Breastfeeding in Public

DenaFebruary 11, 2014

I wish that I didn’t have to write this post. It makes me sad that it’s an issue at all. However, the reality is that for some reason, the most natural thing in the world — FEEDING A BABY — is an issue. While it is perfectly acceptable for mothers the world over to give a baby a bottle in public — nursing is controversial.

We’ve all heard stories of mothers being asked to leave restaurants, stores, museums, and so on, because they dared to nurse their babies there. Each of these stories hurts my heart, and as a mother who has been exclusively breastfeeding her son for nine months, it hits more close to home than it ever has before. A couple of thoughts on the topic–

1. There is no such thing as openly nursing vs. discreetly nursing.
The argument that — “It’s okay for a woman to do it if she is discreet” — is ridiculous. What qualifies as discreet exactly? Should a mother cover her entire chest, arms, and baby with a blanket in the dead of summer? Should she leave the public place and retreat to her car when the temperature is freezing outside? Should she go into a filthy public restroom and sit on a toilet while people piss and shit in the stalls beside her?

There is no such thing as indiscreet nursing. Mothers do not walk around topless, flash the general public on purpose, or shake their tatas in passerby’s faces in an effort to feed their babies. All nursing is discreet nursing. You expose your breast, your child latches on, and nursing begins. Period.

All breastfeeding mothers experience varying degrees of comfort with the process. Some women are alright with taking their breast out uncovered. Some women prefer to a use a nursing cover of some sort. It’s a matter of opinion that should be decided by the nursing mother and nobody else. If you don’t like it, then don’t bloody look. End of story.

2. Breastfeeding is not a sexual act.
Last year, a Time Magazine cover of a woman breastfeeding her three-year-old son caused a stir. Some folks argued that the cover sexualized breastfeeding. To anyone who thinks that the cover sexualizes breastfeeding — and more importantly, to anyone that believes a mother breastfeeding her child should ever be perceived as a sexual act — I would advise you to seek counseling. Anyone who shares that opinion should probably not have children and should probably not even be exposed to children. I’m not sorry if that seems harsh.

What seems harsh to me is that anyone would label any photograph of a mother breastfeeding her child as sexualized. I have had people judge me for breastfeeding (not only in public, but simply in general!). I have been told that it is weird, strange, and a bit perverse. My only response to that sort of ignorance is sadness and pity. The human species (as well as every other mammalian species on earth) survived for 200,000 years as a result of mothers nursing their young. If you think that there is anything weird, strange, or perverse about this, again, I repeat my advice that you should go have your head examined.

In the case of the Time magazine cover, the mother (in her opinion) was meant to appear casual — not sexual. Her intention was to show the world that extended breastfeeding is okay, and yes, even normal. There were dozens of images taken that day and perhaps Time magazine chose a controversial one purposely, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if the world sat back and treated it like any other image of any other mother feeding her child. Whether a mother chooses to breastfeed for three months, or three years, or not at all — it is not anyone’s business except hers.

As for me, breastfeeding has been a sacred experience. I feel incredibly blessed that I have been able to nurse Roman for the past nine months. It is a gift that not every mother and child is blessed with and I do not take it for granted. As for nursing in public, it it something that I have done often enough. My personal preference is to nurse in as much seclusion as possible. Roman has always been an easily distracted baby and I am a relatively modest person. As such, if there is a clean, empty room about, I will often choose to nurse there. If the temperature is comfortable enough, I will nurse in my car. However, there have also been many occasions where those things were not feasible and I had no problem nursing in public. I’ve nursed Roman while we were at the pool with our extended family; at the Renaissance Faire with friends; on a bench on the boardwalk while we were at the beach; and in the grass at the park among other places. I’ve tried a few different nursing covers and the one that I prefer is the Baby Au Laite cover — I have this one. It works really well and is comfortable for mom & baby. (Many of the others that I tried were way too flimsy!) Now that Roman is older and much more “adventurous” he really won’t stay beneath a nursing cover. I use my favourite receiving blankets to cover us up a bit. (These are the best for everything, really.) But I don’t get too carried away about it anymore.

While I’ve been lucky enough not to have been chased out of any public places while nursing, I have had a terrible encounter. I was at the fair with Roman and it was time to nurse. I chose an out-of-the-way picnic table and used my nursing cover. Adjacent to us, there was a middle-aged man with his young (eight-year-old?) son. Well, that man literally stared at me and my baby for the entire time that I was nursing. I was mortified. Was he trying to make me uncomfortable? Was he a pervert trying to catch a glimpse of something? I’ll never know, but I’ll never forget that horrible feeling either. I’ve tried to let go of the bad feelings around that situation, mostly I feel sorry for him that he is such a prick, and even sorrier for his son that he should have to grow up with such a pathetic excuse for a role model.

In the end, I come back to the start and say, I wish I didn’t have to write this post. We’ve made so much progress as a species, and it’s hard to understand how we’ve come to such a backward place on an issue as basic as feeding a baby. Prior to the 19th century, if a woman couldn’t nurse her baby her options were to employ a wet nurse (if she could afford it and one was available) or to feed the baby animal milk mixtures and hope for the best. There was no such thing as pumping and baby formula had not yet been invented. The idea that breastfeeding was unnatural or crude wasn’t even an idea. Somehow today, nearly 100 years after formula and breast pumps were invented, parts of our society have adopted an archaic view about the most natural occurrence in the world, a mother feeding her child.

I hope that the tide turns on this issue. I am grateful to personally be surrounded by a community of people who support breastfeeding, in public and otherwise. I am grateful to have a diverse group of friends — some who choose to breastfeed, some who are not able to, and others who decided to give their babies formula from the start. All of these women are good mothers, and most importantly we all support one another in our choices. I hope that this attitude of unconditional support and love flourish and that the ignorant practices of shame and judgment will fade away once and for all. Things will never be perfect, but this post is my little push in the right direction.

The photograph at the top of this post was taken by, and features, one of my favourite bloggers — Sash from Inked In Colour. I fell in love with the photo when she posted it here and she was gracious enough to allow me to feature it here.

Click here to see some of the other posts in my breastfeeding series.

So what about you? Have you ever been shamed for nursing your baby in public? Do you agree with my thoughts or am I way off base? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Comments (14)

  • Sash

    February 11, 2014 at 6:34 am

    Lovely <3

    1. Dena

      February 11, 2014 at 8:34 am

      Thanks much, Sash! xo

  • Aiko

    February 11, 2014 at 10:13 am

    I live in an area of the world where I felt ashamed to bottlefeed in public! I supplemented both kids and nursed Odin until he was 2yrs 9mos. E shows no signs of slowing down at 1.5 years. The only time anyone has said anything even remotely negative was a lady in my neighbourhood who pointed out that a fourteen year old boy who was serving us at a take-out place might be feeling uncomfortable. I said, “oh well” and that was the end of that. I’ve always just whipped out my goods without showing nipple, but I am not always comfortable nursing around men I don’t know (just because so many of them have shown themselves to
    be pigs in all other areas of life). Love this post!

    1. Dena

      February 11, 2014 at 10:19 am

      Isn’t that amazing… just how different the experience can be, depending on where you are in the world? I wanted to get into a cultural discussion here as well, to talk about how in some areas women can’t even show their faces, let alone breastfeed in public. But the whole post had already gotten lengthier than intended and I wanted to keep to the point as much as possible. It’s definitely worth discussing in the future though.

      You are such an inspiration. It’s really wonderful that you are so comfortable with your decision and that you won’t let anyone make you feel differently! Amen! <3

  • dominique

    February 11, 2014 at 10:23 am

    Amen!! Well written/said/and felt. I hope it brings light to at least one. This post right here is one of the reasons I love coming to your little space. Well done momma.

    1. Dena

      February 11, 2014 at 10:25 am

      Thanks much, Dominique! That means so much. <3

  • brittany

    February 11, 2014 at 10:46 am

    Thank you so much for this post! I nursed my daughter for 14 months and received so much negative and hurtful criticism for doing so. I shamefully admit that after having nursed in public only once when my daughter was two weeks old I began to hide to nurse her after receiving such a negative response. I was fully covered and in a private corner but that didn’t stop the negativity.I battled with it because she was exclusively breastfed and I did feed her in bathrooms and changing stalls and in warm cars. I wish I never hid us away and I know more now than I did before. I felt shamed and like I had to hide. That’s is why this post means so much to me. We need to support and empower and let other women know that there is nothing to be ashamed of.
    Brittany @

    1. Dena

      February 11, 2014 at 12:50 pm

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Brittany. There are so many mothers out there who went through exactly what you went through. You are amazing for pushing through it and following your heart despite what others may have said or thought. <3

  • amy

    February 11, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    love this post, hun. but agree, wish it didn’t have to even be addressed.
    i also absolutely adore this photo of sash and bo! it is beautiful. <3

  • Suzy

    February 11, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    Love it! That photo is so sweet. Seriously, all your breast feeding posts make me cry! Ha ha.
    I think as a culture, at least I hope, we are becoming more open and accepting about breasting feeding in public. We are coming off from the years and years where formula was concidered the best choice. We need people like you to keep doing it! I remember right before I had Sam, I saw this woman breasting feeding her baby in the middle of a beer brewery/pub and I thought it was so awesome! It was crowded and loud and there she was, feeding her baby and just carrying on.

  • Scott

    February 11, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    You are not off base at all. I’m totally OK with a woman breastfeeding. It doesn’t bother me one bit. As for that middle aged man. Definitely a pervert trying to catch a glimpse. No doubt. Take it from a guy, who knows how truly shallow some men out there can be. He was not “trying” to make you uncomfortable. I can almost guarantee you his mindset was …. “if you want to do that, then I’m going to stand here and watch the entire time, if you don’t like it, then go somewhere more private”. It’s the same kind of guy who sees a woman dressed real sexy at a club and/or bar and his philosophy is “she’s begging for it”. No, she’s just being sexy, feeling sexy, for herself, it has nothing to do with the guy, and yet he feels it’s imperative that if she’s going to dress that way, he’s going to be the aggressive male, so again, in both instances men are terrible sometimes! I understand everything you said, and it floors me that this is so controversial. It’s also ridiculous that this man just stared, what a loser!

  • Kayla

    February 11, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    I will be honest I did not read all of it (I am slightly ADD…ok maybe a little more than slightly) but I love and 100% agree with what I have read! I have nursed in public (with a cover because that is what I am comfortable with) and will do it again when I have more babies! My daughter is 2 years 2 months old and still nursing. I do not really nurse her in public now because it is not her primary food source as when she was a baby. Great post and thanks for bringing up the subject because hopefully the more it gets out there the more it will be considered a norm!

  • Sadie

    February 13, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    I was linked here by my good friend Clare and I’m so glad I was! I’m currently in school to become a lactation consultant and it always makes me beam to find other mothers who are so impassioned about Breastfeeding. It’s like finding a best-friend that I never knew I had. Thank you for writing this 🙂

    1. Dena

      February 13, 2014 at 3:38 pm

      Awesome. Thanks so much, Sadie. LC’s are amazing. My LC that visited us in-hospital was one of my favourite people that I met through my entire birthing experience. Best of luck on your journey! xo

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