This is a personal topic for me.
The thought of writing about this topic has lingered on for some time now. I have a two-year-old boy and I still breastfeed, and have had to hear some opinions about it from people—both strangers and friends/family alike. But, I finally decided to write today because of the backlash a lot of women face when breastfeeding in public.
The most recent example is Ashley Graham. Her pictures as a model didn’t receive as much hate as did her recent photo breastfeeding her baby. Why is that? Why is it that this subject makes people so uncomfortable?
I think the more we talk about this subject, the more normal breastfeeding in public will become.
This article is not about pushing breastfeeding as the best way to feed a child—how a woman plans to feed her child is up to her and her baby. This is more about encouraging women to not be scared or embarrassed if they do breastfeed in public or in front of people—covered up or uncovered.
I thought I would write about this by answering the most common questions or problems people have with the idea of breastfeeding in public.
Why not use a pump and bottle feed or just use formula?
Firstly, it is a woman’s choice of how she plans to feed her child. The world has no say in this—it is only between the mother and the child. Secondly, from personal experience, there is nothing as easy as directly feeding a baby—no need to sterilize bottles, it saves plastic and is environment-friendly, you can do it anywhere, and it saves a lot of time. But this choice is not available to all women. Some need to get back to work within a few weeks, some can’t produce milk, or don’t want to breastfeed so they have to give formula. But, ultimately, as mentioned before, it is the mother’s choice—not even her partner’s.
Why can’t a woman breastfeed in private or in a toilet or a nursing room?
Firstly, it’s not always easy to do in public. The stress of breastfeeding for some is huge, and a privilege. New babies need to be fed every two hours. There are times when you are out or you don’t have your cover with you and you just need to feed the baby. And feeding a baby in a bathroom—that’s just gross. Would you eat in a public restroom? If the answer to that is a no, then don’t tell a mom to feed her baby in a restroom. I remember feeding my baby in the public toilets a few times—and I felt disgusted and sad. I swore never to do it again. Nursing rooms, yeah that is fine if a mom chooses to go to a nursing room, it is her choice and a nursing room is not available everywhere you go.
An interesting story about nursing room feeding: I was once in a nursing room in an airport and someone had stuck chewing gum under the changing table. My baby found this piece of gum interesting and reached for it and got it all over his hands before I could figure out what had happened. So yeah, nursing rooms are not so hygienic either.
Why can’t you cover up if breastfeeding in public? The market is flooded with nursing covers.
If you are a mom who chooses to cover up, that is fine. It is your choice. But the answer is not so simple. Babies are all different. Some babies don’t even like the idea of being in a cover or a blanket because it suffocates them.
I remember my husband and I traveled in a long haul flight when my bub was 10 months old and by then he was really resistant to having a cover over him. He would just take it off or cry or not feed. And the only way he would feed was if I stood and walked around. So, I had to breastfeed with half the passengers watching me. It was a little embarrassing. But should it have been? A big no.
Breastfeeding is as natural as other newborns in the animal kingdom feeding, so why is it such a big deal in humans? I didn’t have the guts to breastfeed in public for a long time only because I was scared what people might think. But when my baby decided he was not okay being under a cover, I had no choice but to feed him regardless of how many people watched or felt uncomfortable. The more I researched this topic, the more I realized that people are uncomfortable because as a society we have made this topic sexual in nature. It is not. It is also one of many ways to tell women what to feel about their own bodies, which is wrong on so many levels.
This leads to the other question people ask. If breastfeeding in public is okay, then shouldn’t having sex or taking a sh*t in public be also?
Firstly, having sex and feeding a baby is not the same thing. They are not even connected, so comparing them is just nonsensical; breastfeeding is not sexual, the act of sex is. Excreting in public is unhygienic and hence there are laws against doing that. Breastfeeding is legal in most countries and is a normal biological act. Again, for so many years, a woman’s body parts have been sexualized by the media and the porn industry. There is an idea of beauty being propagated, which is so far from natural. Why is it normal for men to go around shirtless but not okay for a mother to take out her breasts to feed her child? A skimpily clad woman in a bikini doesn’t get as much backlash as a breastfeeding mom only because women have been asked to hide for so long, that breastfeeding in public seems “unnatural” to many. Sadly, as long as breasts are sexualized, they are acceptable. Time for a change, don’t you think?
The baby will be mortified when they grow up as the pictures stay forever.
At least there is proof that the mother went through a lot to feed her child. Breastfeeding isn’t as easy as people make it out to be—it doesn’t come naturally sometimes and there are a lot of technicalities in getting it right. A poor latch, sore and cracked nipples, constant pain, mastitis, and clogged ducts are just some of the everyday problems new moms face. Most women endure days, even months of pain just to make sure that their child gets the best.
Don’t expose other kids, especially boys to breasts.
I think it is high time our young boys know that breasts are not meant to be only sexual. They were meant to first nourish and feed a child—that is their goal and biological use. Boys should be exposed to a non-sexualized breast before they are exposed to the constant sexualization of women’s bodies in the media and porn.
Would you breastfeed in front of your father or male friends or relatives?
The answer is a resounding yes! It doesn’t matter who it is—when your baby is hungry, the baby comes first. There should be no shame in nursing in front of people you know. In fact, the change begins at home, doesn’t it? It is the same answer: breasts aren’t meant to be sexual first, they are meant to nourish first.
It is not modest for women to show their breasts in public?
My grandmother and women of her age (95+) in rural south India never even wore a bra or a blouse to cover their breasts. It was as natural as men without shirts. Women in rural India and many countries breastfeed without covering their breasts and it is widely accepted as normal. Obviously, something went wrong somewhere in the so-called modern society—some countries have even regressed as time has progressed. Even Facebook took down some photos of breastfeeding moms citing violation of decency laws. Ashley Graham lives in the United States and she got so much backlash that it might sound surprising. But actually, it is not. America is one of the only economically advanced countries in the world that does not require employers to pay a mother for her maternity leave and does not give a mother paid time during their work shift to nurse or pump milk. And it was only in 2018 that breastfeeding in public became legal in all 50 states.
So who draws the line between what is decent and what is not? Who decides what is modest on a woman? Some age-old patriarchal rules that were made by men?
I think it is high time that the topic of breastfeeding in public becomes normal. It is disheartening to see new moms, whose hormones are raging, who are going through a lot physically, mentally, and spiritually, need to think about such trivial things and are shamed into doing something that society deems normal or not.
And it is more disturbing to see most of the detractors of breastfeeding in public seem to be women. Let us stop pulling women down for exercising a choice and make it part of everyday conversations. Women need to uplift other women, not put them down for their choices.
Let us talk about this more. Let us normalize breastfeeding in public.