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Why People Get Upset With Public Breastfeeding

Ah, yes -- the engaging debate routinely handled in only the most respectful, delicate manner: through merciless (and, often, fact-less) criticisms on social media platforms, where the most ‘likes’ wins! How proper it seems to address this issue – one at the heart of American and Canadian female and motherhood perception, role, and objectification -- by typing one’s opinions at a rate that often surpasses one’s ability to think in order to force someone across the nation with different experiences, environments, religion, and laws to submit to your totally appropriate ‘argument.’

One good thing comes from our inclination to yell our opinions as loud as we can in front of the cyber world: I get to write articles like these. We’re going to tear through some common (and some not-too-ordinary) arguments people pose against public breastfeeding. Some points are understandable and decent, while others are objectifying, finicky, and tomato-throwing worthy. While I’ll make an effort to devote the same attention to both forms of arguments, you know mocking the arguments of a ridiculous nature will swiftly consume my writing!

15 “Public breastfeeding constitutes indecent exposure.”

In most corners of the Western world, “letting it all hang out” is both publicly shamed and statutorily illegal. That’s why we have to wear these frustratingly restrictive materials termed “pants.” Woe is us!

Supporters of this argument claim that baring one’s breasts to breastfeed is equivalent to baring one’s breasts for any other reason (do we even need a reason?) and, therefore, should be banned for the same principles. Frankly, this is one of the more handsome arguments we’ll consider; the idea is neither far-fetched or misogynistic. However, most places allow breast exposure to the extent that the baring lady’s nipples aren’t showing. So, as long as baby is covering mommy’s “indecent” nipple, is the arguer not satisfied?

14 “Public breastfeeding is socially awkward.”

In this case, high school reunions and “meeting the parents” should be banned as the demon’s head of social awkwardness.

This thought has some validity; one can imagine that some people could be made uncomfortable in the presence of a nursing baby, unsure of whether to make eye contact or what to say. What doesn’t carry much validity is the idea that social awkwardness is enough a reason to be on the “anti” side of public breastfeeding. Darn, you felt like you had to avert your eyes when passing that attentive mother! How will you move on with your day?

If it’s a choice between a baby (or 20 babies) enjoying a steady feeding schedule or you being totally comfortable in every social interaction you face throughout your day, I hope you choose the breastmilk.

13 “My husband is staring at her while she is breastfeeding. She shouldn’t do that in public.”

My, what green eyes you have! This statement might sound uniquely ludicrous to you, but let’s remember that a little green monster has indeed taken up residence in all of us, so we’ll refrain from criticizing too harshly anyone who has had this thought flash through their mind.

However, we might point out that this is markedly different from a lady with questionable morals ignoring your man’s wedding ring as she gets irritatingly close to him at the bar. This is a mother nursing her child. While the jealously in this argument is glaringly obvious, it would have to take a back seat to the egoism present if one really thinks a baby’s eating schedule should be entirely disrupted because your man might glimpse a nip slip.

12 “I can’t sexually objectify her while she’s breastfeeding.”

How strikingly inconvenient! My eager sarcasm suggests that this “reason” for poo-pooing public breastfeeding translates to misogynistic rubbish to me. I guess that’s how I know my sarcasm valve is working at optimal capacity!

While I’m going to mock this thought from now unto eternity, it really carries significant weight in our western culture. Hardly anyone will straightforwardly confess this as their reason for bashing open breastfeeding, instead appealing to another front like the public indecency or social awkward arguments, but this sentiment is painfully ubiquitous in our society. The western world prefers its breasts to be “dairy-free.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t prefer its citizens to be “mature” or – dare I say it – “respectful”.

11 “It’s unnecessary.”

With all of our technology and mommy tools, moms don’t need to use their bodies for nursing!

I’m not going to even glimpse at the ever-thrilling bottle vs. boob debate – as long as baby is being fed, I’m happy. Further, we aren’t going to shame mothers who don’t or can’t breastfeed and who therefore take advantage of all of our innovations and advancements.

Momma can feed baby in whatever way she feels is best. Who are you to decide it’s unnecessary for a breastfeeding mother to stick to her feeding schedule even though she dared show her face in public? Let’s demystify this idea that women don’t need to and shouldn’t bare their breasts in public; I’m confident that most men who make this claim wouldn’t ponder the necessity of “bared breasts” in any other context. The difference is this: billboards with bared, attractive women are for men, and breasts that are nursing a child are not. Suddenly, he’s realized how vastly unnecessary the presence of non-commodity breasts is. Huh.

10 “The children might see!”

Oh, those pesky little eyes, always getting themselves into trouble. The glaring irony in this is that those “children” were probably breastfed just a few short years prior to witnessing the act.

Why do we fear being honest with children? Why can’t we kneel down to their eager faces and explain that the lady over there is feeding her baby, and isn’t it amazing that mothers can do that? I’m neither a child psychiatrist nor a pediatric anything, but, somehow, I think kids could handle that conversation with minimal suffering.

9 “Great, now there are bodily fluids in the room.”

People have a – sometimes legitimate – aversion to bodily fluids. It’s unsanitary to come into contact with most fluids, which is why we go to great lengths cover wounds and compulsively clean public restrooms. Breastmilk should be considered something different than dirty, undesirable bodily fluid. How do I dare make such a bold statement? Because most dependent, vulnerable versions of ourselves are nourished by nothing but breastmilk. Sure, they sit idly when their children are putting their feet in their mouths or sharing slushies, but now breastmilk is apparently super dangerous.

8 “Breastfeeding is discomfortingly intimate.”

Finally, one that brings a little truth to the table! Breastfeeding is wonderfully intimate, fostering a powerful and natural bond between mother and child. This, however, does yield the potential to make passersby uncomfortable, as any intimate moment makes us look away.

Which brings me to my response: before banning public breastfeeding, let us bar public displays of affection from the streets! I don’t know how anyone shames public breastfeeding but doesn’t come near retching when walking around a ‘handsy’ couple.

7 “I don’t want my wife to think I’m staring at another woman.”

This is the other perspective of number 13. Let’s be real: jealousy is a problem in a lot of modern relationships. And how couldn’t it be? With ubiquitous instant communication, dating apps, and porn everything, romantic stability is hard to achieve. So, most of us carry the green-eyed monster with us (though some monsters are bigger than others).

When a guy is married to a woman with a pretty heavy jealousy inclination, he faces disagreements often about whether he was looking at another woman or how interested he really is in someone else. If open breastfeeding is a trigger for his wife, he is likely to be opposed to it, if only because he’s against all of that fighting at home!

6 “It’s taboo – let’s not push it.”

Historically, men feared women on many levels; they are different than men, their sexual allure is a powerful drug, they yield the power to give life, etc. This is hardly any different.

Decades ago (not many), it was intolerable to discuss a woman’s body, and a pregnant woman was to remain quietly at home. While things have rapidly changed (we can’t get people to stop talking about women’s bodies), cultural norms have a way of…lingering. Some anti-public breastfeeders might oppose open breastfeeding just because it doesn’t seem to align with the culture they knew.

5 “I had a bad experience breastfeeding in public, and I don’t want that for other women.”

We generally know life only through our own eyes, so this one isn’t painfully ludicrous. Empathy motivates some women to want to save other women from the ridicule or condemnation they experienced when feeding their babies.

Not too bad. We do, however, cherish the opportunity to choose for ourselves, so being told not to breastfeed in public for the sake of fear isn’t great either.

4 “So…why don’t you just give him a bottle?”

There are a few approaches like this one – just bottle-feed, just cover up, just use the public restroom (discussed below – can’t wait?!). This one is less anti-breastfeeding and more pro-bottle, usually to avoid conflict and present a third option that ‘makes everyone happy.’

There is an infinite number of reasons women prefer to breastfeed, such as the intimacy and the availability of it. However, each mother can and should choose the way to feed her child that best suits her schedule, abilities, desires, and care for her baby. The reason she doesn’t just give him a bottle is that she doesn’t prefer bottle-feeding, and that’s really the end of it.

3 “There are usually private venues available, so why make an issue of it?”

Ah, the ol’ just quietly submit and avoid the problem approach! While sometimes wise (marriage, anyone?), it doesn’t feel like very noble advice here. Rather than see mothers breastfeeding, some think it would simply be best to keep it private. How do we keep breastfeeding private while a mother is in the mall, walking through a festival, or spending a day at the park with her family? Well, by feeding the baby in the nearest bathroom, of course.

Those “private venues” are usually laced with foul smells and germy toilets. What’s wrong? You don’t like eating in public restrooms?

2 “Breastfeeding in public is just creating problems, so the hell with it.”

This nay-say toward public breastfeeding isn’t really about breastfeeding – it’s about wanting to avoid confrontation and conflict. If breastfeeding openly stirs the pot, put down the ladle, they cry.

This ‘reason’ for being against public breastfeeding is understandable and common in all of us; our knee-jerk reaction is usually to avoid uncharted waters. However, fighting through trial and standing up in the storm often pay off with unexpected results, so, perhaps, we should pick up our ladles.

1 Personal Insecurity or Inability to Breastfeed

We’ve hit the one I can really understand and be compassionate with. Some women oppose public breastfeeding because they don’t like to be continually reminded of an insecurity they bear.

They might pretend their reason for opposing open breastfeeding is related to one of our earlier arguments (like bodily fluids or intimacy), but many women who are burdened by an inability to breastfeed disdain public breastfeeding for that reason alone. It might seem illogical – because it is. It’s an emotional response to breastfeeding that causes women to simply not want to see it, and I can appreciate that.

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