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Why The Nursing in Public Battle Isn’t Worth Fighting

What is there to gain from shaming women out of nursing in private?

Bethany Mandel


May 12, 2014 - 9:00 am
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I admit it, I’m a “lactivist.” What is a lactivist, you ask? I’m someone who believes in the power of breastmilk, who thinks breast is best, who will grin and bear it through pain and difficulty in order to breastfeed my child. Unfortunately, those like me have earned a bad rap over the the course of the mommy wars. Those who fight in the mommy wars have one thing in common: these women believe the way that they raise their children is how all women should raise their children. The mommy wars started between women who went back to work versus those who decided to stay home, but has expanded to every realm of childbearing and rearing, with breastfeeding as one of the hottest topics. Many in the lactivist camp shame mothers who can’t, won’t or don’t breastfeed their children for a myriad of reasons, all of which are deeply personal. This is where we part ways. It takes a lot of energy to raise my daughter. I have none left over to worry about how other people choose to raise their children.

Several lactivism pages over the past few weeks are abuzz over the above image, which is part of a student advertising campaign at the University of North Texas. The students are promoting the passage of HB1706, a bill in the Texas legislature that will protect women from harassment and discrimination if and when they decide to nurse in public. I might lose my lactivist membership card for saying this, but this isn’t one of those motherhood issues I can get worked up about. Personally, I breastfeed in public, with and without a cover, depending on if I think my daughter will stand it, depending on how discreetly I can do it, depending on how hot it would make my daughter and I to put her under a scarf or blanket.

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All Comments   (6)
All Comments   (6)
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I have no problem with women nursing their babies. I can't believe people actually get upset over this sort of thing. Jeez. Get a life.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
The problem with your argument is that it presumes the battle was easily won. Sure, we can nurse wherever we want. It wasn't always that way, so I think you're just being picky, and using a celebrity instagram to back up your theory that some still choose privacy is not convincing.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
From a Male Perspective let me say this:

I can understand how some people are uncomfortable with seeing it done immodestly in public by complete strangers...

It is an act of extreme intimacy that for some, feels "inappropriate" to witness in the full blazing light of mid-day, standing in line at the bank, or in the middle of a party of 6 in a restaurant…

That being said, something as NATURAL as breast feeding should never be shamed or shunned. Babies are fragile and helpless, and we should be “mature” enough as a culture to put their needs first.

So, in MOST cases I would hope, for the convenience and comfort of both mother and child, a SLIGHTLY more secluded spot for them was always available…a little cover, maybe move to an unoccupied booth away from the other diners, so the “session” is most beneficial for mom and child because they ARE relaxed, with a bit of privacy…

Obviously I’ve never Breast-fed my children, but I did change +90% of their diapers…and whenever “out and about” I never liked doing it on one of those baby boards in a really busy public rest-room…some kinds of childcare just feel better and less stressful for you both, if there is small a measure of privacy, no?
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
I agree. But when you point out it's natural: there are many things in the is world that are natural and still private. In fact I would contend that aside from eating just about everything nature calls us to do is private.

I know there are people out there that for some reason are hostile to breastfeeding. But many pro-feeding mothers argue like being against public feeding with an entire breast in view means one doesn't believe in breast feeding children at all, which is a frustrating arguement to have. Much like being pro-welfare reform makes one a racist.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
My sister and I are engaged in a cold war of sorts regarding public breast feeding. We don't actually argue about it, but it does effect our interactions within the family and when in public together.

My perspective is that public breastfeeding is fine as long as the mother is discrete. I don't have a problem with feeding in public persay, but I don't want to see your breast any more than I would in any other situation. I don't want to see a topless woman walking around whether feeding or not, especially when modesty can be easily achieved with small accommodation.

My sister will literally pop out a breast and let it hang for a while while she gets her baby ready to feed, and while nursing the only cover for her breast is the baby's face.

However the real show down for me is about attitude. Hers wouldn't bother me so much if she were more respectful of mine. She has told me the only reason people have a problem with her feeding in public is because other women are jealous of her large breasts and don't want their husbands looking. When my husband has diverted his attention or left the room to give her the privacy for his own comfort she has made a point of confronting him and making him uncomfortable in other ways. But for us it's about general modesty and not specific to breast feeding. Even the picture you posted makes me think it isn't so much the breast feeding that made her seek a private place but that she needed to remove her shirt. To me the picture implies that she has some modesty, just not where breast feeding is concerned. How does that work? Either you're comfortable being seen topless or you're not. If you're not you can still breast feed with modesty.

I'm with you on encouraging and advocating breast feeding. But I wonder about the point some demonstrators are really trying to make. Some "lactavists" act like a breast suddenly isn't a breast when feeding because it's called to some higher power. To me it's still a private part of my body no matter what I'm doing with it. Many seem to be advocating a change in our modesty standards rather than encouraging healthy feeding. Because, as you point out, breast milk can be served just as well second hand through pumping which doesn't seem to be much of a priority for many.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
They want the same freedom in north Texas, near Dallas, as their state-mates have near Austin, in central Texas. It's not a national thing.

My best friend nursed her kids in Dallas. She got comments. Even if she was locked in a dressing room at a store on a slow day, she'd get comments. She'd nurse in her car or van, she'd get comments.

On the other hand, I nursed in Austin. I saw one woman, ever, use a bottle. It was when I went to see my friend in Dallas. Women nursed in the Barnes and Noble, at the grocery store, at lunch, while in the drive-through at Taco Bell, at the kids' playground, while at Shakespeare in the Park. Discreet wasn't really even in the equation, or a worry.

A teen mom had a shirt that was a bandanna with a neck-string- you know, a shirt you'd say " Are you leaving the house wearing that??" and she was nursing. That was impressive- nursing, a newborn, no stretch marks and low-rise tight jeans,

It's a student group in college. They are trying to get their Austin on. They are trying to act like an avant- garde flagship university, not a backwater second-tier university.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
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