Breastfeeding in Public: Still an Unwelcome Taboo?

Joey Salads Breastfeeding in Public Social ExperimentBreastfeeding in public is regularly in the news, whether it is people reporting they have been singled out and asked to move/stop or mothers who have shared their photos on social media to support others in the act. The question is whether it is still an unwelcome taboo subject.

There are many mixed reviews while I did my research into the topic. Personally, I believe that breastfeeding in public should be allowed—as it is in law in both the United States and the United Kingdom (and many other countries). Breasts are there for babies to feed. Breastfeeding is completely natural, and women have done this for centuries. Unfortunately, the western world has sexualized breasts so much that it has made it a taboo subject. It has made the natural practise unwelcome and—in some cases—uncomfortable.

Alyssa Milano Stands Up for Breastfeeding Women

Former Charmed and Mistresses actress Alyssa Milano regularly stands up for breastfeeding mothers. Since having her four-year-old son Milo, she has shared photos of herself feeding him and then her daughter Elizabella. While there have been complaints, she has become an advocate for this topic; something that many new mothers are thankful to see. Despite the law being on a mother’s side, seeing a celebrity back them up is often the thing they need to get the confidence to feed in public.

Milano argues that when a baby is hungry, he or she needs to feed. It is an argument that many in support of breastfeeding in public have. It would be just like an adult buying a sandwich or a salad and eating that in public.

However, one of the arguments is that a woman can cover up her child. Those against feeding in public have also said that a woman should go to the bathroom. That leads to the debate of whether it is fair. All a baby is doing is feeding. An adult would not want to go to the bathroom to eat and would definitely not enjoy eating with a blanket over their heads. I was just as shocked as Milano when on Wendy Williams’ talk show she found out that Williams would take her child to the car to breastfeed, rather than doing it in public. I was even more outraged when she said that Miley Cyrus wearing two suspenders over her breasts was fine, but breastfeeding was unacceptable. It just shows how sexualized the breasts have become.

Most of the Public Will Support Breastfeeding Woman

A recent social experiment that The Daily Voice News reported on did show that breastfeeding in public is not quite the taboo that it is made out to be. There are, in fact, more people for it than they are against it. Trollstation, a YouTube channel, put together a social experiment where a many verbally attacked a woman for breastfeeding on the tube in London, and asked her to move to a different carriage. Rather than members of the public ignoring the situation, they got involved and told the man just how out of order he was for his request.

This was something I discussed with my husband. He has never had a problem with breastfeeding in public and I did it for the first month with my first daughter—we stopped for other, personal reasons. However, he did agree with some of the arguments put forward as to why a woman would not need to do it in public; more like, he saw the logic behind the requests.

One of the requests was to express the milk and feed from the bottle. For many who have never fed a child, it can seem like a simple request. It is something I’ve seen debated about on social media comments when the topic comes up. Yes, expressing is a possibility but there are many reasons a mother may not want to or may not be able to do it. Not all babies will take to a bottle when they are breastfeeding, because the shape and suckling for their mouths is different. There is also the downside of the milk not being as warm when it has been in a bottle for a day.

There was one argument that my husband rolled his eyes at—feed your baby before you leave. Babies need to feed every three to four hours at least; that’s my second daughter’s schedule, anyway. Now, my second daughter is completely bottle fed, and breastfed babies feed on demand. It could mean shorter periods. If a mother is out, she is not necessarily going to be able to feed at home and then wait until she returns home. Telling a mother to remain at home the whole time would mean she would be more likely to give up breastfeeding before the end of the first year; the time that health professionals recommend breastfeeding. Life does not stop because a woman is feeding her infant, but some seem to forget that when it comes to this taboo subject.

Joey Salads also shared a social experiment, where a mother would sit by members of the public and start breastfeeding. Unfortunately, that did not have the same positive reaction but it may have been how the video was cut. There were many—men and women—who said that she should go home or do it somewhere privately. However, there were others who were not phased, and agreed that the baby needed to eat.

People Making It Out to Be Worse Than It Is

While I fully support breastfeeding in public, there is the argument now that it is becoming more of a subject than it needs to be. That statement may be ironic, considering the nature of this editorial.

The truth is, some women are making the situation out to be worse than it really is. Just a few months ago in the U.K. a woman complained that a Primark security guard snatched her feeding baby from her breast because she refused to stop feeding him in the store. It turned out—as many people suspected—that it was a fabricated story.

There is now the story of women placing stickers on their breasts, similar to the stickers found on fresh fruit and vegetable produce. The campaign is to promote breast milk as being healthier and more natural than formula milk, something mothers know. However, comments on social media have suggested that the campaign is taking the subject too far. Mothers know “breast is best” but not all mothers are able to breastfeed. It makes those unable to do it feel guilty, and does not help support breastfeeding in public.

The law is on a mother’s side, especially in many western countries. In the United Kingdom and most states in the United States, it is a mother’s right to feed her child wherever she is legally allowed to be. Of course, there are limits. I would suggest that feeding in a swimming pool is unhygienic, but do not see a problem with feeding on the chairs or sun loungers at the side. Some situations are also dangerous, but for the most part a woman can feed whenever and wherever her baby needs to eat.

Despite this law, the view of breastfeeding still has a long way to go. The view of breasts being sexual objects, rather than items to feed babies, still has a long way to go. Until that changes, the debate over breastfeeding in public being welcome or not will continue.

Let me ask something to finish this off, though. What would you rather have: a screaming baby because he is hungry or a mother breastfeeding to calm and nurture him?


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Image from the second YouTube clip included.

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