Public breastfeeding’s critics offer questionable alternatives

It confuses me that there are people who want to discourage mothers from breastfeeding in public. I guess they view this as somehow inappropriate, but the reasons they argue against it, as well as the alternative options they suggest for these women, seem rather silly to me.

The sentiment heard most often from the naysayers of public breastfeeding is that it’s offensive. In a society that uses bare flesh to market anything and everything, I would think it would be a welcome relief to see breasts finally being used for what they’re supposed to be used for. It seems breastfeeding would be much less offensive than co-opting the breasts for a less noble purpose.

You know how when you buy some product and there is a slip that comes with it telling you all the do’s and don’ts? One of them is often something to the effect that the product should be used only for the intended use. That’s how it is with this part of a woman’s body; I think we tend to forget it has an actual biological function.

Some might question why a woman couldn’t breastfeed her child at another time, such as when she is at home. I don’t know a whole lot about babies, but I do know that they are in control of all schedules that have anything to do with them. That’s how babies work.

Besides, many adults can’t seem to get a grip on their eating schedules and chow down whenever and wherever they want. If someone is sentient enough to be allowed to have car keys and has difficulty suppressing his or her eating impulses, then I don’t see how we can expect a newborn to do so.

If a mom has a baby who is young enough to be breastfeeding, then she probably already has enough to contend with in daily life. She just really does not need to be hassled by some stranger in public. She has a high-maintenance infant; hopefully over the years the child will become less so. (Although there might be some parents of teenagers who would disagree with me.)

Then there’s the argument of why a woman couldn’t just breastfeed in the privacy of a restroom stall. That is so completely gross. I do not eat in a restroom, and I doubt anyone reading this article does, either. Why should a baby have to? I can’t imagine it would be very pleasant for the mother, either, trying to nourish her child while people are doing their bathroom business on either side. Yuck.

Then we get to the idea that it just might be OK for a woman to breastfeed in public, if she really has to — as long as she covers up. There are a couple of things wrong with this suggestion. For one, the poor baby is trying to learn this whole eating thing, and this can be a distraction when she already has enough on her plate, so to speak.

For another, have you ever tried to eat with a blanket covering your face? I’ve tried some goofy stuff in my time but don’t recall trying to eat with a small tent over my head. I think this would require some practice, and I have more than four decades’ experience in eating. (I think one of the reasons I have short hair is that I’m not coordinated enough to have both hair and food at the same time.)

If women are dissuaded from breastfeeding in public, then they must choose alternatives. One could be inconvenient, such as pumping and storing breast milk. Another option could be a reliance on manufactured formula, which lacks the health benefits to both the mother and the infant that are gained from breastfeeding.

Perhaps when you see a mother feeding her child, you feel she should have more privacy than what is afforded to her in public. I couldn’t agree more, and I would encourage you to give her that respect by looking away at something else. Remember that she is doing this because she and her baby need to; they are not doing it to bother anyone.

For those who haven’t given this matter much thought, I challenge you to do so now. You may want to become a lactivist — a lactation activist. Educate those around you who may not understand why it is so important that we embrace public expression of this practice and create a nurturing environment for breastfeeding women and their children.

Stephanie Haines is a writer from Greenfield who now lives in Bloomington. She can be contacted through her website,