Why I Breastfeed in Public

Nursing my son when he was a baby
Nursing my son when he was a baby

On our Facebook page, we often post breastfeeding photos as part of our effort to normalize nursing, and the reaction is always the same: lots of support and celebration, lots of oohs and ahhs, but also a plethora of insulting, attacking, disgusting comments.  No matter how many times this happens, I am always stunned by the ugly reactions people have to a mother feeding her child. 

Our society has received some strong social conditioning, and apparently the message is that one of the worst, most disgusting, most vile things a woman can do is breastfeed her child.  “Cover up!” “That’s disgusting!” “Nobody wants to see that!” “Put your tits away!” they say.  They compare nursing in public to urinating, defecating, masturbating, and having sex in public– failing to acknowledge the fact that breastfeeding feeds babies, while defecation, urination, etc. does not.

When my son was just a few days old, I went to the grocery store, just him and me.   As a newly postpartum mom, I should have been home resting and sending someone else to the store for me, but as a single parent with limited support, that was not an option.  So I bundled him up in my Maya Ring Sling and proceeded to do my shopping.  I had fed him before we left home, but in the middle of the store he started to cry.  I didn’t yet know how to utilize the sling for breastfeeding, so I couldn’t walk and nurse at the same time while pushing my cart.  I looked for a place to sit, but the only option was a bench right near the front door, where lots of people were milling around and I would be in full view, and I was too scared to deal with that at the time.

So, instead, I left my cart full of groceries and went and hid in the bathroom.  There was nowhere to sit, so I went into a stall.  The bathroom smelled awful and it was filthy.  I tried to balance my floppy, fragile new baby while I struggled to get my shirt up and my nursing bra unhooked.  I was terrified the entire time that I would drop him, or that he would pick up some nasty germs from being in the bathroom.  It was a disgusting, humiliating experience.  I swore I would never do that again.

Breastfeeding my son as a toddler
Breastfeeding my son as a toddler

I tried using a blanket to cover up a few times, but I quickly realized how inconsiderate that was to my baby.  He hated being covered.  He clawed at the blanket, cried, and pulled it off as soon as he was old enough to have the strength to do so.  I wouldn’t want to eat with a blanket over my head; why should he be forced to?  Anyone who demands that a mother cover her breast and her baby with a blanket has likely never nursed a child and has no concept of what a hassle it is to cover and hide.

Another comment we often receive is “Pump and put it in a bottle!”  I am shocked that people can have such strong opinions about subjects they are clearly ignorant about.  Not every woman can pump.  I had an ample supply for my son, yet I could never get more than an ounce or two via pump; I just never responded to it.  Pumping also takes a lot of time and effort.  We would need to buy a pump and bottles, sanitize everything, make time to pump, hope we produce enough milk, and carry the supplies around everywhere in case our baby gets hungry.  Pumping can also cause oversupply issues.  Why should any mother go to such lengths just so some strangers don’t have to see her breastfeeding?  Especially considering the fact that averting one’s eyes and looking away from a nursing mother is probably one of the easiest things to do in the entire world.  It takes zero effort to look away.  It takes lots of effort to pump, store, and carry breast milk.

The social conditioning and lack of critical thinking that is rampant when it comes to public breastfeeding is very disturbing.  It’s interesting how some people are absolutely horrified by a Luvs diaper commercial that shows breastfeeding, but they likely wouldn’t even blink at an ultra-revealing Victoria’s Secret commercial, nor would they complain about women in bathing suits at the beach.  A mother nourishing her child has become much more offensive than severe oversexualization of women in our culture.  

Some people say we are rude or inconsiderate for breastfeeding without hiding, but I find it much more inconsiderate for adults to put their petty desires above the needs of a child.  Babies need to eat.  Mothers need to feed them.  Period.

Another aspect is that seeing breastfeeding is important.  Cultures that embrace breastfeeding mothers generally have high breastfeeding rates.  Cultures that shame and shun breastfeeding mothers generally have low breastfeeding rates.  The United States in particular has a seriously distorted view of nursing moms, and has accompanying poor breastfeeding rates, which costs nearly a thousand lives, and millions of dollars every year.  Formula feeding comes with significant risks and, according to all major health organizations worldwide, should be reserved for emergency situations only.  Yet, in our society it has become the norm.  We need to change that by showing the next generation the normal way babies were intended to be fed.  When nursing is normalized, more mothers do it, and our children are much healthier for it.

Nursing my son when he was three years old (as is recommended by major health organizations)

We will keep breastfeeding as openly or as covered as we feel comfortable with, because it is our body and our children we are nourishing.  Every time we get hateful comments about nursing in public, we will be inspired to do it even more.  We will support each other and stick together against the nay-sayers.  Every time we post a breastfeeding photo, we inspire more mothers to breastfeed in public.  We will continue to do so until our society has a normal reaction to breastfeeding– something more like “That is a mother feeding her child,” and less like “OMG PORN.”

The best part is that our right to breastfeed in public is protected by law!  It is exempt from public nudity laws.  Anti-public-breastfeeders cannot stop us, no matter how vicious they get, no matter how much they harass and berate us.  We will feed our children when they need to be fed.  Anyone who finds it offensive is more than welcome to stop staring and utilize their neck muscles to look away.  Anti-public-breastfeeders may want to ask themselves some questions: why does breastfeeding horrify them so much?  Is this really the worst thing that can be seen in public, or are there bigger issues to worry about?  Why are tiny bikinis and provocative underwear commercials perfectly acceptable, but a mother feeding her child is not?  Why are breasts so scary, but only when used to feed a baby?

In the end, haters gonna hate, and lactaters gonna lactate.  Nurse on, wise mamas!

Breastfeeding is for cool kids! :)

23 thoughts on “Why I Breastfeed in Public

  1. In Kentucky it is illegal to interrupt a breastfeeding mother. I love it! I’ve started carrying around copies of that law in my diaper bag. so I can hand them out to un-educated people who tell me not to feed my 6 month old in public.

  2. for some reason I feel totally comfortable nursing in front of strangers but not (mostly the male) family members! I hate feeling judged as even though they don’t say anything I can feel a reaction. I also did the bathroom thing for my first born, it is sad that I had no empowering female to say ‘just nurse your crying baby there’s no need to hide!’ I found motherwise when my daughter was almost 2, and it actually gave me the encouraging power to nurse her until her sister was born (and she was 30 months old), and even then I tandem nursed for 1 month (my first born would nurse for 45 mins and take all the milk so I had to stop but I had no problems weaning her)
    great post, I am really enjoying the motherwise blog!! keep it up <3

  3. The attitude of this country towards breastfeeding is completely ridiculous. I actually think it is not contradictory with but one of the results of over-sexualization. Women must be sexual at all times and breasts are appropriated by males (in a general sense) for sexual arousal, not for feeding babies. Furthermore, any reminder of biology is considered vile in a society where we still predominantly praise manufactured goods over nature. The spread of formula use is truly scandalous.

  4. About 3 years ago, there was a radio personality I believe from Nashville, who got herself in deep water with many listeners. She had made a comment about eating at a Chick-Fil-A restaurant and noticing a women breastfeed her infant right there in the dining room!!! I’ve never understood why a bathroom is supposed to the optimum location when nursing in public. I NIP, though I did use my faithful Utter Covers after the blanket kept falling. I disagree that nursing has “become” taboo, as I believe it has been this way for some time, and people are actually becoming more open to the concept.
    This is a natural part of life. I also nursed at the grocery using my sling, though rather difficult to push the cart.

  5. I love to breastfeed all together I was nervous about it at first nip (nursing in public) but I got to the point I don’t care what ppl think and in Alaska not alot of ppl comment about it badly either a few here and there but Alaska is a breastfeeding state and are big supporters:)

  6. That Is what breasts are made for. Don’t listen to ignorant people. continue to do what is best for your child!

  7. I have not yet had any children so I haven’t experienced the ordeal myself. However, my sister has had 3 children and I have watched as she has carefully chosen breastfeeding over formula, I’ve watched her experience the frustration and stress of breastfeeding and pumping but she never gave up wanting to choose a healthier option for her children. And in some ways, I think that’s what parenting is. Choosing to put aside your own desires and convenience for the sake of a tiny human who trusts you completely. But the point of what I’m saying is that she always covered up in public. I agree that people can be hateful about breastfeeding, I’m not trying to be hateful. I see it as a beautiful, natural part of life that is meant to bond mother and baby together. But I always respected my sister for taking the time to buy a cute shawl and use it. She was never embarrassed or thought it was something to hide from, she did it because she wanted to act in thoughtfulness and love toward other people, even strangers.

    1. I would never use a shawl or any type of cover because breastfeeding isn’t a shameful act that needs to be hidden. That’s like wearing a burka because some men might think my hair needs to be hidden. I don’t live my life based on other people’s fear of the human body. I wonder how long your sister breastfed, because unless she had a child who is different than most, she’d quickly learn that most kids hate eating with a blanket over their heads just as much as we’d dislike eating under a blanket.

      Some people think it’s rude that moms don’t want to smother their children under a blanket while they eat. I think it’s much, much more rude for random people to demand that a baby eat under a blanket just because they’re afraid of breasts and can’t manage to look away.

      1. I’m not in any way trying to say that breastfeeding is shameful or something to hide from. I think it’s truly beautiful and I wholeheartedly intend to breastfeed all of my children if it is at all possible. My sister DID have problems with baby not wanting to be covered up. She only pumped when she ALREADY had too much milk and needed to pump for her own comfort, so she usually had SOME milk in a bottle in case baby needed just a little to calm down until getting home. Covering was not something she did often. It was a (if all else fails) option. I know some people who still complain about women breastfeeding in public, covered and all! To them I would say, ” grow up! It’s part of life.” But I DO respect women who cover up when they find themselves in a situation where they have to be in public during a feeding time. Not to say that I think you are wrong in your opinion or I am judging you. If you were to breastfeed infront of me uncovered, I would have no problem with it.
        I sincerely hope this doesn’t come across as hateful or judgmental. That is the opposite of what I’m trying to say.
        I respect your opinion on this. Thanks for letting me comment!.

  8. I wrote something like this out once for a male friend who was asking similar questions. I also explained it has more to do with respecting & understanding a baby’s right to eat than a mother’s right. I am a busy mom,a s all moms are. It is not my personal responsibility to help you overcome all of your hangups & pander to them until you do. I promise not to come to your house & nurse if you don’t like it, I promise not to set in your lap when I do it in public & I promise, I do not care if you find it distasteful. I have to worry about my family & their needs & trying to keep them healthy & happy. I wont’ purposely try to make anyone uncomfortable, but I am also not going to go out of my way to help you cope.

    1. When our girls were being breastfed the laws protecting my wife’s right to do so in public had not yet been passed so I spent a lot of time resenting societies out look on breast feeding while sitting alone while my wife and child hid in some rest room. Those that feel breast feeding is disgusting or gross need to grow up.

  9. This is a wonderful article. Maybe I have gotten lucky, but as a mother of a still breastfeeding 17 month old and pregnant with my second, I have never had a negative comment when Ive breastfed in public. I know many many women have and its disgusting and ridiculous that they even have to feel like they have to defend their feeding their children in public. Ive always tried to keep a very confident, positive air about myself when I do breastfeed in public. If people look at me, I look straight back at them, in the eye and smile. I dont act confrontational, just confident and strong in my choice. Im not sure if this would help other women, but it has helped me. Sometimes, when people who want to shame and degrade others come up against someone who acts in a confidant and strong manner, it silences them because they get that feeling that their tactics wont work. This is just my opinion and if it helps other moms thats wonderful. I always smile at moms who breastfeed in public and give them “the knowing nod.”

  10. I think breastfeeding is ok in public but by the time a baby is around 1 you are suppose to start weening them off a bottle or breast he should start to use a sippy cup by 1 or a little after that

    1. That’s actually not true at all. I wonder where you came up with that? I would genuinely like to know, since no major medical organization in the world seems to agree with you. The World Health Organization recommends at least TWO years of breastfeeding, or more, as long as both mother and child want. That doesn’t mean breastfed children don’t use sippy cups or eat other food. It just means that instead of chugging down cow breast milk, they continue to get the milk perfectly designed for them. It is the best, healthiest possible choice.

    2. Baby knows best! My boy weaned at 5 – years not months! Today he is a strapping 67Kg 1.7m 12 year old and still going strong!!

  11. I keep coming back to this post as my daughter grows older. She is 14 months old now, and most people assume that she was weaned long ago. I still nurse her frequently – she loves nursing and it would feels so cruel to take something away from her just because it is culturally uncommon where we live. As far as the covering up conversation goes, I strongly believe we should be free to nurse without worrying about being covered. Toddlers don’t like to lie quietly and nurse – and when they get to a certain height, it’s easier for them to sit upright on my lap to nurse anyways. I have covered up on rare occasions, mostly when I felt like it was a bad time to draw attention and I wasn’t prepared to make a statement. For example, I have covered up during family weddings, b/c I wanted to keep the focus on the bride, not on my breasts. BUT at the gift opening the next day, it was boobs out when the wee one required them.

  12. Reblogged this on The Pyrrhic Mother and commented:
    All of this – and because there are still so many people who are not aware that it is illegal to harass a breastfeeding mother. Because I was threatened with arrest and missing my flight while nursing my child behind a sling, while wearing a spaghetti strap tank top – meaning, there wasn’t a single thing showing while she was nursing that wasn’t showing while she wasn’t nursing – and yet, the act of breastfeeding her left me open to assault by a TSA employee, despite many people in line around me openly arguing with the woman about my right to breastfeed in public.

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