This weeks  breastfeeding blog : Public Shaming for breastfeeding in public

For I received this email a few months ago.  It said:


My name is Autumn and I am an ASU student.  Im a breastfeeding college mom who was recently assigned a persuasive speech topic. I was able to pick so i decided to choose something im struggling with now which is being shamed for public breastfeeding without a cover. Would you be up for helping me with an interview on why we should normalize breastfeeding instead of making it something to do in a private manor?

I feel awful that Autumn or anyone else who has been shamed for public breastfeeding without a cover. I know that I am very much into the world of breastfeeding mothers and so it is easy for me to say that I just don’t get it.  But, honestly, I just don’t get it.  Gosh, no matter what anyones personal opinion is, the primary purpose of our breasts is to feed our babies, is to keep our babies alive through the nourishment and hydration we offer and the primary way our babies grow and thrive from newborn to infant to toddler. Our human milk is meant for our human babies and plain and simple and for untold amount of years, it has been a matter of survival.

The bigger issue is and what I don’t really understand is putting aside that for people who do not want to see a mom breastfeeding her baby, there is such an incredibly easy solution, so simple that it amazes me why this is such an issue.  It is such an easy thing for someone who does not like seeing this, to just look the other way.  I  mean, why are others staring at a mother’s chest anyway?   You just cannot convince me that this is such a hardship.  For  parents who have kids and they don’t want their kids seeing a mom breastfeed in public, do whatever you would do when there is anything else in public you don’t want them to stare at.  I know when my kids were little, they would stare at whatever was different.  For the most part I think they were trying to understand or were just plain old curios about that  person in a wheelchair, or that guy with this huge walking cane, or the person with the spiked purple hair.

Perhaps you come across someone in front of you in the mall who you can see the whole butt cheeks hanging out or you pass by a lingerie store that has mannekins that looks so real and they are naked or have lacy bras and your kids are staring at it and saying what’s that Mommy.  What do you do when you don’t want them seeing these kinds of things?  Well, whatever it is you do, do the same thing when you come across a mom breastfeeding her baby.  As for expecting the breastfeeding mother to move, her first and primary concern is her baby and her children.  Her baby is hungry, she is going to avoid her baby getting to the point of high pitched crying and sweating and just feed her baby, wherever she may be. For anyone who has kids, you know it is much more difficult and inconvenient for a mom to pack up all her stuff and perhaps even other kids and try and find a clean and private place to sit and breastfeed her baby, then it is for the person who is uncomfortable looking,,, to just, well, just not look!

And, don’t even get me started. When I hear people say that they cannot just pick themselves up and leave, that it is inconvenient for them, well, than you still have several alternatives.  You just don’t look her way!  That is like the most easiest solutions ever.  And if you can’t do that, then the next easiest thing to do is for you to make sure you never leave home without a blanket so when you encounter a breastfeeding mother, you can cover your head with it and keep it there til the mom is done. As long as you always bring your cover, you will never have to worry. This way you don’t have to see anything and your problem is solved.

So, need I remind you, a mother who is breastfeeding in public is doing something that is legal and the most normal thing in the world.

She should not be inconvenienced just because someone does not like what they see.

I go out in public and see all kinds of things that I don’t want to see….. some of them other body parts that I really don’t feel like seeing.

When this happens to me, I just make a conscious decision to look the other way.  Problem solved.

As a lactation consultant I hear these stories all the time of public shaming. Moms have been told to leave public places, they have been told to go to bathrooms to feed their baby, they have been told to cover up, they have been kicked out of public pools, museums, and the list goes on and on. So, when Autumn asked me to answer a few questions for her, I was happy to do so.

Here are the questions she had for me:

How often do woman decide to not breastfeed because of fear from social views or lack of support?

  1.  The breastfeeding initiation rate across the US is about 85%. Which means that 85 out of every 100  mothers start out new motherhood consciously making the choice to breastfeed.  Then there are a certain number of mothers who are not able to breastfeed because of specific health issues ( taking medication that is unsafe for breastfeeding – breast issues such as insufficient mammary glands, etc.)  This is probably 5% of the population. While I don’t have exact numbers to give you in answer to your question, the statistics I just shared lead me to believe that the number of woman who decide not to breastfeed because of fear from social views or lack of support is very, very low.
  1. How often do you feel woman give up breastfeeding because of public feeding shaming?

I think this number is also very low.  Mothers who are breastfeeding and are out in public breastfeeding, have probably been breastfeeding for several weeks or more.  Breastfeeding has probably going fairly well for them and they are comfortable breastfeeding at least, in their own home.  So, if things are going well, public shaming may stop them from feeding on the outside and instead elect to give a bottle, however, this would not cause them to give up breastfeeding altogether.

I just finished watching a great presentation in the GOLD Online Conference with Diana Cassidy, who is an IBCLC and during her talk she referenced a study that she read during her research. I believe it was in the Journal of Nursing. I would be happy to get that info for anyone who requests the information:

The research showed

Studies showed  that 90% of moms that stopped breastfeeding  in the first 6 weeks would have preferred to breastfeed longer. They get discouraged as they realize in the early days, that breastfeeding is not as easy or natural as they thought it would be. They get discouraged and confused because of much conflicting information between what they were told before there baby was born, the info they received during their first few days pp and the info they received from their Dr. midwife and pediatrician as well as friends and family members. They stop breastfeeding because they are in pain or suffer with milk production or baby weight gain issues and they feel like others do not understand what they are going through and cannot find the help they need.

This information totally supports my quick response to the question about:  If I feel women give up BF because of public shaming.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, what I have found in my own private practice and working with thousands of woman, is that when breastfeeding is going well and they feel supported and happy, hardly anything is going to get in their way of breastfeeding their baby for as long as they desire.

  1. How do you feel woman would be positively effected if breastfeeding was more publically accepted?

While I don’t think that issue with breastfeeding in public cause most mothers to decide against breastfeeding to begin with OR cause them to wean, it does make it more uncomfortable and more inconvenient for them.  Having nursing in public be more the norm and widely accepted, will make it easier and more convenient for moms. This would decrease some of the habits that mothers have of rushing home  or going to the car or feeling anxious about finding a private place to breastfeed their baby.  This would also decrease their self imposed need to pump ahead of time in order to get milk to give in a bottle when they are on the outside.  Having public breastfeeding be the norm, would encourage mothers to not be so isolated in their homes in the early days of breastfeeding, for fear their baby will need to feed on the outside.

  1. Do all breastfed children drink out of bottles?

No, not all breastfed babies drink out of bottles.  There is a small, but significant percent of babies who never had a bottle.  Some of the babies exclusively breastfed up until a time they could transition to using a cup.  There are certainly enough moms like myself whose babies never drank out of a bottle.  I have 3 children and breastfed each one well after their first year of life and they did not have a bottle.  At a certain point, and the timeline was different for each one, they transitioned to a cup.

  1. Can all woman pump appropriate amounts of milk for their children?

Not all woman can pump enough milk for their babies. This does not necessarily mean they do not produce enough milk for their babies, as this is often the case…. Moms totally making enough milk for their babies and their babies gaining perfectly from breastfeeding only.  But, some moms just do not do well with pumps, they don’t let down easily,  or the pumps hurt them.  When moms are not getting enough milk from the pump and we have ruled out any issues with the pump being the cause, I then suggest two options – 1 is to use a hospital grade pump.

  1. Will all breastfed children eat under a cover?

No, there are more babies who will not breastfeed under a cover, then there are those who will.  This is just infants.  When they get to be 4 month and older, they really are not comfortable doing so.  Or they will, but they pop on and off and lift the covers on and off, making it extremely inconvenient for some moms. In addition, some moms just cannot coordinate using the blanket and latching their babies on.  It may be extremely too hot for both mom and baby.

  1. Is the sexualization of breasts the major issue with public breastfeeding?

breastfeeding-1937Most people would agree that this is the major issue with public breastfeeding.  I feel that while this is a part of it, the lack of understanding about how the breasts make milk, what is normal for newborns feedings, the act of supply and demand and many other things are also things that cause people to have issues with public breastfeeding.  For instance, there are many people who have issues with public breastfeeding.  Then, they become a mom or a dad or a grandparent.  Now they are living with a new mom.  They get to see first hand just how frequently babies feed.  They get to see full breasts and experience what happens to the breasts and the baby when feedings are prolonged. There are many other examples that I can cite, however, the point is, once they have a good understanding of Breastfeeding 101 – they change their minds about mothers need to nurse in public.  They understand that exclusively breastfed babies don’t just all of a sudden take a bottle because their mom is on the outside. They understand why a mom might now want to be pumping and why a mom might not want to introduce a bottle.  They understand hungry babies and bursting boobs can’t wait.  They begin to get it…. And stop thinking of it as a sexual thing.  So, I think education is KEY.

  1. How would you suggest making men more comfortable with seeing a woman breastfeed?

Education as stated above.  Growing up in households where breastfeeding is the norm.

As with any other things in life, education begins at home.  Parents understanding how it all works and being able to explain it to their kids in an age appropriate way and not making a big deal about it.  We can’t make men be more comfortable. It helps if they around it when they are young and no big deal is made about it. Also, understanding the science behind it all. This goes a long way.

  1. If people where more educated about breastfeeding would it help more people accept public breastfeeding?

Yes, education is the key to understanding and acceptance.  My own experience in working with parents and grandparents and siblings.  Lightbulbs go off once they learn a few key things and from there it changes from an – Eww or Yuk or sexual thing to a – oh this is what babies need, kind of a thing

98d7e3430e1e7bbd0b1ee80045e53ab0Basically, I think we need to move away from trying to make others feel comfortable with seeing mothers feed their babies in public.  More women just need to do it, despite what others may think.  The more we see it, the more it will be accepted.  The more it is accepted, the  more mothers will do it.  Pretty soon, it will be normal.  It is legal for mothers to nurse their babies wherever they are allowed to be.  Just because it is legal, does not mean that mothers will never be shamed or kicked out or told to go feed their baby elsewhere.  This happens because people are ignorant of the law.  So, we need to teach them what the law is and stay put.  Just think, if every day when you went out in public you saw 10 mothers breastfeeding their babies.  While waiting in line at target, sitting in a chair at the library, at a table at a fast food place, a car wash, sitting in a park,  or on a college campus.  All the usual  places we visit each day.  And if this happened every day. If your only exposure to mothers breastfeeding in public happened once every few months or if you had never seen this before, but now a month later, you saw this many times a day…. A month later, you probably would not be thinking twice about it.

You might have a personal opinion about it, however, you would not think it is odd or unusual.  You would not be looking to “turn that mother in to the store owner.”   You would probably not complain to the restaurant owner and threaten to not eat there anymore.

It does not appear to me that people are uncomfortable seeing other women walking around in public scantily dressed, bra less and nipples popping out from behind shirts.  Even though it is the beach, there are still women walking around with much of their breasts and butts exposed.  I see the same people who are uncomfortable seeing women breastfeed in a mall, but are totally fine going to the beach and seeing even more exposure. It should not matter where they see it, if they are uncomfortable, then they are uncomfortable and would purposefully avoid going to places where they see lots of breast tissue uncovered. But many don’t.  In fact they purposefully go to beaches and public pools.  So, the way I see it,  I don’t understand the complaints about people not wanting to see “that” in a public place, but they are seemingly fine to purposefully choose to go to public pools and beaches where they definitely see a whole lot more, than just a breastfeeding mother.  They are exposed to skin, a lot of it, the whole time they are there AND because they are surrounded by it, they cannot look away.

I also wanted to add that this whole thing about breastfeeding in public and shaming mothers is quite recent.  You can take a look at the show notes and you will find links that I have there with many images of women in the 1930’s and 40’s and 50’s, nursing their babies in public places with men and women sitting right next to them as if it is the most normal thing in the world to do… .. and it was.  Somehow, we have taken many steps backwards in the last 50 years or so.  It is time to get back to where we were and leave breastfeeding moms alone for goodness sake

I hope articles like the one Autumn is writing and shows like the All About Breastfeeding podcast  help us to get back to the way things should be… a world where breastfeeding is normalized and a world where we don’t have to put up signs to let moms know that she and her breastfed baby are welcomed in that establishment, or where hospitals don’t have to work so hard and spend so much money to become Baby Friendly.  Do you know that hospitals spends sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars to become baby Friendly….ahhhh,  didn’t know about that?  Well, that is for another show.

I would like to end this show with two quotes that I think are fun:

If my breastfeeding offends you, put a cover over your head.

If you are offended by my breastfeeding, you have been staring too long