Along with the presumably well-meaning comments, I’ve also seen a few more, ahem, “strongly-worded” sentiments I’d like to address:
“Breastfeeding is totally natural, but so is going to the bathroom / having sex, and people don’t do that in public.”
Going to the bathroom is gross, stinky, and unsanitary to do in public, which is why we don’t do it. Feeding a baby is none of those things. Sex is an incredibly private, intimate act. Feeding a baby can be intimate in that it’s a bonding experience between baby and mom, but it’s more of a holding hands kind of intimacy-not something that needs to be confined to the privacy of a bedroom or home. The comparisons are apples and oranges.
“If you want to breastfeed, that’s fine, but I don’t want to / shouldn’t have to see it.”
Then don’t look. And I don’t mean that in a snarky way. You really don’t have to watch a mom breastfeed. (See cues in third question above.) Just look the other way and move on.
“Women who breastfeed in public are just trying to get attention / make a statement.”
Actually, 99% of women who feed their babies in public are just trying to feed their babies. Having been around hundreds of women who breastfeed, including dozens at a recent La Leche League conference, I can attest to the fact that most women are very matter-of-fact about feeding their babies.
I’ve known one mom who exposed much more breast for much longer than any other moms I’ve known, but she was raised in a part of Africa where that was the norm. I’ve known of one other mom (don’t know her personally) who sounds like she has some exhibition issues and takes the opportunity to show more breast than necessary any old time she can. That’s by far an exception, and not the norm. Most breastfeeding mothers don’t “let it all hang out.” They do what they need to do to feed their babies, no more, no less.
“This isn’t a village in Africa. It’s culturally inappropriate to bare your breasts in public here.”
I’m curious about what this says about villages in Africa, or other places where breasts are common sights. Why is it culturally inappropriate here? I don’t necessarily think it should be, I just want to walk through the reasoning for our cultural views of breasts. Is it because our society views breasts as primarily sexual in nature? Are African breasts not sexual in nature as well? Would you shield your eyes from a National Geographic magazine showing bare-breasted women in Africa? Would you hide that from your children? If so, why? Are African women inappropriate? Is there some kind of fear that if we start accepting breastfeeding in public without freaking out about covering up, women will eventually start walking around bare-breasted all the time? Lots of questions pop up from this statement that are worth examining.
I personally think it should be culturally appropriate for women to bare a breast for a brief second in order to latch a baby on, no matter where in the world they are. There’s nothing sexual or inappropriate in that act. I think it should be way more culturally appropriate than, say, going to Hooters. Our priorities are a tad bit skewed when it comes to what’s culturally appropriate regarding breasts. If we want to get all righteous about the appropriateness of breast exposure, let’s direct our energies at movies, music videos, billboards, magazines, and other popular media. Leave moms who are trying to feed their babies out of it.
And if you really don’t want to see a woman feed her baby in public, don’t look. Don’t make her feel ashamed, don’t exile her to the bathroom, don’t make erroneous assumptions about her motives, don’t compare feeding her baby to defecating, don’t make hypocritical cultural statements, don’t make it harder to do than it already is. Just don’t look. It really is that simple.