Are You Comfortable Breastfeeding in Public?

Self on 09.07.11
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Photo credit: iStock Photography.

Look at the beautiful woman and child in this photo. She is breastfeeding atop a peaceful green lawn (while wearing a white skirt??), baby properly cradle latched, her top perfectly adjusted so that nary a nipple or a tummy roll is visible, in complete solitude.

As real-life nursing mothers know, this is nothing like reality.

A more accurate picture would show a mom on a park bench, at Starbucks, or on the subway, struggling to get her baby to focus and latch. Very likely the baby cries when covered, seeking eye contact with her mom, or playfully foils mom's attempts at modesty.

Most likely, the breastfeeding mother is feeling some level of self-consciousness with how feeding her baby is affecting those around her.

And it is no wonder: A recent survey by TheBump.com reveals that many women are themselves uncomfortable seeing other women breastfeed in public. Of the over 1,600 women surveyed, 44 percent answered that they felt somewhat uncomfortable viewing public breastfeeding, and a judgy 10 percent chose the answer “Eww, in private please!” about public breastfeeding.

Even soon-to-be nursing moms -- pregnant women -- replied that public breastfeeding makes them feel uncomfortable. 47 percent of pregnant women admitted the heebie-jeebies at viewing public breastfeeding, and a whopping 56 percent of expectant moms answered that they plan on only breastfeeding in private.

Huh?

Now, I can understand certain audiences just not getting the health benefits and lack of sexuality in feeding a child from body parts designed expressly for that purpose. Those who have never had children. Members of older generations told by their doctors to bottle-feed their children. Repressed men who protest they lunch at Hooters daily for the wings. 

But fellow young-ish women? TheBump.com is a website for pregnant women, so one would assume that their target audience is, I don't know, XX-chromosomed people aged 18-45? A good deal of the 1,600 or so respondents are most likely expecting their first child. I personally had the most time to surf and read pregnancy articles and answer surveys when I did not have other children to parent.

So it is very likely that a good deal of the respondents have not yet been there, and once their baby is born a little firsthand experience with caring for their child will help loosen them up and place their baby's nutrition needs above self-consciousness. Because it is very possible that a pre-parent squeamish public breastfeeder will in a few months find herself giving her boob to her hungry baby in Home Depot while seated on one of the display John Deere ride-on mowers. (Uh, yeah, that transformation story would be me back in 2004.)

But the finding of this survey that disturbs me the most is this one:  17 percent of those surveyed DO NOT feel that breastfeeding is one of the best things a mother can do for herself and her child, despite  research that has shown breastfeeding lowers the risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes and obesity in babies, and lowers the risk of postpartum depression in mothers. Combined with the recent Center for Disease Control (CDC) report that 96 percent of hospitals do not offer enough breastfeeding support, it is enough to make me want to take a stand and hand out La Leche League pamphlets every time I breastfeed my baby in public.

 

I personally am saddened to read these findings. It seems that movement to educate mothers and the public about the benefits of breastfeeding, and the fact that feeding a baby in public from a breast is no different than noshing a bagel at the bus stop, must soldier on. I am hopeful that every day more moms give each other the thumbs up when they see another nursing their child uncovered and nonplussed in public. We already have to deal with educating that weird guy next to us on an airplane. The least we can do as women is support our lactating sisters.

 

And I am also hopeful that most of the respondents of TheBump.com's survey were simply clueless brides-to-be from TheKnot who came over to TheBump while on a boring conference call. Ladies, someday when your Wedgewood is all nicely arranged in your china cabinet and your bundle of joy is in your arms, may you find the nursing cover pattern of your dreams. Or a comfy ride-on mower display. 

 

How about YOU moms out there -- do you or did you feel comfortable nursing in public? Do you feel uncomfortable viewing others breastfeeding?