What should you do if you see a woman breastfeeding in public?

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Answered by: Leah, An Expert in the Breastfeeding in Public Places Category
Across America there's a debate over whether or not breastfeeding in public is okay. Some who argue that the practice is unacceptable reason that breastfeeding women are "exhibitionists" who just want a chance to lift up their shirts. Some think that the practice distracts men and disturbs other women, and especially, children. Others think that while there is nothing wrong or distasteful about breastfeeding in public, they wish women wouldn't do it around them because they feel guilty and uncomfortable watching a woman feed her child in this way. Perhaps you fall into one of those categories.The truth is, whether or not breastfeeding makes you uncomfortable, in most states, women are allowed to feed their babies in whatever way they choose, on private and public property. That means you could possibly encounter nursing women almost anywhere. Many recent attempts at asking nursing women to "cover up or leave" have been repaid with "nurse-ins," where the woman who was confronted rallies all the other nursing mothers in the area to come and breastfeed their babies at the place of the shameful encounter. The lesson is, if you don't want a community of nursing women to gang up on you, follow these simple words of advice if you encounter a woman breastfeeding her child in public:

Don't shame her by asking her to cover up. Some women choose not to use covers for the comfort of her child. Most babies don't like to eat with a blanket over their head; they like to look around and breathe fresh air while they eat. Asking a mother to cover up implies that what she's doing is inappropriate, and chances are, she's fine with what she's doing and how she's doing it. If she wants to cover up to make herself or her baby more comfortable then she will.

Don't cover the eyes of your own children.

Of course you can decide for yourself how to talk to your children about breastfeeding, but remember what it is: a mother feeding her baby in a natural and convenient way. It's not something dirty or shameful, and even though there are breasts involved, it's not something sexual. It's almost impossible to avoid exposure to scantily clad women in advertisements; why not use the opportunity of seeing a nursing mother to teach your own children that breasts are useful for something besides selling beer and aftershave.

If you find yourself sitting across from her or speaking with her, look her in the eyes and smile, as you would do with any other human being.

You can acknowledge that she's nursing, or compliment her baby, or ask her how her day is going. Don't bother to glare or scowl at her; that won't change the fact that her baby is hungry and she's going to feed him in the best way she knows how. Remember she's a mom, and all moms need a little encouragement sometimes. Your smile and kind words will go a long way.

Finally, if you just can't stand that a lady has moved her shirt out of place in order to feed her baby in your vicinity: avert your eyes or walk away. This way, the woman can go on meeting the needs of her child in peace, and you won't risk becoming an object of scorn to a troop of fuming mothers.

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