If you follow as many breastfeeding Facebook pages as I do, you’ll see this kind of story a lot:
A woman is out with her baby, minding her own business and nursing discreetly in public, sometimes with a cover and sometimes without, and has a confrontation with a stranger about breastfeeding.
The first few months of motherhood, I was downright scared to nurse in public. I’m a confrontational and tough person by nature (I blog my opinion on parenting and politics daily, I have to be). Even so, in my new-mom haze, even I was nervous about getting into a fight with someone about where and how I feed my child. I had read enough of those stories to expect it to happen at any moment. As a result, I stayed in the house way too much the first six months, which was depressing and lonely. New moms who are afraid to nurse in public like I was are faced with a choice: Don’t go out in public for the first six months of a kid’s life (when babies can’t go more than a few hours without a feeding), spend the time they are in public hiding in a changing room or a bathroom in order to nurse, find time to pump breastmilk to give in a bottle, or stop breastfeeding. None of those scenarios are optimal for most new mothers, yet it’s the situation facing many because of this fear.
The headline might be clickbait, but here’s the answer to “you’ll never believe what happened next…” Nothing. Nothing happened next in over 99% of situations where women breastfed in public. I’ve nursed everywhere, across the country in many different social settings, and I have never been asked to go elsewhere, never been told to cover up, never been yelled at for feeding my baby. In the hundreds of times I’ve nursed since my daughter was born over two years ago, I have never had a single person even say anything to me about it, positive or negative. I’ve received a few looks of contempt, and many more of encouragement, but nothing resembling a confrontation. In an unscientific Facebook poll of my friends, the majority of my nursing mom friends have had the same experience.
When I nurse without a cover now, I have two shirts on; one goes up and the other covers my belly, and only the breast is exposed for a split second before my kid latches. Most of the time, folks don’t even know I’m nursing, which is unlike when I would nurse with a cover, which I call a “bulls-eye.” When I use one, there’s no mistaking what I’m doing underneath.
So, if it’s possible to breastfeed in public discreetly, why do these stories keep popping up? What good do they do and what impact does it have on mothers’ psyches?
Being a new mother is nothing but stress. Many breastfeeding mothers hear the horror stories, but few hear the positive ones. For any mothers out there nervous about nursing in public, here are a few stories from my public Facebook thread
(with over 100 comments) asking mothers if they had anyone criticize their breastfeeding in public:
Yael Rotenberg Kupferman: [Breastfed] in public both with and without a cover. Never had any issues even when I was sitting next to a strange man on the airplane
Sarah Baker Stevenson: I’ve breastfed in public literally in every way imaginable. On a plane, a train, a boat, etc. No one has ever said a word to me.
Tessah Marjorie: Nursing, and a fair amount in public. Only comment directly to me was positive – encouraging us:)
Monica Schleicher: I’ve now nursing my fourth baby. I’ve nursed all of them in public and have never had a problem. I use a nursing cover. I have nursed in church, in restaurants, in stores, at work, in doctor’s offices, in people’s homes, etc.
Rachel Fyman Schwartzberg: Often nursed my babies in public (always with a cover) and I’ve never gotten any comment or even an unfriendly look (that I’ve noticed).
Rachel C.: I am a very private person, but when it comes to feeding my children, I don’t think twice. I nurse in public all the time, mostly with a cover, and being discreet if I don’t have it on me (I’ll use my coat, a scarf etc..) The absolute most comfortable place I ever nursed, is on the side of the road in the car, and I don’t use a cover in the car. I’ve always gotten smiles or ppl just keep moving, thankfully no nasty comments.
Naomi Klein Herman: I breastfeed two children for 20 months each and I never had a problem. I used a cover but even breastfeeding in public in Indonesia was never a problem.
Of the comments from folks who had received negative feedback, the most likely culprits were male family members, including parents, in-laws and husbands.
Jules Steindler: People have never made comments I literally did it everywhere including subway all the time. But public shaming came in weird looks mostly from male family members.
Many mothers felt the same as I did as a new breastfeeding mom. The mother of a newborn (and my best childhood friend) said:
Amanda Cuthbertson: I formula fed with 1 with no comments. I am breastfeeding 2, have not done it in public yet, we have not been out much yet but I have anxiety about it. It’s refreshing to read a lot of comments saying they have not had any rude comments.
As the wise Taylor Swift says, “haters gonna hate.” As any mother knows, the Mommy Wars are real, and they’re really obnoxious. Just as women are harassed for nursing in public, many, many others (I’d guess significantly more based on my unscientific poll) are given grief about giving their baby formula in public. No matter how a mother raises her child, a stranger is going to have an unsolicited opinion about it.
Breastfeeding advocates have an incredibly powerful collective voice. When a small business or large corporation wrongs a nursing mother, tens of thousands of comments and negative reviews come pouring in. Instead of narrowing in on these rare instances of public shaming, if breastfeeding advocates want to make it easier and less stressful to nurse in public, it would make millions of moms like Amanda more likely to nurse their babies if they felt confident they could do so anywhere with little chance of confrontation.