Breastfeeding in Public

I got into a friendly debate at work the other day about breastfeeding in public. I was chatting with one of my co-workers and expressed my dislike for women who openly breastfeed in the middle of the aisles in Wegmans, or other extremely public areas. My definition of open breastfeeding, by the way, is using no blanket to cover yourself, but simply pulling the shirt down, exposing the breast and latching the baby on. I was surprised at how adamantly he was upset with my views, calling me a ninny for the natural way of life. It was an extremely entertaining debate to be had. 🙂

It got me thinking, though, and now I’m curious to see what all of you think about what is appropriate breastfeeding behavior and what is beyond. Keep in mind that this is regarding breastfeeding behaviors in mainland United States. We are grading upon American culture.

I’ll start with my opinion. I am all about breastfeeding babies. I have no problem being at someone else’s house and having the mom strip waist up to breastfeed her baby. Granted, I feel more respected and a bit more comfortable with some warning like, “Do you mind?” Or, “I’m about to take my shirt off and breastfeed.” Otherwise, I get caught off gaurd and feel a bit awkward, but still, in no way offended. I would have no problem if someone openly breastfed at my house. Again, with the same forewarnings, especially since they are the guest. 🙂

Then there is the middle area where it gets really gray so I’m not going to get into it.

But my line is in extremely public places where people, especially men (I hear quite a few complaints from the men about it), are not prepared to encounter a breast flying out of a shirt, such as grocery stores. Think about it. Someone is cruising down the pasta aisle thinking about all the delicious creations they’re going to cook at home and all of a sudden, a woman whips her breast out and starts breastfeeding just a couple feet ahead of them. Whether or not the unprepared potential viewers are comfortable with breastfeeding or not, it creates a hugely awkward situation in which it is hard to know how to interact. “Do I advert my eyes and not look? Or is that going to make them think that I’m offended? Do I look to show my acceptance? How do I get out of this situation as quickly as possible… except that I need that can of tomatoes they are standing right next to… ummmm… I’ll come back later.” In these public situations, is it really asking a lot to have the mom simply cover herself with a blanket or use one of the many benches located around Wegmans (I would put the benches in the gray area, personally). They even have those peek-a-book breast feeding blankets to make the mom’s life easier. Please note that while it does make me feel uncomfortable to be startled, I am not offended by it, but I can’t feel that the action is justified when I can easily see that more people are made uncomfortable by that situation than those who are okay with it. And that’s here in Ithaca, hippy and natural living land.

While I wish we did live in a society where all moms could openly breast feed without anyone blinking an eye, we don’t. Why not? America has completely sexified the breast. It is engrained into our American minds from our infancy that breasts=sex. It reminds me of a Friend’s episode I saw a couple weeks ago. Rachael had just had her baby and was figuring out how to breastfeed while Joey was in the room. Just watch how uncomfortable Joey becomes and how hard he tries not to think of her breast as anything but a breastfeeding breast, and I think you’ll be able to see the point I am trying to make. Until a breast is just a breast, I don’t agree with open breastfeeding in public.

What are your thoughts?



Filed under Natural Baby Care

13 responses to “Breastfeeding in Public

  1. You have interesting timing on this post. find it interesting to read and give opinions from the perspective of not having children of my own. My mother breastfed all her children(8), so I suppose many of my opinions were formed from that exposure (no pun intended!). I think I can summarize my opinions as such: If we wait to go without covers until everybody is comfortable seeing open nursing, how will anybody get comfortable?A poor analogy of this is the way that we are desensitized by seeing violence portrayed in the media. What used to be unacceptable is now acceptable because people pushed the boundaries and society got used to the increased exposure.I hope this makes sense, and I think this is a great topic for discussion!

  2. The problem is that as long as breasts' natural functions are kept under cover (literally and figuratively), a breast will never be just a breast. Personally I'm okay with open breastfeeding as long as it's for the right reasons. As in, I don't think it should be done just to create sensation or annoy/offend people but if that is how you choose to nourish your child I think you have a right to do that and many states have laws backing that up. I think I will be more covered up myself because that's what I'm comfortable with for me, but I definitely want to breastfeed in public because our society needs a reality check about what breasts are really for. I love this topic! Thanks for bringing it up. 🙂

  3. My mom breast fed 7 kids and I spend quite a bit of time with breastfeeding girls. Doesn't bother me a bit as long as they keep covered. I probably wouldn't mind uncovered breast feeding without any boys present.A breast is not 'just' a breast. Teenage boys seeing topless women–breastfeeding or not– is bad for society. I really hope that a breast is never just a breast. Because next is probably a bum is just a bum and a penis is just a penis. If women can whip out their breasts in public, boys should be able to go in the park like dogs. It's natural. Sorry to say it so bluntly, but there's not enough space to be tactful in a comment.

  4. I agree that a breast should never "just be a breast." But I disagree with you, Jenny, that a breast is just like a bum or a penis, or could become as such. A breast provides nourishment to a child. When it is exposed for this purpose, only then is it appropriate. But it is not "just a breast." It is a wonderful part of a mother.A mother's hands, feeding her child with a bottle, are just as natural as a breast. But just because something is natural doesn't mean that it should be out for all to see. Excretion, procreation – these are examples of activities that should not be out for all to see. But if we can see you eat, if we can see bottle-fed babies eating, why should we banish all breast-fed babies to hiding.You specifically mention that teenage boys should not be seeing breasts. Do you know that there are people that find feet more erotic than breasts? By your argument, we should banish sandals. What about the people that are turned on by hands, lips, hair, legs, or butts? By that argument, we should all (men and women) wear full burkas so that we don't accidently present a temptation to somebody who hasn't properly learned to control themselves.I am not against covers for those that are comfortable with them. I am glad they are doing what is comfortable for them. But not all mothers need covers and not all babies will allow covers.

  5. Sara, I think it's funny you'll say penis, but not butt, it's a bum! ;)I think it should be covered. I would be uncomfortable if someone happened to see my breast while breastfeeding. Simple, but that's what I think about it. =)While at the zoo breastfeeding Caden pulled the blanket down while I was trying to close my shirt and a guy across the way saw me. He kind of shrugged his shoulders so I just figured if you accidentally see something, I'm sorry or your welcome, depending on your view of it!

  6. Gennaveeve – I am actually comfortable saying a lot of different words, but in this case, I was mirroring what the previous commentor (Jenny) had said.Your opinion is exactly what I was trying to convey in my last section: Mothers need to do what is comfortable for them. For you, a blanket or cover makes you comfortable, so that is what you use. But for others, they would be more uncomfortable using a blanket than dealing with the possibility that a passer-by might see their breast.I love your last comment: "I'm sorry or your (sic) welcome" is a great way to put it! Either way, the child was fed!

  7. I love the friends reference. being a new mom that is trying very hard to breast feed, I agree with you. I have no problem is they are covered up, or if it is in the comfort of a home. But seriously just whipping it out in the middle of anywhere that to me is strange. I mean how hard is it to put on a hooter hider.

  8. I have to admit, I left for work this morning and I was kind of worried that I was going to come home to irrate people writing on my blog about how awful I am for disagreeing with open breastfeeding. Instead, I got a very lively, yet thankfully still friendly debate, going on here. :)I love how close you are watching the comments, Sara! 🙂 So here is something I want to throw at you to see how you would respond. Call it me being the devil's advocate here and just arguing a point. You say that women should have the right to breastfeed in public. Many states back that opinion up and have set laws supporting it. But, what about people's right to be able to go out shopping or take their young boys who they don't want exposed to breasts (such as Jenny's case) out and about without worring about running into exposed breasts. Doesn't that infringe on their rights?While I do agree that the fastest way to overcome societies fear of open breastfeeding is simply to have lots of women open breastfeed, I personally feel that a more positive change will come if people start with their families. I remember that it took my dad a couple of years before he adjusted to a sister-in-law's persistence to breastfeed in the same room as the gathered family and she was using a blanket and completely covered the whole time.

  9. Ashley – I am sorry for usurping your comment section yesterday. And this comment became a novel! Obviously I enjoy discussing this topic…and work wasn't terribly intense either! I would email this to you if I knew where to send it. Here is my response to your point:I definitely see your point about not wanting to see exposed breasts. I haven't been to your store, so I don't know the examples that you have observed out in public. What I have seen is that, for an experienced mother (who is most likely the one nursing and shopping at the same time), the time between exposure and latching is very short, maybe 5-10 seconds. This is important, because the nipple is the part of the breast that is offensive to see, right? I mean, we see all other parts of the breast if we go outside in the summer, attend a fancy function or watch tv. The rest of the breast skin looks just like the skin on the neck, arm or face. So if we watch a mother latch, we might see a nipple for five seconds while she gets her child in place, and then she has more coverage than the average bikini. But notice the phrase "if we watch a mother latch." I believe that is our choice. If she didn't want anybody watching, she would cover herself (like Gennaveeve). A mother knows that if she doesn't cover, some people might see some or all of her breast at times through the feeding session. For mothers (or fathers) like Jenny, I think these situations could become great teaching opportunities. If they are with their sons (or daughters) and they see a mother's breast as she is preparing to feed her child, the first parent could teach their child that the baby is eating, getting it's food from the mom's body, sometimes a baby can't wait like big people can, and it is a normal process just like the older child eating at McDonalds where everybody can see. As the situation is taught again and again, the child will learn that it isn't a big deal – nothing to get excited or stimulated by. Like I mentioned in my earlier comments, *all* parts of the body can be sexy or not sexy, depending on the context. If we make breasts "always sexy," we aren't being fair to ourselves, other women, or the people who are around us to recognize that when a child is nursing, it is a "non-sexy" context that shouldn't be erotic. And if we are going to try and prevent anybody who might be aroused by a naked breast from seeing one, we also need to consider those that are aroused by lips, hair, feet, necks, etc, which of course brings me back to the burka. Another thought. Between the extremes of strippers and the coverers, there are some mothers have their clothing set up in such a way that the only part that they expose is their nipple, which of course the child latches on to right away. Mothers who don't use covers have spoken and written of times that they have walked through the grocery store and had people comment on their "baby sleeping so nicely" when in truth the child was eating. If they were walking through the store with a blanket over their shoulder, they feel like that is a sign: "Exposed breast this way." They feel that they have a right to not advertise. Continued…

  10. Continued from above…Mothers who nurse in public feel they have a right to not be shunned or sequestered because they are breastfeeding. Others feel that they have a right to not see certain things or be made to feel uncomfortable. Unfortunately, there is no way to fully allow all parties' rights to be fulfilled. But this is applicable in many different aspects of life. (Modesty on the beach, guns in public places, driving drunk, taxes, welfare…) Part of living in this world with people is finding what WE need to do to make sure we are comfortable. Sometimes that means protesting or fighting unfair practices, sometimes that means trading choices back and forth until we find one we all are happy with. And sometimes that means that if a mother is comfortable feeding where she is (like at a family event, covered by a blanket) but we are not comfortable being in the room with her, we should leave until she is finished. She wouldn't have started feeding there if she is was uncomfortable doing it in front of us, and if we are uncomfortable, we can politely tell her that though you support her choice to feed her baby at the breast (hopefully we do), we are uncomfortable seeing it and we will be back later (if there is a back room for the mother to go to, we can always go there, right?). If we don't want to leave (perhaps because of the activity we are participating in), we can understand why she didn't want to leave either.There is a respect and a degree of modesty that we all deserve to give our bodies and those around us. Because we have agency, we can choose those levels that best represent us and our relationships with our spouse and children, our surroundings, and God.

  11. Honestly, to me it is the same thing as someone being in my presence and being on a cell phone. RUDE!!! Just my opinion. God Bless you!

  12. Holly Young

    Hey Ashley, long time no talk. But I saw this post and I had to comment. I breastfeed in public with no cover. I might be the only one to have commented so far that says that. However, I don’t think that I would be good enough at it to do it while shopping in an isle. Although, I have sat down on a bench at Target and fed Kyle. The whole thing started because my son was premature and I had to nurse him every two hours from the start of one feeding to the next. So I would often only have 60 minutes between feeding because I also had to teach him how to feed. This is hard to do under a hooter hider, which I had. I also don’t find breastfeeding to be erotic (however, annoying I do find it). I didn’t want to leave my spouse or family alone to spend 30 or more minutes alone to fed him.

    Mostly, I breastfeed at our table at restaurants or in a food court. I tried to be discrete. I did use my hooter hider for those who were uncomfortable, mainly my brother-in-law, or other married male friends. But I hated it. I plan on breastfeeding in public with the one that I am about to have as well.

    I do understand why it makes people uncomfortable though. Sorry.

    • Ashley Bybee Stepp

      It has been a while! How have you been? Thanks for your comment. I was hoping to get all different views represented. 🙂 Personally, I put breastfeeding on benches in the okay area because as I mentioned in the second breastfeeding post, it still allows people who are uncomfortable to keep some distance if they so desire. Good luck with your second baby!

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