywhere”. This initiative encourages various community and public venues, spanning cafes, community centres, libraries, and venues with waiting rooms, to voluntarily sign-up and show their commitment to being inclusive of all families, including breastfeeding mothers. Participating businesses receive informational resources for employees, including guidance on the illegality of discrimination and how to de-escalate negative unwarranted comments from other patrons. The initiative aims to establish safe, respectful, and accepting spaces for breastfeeding mothers.

Rankin concluded with “We're only kind of touching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to making society value mothers and their contribution and making spaces like, safer and more inclusive for mothers. So yeah, it is incredible, beautiful.”