So I wrote a post a while ago about breastfeeding in public. And for whatever reason, this week it went a bit viral. As in doubled-my-all-time-traffic-in-two-days kind of viral. Very exciting.
However, as always happens when discussing how, when, and where we feed babies, lots of people had opinions to share. There were 336 comments on that post last I looked, and well over 100 on the same post shared over at Scary Mommy. And still climbing. Whew! I can’t keep up.
Now, opinions are fine. After all, I was simply sharing my opinions on some common concerns about breastfeeding in public to begin with. But reading through the comments it appears I either missed some or didn’t cover some of those concerns thoroughly enough. And since it would take too long to respond to all of the comments individually, I thought I’d address some of the repeated ones here.
Oh, one thing real quick—could you please, please, pretty please read this post (and the last one) without a voice of someone with a chip on her shoulder? I promise I am not some kind of fanatic. I’m not “that mom.” I’m a breastfeeding advocate in that I think it’s important to support moms who choose to breastfeed, but aggression and bullying are not my thing.
You don’t breastfeed? More power to you. You don’t want to breastfeed in public? Totally your choice. You feel more comfortable finding a private place or using a cover of some sort? Sweet. Go for it. You want moms not to breastfeed in public? Let’s have a civil discussion.
Oh, and one more thing. Please read all the way through before getting torqued and commenting. This is a multi-faceted issue, you might take umbrage with something at the beginning, which I will further address later on. So please take the post as a whole.
With those disclaimers out of the way, (deep breath) here goes:
“Moms who breastfeed in public are selfish/don’t care about anyone else’s comfort/have no respect for the comfort of others.”
See, the problem with those statements is that I could turn them right around and say that if you have a problem with moms breastfeeding in public then you’re selfish/you don’t care about anyone else’s comfort but your own/you have no respect for a mom’s right to feed her baby comfortably.
But I won’t do that. Because it isn’t about you.
The truth is that a mom with a baby has one priority over everything else: Her baby. Her baby’s health. Her baby’s comfort. Her baby’s needs. And biologically speaking, that’s the way it should be. So if a baby is hungry and needs to eat, a mom’s first thought is not—and shouldn’t have to be—what everyone else in the room might be thinking. It should be simply to feed her baby. Unless she’s specifically feeding her baby just to irritate you, she’s not being selfish or disrespectful.
I can hear the argument now: “What about changing a baby’s diaper? We don’t do that in the middle of a restaurant. It would be rude.” Yes, that would be rude. Changing a diaper is unsanitary and smelly. Breastfeeding isn’t.
“But what if a baby is crying loudly? Isn’t it polite to take it to the other room for the comfort of others?” Yes, because noise fills up a room. You can’t not hear something, whereas you do have a choice not to look at something.
Someone made the comparison of breastfeeding in public to smoking in public. But smoke, like noise, isn’t something you can choose not to smell or breathe in without leaving the room. Breastfeeding, again, isn’t smelly or unhealthy, and it isn’t something you’re being forced to see.
Speaking of which . . .
“If you want to breastfeed that’s fine, but I don’t need to have it shoved in my face.”
Between women “whipping it out” and “shoving it” in people’s faces (or “thrusting it,” as one delightful commenter kept saying), breastfeeding in public has apparently become very violent. I can see why it concerns people so much.
Seriously, though. I’ve never had someone shove a breast in my face. If that’s happened to you, then by all means, rant away. But a mom nursing a baby in the same room as you is not the same as shoving it in your face. That phrase, along with “whipping it out,” really need to go. It paints a picture that’s just not accurate 99% of the time. (Plus I can’t get that visual with the whipping sound out of my head. WHHPSHH!)
“Oh yeah? Well I know a mom who [insert some variation of an extreme breastfeeding exposure/fanatical breastfeeder story here].”
Yes. Granted, on occasion, there may be a particularly unpleasant, fanatical, uber-aggressive woman, who also happens to be a breastfeeder, who might use feeding her baby as an excuse to be unpleasant, fanatical, and uber-aggressive. Or there might be a mom who is particularly free with her body who truly isn’t aware that other people are less comfortable with breasts. That is really unfortunate, both for you and for the rest of the breastfeeders who merely want to feed their babies without any drama. Which brings me to:
“Women shouldn’t use their babies as a prop to prove a point/make a statement.”
I promise you, the vast majority of breastfeeders are not trying to prove a point or make a statement. They are merely trying to feed their babies without unnecessary hassle or anxiety. That small percentage of breastfeeders who fully expose more than necessary, and then challenge people to say something to them just to prove that they have a right to breastfeed in public, are immature and annoying. They are not representative of the vast majority of public breastfeeders. End of story.
“Breastfeeding in public is fine. I breastfed in public. But I did so modestly and discreetly.”
I actually really get this. I do. Contrary to the commenter who accused me of parading my nudity around in front of people (snort), I actually was a discreet breastfeeder myself. It was easy for me because I’m rather flat-chested. It would have been pretty hard for me NOT to breastfeed discreetly, since my baby’s head covered my whole breast. And I covered with a blanket sometimes in public anyway, depending on the social situation.
The problem is that modesty and discretion are totally subjective terms. Some people would think I was being totally modest because you couldn’t see any actual breast when I nursed. Some people would think I was being totally inappropriate because I wasn’t covering up and they could tell I was breastfeeding. Is a little bit of skin okay? Does it make a difference how large someone’s breasts are? What if I’m covered but baby pops off for a second? What if baby pops off and pulls the cover off at the same time and a whole breast is exposed for a second? All subjective gray areas.
If it’s reasonable to expect moms not to “let it all hang out” and to at least try to be modest and discreet, then it’s equally reasonable to expect people not to gawk and judge and to try to look away if they don’t want to see it. It’s not fair to put that all of the responsibility on the mom feeding her baby, especially when it’s so easy to look the other way.
“But breasts ARE sexual. You can’t change the way people—especially men—see them in our society.”
Actually, I think we can change that, by making breastfeeding a more normal sight. But I’ll get back to that in a minute.
Breasts are used in sex by most people, that’s true. So are mouths and tongues, and no one has a problem seeing those things being used in public for non-sexual purposes. Breasts are not genitalia (more on that in a bit, too). Breastfeeding is an asexual activity. If a woman can have her breasts sucked on by a baby without being sexually aroused, then people should certainly be able to see a baby breastfeeding without being sexually aroused.
I know a lot of men who grew up seeing breastfeeding in their families and social circles. And you know what? They’re not a bunch of perverts. They’re not breast-obsessed. In fact, I’d wager that they’re less breast-obsessed than those who only grew up seeing breasts as sexual objects. They see a woman breastfeeding, and even if some breast shows, it’s not a major deal. It IS possible to differentiate seeing a breast in a breastfeeding context and seeing a breast in any other context. It IS possible to see a woman breastfeeding and not get turned on by it. But breasts have to be seen in that context in order to get to that point, which is why I think people shouldn’t make a big deal out of seeing breastfeeding. Does that make sense?
Also, if I were a man, I think I’d be a bit put out by the notion that I have no control over myself. Mature men are not slaves to their sex drives. Unless we’re talking about actual pervs:
“Women should cover up to breastfeed because there are all kinds of sickos/perverts out there just looking for a peep show.”
There are weirdos out there, yes. There are strange people with all kinds of fetishes that I’m not going to bother myself with. The fact that some guy might have a foot fetish isn’t going to keep me from wearing flip-flops. If a perv sees me breastfeed, I really don’t care. If that’s why you cover up to breastfeed, more power to you, sincerely. But not everyone has that concern.
“If you want to breastfeed that’s fine, but you don’t have the right to infringe on my right to have my kid not see it.” Or something like that.
Okay. But unless you’re complaining to every manager in every grocery store that you take your kids to about the magazines at the checkout counter, there’s not much of an argument here. If you’ve taken them to the store, or to the mall, or to a doctor’s office waiting room, your kids have already been exposed to more indecency than most breastfeeding moms offer.
No, it’s not my job to teach your kid about the basics of human anatomy. It’s yours. I’m not sure why you’d avoid teaching your kid the fact that as mammals, humans drink milk from their mothers, but if you don’t want to, that’s fine. It’s also not my job to shield your child from things that are only subjectively indecent. It’s yours. If you want to tell your child that what a nursing mom is doing is wrong or inappropriate or disgusting or whatever, go ahead. That is your opinion, that’s not fact. Either way, it’s a teaching opportunity.
I will say this, though. If you do support breastfeeding at all, letting your child see it might just be the greatest gift you can give them. If you have a daughter, seeing breastfeeding might help her down the road to feel more confident and informed. If you have a son, seeing breastfeeding might help him support the breastfeeding women in his life.
Speaking from experience, kids who grow up seeing breastfeeding don’t make a big deal of out it, don’t gawk and stare, don’t even notice half the time when it’s happening. It becomes normal. And since discomfort with the idea of breastfeeding in general is a big obstacle to successful breastfeeding, allowing them to get comfortable with it might not be a terrible idea. Not trying to tell you how to parent, just offering some food for thought.
“If women can “whip it out” to breastfeed in public, why can’t men “whip it out” to pee in public? They’re both natural functions, both expel bodily fluids. Isn’t it a double standard?”
Again, breasts are not genitalia. They’re not. And breastmilk is not bodily waste. So it’s not an equal comparison. That being said, of course there’s a double standard when it comes to which natural body functions we allow in public. For example, swallowing. Or crying. Both bodily functions involving bodily fluids. Both totally acceptable to do in public. Or how about sweating? Should people not be allowed to sweat in public?
Feeding a baby is a unique bodily function, and breastmilk is a unique substance. It can’t logically be compared to anything else.
“Seriously, why is this such a big deal?”
It’s a big deal because there are already too many obstacles to women breastfeeding in general. Making it so women feel uncomfortable doing it in public means less women will breastfeed—women who want to breastfeed.
It’s also a big deal because our culture has made it a big deal. It actually shouldn’t be. I’d love to not be writing this post. The whole reason I wrote the first post was because I’d seen those things voiced over and over. In many, many places in the world it’s not a big deal. And it hasn’t always been a big deal here, even.
People act like women breastfeeding in public is some kind of modern phenomenon, brought on by the evil decadence of our society where women have no sense of decency, which is why I found this photo series showing historical breastfeeding absolutely FASCINATING. Check it out. The captions are a riot.
I think that’s all. But I’m sure there’s more. I’m happy to continue discussing, but please keep everyone’s faith in humanity intact and keep it civil. Thanks. 🙂
(Check out this $19 online breastfeeding class from certified lactation educator Stacey Stewart, which tells you everything you need to know about how to successfully breastfeed your baby. Learn more from my affiliate link here.)