Monday, April 21, 2008

Nursing in Public

A couple of posts back someone asked in a comment about nursing in public. They didn't leave a name, maybe because their comment was a little, well, distasteful, but I'll address it anyway.

Comment: "how do you go about nursing in public (do you have a cover or do you just whip it out of your shirt?)?"

Well, first, I don't bother with a cover, nor do I "whip it out." What is "it" anyway? The baby? She's a girl, you can say "her."

Ah, I'll assume you meant "your breast" when you said "it." Don't worry. I understand that the word "breast" is a hard one to type out when you can so easily type "it" and sound more disrespectful.

Breastfeeding in public is closer to this (from
Calm, cool, not a big deal.

Why I don't bother with a cover:

It brings more attention to yourself. Nothing says, "Hey everyone! Guess what I'm doing over
here: Breastfeeding!" like a large, hot blanket that you get to struggle with!

I'll start with an Anna Quindlen quote, "When an actress takes off her clothes onscreen but a nursing mother is told to leave, what message do we send about the roles of women? In some ways we're as committed to the old madonna-whore dichotomy as ever. And the madonna stays home, feeding the baby behind the blinds, a vestige of those days when for a lady to venture out was a flagrant act of public exposure."

What message are we sending about women when breasts are only presented as sexually explicit, pornographic, and arousing?

How can change the sex-only mantra surrounding breasts? How can we encourage our children to have a healthy perspective of the female body? By depicting them in non-sexual ways in society- such as nursing in public.

But a breast is a breast- or is it? We can't deny that breasts are sexual. Take petting for example- a prime example of a sexual activity involving breasts. But because breasts are used sexually, they can't be shown being used non-sexually?
Let's look at mouths. They can be used sexually- for example, necking. But because a mouth can be used sexually, should we cover up whenever we use it non-sexually? When we eat? When we talk? When we breathe?

No. That's crazy. The same goes for breasts. Go ahead and keep the sex behind closed doors, but I'm not going to cover up when I'm not doing anything inappropriate.

So yes. I can keep on going, but I'll stop there.


  1. breastfeeding: anytime, anywhere.

    but I'm not against being as discreet as I can (no coverups, but I think I usually didn't even show as much skin as the mother in that artwork -- just weaned my third). Of course if I HAD to show more skin, e.g. if I had a less cooperative baby, I would be more concerned with my baby's nourishment than a stranger's sensitivities.

    Some women (including those in other countries like Venezuela) are extremely nonchalant about exposing their entire breasts throughout a feeding. This can be distracting and disconcerting to those with the American idea of breasts as sexual objects.

    I have nursed on the subway in NYC, and in restaurants, churches, parks, walking down Broadway (thanks BabyBjorn!), but I admit that even I once felt a tad uncomfortable at an AP Mommies group where a mother acted as unconcernedly as if she were pulling out a bottle to feed her child when she exposed more of herself than I ever needed to see.

    Of course it is wrong that breasts are seen as primarily sexual rather than primarily nurturing, but, in my experience, they are also sexual. Not as sexual as my husband may think, but still, sexual.

    Which is why I don't mind trying to be as discreet as I can (wherever I am).

    How discreet other mothers can be depends on how easy breastfeeding is for them and their children, but I think it is not unreasonable to try to be sensitive to those who (sincerely) would rather not see breasts, just as we expect others to be sensitive to the fact that, in the end, the need of the baby for nourishment supercedes ALL other considerations.

  2. That was beautifully written, thank you.

    I nurse in public because my baby's hungry and I'm not going to hide away from the world.

  3. You have a right to your opinion, but there are many people that are uncomfortable with this situation. Just as we all have the freedom of speech, we also have to freedom to not be subjected to listening to another persons opinions, whether or not we agree with them. Exposing your breasts in public is not something I want to witness, however natural it may be. Mankind learned many years ago about modesty and developed clothing. Being modest in dress should be considered at all times. I would not want my wife exposing parts of her body to the public regardless of her opinion. There are many ways to be discreet. Being nonchalant about nursing is forcing your opinion and ideas on others. Unless you are looking for a shock factor?
    You might not think that you are doing anything inappropriate but others might. You must realize that the society that we live in has certain opinions about our bodies. You can teach your children about the body at home, but realize that many people do not teach their children. Many children, especially teenagers, learn from the public and the public does not teach proper values. Adding fuel to the fire is not the answer.
    The only thing worse than having my wife expose herself in public would be my daughter. And that is something I personnaly do not want to see.

  4. I do think it's wrong that society is more comfortable with immodest women in public than nursing mothers. But personally, I'm uncomfortable around both. To be fair, I think this is also a pretty polarized topic we're discussing.

  5. dad and laura -

    The point is that almost no nursing mother actually exposes a nipple or much breast during nursing, but people want nursing mothers to cover up anyway. It doesn't make sense, and it isn't fair. When I nurse uncovered, you see less flesh than when I wear a one-piece bathing suit. Yet people are still put out by it. Why?

    It's obviously quite cultural, as I served a religious mission in France and my husband served in Brazil, and both of us saw Church leaders breastfeed while teaching Sunday School or addressing the congregation. It's a mentality that is not strictly a matter of modesty, since many conservative cultures embace the act of breastfeeding as normal and decent and socially acceptable.

  6. Anonymous2:40 PM

    First of all, congratulations on your sweet baby! I love your commitment to nursing your daughter. I respectfully disagree with some parts of your post though.

    I'm all about a woman's right to nurse in public. But I'm also all about doing what I can to respect other people's needs. A blanket is cumbersome, yes. But just as I want people to be considerate of my right to nurse in public, I want to be considerate of their right to not see breasts in public. Yes, nursing is natural, so therefore, we should not be ashamed of it. Sex is natural and so is pooping, both things that are done in private that most people don't want to watch. Most people politely do those things in such a way that others aren't subjected to watching them. I feel the same way about nursing in public. It should be done in such a way that doesn't make people uncomfortable. A blanket is a really easy way to do this. Yes, people know what you're doing. But they also know what you're doing when you go into a restroom or buy a box of condoms.

    The beauty of this world is that we are entitled to our opinions. Thank you for so eloquently expressing yours. Once again, congrats on the baby and good luck with the nursing!

  7. To Heather's Father:
    She wont be nursing naked, therefore no "body parts" will be seen. She doesn't show skin, I've seen her nurse. Once you get nursing down most people don't even realize it's happening, you've probably missed it yourself lots of times. ;) And thanks to your daughter's wonderful comfort level with public nursing your sweet grandbaby is thriving. She eats all she needs to, when she needs too. No that is something you can be proud of grandpa! :D

  8. What a odd world we live in when a sweet baby eating is associated with sex and poo. :P I don't really see why anyone has the "right" to "not see a breast", or really not see a baby eat. I haven't the slightest idea where that perspective comes from. Babies on the other hand do have rights, the same as you do. You have the right to eat when you need to, so does a baby. You have the right to eat in a sanitary enviroment, so does a baby i.e. not the bathroom. You have the right to eat comfortably ie. not covered in a blanket, so does a baby. As far as your right not to see breastfeeding... Umm don't look? See not that hard, problem solved.

  9. Breastfeeding the same as pooping??

    Out of respect for Heather I'll reign in my comments.

    Again, uncovered women do not expose themselves. You barely see flesh at all, let alone anything you should be embarassed about. If watching a baby eat embarasses you, that says something about you, not the Mom, especially if you think a baby getting nourished is the same as sex or defecating. OY!

  10. Anonymous6:21 PM

    i agree with heather. and i love how you put it into words. i recently posted the same type of idea on another womans blog about de-sexing the female body. how will our society ever think of it as anything other than sexua when that is all they are ever exposed to? thanks heather, keep up the good work!

  11. Anonymous12:43 PM


    I respectfully disagree with your analogy comparing breasts to mouths. I think a better comparision would be to a penis. While a penis is obviously viewed as a sexual body part in much of the same way breasts are, the penis also obviously has another function. What are your thoughts on public urination? This is the same scenario as breastfeeding; showing a sexual body part in public in a nonsexual act. I don't mean to be rude, but I think that is another analogy to consider.

  12. I want to apologize for being hypocritical. I felt really bad about my first post the other day in trying to tell you Heather, how public nursing makes me uncomfortable because my intent was to make you feel uncomfortable in return. Not only did it not work, but several other posters echoed your opinions with their own perspectives. And you know what? What they said made no difference to changing my opinion either. And why? Because just as alisaterry spoke about breastfeeding in public being accepted by many cultures, it is not accepted by my personal culture.

    I am married to a Mexican and, since I am American, I know all about conflict of cultures. And let me tell you how many times over I wish I hadn't tried to enforce my belief system on my poor husband. My way is not right and his way is not wrong.

    Going to the bathroom in public has been brought up as a comparison to the shock of many posters here. But the comments about it being dirty and inappropriate and therefore unrelated are all reflections of peoples' personal cultures. Where is the overriding law that going to the bathroom should not be done in public? There are plenty of places where it is done in public without anyone flinching an eye. And why does it have to be so disgusting? Because our culture has taught us that it is.

    I say all this not with the intent to change opinions. I only want everyone to see how hurtful it can be to make the blanket statement that anyone who should disagree with your belief must be in the wrong.

    I know I personally will be leaving this subject alone from here on out.

  13. Kudos to your beautiful post!!! Why is it SO hard for people to get past the fact that breastfeeding is NOT an opportunity to "expose" yourself, but a chance for a precious little being to EAT?! Please, the next time I go into a restaurant, I expect every single person there to cover themselves with a blanket and see how it feels. Breastfeeding should not be compared to other private tasks. Eating is not a "private" ordeal, in any way, shape, or form. And did it EVER occur to anyone that some babies HATE having a blanket over themselves while they eat? My son sure won't tolerate it.

    Only in America will you find such selfish attitudes that the "rights" of an adult automatically trump a helpless baby.

  14. Personally, I don't believe that we don't use the bathroom in public because it's inappropriate or immodest. I believe we do that in private because of sanitation reasons.

  15. Cristi7:17 PM

    I am nursing my fourth child and I didn't really realize that this was such a "polarized topic". I always knew that some mothers used covers, of course, but I really thought that it was beacause they were uncomfortable or "shy". I guess I never considered how I might make other people feel. The only thing that ever came to mind was the baby's need to eat. I didn't know that others were actually offended by breastfeeding. It's how we were intended to feed our babies. Why would anyone be offended by a baby eating??? I was completely shocked to read where someone compared it to having sex or using the bathroom. That is crazy!! And do you know what else is crazy?! My oldest child is 9 years old and obviously, since I wasn't aware of how people were so crazy over a mother nursing her baby, I have never had anyone approach me in a negative way about it. That being said, I think that most people never even knew that I was nursing in public. Apparently, I did a pretty good job of covering up without even thinking about it. That goes to show how much skin actually shows when you breastfeed.

  16. I love your breast and mouth analogy- I personally don't cover up because my kiddo HATES being covered. He usually waves his arms around and rips the blanket off anyway. I have gotten strange looks about not covering up in the nursing mothers room at church. But seriously??? Not even in there???


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