Breastfeeding In Public

It may sound funny but I never realized how controversial this topic is.  I understand that many decades ago breastfeeding was what every mother did.  At some point, doctors began advising mothers to bottle feed their children.  My mother, and her mother, grew up in that generation.  They fed me and all of my siblings by the bottle.  Because of that, they have some definite opinions about mothers today, specifically the one’s who want to breastfeed their children.  Especially those who feed their children past the ‘appropriate age’.

I never felt this controversy as a man growing up.  Only when I had my daughter,  and my wife decided to breastfeed, have I felt the heat. 

As a man, here’s what I grew up knowing about breasts.  Anytime I saw a naked breast I felt a sexual response.  How could I not?  I grew up knowing that a woman’s body, and any naked part of it, was for sexual purposes.  From the pornography that was available to me as a teenager to every magazine and every show I watched on TV and the movies. 

women + naked bodypart = sex

It didn’t take long for the equation to change profoundly.

women = sex

But I never bought into that equation entirely.  In the back of my mind I always knew I was being manipulated, as a man.  There was no clear culprit to blame because it’s hard to point a finger at society. 

So here we are.  We’ve all had a good swig of the Kool-Aid.  The physicality of woman is sex and should never be presented otherwise. 

When my wife began breastfeeding I faced my hard reality.  The boob was not for my sexual pleasure.  It was to feed our hungry daughter.  Over and over my wife would ‘whip it out’ for the purposes of motherhood.  At times I caught myself resenting this scourging of the sexuality of this thing.  This milk-producing breast.  This non-sexual breast.  The sexual breast was all I ever knew.

My evolution as a man was healthy.  I learned respect for mothers.  For all the other roles of women.  My own internal dissonance helped me understand the difficulty women have being accepted as anything else than a funnel for sex. 

Men don’t want to see breastfeeding in public because they don’t want to have to grow up and learn to see women as something else, outside of a tool for their devices.  Even women don’t want to see it because they fear their own bodies.  They worry how their husbands and teenage sons may react to a naked breast.  They may actually have to have a constructive conversation with their children about this public presentation.

The unhealthy part of this debate is that the breast should be presented as anything other than sexual.  That would be telling a lie.  Maybe men would start to look at breasts as serving other functions.  Maybe we would all respect our mothers a little more.  If it’s a question of you and that hungry baby, suck it up.  Be an adult and understand a feeding child wins out over your insecurities. Every time.  That is healthy.  That is part of the maturing process which leads to common sense.

Ladies, give your husbands and teenage sons a little credit.  The male reaction to a breastfeeding mother in public goes from sexual response to healthy respect in about half a second.  Seeing breastfeeding helps us evolve.  You don’t need to protect us from our own unhealthy delusions.

For all those who have conflict with public breastfeeding, you really do need to understand this conflict is within you.  Introspect a while.  Figure it out.  Don’t be manipulative and feed us this falsity that the ‘problem’ somehow lies with women feeding their children where you can see it. 

It all boils down to simple respect for mothering.  Breastfeeding IS mothering.  So shouldn’t we stop defending our own oversexualized social conditioning and start defending motherhood in all it’s beautiful aspects?

You may be wondering how this relates to abuse.  It couldn’t be more related.

23 thoughts on “Breastfeeding In Public

  1. Hi Chris, I just followed the link your wife posted on Mayim Bialik’s FB page and I’m so glad I did. I had to share this on my own page. Sane, mature, and respectful. Thanks for that!

  2. Finally, at least one man understands. I never had the pleasure to breast feed my 4 children because their father said “it is disgusting” and I, being a wife who believed everything he said was the “gospel” didn’t contradict him..until our last child was born. I was determined to breast feed her, but at 3 hours old, she was rushed to Children’s Hospital in Dallas. The doctor gave me a pill to dry up my milk and so, I didn’t get to breast feed her, as planned. I believe breast feeding is the most natural thing a woman can do.

  3. Chris,
    This is a fabulous article. I work full time as a lactation consultant teaching moms and dads on a daily basis the importance of breastfeeding and how to do. I sometimes see a family member, occasionally the dad but more often the grandmother, tell the older sibling not to look or to try to distract them when mom is breastfeeding. I always encourage families not to try to “hide” anything. I teach them that this is a natural feeding process. I treat it as such and explain to siblings what is happening just as I would explain what I am doing if I give the baby a bath or burp them. Parents and family members will learn from my example.
    Again I applaud you in your candidness about this subject. Thank you.

    Debra
    IBCLC in Florida

    • It’s too bad more parents and family don’t see lactation specialists like yourself, especially the fathers and grandparents. They make up the mother’s support system and need to be educated on how best to support the mother. Thank you for helping educate all of us that it is okay to do what we were made to do.

    • Yep…& the proper time is when your child is hungry or even just wants to nurse. The proper place is wherever you happen to be when their desire strikes. As an adult- you can understand the concept of sucking it up & dealing with something that makes you uncomfortable. An infant doesn’t understand. Human infants are born with a drive to suckle & to be held & to experience the skin to skin & bonding nursing provides. THAT is natural. Thinking that we should ignore our kids needs and put a strangers peace of mind above theirs is completely UNnatural. To think a parent should care more about you and your comfort based on distorted views of women’s bodies is strange.

      • Most breastfeeding mothers are very discreet about doing so in public and I can’t think of one instance where anyone had to see a mother’s naked breast. I breastfed all three of my kids and always had a blanket on hand to provide privacy. Now there are all sorts of “nursing shawls” and other paraphernalia being sold to moms to provide this privacy. Nursing is best for baby and it is the ultimate weight loss plan for mom.

  4. A most refreshing read! As a husband and father of two, with another on the way. I totally agree with this post! So many issues in society with regards to our social conditioning… so we can only begin with ourselves and create ripples amongst those around us and to our future generations. Thanks for posting this!

  5. It is refreshing to hear a grown up perspective on breastfeeding. We are the ones who are oversexualizing ourselves and our children by making something so unsexual into something shameful. Breastfeeding is a beautiful, natural, completely unsexual thing, but culture has taught us to hide our bodies, that bodies are for sex, particularly women’s bodies. Thank you’s much for shedding light on the growth and maturity that comes with changing your perspective on such a taboo topic.

  6. Pingback: Breastfeeding In Public « (Wo)Men Speak Out’s Blog | Marlene Dotterer

  7. Thank you for this article. I find the hostility towards nursing in public baffling, but you very eloquently explained it. I didn’t realize until the very end that I was on an anti-violence against women blog. And, of course you’re right. The two issues are really the same – the objectification of women. Well said.

  8. Absolutely brilliant. Brilliant.

    I have found that all parenting around things that have anything to do with sex have involved me getting a little bit introspective and growing up a little. Thanks for your honest perspective.

    • I never quite understood what problem anybody could have with public breastfeeding, after all that’s what they are there for and if it makes someone feel uncomfortable to watch it, then he or she just shouldn’t watch in my opinion. But I speak from a different cultural viewpoint, here in Germany there’s not as much of a taboo to it (anymore, or as it currently feels not yet again). Or maybe it’s a generational thing, maybe I got lucky having grown up in the “wild” seventies.

      That’s not to say that I didn’t react to a naked breast as any healthy teenager would, but that’s just as natural. :)

      • It’s worth seeing how other countries consider breastfeeding in public. I know this is a contentious topic in England as well. It would be excellent to Occupy public space with brave breastfeeders.

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  10. Excellent article. It sparked good conversation between me and my husband. We don’t have children yet, but when we do I absolutely want to breast-feed them and now I know we’ll be on the same page when that happens. Sharing this with friends.

  11. Pingback: Breastfeeding in Public – Pictures Worth a Thousand Words « Breastfeeding Friendly

  12. I love your post! I just posted a blog about a situation in public where I was told to stop breahttp://lifefullyloaded.com/2013/04/22/if-a-baby-needs-to-eat-feed-it/stfeeding.
    I think your support is great!
    Jamie
    Lifefullyloaded.com

  13. I completely agree. I only wish I would’ve had the courage to stand up for myself when my in-laws came for a visit to meet their grandbaby. Because he was so uncomfortable with seeing a mother breastfeed I continually accommodated him (eventhough I always wore a cover) because I thought it was the polite thing to do for a guest. Now I see that me having to leave a conversation and hide out in a separate room or try desperately to find a place in public away from them and even leave a restaurant mid-meal to feed in the car was ridiculous. It won’t happen again.

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