Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I'm Not Staring, I'm Just Surprised

After a little encouragement (including liquid encouragement) I decided to write this blog post.  I am expecting to get negative backlash from it and I'm ok with that.  But I really just want to put my perspective/point of view out there about a topic I have seen a bit in the news lately.  One article relating to a sports figure and another to a store I'm sure we all shop at.

Breastfeeding in Public.

Let me give my point of view and please read the whole thing before going off on me. This is just my perspective and how I feel.  I'm not trying to stand on a soapbox and tell people what to do or what their rights are.  I just want to share my opinion after seeing several articles in the past couple of days.

Let me start by saying that I'm not a mom yet, but hope to be one day and I plan on breastfeeding, willing that everything goes well.  Some people can't (I have several friends who can't/couldn't and not due to their lack of wanting or trying to) and I understand that.  I was formula fed and I believe I did turn out ok.  I would like to breastfeed because I know that is the best thing for the child, they get the best nutrition, it's a wonderful bonding experience, and does lots of other beneficial things for both mom and baby.

And babies will be hungry when they are hungry.  And they usually need to be fed right away.  I know this because I am the last of my friends to be pregnant or have a baby.  When you're the last of your kind, you learn a lot about these things, whether you want to or not.  Babies have to be fed and they need the best nutrition, this is not the question at stake.

Breastfeeding in public is a hot topic.  That's why I was nervous about posting my perspective.  It is a law in many states that women have the right to breastfeed in public and it is exempt from indecent exposure.  I agree with this.  I've seen many women who breastfeed in public.  As someone who does not breastfeed yet, or have children, I have to be honest, it can be a bit surprising.  And can be a bit jarring if it's done in a very indiscreet way.  Let me give you an example.

I was at a museum a couple of years ago.  It was a cultural museum rather than art with many exhibits so you had to walk around things.  Not that that matters exactly.  Well, as I was turning the corner to look at a different part of an exhibit, there was a bench, and a lady was breastfeeding on it.  She had a button up blouse and had every button undone, with her front clipping bra undone, shirt pulled around, and her entire breast in plain view.  Not discreet at all.  In the middle of the museum, entirely exposed, in front of an exhibit.  It shocked me and took me a second to compose myself, mostly because I was just not expecting to turn the corner & see so much. 

Maybe it was the best way for her to do it, but for me, as someone who has never done it myself, it just makes me uncomfortable.  Not because I disapprove of it, that's 100% not true, but it's just not something I am familiar with.  I feel as though I've walked in on something very personal that I should not be privy to.  Also, the way she had the child positioned I could see most of her areola.  And yes, seeing that much of a complete stranger, 2 feet from me, made me uncomfortable.

I've also been out to dinner with friends who had a 6 week old (they were PCSing from Hawaii and we picked them up at the airport).  While at dinner, their baby needed to eat.  Mom pulled out a small blanket, positioned it over one shoulder started feeding, while we were eating, and we all forgot that she was feeding.  It wasn't a big deal.  No one gave her odd looks, no one commented, no one said anything.  She was involved in our conversation, drank her water, laughed with us, made jokes, and talked about their trip. But she didn't make a big deal of feeding.  Baby ate, we ate.  All was good. 

Maybe it was because her & her husband are friends of my husband's (I met her for the first time that day) that made it didn't bother me.  Maybe it's because she didn't make it known to the whole restaurant what she was about to do.  Maybe it was because she did it in a manner that she knew what was going on, and taking care of her baby and was relaxed.  But it didn't phase me one bit.  We had a lovely dinner with them, technically, all three of them.

I plan on breastfeeding, like I said, and I may change my mind once the baby is here (BTW I'm not preggers yet) but that's something I don't plan on sharing with a lot of people when they are visiting my home.  I don't feel like I would be comfortable doing it in front my of my mother-in-law, or even my own mother.  I would happily go up to the nursery to do it so baby & I are both comfortable.  Even if friends who have breastfed who have no problem with seeing me do it, it just wouldn't make me comfortable.  Maybe with one of the "private diners" but not with my robe open for the whole world to see.  But that's me.  That's me personally.  I don't expect everyone else to be like that.  I know plenty of women who BF in front of their whole family.  And that's fine.  But that's them, not me.

As someone who isn't accustomed, yes, it is a bit surprising, and can be uncomfortable to see in public.  In the Kasey Kahne situation, his comments were a bit harsh, but some of the responses he got, were even more harsh. Calling him a redneck, bottle-fed, inbreed is going to the same level.  I don't believe he is anti-breastfeeding, but seeing a woman walk down the center of an aisle while grocery shopping with her shirt open, yes, it's probably not what you expect to see when you're going to pick up a brownie mix.   In the Target situation, she was entitled to feed in the clothing section.  I don't believe the employees handled it correctly, but if it's their policy to ask a nursing mother if they'd like to use a fitting room, I don't necessarily think they're  being "anti-breastfeeding".  They weren't asking her to sit in a dirty restroom. Now THAT is completely inappropriate and unsanitary.

Just as some nursing mothers would expect people to respect them to not stare, gawk, roll their eyes, or make comments, I think that on the other hand, they should respect that it may make some others uncomfortable and it may garner a few stares, and not because they're anti-breastfeeding, but because it's something that not everyone is used to seeing.  There are plenty of ways to be discreet.  I've known people who purposefully draw attention to themselves while they're feeding, which I don't understand.  That's like taking a 4 year old out, standing up in the restaurant, and saying "HEY, GUESS WHAT!? I'M NOW USING A SPOON TO FEED MY KID HIS SOUP." I'm not saying throw a receiving blanket over the kids head, because I know a lot of people are very opposed to that, but whipping a whole boob out and having the entire thing exposed will draw some attention.  Even from other breastfeeding mothers.

I respect women who choose to breastfeed exclusively, it's time consuming and tiring.  I also respect women who breastfeed in public, discreetly.  You don't make a big deal about it, most people won't even notice.  Maybe I'm a prude, but I'd probably go to my car to do it (again, could change my mind when I have children).  I don't think people are opposed to seeing it if they stare for a moment, it's just not what they're used to seeing when they're picking up clementines. It's natural to hold a look a little longer at something uncommon. And guys are staring, well, they're probably just staring at boob anyway.


  1. I breastfeed my 9 month old and it makes me uncomfortable to see a boob out there for everyone to see. If she needs to be fed and I am out I'll use a cover or go into a dressing room if we are at the mall or such. So you definitely aren't alone!

  2. Maybe some will disagree with you, but I don't. I think this was very well written, respectful of others and got your point across. And I agree with you, especially about drawing attention to it. I have one friend that would basically do that at the dinner table in a restaurant, loudly announce that she was going to breastfeed her child and for everyone to go ahead and stare. The breastfeeding of her child wasn't embarrassing for us, HER attitude toward it and loud exclamation of it was. I understand that her reaction may be a result of other people's reactions to her at times, but it's still kind of incomprehensible to draw more attention to yourself about something that you don't want attention for...if that makes sense? Anyway, nicely said.

  3. I could not agree more with you. I'm obviously a mother, and I breastfed Millie. I would never think of leaving everything hanging out in public- for feeding a baby or any other reason! I can't really figure out why feeding her baby in a changing room is offensive- I would be very happy to have a seat and privacy, as opposed to sitting on the floor with everyone around. When I've been in public and had to nurse, I always went to a bathroom stall or other private place (our car, a nursing room at church)- I'm honestly not comfortable nursing around other people, blanket or no. Anyhow, this post was exactly what I have been thinking all day!

  4. I definitely don't disagree with you - I have friends who have babies and they've breastfed in front of me but they've done it discreetly, which in my world, makes a huge difference. I feel incredibly awkward when people do it 'openly' I'm sorry but I don't want to see your privates while I'm shopping or having dinner, so you're definitely not alone.

  5. I find it awkward to have a boob exposed while breastfeeding. I know that I'm not comfy exposing myself either...I guess I don't understand what the big deal is to go somewhere private or to at least cover yourself!

  6. Well said! I breastfed three babies and I always wanted to have a cover if I was out in public. I never feel comfortable showing skin.

  7. I have been thinking about this for a while as well, after a woman sitting in the seat next to me at the airport took out her entire breast to feed her child. There were literally inches between her exposed chest and my arm. That is NOT ok.

  8. The way I think about it is that you don't give weird looks to people eating a sandwich in public so why would you it be weird for a baby to be breastfeeding. Breasts are just really sexualized in our culture and people seem to forget that the very basic function of breasts is to provide nutrition and it shouldn't be something to be offended by.
    you are definitely not one of those people who get freakisly offended but that is just my opinion on the matter. And I'm not sayin we should all run around bare chested always but breastfeeding is totally diffferent from that and I think that difference between the two is important.

    I definitely agree with megan above my comment because personal space is important to a lot of people and you don't know if the person you're sitting next too has issues with their personal space.

    nice post! I love it when people can voice the unpopular opinion without being offensive :)

  9. Sorry for the wall of text I'm on my phone. I hate covering up to feed my child but since FIL is here and doesn't have any sense to leave the room when she is hungry I have to. I'm not comfortable doing it in front of him because at 1.5 weeks old it can be a production that requires my entire breast as well as squeezing nipples and stretching out a tiny mouth. I fed her at the Dr office with a blanket too. TC hated being covered and would fight it the whole time. Honestly that stupid cover made it more obvious what I was doing. I used it because that's what most of society wanted me to do forget that feeding is the reason we have breasts. I fed TC anywhere I was, out to eat, a bench at the mall, in front of some family and friends.sans cover, on a plane inches from strangers, at the beach, at 2 MLB's not my right to feed her, it's her right to eat. Many babies will not tolerate a cover so its not an option for all. While I see no need to all but remove your shirt simply popping out just what baby needs to eat is almost impossible. As for seeing areol, well my girls would need to be large mouth basses to take in the whole thing, a fun side effect of pregnancy. I just wish more people would stop hiding when baby needs to be fed, the more people who do it (and I mean just do it naturally and not as so big protest like production) the more normal it will be and people won't have to be shocked. And I hate saying it because it's an cliche thing to say but your opinion might change when your car is 30 minutes away and your choices to feed your screaming baby are a nice bench or a nasty public bathroom stall.

  10. I wish Americans and the entire American society wasn't so shocked by mothers nursing in public. I personally use a cover, but not because I don't want people to see me feeding my kid... it's more for the baby. When there is too much going on the baby won't eat, he/she is too interested in everything else that's going on. I personally don't care if a mama feeds her baby by the boob or the bottle... but what gets my feathers ruffled is when people say mothers shouldn't nurse in public (they should be using a bathroom, etc. I'm sorry but unless someone else is willing to eat their meal in a bathroom, I'm not going to even think about feeding my child in one.) or that they're "offended". I'm wondering what's so offensive about a mother breastfeeding when it's perfectly fine to have dirty magazines sold in stores. Sure the boobies are covered but we still see the title of the magazine so we know what's inside... but so are most mothers who nurse in public.

  11. I use a nursing cover when I'm out in public. Heck, today I nursed my baby in the car and used a nursing cover so no one could see inside! I'm all for nursing in public, but I wouldn't just pop it out. I don't want everyone seeing my stuff...

  12. I know I told you on twitter yesterday that I agreed with this post, but wanted to expand a little on here.

    Like I said, i agree with you 100%. I fully believe that every mother has a right to breast feed their child in public, or in private, or wherever they feel like doing it. Breast feeding is obviously proven to be better for the baby than formula, so if you are able to do it, more power to you!! It's a totally natural thing.

    But while it is a natural, beautiful thing, the fact of the matter is that boobs HAVE been sexualized in this country (like somebody above mentioned) and when you do get to see the full Monty out in public and you aren't really expecting it, it CAN be uncomfortable. It's not to say that just because someone is uncomfortable, that they disagree, but they are simply that ... uncomfortable about seeing full on boob out in public.

    I think there needs to be some give and take on BOTH ends here. People do need to realize that it's normal to breast feed a baby. And a baby's gotta eat when a baby's gotta eat!! A mother shouldn't be forced into a nasty bathroom stall to do something that's totally natural. But at the same time, when a mother who is choosing to breastfeed in public see's someone who gives them a funny look, or is asked politely if they would like to go somewhere more comfortable, they need to NOT jump to conclusions that the person is being rude, unsupportive, disapproves of breast feeding, etc. Yes, not all babies like covers. But with that said, they shouldn't be surprised when an uncomfortable glance comes their way. Some people genuinely just want to make the mother more comfortable.

    Again. Give and take on both sides. There is no RIGHT or wrong answer to either sides of this issue. People need to be a little more lenient, understanding and respectful on BOTH ends.

  13. My husband and I were having this exact discussion yesterday. I am nursing our 3 month old and I do it in public. However, I always use a cover and try to be as discreet as possible. He gets uncomfortable with me even doing that. I agree that breasts are for nourishment and are sexualized by our culture. Unfair or not, that is the way it is. So nursing uncovered makes me uncomfortable. However, if I am nursing discreetly with a cover, I don't think there should be any problem with that. No one is seeing my breast and I don't think I should have to run out to the car or sit in the restroom to nurse my baby. I was at a department store the other day and I sat in the chairs by the fitting room to nurse. The clerk made sure to let me know I could go nurse in the bathroom. I thought that was insulting. Anyway, that's my two cents.

  14. I think the bigger issue is how sexualized breasts have become, which is sad for the health of infants - nationally, less than 50% of babies are still breastfeeding at 6 months. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding to 12 months, and the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding until at least age 2. A lack of support for breastfeeding mothers will not help reach these goals. If a mother is repeatedly made to feel uncomfortable breastfeeding in public, it's likely that breastfeeding will discontinue earlier than would be optimal, as no one wants to feel like they are stuck at home all the time.

    Generally, when breastfeeding in public, I do try to be fairly discreet, but sometimes it is difficult to keep everything covered as you are trying to balance a blanket, a baby, and a breast. And then add on top of that a toddler/preschooler who thinks it's funny to pull down said blanket, you may show a little skin here or there. It is not always easy to get to your car, a fitting room, or some other private location once your child is ready to eat. (I'm not even going to include bathrooms because I would not eat my lunch sitting on a toilet - my baby shouldn't have to either.

    Many people mention the comfort of the mother. In that way, some private room is somewhat preferred because I'm more comfortable not being covered up. How wonderful it would be if I could just sit down anywhere and feed my baby without a cover - that would be just fine with me. To me, a breast is just skin. However, I do try to be respectful of others.

    The level of comfort from the breastfeeding mother's point of view is going to vary from person to person. My mother helped me with positioning of my breast when I started breastfeeding each of my children. I'm okay with breastfeeding in front of my mother-in-law. I'm also okay with breastfeeding in front of my father - each of me and my siblings were breastfed, this is nothing new to him. Out of respect to my father-in-law, I try to cover up when he is around (which makes for very few visits). Around girlfriends, I possibly take it for granted that they should just be comfortable with seeing a breast (again, I see it as though it is just an arm). I do try to be respectful of their husbands. But the goal should be comfort of breastfeeding in front of anyone - that way the mother doesn't feel exiled for her choice to breastfeed.

    Some may say to schedule outings around the baby's eating schedule so that you aren't out when the baby needs to eat. This may work with an older baby, but a new breastfed baby potentially eats every one and a half to two hours. And that's from the beginning of one feeding to the beginning of the next - feedings that can last up to or more than a half an hour themselves.

    The more often you see something, the more normal it becomes. Instead of lambasting women who nurse in public, we should be applauding them for their courage to help expose others to breastfeeding. It may also help women with the view of their own bodies - my daughter sees me nursing my son every day; she pretends to breastfeed her stuffed animals; I don't want her to be ashamed of her body, and if I can help pave the way for her to be comfortable and supported in nursing my grandchild some day, that is the best outcome I can imagine.

  15. I think this was a very well thought out and written post. It has really been blowing up in the news lately! I don't want to be a broken record but most of your commenters took the words out of my mouth.

    Shock factor can be the big component. No I don't think you should have to be sequestered away when your child is hungry and needs to eat, but to walk around the corner and see a full on boob out that is not your own can be jarring.

    I can appreciate both sides of the argument and I am sure when I am a mother my view may change, but for now I like to think that I would cover up or step out somewhere for privacy. I don't think I personally would be very comfortable exposing myself in public, even on that level!

  16. Totally agree with you. I'm not a mother, and have no desire to have children, but I have no problem with breastfeeding in public. I do, however, feel irritated when women are so blatant about it, and dislike the stares! I'm like you, if I was in that position, I'd head back to the car, or use a bathroom, or ask an attendant at the store (museum, art gallery etc etc) if there happened to be a quiet space I could feed the baby in. Yes, the baby needs to be fed, but no, this isn't code for "I should be able to expose my breasts and not expect anyone to look at me"!

  17. I am not a mother but I totally agree with you. It is not the shock of "shes breastfeeding" its the "shes very exposed" type of shock. I don't care if the woman is breastfeeding and makes a big scene about it if she is covered when in public. I have a friend like Amber above stated that her kid just couldn't handle having a cover. She too breastfed in public however she did so in the discreetest was possible. Sitting in an out of the way bench or requesting a table in the not so visible area so as not to draw any unwanted attention to herself.

    For me right now (this may change who knows) I think I would feel awkward breastfeeding while exposed unless I was at home without any guests over. Personally I would not want to be exposed like that around strangers. But that's just my opinion.

  18. It has taken me a million years to comment on this, mostly because I get so frustrated that I just can't even complete sentences.
    You definitely struck a nerve with the museum portion. I think it's outrageous for people to use a museum gallery as a place to feed their children {whether that be breastfeeding OR bottlefeeding}. The big difference is, having worked in a museum, we are not allowed to ask a breastfeeding mother to leave for fear of the backlash. Speaking from experience, a boob is just as capable of spraying as a bottle and when there are perfectly comfortable locations within 50 ft to feed your child, the excuse that he/she is hungry now just doesn't fly with me.
    I think both sides breastfeeding and not need to learn to be more tolerant. Everyone needs to stop proselytizing and just learn to accept that every person will have different parenting methods, but that doesn't mean that they are intolerant just because they don't want to see your boobs while they are enjoying art, shopping etc. I also dislike seeing people spank their children in public, but I am NOT the parent, so it is NOT my place to say something.
    Long story short, I agree with you! People contend that it is natural to breastfeed, but the fact is, we DO live in a culture where boobs are seen as sexual objects. Our country was founded on Puritan values. We have come a long way, but people should not be shocked by discomfort caused by baring it all!


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