Recently I’ve been in a discussion on Mom Vs the World about breastfeeding in public. I am very much in favour of breastfeeding in public and think women should be supported and encouraged in this. I’ll go through the reasons below.
1) Babies need to be fed on demand and shouldn’t be made to wait. Because we should follow the baby’s cues when it comes to feeding, and because women shouldn’t be sequestered in the house for months and years on end until the child is weaned, it is likely that the baby will be hungry at some point when the mother is out. It may not be every time, or even the majority of the time, but it’s almost inevitable to happen at some point.
2) There is nothing obscene or sexual about breastfeeding. While breasts can be sexual (in the sense of attraction/arousal), they are not when breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is simply about feeding and comforting a baby, nothing more. Most women breastfeed in public in such a way that nothing is shown, anyway. If some people see breasts as inherently, exclusively sexual and thus are uncomfortable with breastfeeding because of that, it may be that this is actually caused in part by the fact that women aren’t breastfeeding in public as much. Perhaps if more were, more would come to view breastfeeding as a normal event and wouldn’t view breasts as sexual in that context.
Related to this is the fact that, historically, women have been shown to breastfeed and it’s just been accepted as a part of daily life. It wasn’t seen as sexual, obscene, or taboo, but was accepted as the natural part of life that it is. This was reflected in the artwork, too, as in the painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary breastfeeding the infant Jesus.
3) Why should artificial feeding systems be used? There’s nipple confusion, or outright refusal of a bottle, there’s the hassle of carrying the bottles, the question of where to heat up the milk, the problem of the woman’s breasts feeling full anyway (it’s rather uncomfortable, I might add), the question of whether the woman is able to pump much or at all, or if she even has the means to get proper bottles and sterilisers and whatnot. There’s also the matter of the breastmilk composition changing throughout the day, so if she’s out at a certain time, the bottle should ideally be of breastmilk expressed at the same time a previous day. And if she is giving a bottle when out, she should ideally be expressing at that time so that her body doesn’t take that as a cue that less milk should be made. Our bodies work on supply and demand, and if the baby is put to the breast less often, less milk is made. It’s also more convenient to breastfeed instead of bottle-feed since the woman would also have to find a convenient place to sit down to feed the child, where that wouldn’t be absolutely necessary with breastfeeding if she also wears her baby.
4) The convenience-factor is multiplied when you consider travel. Two summers ago we flew overseas to see family. From the time we left our house to the time we arrived at our destination 24 hours had elapsed, due in part to a delay on one of the flights. I did not routinely express milk, and so it’s unlikely I would’ve been able to get more than a couple of ounces – definitely not enough for 24 hours of travel. It also would’ve been a hassle to get it through security (it’s possible, but just another strain) and also difficult to warm it as needed. Our travel time included a train and two planes, places where moving to a different area would not be possible. The airports didn’t have feeding areas, as far as I was aware. In such a situation, breastfeeding in public becomes a necessity.
Another time when breastfeeding in public was unavoidable was when I attended my in-depth Billings Ovulation Method training this past summer. I took C with me, of course, since she was only 3 months old. In order to attend the training sessions, it was absolutely necessary to breastfeed her there. Far from tying me down, breastfeeding allowed me to attend without the hassle or distraction of trying to deal with a bottle or cup.
Obviously this list isn’t exhaustive, but I hope it gives a bit of an idea about why I’m so adamant that mothers be encouraged and supported in breastfeeding whenever and wherever they are.