Empowering Maternal Choice:
breastfeeding in public with confidence
Did you know that it is world breast-feeding week?
I spent two years breast-feeding my first child, and I am currently four months into breast-feeding my second child. Throughout all that time, I have never encountered any negativity regarding breastfeeding in public – until this week.
On Monday afternoon, I was at Southlands splash pad in Aurora, Colorado. I was nursing my 4-month-old baby at a table tucked away to the side, using his sun hat as a cover. Another mother noticed my breastfeeding and approached me, expressing her admiration for my choice to breastfeed in public.
However, a woman who was seated behind me, accompanied by her partner and two children, seemed to have overheard our conversation. She abruptly launched into a verbal tirade, loudly asserting that I should be breastfeeding in private. She walked past me, looked directly at me and loudly said that it was obnoxious. She continued to converse loudly with her partner, her tone growing increasingly aggressive as she escalated her criticism. I chose not to engage, given the presence of my own children. Instead, we left. If you are that woman, I want you to know that YOUR behavior was obnoxious. It’s 2023, surely, we can all agree that whilst we are entitled to our opinions, we are not entitled to attack others. I was discreetly tending to my baby's needs and not causing harm to anyone. We were covered, but it's important to note that women should have the freedom to feed their children without a cover, without fearing such attacks. What's even more disheartening is that this criticism occurred in front of children. As parents, it's our duty to instill in our children values of compassion, understanding, and respect for the choices others make, even if they diverge from our own.
If you feel that women should not be breastfeeding in public, allow me to share some of the reasons why you are wrong.
You should nurse before you leave home
Infants can feed as much as every hour. Many cluster feed on and off for hours on end. Both of my breast-fed babies did not follow a strict routine for nursing, they fed on demand. So, the argument that you should feed before you leave the house etc. is just not realistic for breast-fed babies. I have lost count of the amount of times that I will feed my baby before I leave the house, we arrive to our destination and he is screaming to be fed again. If I am at a restaurant or an outdoor event, it is just not realistic or fair to expect me to go back and forth to my car for instance, to feed my baby. Babies cry to be nursed when they are hungry, thirsty or just need comfort.
Someone once told me that they do not agree with breast-feeding in public, because they feel that breast-feeding is an intimate moment between a baby and the mother. I almost laughed recalling the many times I’ve nursed that were not in the slightest bonding moments. It is true that breast-feeding is often a bonding experience for mom and baby, however there are times when nursing sessions are simply about meeting the immediate needs of the baby – be it hunger, thirst, or comfort. Picture this: I'm in a restaurant, halfway through my meal, and my baby needs to nurse. It seems rather self-centered of anyone to expect me to make my baby wait or to let my food grow cold when I am also hungry, solely because they feel uncomfortable glimpsing a portion of a breast.
Women should cover up
Have you ever tried eating or doing anything with a cover over your head? Currently in Colorado it’s over 90F most days, some days are over 100! Now, picture trying to latch a baby under a blanket. It is NOT easy! I personally use a blanket to cover part of my cleavage but my little one often pulls it off, because who is comfortable with a blanket over their face?!
If the sight of a woman breastfeeding makes you uneasy, may I propose a solution? Try placing a blanket over YOUR head. By doing so, you can ensure that you won't catch even a fleeting glimpse of a breast.
My child might see
Breastfeeding is completely natural. If a child catches a glimpse of a woman’s breast whilst nursing her child, it’s an opportunity to teach them that babies are fed either by a bottle or a breast and both are important for a baby's well being.
Consider this: Do you shield the images of women on magazines in grocery stores? Do you insist on covering billboards in public? Would you ask women on the beach to cover up? No. In those scenarios, your children are exposed to just as much of a woman's breast. However, when that breast is being used to feed a baby, suddenly there's an objection. Speaking from experience, children who see women nursing do not stare or gawk. It’s completely normal to them. My eldest son asked a few questions when I first nursed his baby brother. Since then, he barely notices when I’m nursing.
A children's book depicting breast and bottle feeding
This is OK
This is not
Breastfeeding makes me uncomfortable
A mom has one priority over everything else: Her baby. Her baby’s health. Her baby’s comfort. Her baby’s needs. You have the ability to look elsewhere. In my opinion it’s selfish to ask a mother to inconvenience herself and her baby because you feel uncomfortable with something that is natural.
Peeing is natural but we don’t do that in public
Correct. But peeing is unsanitary. Breastfeeding is not. Breasts are not genitalia. Milk is not human waste. There are certain bodily functions which are acceptable in public such as sweating and swallowing. Those functions don’t usually impact others sharing a public space. Just as breastfeeding does not. Urinating in public does. Urinating and breastfeeding in public are in no way an equal comparison.
Breasts are sexual
It's true that many perceive breasts as having a sexual connotation. Nevertheless, their fundamental purpose is to nourish a baby. Regarding breasts as sexual is a perspective you're entitled to. However, that's precisely what it is – your perspective. The undeniable fact remains that a breast's primary function is to sustain an infant's life. You have a right to your opinion, but you have no right to impose your views on me and my baby. Ears are considered sexual to some. But no one covers them up. Some people have a foot fetish. But we all wear flip flops!
You may feel that it’s a simple request to ask a mother to cover up/go to another room/nurse before you leave the house. But why is the responsibility all on the mother who is already likely feeling stress and anxiety (let’s face it babies are in general not easy). It’s SO EASY to just not look. Your eyes have a 130 degree field of vision without even moving your head!
It's also important to remember that all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location.