It’s second nature to breastfeeding mothers to breastfeed when their baby cries whenever and wherever. But then why are mothers shamed for breastfeeding in public? Why mothers who bottle-feed their babies in public are not treated the same? Isn’t it inhumane to ask a mother to stop breastfeeding her crying child and instead to go somewhere private?
The problem is a women’s breasts not only in the western culture but in the whole world are considered as a sexual organ, a private part of the anatomy that should be kept hidden from the public. People who lean towards banning such an act argue that breastfeeding should be done in private, and for some, it can be gross too to look at a baby feeding from its mother’s bosoms. While, people who support public breastfeeding argue that why such a natural act be banned, and it’s not that the woman is trying to flaunt, rather she’s doing what those breasts are intended to do when her baby cries in hunger.
Breast milk is considered very nutritious and an immunity booster for babies. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mothers breastfeed their babies till they are 1 year old. The World Health Organization recommends mothers breastfeed till their babies are 2 years of age.
Ask people whether babies should be breastfed instead of formula, and they will all sing praises of the ‘golden liquid’, but ask the same people whether babies should be breastfed in public, and half of them will cringe right in front of you!
To those who think breastfeeding in public is indecent and should only be done in private, I want to ask them, do you really support breastfeeding? Or are breasts only seen as a sexual organ posing for a lingerie ad?
People need to break the stigma that hovers around public breastfeeding, and stop asking mothers to do it in private or at least cover up while breastfeeding. Why? Can you eat your cheeseburger while putting a blanket over your head? No, right! Similarly asking an already stressed-out mother to leave or put a blanket over her crying baby while feeding is simply inhumane.
But there will still be people putting up arguments which they think is quite logical facts, like-
“Breastfeeding in public is indecent”
For many people, breastfeeding in public is a sign of indecency. They believe that a woman’s breasts are a part of her private anatomy which shouldn’t be flaunted in public with or without a baby attached to it. People present this argument with a subtext stating that if men don’t pee in public, then women shouldn’t breastfeed in public.
But why is breastfeeding a baby not considered as something natural but rather constituted as dirty, sexual, or indecent? We don’t discriminate against mothers who bottle-feed their babies in public, then why should breastfeeding mothers be discriminated against. A baby breastfeeding in public should only be seen as a normal way for babies to eat. Don’t adults eat in public without being shamed upon by society?
Also, when a woman needs to feed her child, there is a ‘let down’ where the milk physically fills up the breasts, and if the mother can’t feed her child at that time, she’s engorged and let me tell you, engorged breasts hurt so much. It’s terribly painful to feed, lift, or even to touch. And when the baby is not fed at that moment, the body assumes that the milk isn’t needed by the child, letting milk supply damage.
“Public breastfeeding may invite awkward interactions”
When I say people, it’s not just men who argue against public breastfeeding but women too. Some women on social media sites argue that public breastfeeding is indecent when there are children present and lead to awkward interactions when these children ask their parents about what the woman is doing with the baby.
To them, I’d like to say is – educate your children. If photos of lingerie models on hoarding boards and in the mall isn’t a problem for you then a mother breastfeeding her child in public, because that is the right thing to do for the baby, should absolutely be of no problem.
The biggest issue with people who raise concerns against public breastfeeding is Education. They have been taught since childhood or they have seen or only know one way to regard a women’s breasts and that it’s a sexual organ meant for pleasure and not for nurturing a baby.
“Public breastfeeding is intimate, so it should be private”
There was a debate on an online forum about public breastfeeding where an individual says that breastfeeding is emotionally and physically an intimate action and so it has no place in public, instead it should be done in private or where there is no one around.
But isn’t holding your beloved hand, or tucking her hair behind her ear, or showing any form of affection in public an intimate act? But that is not shamed or asked to be banned, then why an act of showing love by feeding their child in public is considered disgraceful.
Public breastfeeding shouldn’t be banned
Taking care of a child is no easy job, and telling a mother who’s already exhausted, tired, and sleepy, to feed her baby somewhere else is simply cruel. My friend once told me that she was asked by the waitress in the café to be more discreet while breastfeeding or leave as it’s making the other customers uncomfortable, and without any protest, she simply paid the bill and left. But that’s not right, is it? To ask a woman who’s already multitasking, running errands with her child, to be up and out because the simple act of feeding a baby made some people squirm.
You’ll always find people asking you to cover up the child while breastfeeding, and to them, I’d like to invite them to have a meal with me while covering their head with a blanket, and if they can’t do it, how do you expect a baby to feed under a blanket where it’s hot and annoying, which will only make the baby scream and pull of the blanket.
One of my cousins, who’s also a mother to a 10-year-old boy, asked me to use formula or use breast pumps at home and bottle feed the baby in public; but, why? I made the choice of breastfeeding my child. I will choose what’s best for my baby, rather than fearing what the sensitive masses have to say because when my child cries none of them tend to him, or pick him up to console him, or have sleepless nights when the baby is sick, or play with him or take him to a carnival, or see him squeal in the bouncy house.
The people who ask you to change your choices because it affects them should be the ones who shouldn’t matter to you because being a mother you’re doing what is right for your baby every step of the way.
As a new mother, I wasn’t confident enough to breastfeed my child in public and would always find baby-care rooms wherever I go- be it in a mall or the airport. So, one day when I was traveling with my family and the baby was getting more upset by the minute because he was hungry. I tried my mighty best to find one baby-care room at the airport but I couldn’t, and after what seemed like an eternity, I finally found a room but there was only one chair which was already filled by another mother. There were two things I learned from this incident, airports need to have more rooms and more seats for mothers who want to breastfeed their child in private, and second -that I don’t need room to feed my baby. What is important is that my child needs to be fed, and that can be done by me anywhere and anytime.
Public breastfeeding should be seen as normal and casual. The more people are educated about it, the more normalized public breastfeeding will be. Women should stop fearing what people would say if they breastfeed their hungry babies in public. When an act of breastfeeding is seen more and more in public, people will stop analyzing it as something indecent and shameful.
Parents need to educate their children about this. Kids these days are nothing like what we were in our childhood, when they are taught or made to understand something, they will learn and understand.
I was one of the lucky few people who have never been asked to leave or be discreet or gotten any nasty comments when I breastfed my baby in public. There are laws that protect you against such discrimination. My friend didn’t know about it but you can educate yourself; show them what the law states if anybody raises an issue. Be confident because you’re not doing anything wrong.
Located in India and a mother to a joyfully mischievous son, Kelin is the wife of the world’s most patient man and a busy homemaker. When she’s not busy cooking and running after her kid, you can find her in a corner reading, or penning down words on her laptop. She believes the world will always try to instil ‘mom guilt’ in new mothers, but she goes by the maxim ‘a mother knows best’.