Breastfeeding in public

So, I had (mistakenly) believed that the debate regarding breastfeeding in public was done – that it was a woman’s right to feed her baby, like she fed her other children: in the open, anywhere, whenever her child was hungry. But apparently, I was wrong. A local woman was told to cover up while breastfeeding at a local shop.  The law in the State of New Hampshire regarding breastfeeding is, in pertinent part, as follows:

Breastfeeding a child does not constitute an act of indecent exposure and to restrict or limit the right of a mother to breastfeed her child is discriminatory.

I am going to preface the remainder of this post by saying that I wasn’t there, I have no personal knowledge of the incidents (apart from what I read in the newspaper article linked above). According to the article, a mother that was breastfeeding her two week old was asked to cover up, I guess.  There are a number of things that upset me about the article/situation.

Firstly, the baby is two weeks old.  That baby can’t exactly eat adult food in public because their digestive system just simply isn’t developed enough for solids yet.  That’s why babies are breastfed, given formula or a combination of both, until they can begin to digest solids.  Newborns are notoriously hungry. They eat pretty much every few hours (as any family with a newborn will tell you – that’s why we’re all so sleep deprived those first few weeks!). So in all likelihood, this baby was truly hungry.  That baby needs to eat and his mother, in all likelihood, elected to breastfeed because it’s convenient, cheaper than formula and of course, better for her child!  That baby has the right to eat.

Also, the commentary was offensive in parts and parts of the actual article were also offensive.  The person from the store interviewed pretty much said that the woman, in essence “whipped out” her breasts.  It’s not like breasts are used for sexual reproduction.  The article and the comments seemed to sexual breasts.  It’s not like she took her pants off and began having sex with the guy behind the counter.  It’s not like she was having foreplay with her baby. Breasts are NOT sexual.  They serve a purpose – they provide sustenance for our children!!!  I think the biggest battle that we, as Americans, still have is that breasts are still highly sexualized, so whenever someone sees them when they are out – for the legitimate purpose of breastfeeding, they get all offended. Some of the commentary discussed not wanting to be uncomfortable when seeing a woman breastfeeding or not wanting their child to see breastfeeding.

Really, I think the most appropriate discussion that should be had at that point with your child is one surrounding breastfeeding and getting your child comfortable with it. Because guess what – there’s nothing wrong with breastfeeding and breastfeeding in public. It’s not something that is indecent or shocking or offensive. Quite the contrary – you should be happy that parents care so much about their child that they’re feeding them that way in public.  And by making comments, like the whipping it out and the “I don’t want my kid to see that”, you are contributing to shame and discomfort of what is a beautiful commitment to nurturing a child that is completely inappropriate. As an adult, if you have a problem with breastfeeding in public, I think that the conversation that needs to be held with yourself is why you feel so uncomfortable with seeing a woman breastfeed her child.

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2 thoughts on “Breastfeeding in public

  1. I am so amazed at how we continue to struggle with this in our country. I wish all kids could be exposed to breastfeeding. I believe you’d see the next generation of kids breastfed at an exponential rate. I know I was too uncomfortable with the idea of it to breastfeed my first two, a fact I deeply regret. The pressure not to was just overwhelming and I didn’t have enough confidence to do it anyway. Thankfully, by the time numbers three and four came along, I had the gumption to try it and ended up breastfeeding both of them successfully. Our country gives lip service to the importance of breastfeeding but there’s no real support there.

  2. While I can say that even though I, myself, have breastfed four children, my initial (learned) reaction to the woman who “whips it out” without discretion is to be a little, well, disgusted. However I recognize that it is, in actuality, quite a beautiful thing. What is truly disgusting is the constant belittling of the woman who chooses to nurture her child in the most natural way.
    The constant disdain for breastfeeding mothers reminds me of “Brave New World”, and it’s not the only resemblance. Women, more and more, are opting for c-sections or surrogates outside of medical reason for the simple “reason” that vaginal deliveries are “gross”. Society, in general, looks down on the mother that makes her child a priority. While I appreciate that every woman has a choice to work outside the home, or not, and realize that many feel fulfilled by using their talents in the workplace- I sincerely despise being referred to as “just” a mom, as if it is truly a regrettable thing. I can’t imagine that the early feminists would be at all pleased with what “progress” has cost the role of motherhood in our society. It amazes me that- in an effort to empower women- we have systematically devalued their original role as a mother.

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