Public breastfeeding

Innate or Indecent?

Madison Peters, Copyediting Coordinator

Time and time again we hear stories about women being shamed for engaging in something that is merely a natural process: breastfeeding. Although public breastfeeding is legal in all 50 states and there are laws to protect mothers, we still hear about incidents of women being shamed in restaurants, department stores and on airplanes for feeding their babies. Mothers who are confronted about public breastfeeding are often told to cover up, feed their baby in the restroom or flat out told to leave establishments. Why are people still squeamish about the thought of seeing a mother feed their child in public? Unfortunately, the stigma around breastfeeding is due to the sexualization of breasts. 

As we all may know, breasts tend to have dual functions which include being body parts that are involved in sexual activity and attraction, but they also provide milk and nurture children. Although the sexual function of breasts is culturally determined rather than an inherent fact, the perception of breasts as sex organs impacts the perception and treatment of mothers who use their breasts as milk-producing organs. This censure is not about seeing breasts, since breasts are ubiquitous in fashion, advertising and media in Western countries. The discomfort with breastfeeding in public seems to be driven by a conflict between women’s sexuality and their maternal role. In a time when celebrities bare nearly all and are celebrated for it, why is society so against regular women using their breasts as they were meant to be used?

Raising a baby can be a challenging task, and every parent’s journey is unique. Some parents are able to solely breastfeed, some only bottle feed and there can be a combination of the two. Those mothers who choose to breastfeed see the multiple benefits that come along with it. Studies have shown that both the mother and the baby benefit from breastfeeding in many ways, such as protection against some diseases like pneumonia and types of cancers. 

If you are familiar with newborns, you likely know that all they do in their early life is eat, cry, sleep and potty. Eating takes up a majority of their day, with infants feeding anywhere between eight to 10 times a day, sometimes as often as every hour. It is perfectly normal for babies to need to eat regularly throughout the day. Besides needing to eat, breastfeeding can also have non-nutritional benefits. Most of the suckling at the breast is just for comfort or nurturing. Have you ever heard a screaming baby on a flight? Allowing them to suckle in public and be nurtured can also prevent their ears from popping, keeping the baby at bay.  

All in all, it is not as simple as asking a mother to cover up and nurse in the restroom because some cannot revert their gaze and be respectful. Just like their mothers, babies want to eat practically everywhere they go.