Breastfeeding in Public – A Women’s Rights Issue

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It is now legal in every state for a woman to breastfeed in public. Awesome! Not so awesome is how long society takes to catch up. The internet is filled with stories from women who were asked to “cover up” or find some place private to go nurse. Women who chose not to use a blanket to hide her nursing baby are accused of “taking it too far.” Women are urged to “keep it classy” and put their breasts away. My new personal favorite comes from a quote I saw on Facebook today. The woman said, “I think women are fighting more to shove their boobs in my face than they are to feed their children.” This quote is from a woman who breastfed her child.

I’ve noticed that the majority of people who speak out against breastfeeding in public are other women. This cycle of shame has to stop. I’m talking about women intentionally tearing each other down. Men, particularly fathers like Jeremy Schark, are some of my favorite advocates for mothers. Jeremy said, “Being a man, I feel that society has degraded a woman so much by using the female body to sell their products on tv, ads, magazines, and wherever else they can and it’s become accepted. Yet a mother feeding her child is not accepted. It disgusts me how this is. So many things are geared towards sex instead of family, life, love for one another. Sad. Very sad.”

I am hard pressed to find a person who doesn’t agree that breastfeeding offers many benefits for both mom and baby. It can help ward off post pardom depression and breast cancer for mom. It is easily digestible for baby and filled with antibodies to keep him/her from getting sick. Even the can of formula on my counter says that breastmilk is the ideal food for babies. There are also many benefits for mother and baby to leave the house. The fresh air and activity is good to ward off depression, babies and mommas benefit from the natural vitamin D, and it is fun to show off your new baby.

Still, “helpful” people offer their own (unsolicited) advice to mothers who chose to breastfeed.

“Why don’t you just pump milk before you go out and bottle feed in public?”

Short answer for me is because pumping is the actual worst. Especially with a newborn who doesn’t sleep for very long stretches, and would prefer to be held all day long. It’s hard to lay your baby down to cry so you can get enough milk to last an outing. Breastfeeding is hard work at first, and then very easy once you get the hang of it. I did not put in all of that hard work just to attach myself to a pump to make sure I don’t offend anyone.

“I’m totally fine with women breastfeeding as long as they cover up.”

I guess now we are talking about modesty and how it’s super important in our society. Except experience shows that to be entirely false. I’ve seen more breast covered by a baby than by tops sold at Macy’s. When I was nursing, I really only felt comfortable nursing around my more educated friends. This is just personal experience, and I know that I am generalizing here, but I found that it was only my less educated and least modest friends who ever made a negative comment about a woman breastfeeding public. When I had to breastfeed somewhere I didn’t quite feel comfortable, it was usually because people of poor social graces were leering, trying to sneak a peak of my breast. These are also the people who would make comments about how they just didn’t want to see that. To that I ask, why the crap were you looking so hard then?

“Although this is a totally natural function, that does not mean it should be done in public. Why don’t we just go around having sex in public?”

Yes, someone actually said that. This comment made me wish that logic classes were a regular part of school curriculum. Comparing breastfeeding to sex is the reason we are in this mess in the first place. One natural function is not equal to another natural function. It is illegal to have sex in public. Sorry about it. There are laws protecting women who chose to breastfeed in public.

I do see that the younger generations are becoming more open minded and tolerant. I think it has to do with the internet and all of the information just waiting for a curious mind to discover. It is my hope that women in particular will start treating each other with the respect that we all deserve. We will never realize our full power in society if we are constantly finding ways to shame each other. We have to stick together. If a woman is nursing in public, even if she looks like she is totally comfortable, she is being very brave. Outside she may seem confident, but inside she might be nervous that someone will make a nasty comment or ask her to stop. Whether she intends to or not, she is taking a silent stand for women’s rights.

Next time you’re in public and see a nursing mom, I hope that you will try to see the act of a mother feeding her child, not a public indecency. If you have to reprogram your thinking, try imagining that her breast is a bottle. If you are interacting with a woman who starts breastfeeding in front of you, know she is just feeding her child, not shoving her breasts in your face. Try to continue to look her in they eye like a human being.

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