When Breastfeeding in Public, Mothers Deserve Nothing But Unconditional Support

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You may have seen them.

Lurking in coffee shops. Hiding in women’s changing rooms. Exposing themselves on airplanes as they make their way from coast to coast traumatizing innocent victims as they go. And to make matters worse each has at least one tiny accomplice.

They’re a shameless, chronically sleep deprived army of topless breastfeeding G cup hippies.

At least that’s what you may believe if you follow mainstream media. Because whenever a mother chooses to follow her instincts and meet her baby’s needs by breastfeeding in public, it seems to cause a stir.

When I first started writing about breastfeeding in public a Facebook post by Ashley Kaidel in which she was nursing her baby in a cafe had just gone viral. The controversy it caused speaks to how sensitive our society has become about breastfeeding in public spaces. It doesn’t take much to push our collective buttons.

How could something as natural as feeding a baby even be a topic for debate?

The truth is that breastfeeding mothers rarely expose themselves needlessly. Comments I receive in response to my support of normalizing breastfeeding suggest there is a cultural belief that women are somehow getting a kick out of exposing themselves. That nourishing our babies is an afterthought and really our main objective is to get our boobs out. To a breastfeeding mother the notion is laughable.

Because, breastfeeding is a monumental commitment. Women don’t accidentally breastfeed; it’s a conscious decision and often a treacherous journey requiring determination to overcome multiple obstacles thrown in our path.

Cracked nipples. Engorged breasts. Improper latches. Mastitis. Bites. Nursing on demand every two hours. Loss of independence. So, for most mothers, disapproval from strangers is the least of our worries. We’ve given birth. We’re enduring a level of sleep deprivation most would consider a form of torture. We’re tough. We can handle it. But, why should we?

Breastfeeding is a selfless act and one which society should be praising women for not berating them.

A 2010 study by the journal Pediatrics suggests if 90% of mothers were able to follow medical advice to exclusively breastfeed for 6 months, the US taxpayer alone may save more than $13B annually in infant healthcare and related costs. And more importantly, prevent almost 1000 infant deaths each year.

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Most women begin breastfeeding their babies but by 3 months only 32% are exclusively breastfeeding. And at 6 months it drops to 12%. A survey conducted by the Australian Breastfeeding Association reports only 5% of women are still breastfeeding their toddlers at two years of age despite the strong recommendation by the World Health Organization to do so.

Dr. Melissa Bartick, of the Cambridge Health Alliance in Boston suggests, “We shouldn’t be blaming women, because not only are they often not actively supported in attempting to breastfeed, but they are also undermined” in a number of ways. Bartick says her main message is that moms need more support for breastfeeding including better access to lactation counselling and scaling back in the aggressive marketing of infant formula.

Thankfully positive change is coming. Australian Senator, Larissa Waters, made history in 2017 when she became the first woman to breastfeed her then 14-week old baby girl in parliament. Outdoor clothing company, Patagonia, has made changes to it’s family policies as they sought solutions for colleagues struggling to breastfeed and care for their babies without losing their jobs, resulting in 100 percent of their moms returning to work, compared to a national average of 35 percent.

Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, wife of Canadian Prime Minister, spoke about her choice to continue breastfeeding her two year old son in an interview with Katie Couric. She says, “I will continue to feed my child even if he’s two, I’m not going to stop if he wants it. I think it’s a beautiful bond. I encourage it.”

Perhaps the most powerful symbol of support would be a correction in society’s perspective. Let’s see a breastfeeding mother for the miracle she is and we’ll all be touched by the magic we’re witnessing; a brave mom who has been nursing around the clock, getting no sleep, enduring pain and trying to do the best she can for her new baby. So, if you see a nursing mother hiding in the corner of a cafe or anxiously comforting her baby on a plane give her a sign of reassurance, a thumbs up, a knowing smile, a pat on the shoulder.

Because she’s not trying to ruin anybody’s day.

She’s not trying to expose herself.

She’s doing what women have done for millennia, nourishing and protecting her baby the best way she knows how.

Claim your FREE Guide: 5 Breastfeeding Secrets I Wish I’d Known Sooner

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COMMENTS
  • April 15, 2016

    Beautifully said. I can’t believe people can be so ignorant and think mothers would do this simply for kicks!
    Kate recently posted…10 Tips To Get Started With Giggle Parenting

    • April 16, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Me neither Kate! Some people are so close minded and ignorant. Thanks so much for reading and happy you enjoyed the post 🙂

  • April 15, 2016
    Courtney

    Thank you for this post. My son was born at 34 weeks and, though we did not get the homebirth we had hoped for, I was determined to breastfeed him. Nipple shields, engorgement, SNS system, mastitis, pumping, lactation consultant… My son and I saw it all together. And here we are, almost 8 months later, and he’s still exclusively breastfeeding.
    To the people who shame public breastfeeding: Breastfeeding is an act of love. It’s beautiful. It should be celebrated and honored. If you only knew what some mothers go through to be able to nourish their babies.
    I am PROUD to be breastfeeding my son and will continue to do so for as long as he needs and wants it. I too sometimes get nervous when I am out in public, but I refuse to use a cover or hide in the bathroom. Because my son deserves better than that. He deserves to grow up knowing that breastfeeding is a beautiful, natural act of love and the people who look at it as shameful or inappropriate – THEY are the ones who are in the wrong.
    If every single mother who breastfed did so in public, around their children, around their families, we would normalize breastfeeding. I hate rocking the boat, I hate confrontation. It’s so much easier to just go to the bathroom or put on the cover to nurse. But I won’t do it. I’m standing strong for myself but, most importantly, for my son.
    Thank you again for this post!! It encouraged me and reminded me to keep on keepin’ on! Sending love and support to all my fellow breastfeeding mothers!!

    • April 16, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you for your wonderful, tender and heartfelt comment Courtney. And good on you for staying the course through all the difficulties you’ve experienced. I was relatively lucky and still it was hard. I couldn’t agree more with everything you said and I too, continue to breastfeed proudly. What you said about your not wanting to make your son feel like your doing something strange is exactly how I felt, especially as he got older. I don’t want him to think he’s doing anything wrong. You may like the post I wrote about nursing toddlers too. It’s a magical gift we have as mothers and no sense in giving it up for anybody else. Thanks again and so happy you enjoyed the post.

  • April 18, 2016
    Reidun

    There is a very simple way to avoid all controversy about breastfeeding in public: cover yourself. I have freely breastfed five babies in public places and never had any disapproval or controversy, simply by covering up with the baby’s blanket, which I always have along anyway. Baby can be fed, I can breastfeed and onlookers don’t have to feel uncomfortable. Don’t know why this has to be such an issue.

    • April 18, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you for your comment and wonderful you were able to nurse all five of your children in public. I respectfully disagree, however, that the solution is to cover our babies heads while they feed. It doesn’t get to the root of the problem which is normalizing breastfeeding so society understand it’s a NORMAL part of life. It’s how babies feed. I live in Canada and am from Australia – currently in NZ. I haven’t had a major issue with nursing in public. I always try to do it discreetly as I am respectful of those around me but my priority is my son, strangers fall a very distant second. All it takes is for them to turn away if it makes them uncomfortable. European countries are very open minded and in many places, like Norway, this isn’t even an issue – not because people put blankets over their babies heads but because people are open minded and kind enough to appreciate this is a normal part of life. It’s not their right to object to another person, no matter how small, feeding. My son is almost three and when he nurses I’d have no chance of putting a blanket over his head, nor would I want to make him feel like what he’s doing is weird and should be hidden. I’ve never put a blanker over his head even as a baby. I appreciate your comments but I think this issue is bigger and deserves a long term solution.

  • January 25, 2017

    This is great! Fortunately for them, no one has ever bothered me about breastfeeding in public covered or uncovered (I live in England). I sincerely cannot understand why anyone would find it disgusting. I’ve tried to see it from an onlooker’s perspective but still can’t understand. NORMALISE BREASTFEEDING!

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