July 30, 2012

End of the Month Controversy: Nursing In Public

Feeding the baby
When my twins were infants, I didn't go out much.  Feeding them outside the home was just too much work.  Tandem nursing requires a fair amount of space, it's anything but inconspicuous, and then there was the added complication that we were also supplementing with a bottle.  And pumping.

Preemies take a little extra work, sometimes.

Each feeding involved first changing two diapers, then latching on two babies, then nursing two babies, then bottle feeding two babies who were too tired out to finish a meal, and then pumping both breasts.

So we stayed at home.

Now, we have one baby, and she's a fine nurser*.  So I get to leave the house whenever two toddler, time, and other assorted demands allow.  Or if it's otherwise required.  And wherever I go, my breasts come with me... so I can feed the baby any time, any place.

The thing is, there are a lot of people in this country who are really opposed to public nursing.  They think that breast feeding is weird, obscene, or just plain gross.  They don't want to be exposed to it.  They don't want their children exposed to it.

This is a very American hangup.

This is not done discreetly
In the United States, there is the sense that skin means only one thing- sex.  If you see a lot of skin, what you're seeing is some sort of invitation or reminder for sex.  And on top of all that, we tend to view sex as a fundamentally bad thing.  Bad, but acceptable.

So exposed skin being used for a non-sex purpose must still be sexual, and must be somehow perverse. It's a deviation from the unspoken rule that skin should only be exposed when hunting for sex or going to the beach.

If you're nursing in public, you are inviting sex while holding a baby.  And that's a pretty mixed message, isn't it?

Now, I don't believe a word of that, personally.  I think that the human body is neither shameful nor entirely sexual.  I believe that it has a million and one uses, a few of which are sexual, and that sex is awesome.  I think that breastfeeding is entirely natural (as is sex), that it is utterly banal, and that there is nothing scandalous or offensive in feeding a hungry baby using the organs that nature provided you for doing so.

Fact is, breasts make milk.

Fact is, baby mammals survive on milk.

Fact is, human beings are mammals.

One of many places I'm guilty of nursing in public
I make every effort to be discreet when it comes to showing a lot of breast while nursing in public, but I make no effort to hide what I'm doing.  I don't use a nursing cover that completely obscures the baby from view, I like to be able to see my baby when she's nursing.  That way I know if she's uncomfortable, if she's getting ready to drop a latch, or if she's falling asleep.  And I like to be able to look her in the eye.  That eye contact while nursing is positively lovely.

And of course, she likes looking at the world around her.

I've been lucky.  The only times I've been even glared at were when I was nursing the baby in the parked car, which I have had to do now on three occasions... each of which involved very unhappy spectators... particularly odd seeing as how technically, the interior of your car IS private- not a public space.  And, also notable, the only negative responses have been from men.

I'm going to keep feeding the baby when she's hungry, regardless of the place.  But we as a culture need to reevaluate why we object to seeing breasts at all.

Breasts are not sexual organs, they're here to feed babies.

American public- please stop freaking out.  It's only baby food.

*Yes, we are through our nursing hell.  She still latches weirdly on the right side about half the time, but for the most part... she's an eating angel.  Thank you all so much for your support!


  1. Amen Sister! It baffles me why Americans are so hung up on breast feeding in public. I go to the store and see women and girls with their breasts practically hanging out of their shirt and it is acceptable. However, attach a baby, who needs a mother's milk to survive, and it is taboo. Even if you did cover baby, it would still be taboo, just because that is the American perspective. I breastfeed my daughter in public a few times, but I was really nervous about it. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to continue breast feeding for very long, but it I was I would have still feed my daughter in public, nervous or not. I am glad you speak out about these things. They are very real to women in America everyday.

  2. I hear you, I totally hear you on this. I hated nursing in public. I tried to avoid it as much as possible because it just made me SO horribly uncomfortable. I have no issues with the concept of nursing in public but I knew that people out there do and so I felt uncomfortable no matter what. Add to that my weight, add to that the fact that my breasts are rather large and almost impossible to nurse with entirely discreetly, add to that the near impossibility of finding a nursing bra in my size (especially at a reasonable price and NO, $40 is NOT a reasonable price! even if I do pay that much for a regular bra!) add to that the fact that when baby is little one breast is almost bigger than said baby (not quite but almost). By a the time my girls are able to eat solids, I cut nursing in public out entirely unless it is a dire dire emergency (fireworks when my 2 1/2 freaked out, on the airplane when same child was 3 on the way to South Korea). And sad to say, I think I may have nursed this one less in public than I did my older daughter.

    And I know that this is me and my hang ups entirely and I have no issues whatsoever with what anyone else does only to wish I could have that kind of self confidence. But I simply don't.

  3. Word. I remember feeling uncomfortable nursing in public with my first child, because of the stigma raised by nursing in public. But by child three, I seriously couldn't care if someone had a hang up that they would feel threatened by me feeding my child in public. I wasn't in your face, but I didn't run to the car like I did with my first child.

    I was very fortunate in that I have never gotten a dirty look, a nasty comment, or anything when I nursed my kids in public. It may have something to do with my very fierce protective husband who supported my choice to nurse our babies. But I have known of other moms who haven't been as fortunate and it's a shame that it's even an issue they have to deal with. I hope that one day our kids can nurse freely without having to worry about other peoples hang ups.

  4. I never wore a nursing cover either for exactly the same reasons you listed. I didn't let that sop me from bf in public b/c baby has to eat.

  5. PREACH!I nurse anywhere and everywhere. Bums me out that women stay home or hide when they nurse because people are rude. Although I totally get it that some mamas prefer to cover for modesty. Everybody is just feeding their babies. Keep on keeping on, mama! The more women that nurse their babies when they are hungry, the more the tides will change and it will be seen for what it is. Normal. We have a long way to go, but the times are slooooowly changing :)
    ~Mama Pants

  6. I'm totally with you. I used a hooter hider when in public, but it had a very open top so I could still see my babes perfectly. They are boobs. Get over it.



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