6 January 2012

What Breastfeeding Is and Isn't

Whenever there re debates about breastfeeding in public, there are inevitably comparisons to other bodily and/or intimate activities, such as urination or sex. The conclusion is then tht mums must cover up or use an artificial substitute.

Let's think about this, though. What is breastfeeding, truly? It is the normal way of nourishing and comforting a child. Are these inappropriate activities for the public sphere? Given the number of public restaurants, street cafes, and food vendors, I'd have to say no. Furthermore, women aren't berated for bottle-feeding in public, which lends further credence to feeding in public being acceptable. Since breastfeeding is the biological norm, and thus the best thing to do, it shouldn't be an issue at all to breastfeed in public, uncovered.

But breastfeeding isn't only about food: it is also the normal way to omfort a child. Is comfort in the public sphere forbidden? Hardly! The only problem seems to be the societal expectation that mothers use a dummy instead of the biological norm of breastfeeding.

Back to those objections I mentioned above. We can agree that public urination and sex are to be discouraged, because of hygiene and th intimacy of the acts. Breastfeeding is not unhygienic, and, while intimate, does not necessitate privacy. If it did, thn surely mothers couldn't feed their children out of the house at all, covered or not. After all, we don't say public urination and sex are fine as long as the people in question use a cover or an artificial substitute. No, I think I can confidently say that public sex would still be frowned upon with a dildo, or public urination even under a sheet. Covering it up or using a substitute doesn't suddenly make the public display of the act acceptable. Thus the comparison fails on all counts, really.

So the next time those comparisons are made, think about what breastfeeding actually is, and realize the comparisons to sex or other bodily functions just don't work. In fact, even lowing the conversation to stay on those arguments misses the point, as we should be pointing out that breastfeeding is the biologically normal way to feed and comfort our children, and these acts are allowed in public. Therefore, breastfeeding in public, uncovered, should never be an issue. Certainly it wasn't an issue during the time this lovely painting of he Blessed Virgin MaryDand Jesus was created, nor should it be now.


  1. When my second child was born, she had Down's and a heart defect that made it hard for her to nurse. Consequently for a year, I nursed a child who latched, relatched, rerelatched, etc.--if we were on the breast for ten seconds at a time it was an accomplishment. I decided then that the world was going to have to deal with me breastfeeding my child w/o covering up, b/c you can't latch that many times under cover. Well, *I* can't, anyway. :)

  2. Good on you for doing that! I certainly don't think I'd have been able to relatch that many times under a cover, either. I did use a cover for the first few months with my firstborn, but he put an end to that.