While I was doing my research for this article, I stumbled upon the story of two women in the US military who participated in a pro-breastfeeding campaign and were horribly insulted for it. Many things were said about them, but I found this to be particularly upsetting: Somebody called these women a disgrace to the uniform and compared breastfeeding to defecating or urinating in public. When you stop shaking your head as I did, you will probably ask yourself as well, ‘how can a mother feeding her child be a disgrace? How is it possible to compare nurturing a child with defecating?’ I think we need to stop, rewind and re-think.
Breastfeeding (or babyfeeding as I like to call it) is the act of nursing a child with mother’s milk. Regardless of how natural and necessary it is for both child and mother, many women who choose to do so in public places are often faced with public shaming and humiliation. Why? Here are my two cents on it: we live in a hypocritically sexist society, (I’m pointing this out just in case you’ve been living under a rock.) We encourage mothers to breastfeed children but we feel “uncomfortable” with the idea of them doing it in public. We remain silent when breasts (and female bodies in general) are exposed in a way that objectifies women (as in television, ads or music videos) but we feel disgusted whenever a mother feeds her child right next to us in a supermarket’s cashier desk line, at a restaurant or a theater. God forbid breasts are being used to do anything other than sell sexy lingerie or beer!
It seems we find it hard to realize that supporting breastfeeding in public IS supporting breastfeeding. In the end, women are put under a heavy strain when it comes to nursing their children. Sometimes they are forced to use public restrooms (as if any of us would eat on a public toilet) or cover up their babies with a suffocating blanket (again, as if any of us would eat with a blanket on). They also endure hard looks, intimidation, disrespectful comments and even unjustified aggression. All of this for what? For the sake of not seeing a nipple? Our double standards have gone too far.
Many countries such as Germany, Canada, Iceland and the Philippines understood the importance of breastfeeding and have passed on legislation to protect mothers. The Philippines took it one step ahead and sanctioned an Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act in 2009. The US has also legislated in favor of the nursing mother but it doesn’t seem to be enough to put an end to harassment. For the sake of mothers and babies we must change our mindset. Change starts at home, with us, by looking at the mirror. Moms need to realize that there is nothing to be ashamed of if they choose to breastfeed in public. There is nothing sexual, amoral or bizarre in nursing your child. On the contrary, bizarre is to be banned from breastfeeding in public. It is bizarre and discriminatory, so please moms don’t tolerate it! You have the right to decide. It’s your body, your baby and your rules. Let’s advocate for no more mom-shaming! Breastfeeding is an expression of love.