You have seen them. Those women that sit on the park benches at the park, tucked in a booth at your favorite McDonalds or who sit in their cars, at the back of stores or anywhere else they can to sneak a quick minute to breastfeed their grumpy baby. When you catch a glimpse, you either react with an embarrassed glance for noticing, a scowl of disbelief at their audacity or less commonly an understanding nod of “been there done that!” The question remains, is breastfeeding in public appropriate?
For every mother that breastfeeds the answer may be different. First, it is essential to understand that breastfeeding is a natural course in motherhood rather than a twisted choice of feeding methods. The benefits to breastfeeding are numerous and mother and infants are designed to fit together in that capacity. It is the reason a women has breasts. As for how she goes about breastfeeding, the choices are many. Some women just whip it out and go for it with no shame while others buy fancy garments and maternity shirts designed to make breastfeeding more conspicuous. In either case, rarely is the breast actually ever seen and little more than skin shows while a mother is breastfeeding. It goes without saying that in public, especially where there are children and strangers covering it up as best as possible is polite. Yet, women should not be forced to find caves and tunnels just to breastfeed a baby because so many others are ‘uncomfortable’ with it.
Where is breastfeeding in public appropriate? It should be appropriate in any capacity that giving a bottle is. It is essentially the same thing. If you are sitting in a fancy restaurant and a couple walks in with an infant, you can either sit and listen to the baby scream bloody murder or you can deal with a well-concealed 5-minute stint of breastfeeding. What harm does it do? The general public, seeing what is going on, should have the common decency to look away and allow the mom to do her thing as privately as possible. If you or people around you don’t agree with it – that is fine, but it is not comparable to public indecency and many teenagers are wearing clothes these days that are much more revealing than a breastfeeding mother is.
Obviously, a line has to be drawn somewhere. Breastfeeding an infant or young baby is one thing but once they ask for it by name or begin lifting mom’s shirt to get it – it can obviously be put off until a more private setting is available. When a baby or toddler gets to this point in their life chances are a French fry or drink with a straw will work just as well. This isn’t to say that moms should feel shame for breastfeeding into toddler hood, just that more restraint can be used. In the early months, the choices are few – either you give up a breast whenever and wherever necessary or you deal with the anguished cries of a distressed baby. The latter should not be an option. It is also important to remember that the baby or toddler for that matter, no nothing different and see nothing wrong with their desire to feed off their mother.
In the beginning, most mothers feel incredibly insecure about how and where to breastfeed once they venture out with baby. Few stores have appropriate areas set up for this and the changing rooms are usually the place of choice. Bathrooms are sort of gross options, but a well-stocked diaper bag can help. Many women just resort to sitting in the car while others use baby carriers that have a built in piece of fabric in order to breast feed. The bottom line is that when it needs to be done, there should be a place and room in the general consciousness of society to do so. It seems the worst critics of breastfeeding in public are the non-breastfeeding mothers who writhe at the entire idea of it. There is no right or wrong. There are no battle lines being drawn and with so many other things to worry about during parenthood, where or whether to breastfeed in public at all should not be one of national debate.
In many countries and places throughout the world, women and motherhood is embraced and breastfeeding is not something that is met with so much animosity. There will always be those people who upon seeing a women breastfeeding whether discreetly or not will hide their child’s eyes and behave as though they just a witnessed an X-rated movie. Those people should be ignored. The important deciding factor of whether and how to breastfeed in public is completely up to each mother. If the need arises, you have to do what you have to do. Everyone needs to realize that breastfeeding is not an act of sexuality by any means and that if a mom is comfortable doing it in public, she can. Using decency to cover-up, finding the most private place possible and feeling invested in the decision to breastfeed should overcome all the insensitive and often uncalled for reactions of others. The bottom line is that they are the ones with the breastfeeding in public issue, not the mother. More concern should be placed on things like smoking or swearing in public than something as natural as this.