How Do You Respond to Anti-Breastfeeding Sentiment?

January 7th, 2010 by Dionna | 19 Comments
Posted in Breastfeeding/Lactivism, Feed with Love and Respect

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In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been:

  • called a “militant whack-a-doodle” lactivist (directly or indirectly, it makes little difference);
  • been in the hot seat with several family members who do not agree with my position on a mother’s right to nurse in public (covered or not); and
  • engaged in a heated debate with several misinformed women who do not see a need to normalize nursing, but who are quick to condemn any mother who nurses her infant unfettered by hooter hiders or the like.

With the support of several incredible people (thank you R., M., T., A., and others who left comments on this site or the other), I was proud of myself by responding to most of the comments with dignity and respect, despite the fact that I did not receive the same courtesy. Only once did I really lose my cool – at the insistence of one person who said women nursing in restrooms is preferable to nursing uncovered in public.

I will write on this subject more in-depth at a later date, but I’d like to open it up to all of you:

What are your go-to arguments when confronted by someone who does not support a woman’s right to nurse uncovered in public?

I’m talking about those people who say:

  • Breastfeeding makes me uncomfortable.
  • You shouldn’t let other people see your breast while nursing (especially my husband, son, brother, daughter, whatever).
  • If you must nurse in public, do it somewhere out of public view or cover up.
  • Would you urinate in public?
  • Would you have sex in public?
  • Breasts are too sexual to expose.
  • Nursing in public goes against our cultural norms.
  • (Fill in the blank on why you should not nurse in public or must cover up)

Hopefully you will never be chastised by people who do not approve of nourishing/comforting your child whenever the need arises; but just in case you are, I’m sure you will feel more confident with some facts and anecdotes in your back pocket. (I’m thinking about creating a resource page of short and sweet responses. Perhaps even creating a little card that mamas could print off & carry for added reassurance – maybe one that they could give to anyone who questions their right to nurse in public.)

Please share your advice (or comment with a link to a site that has good suggested responses), maybe it will help another mama in an awkward situation.

What a blessing it will be when the world agrees with my friend, Raegan, who observed: “There is nothing more beautiful than a contented, nursing child.”

My friend, Monica, amused by her toddler's nursing gymnastics.

19 Responses to:
"How Do You Respond to Anti-Breastfeeding Sentiment?"

  1. raegan

    once, when my first son was only about 3 weeks old, i was out to lunch with my former coworkers, one of whom i knew was quite uncomfortable seeing a baby nurse in public. so when he started screaming in hunger, i was scared to nurse him, lest she be offended. naturally, his screaming escalated, and i excused myself since i had to go to the bathroom, anyway. (the restaurant hostess graciously offered to open the private dining room for me to have some privacy, but i declined.)

    it remains one of my least proud parenting moments, having put the comfort of others ahead of my baby’s needs. since that day, i have vowed to myself and my children:

    **ANYWHERE anyone can feed with a bottle, i will nurse my babies.**

    not that it’s a particularly witty comeback or response, but it’s my mantra, and i happily–and PROUDLY–repeat it.

  2. Sarah

    Just stopping in to say keep up the good fight Mama!

  3. Heather   xakana

    All I’ve said is that the law is on my side. It’s only come up once and it ended ugly… and then was resolved because… well, I was right, lol!

  4. Katje Sabin

    I’ve been very fortunate to never have been the target of such ignorance or bullying. I daresay that my demeanor has something to do with it. You know how they say walking with determination and purpose deters rapists? I think there’s something to that in the way we nurse, too. I’ve never been a timid or shy nursing mama, and while I’ve had a few folks offer to let me move to a more private place, I politely decline and say I’m just fine here, thank you. I try not to be rude, because I know other moms really would prefer to be alone when they nurse (or some babies need a quiet, non-distracting place), so I do still want those folks to offer. But unless I’m feeling overwhelmed and need some sanctuary anyway, I just whip it out and get to it. For a few years, I was hoping someone WOULD give me crap, because my back-up plan was to squirt ‘em right between the eyes. Just thinking about this scenario probably gave me a sense of anticipation, like I was just waiting for someone to say something. Funny enough, the attitude of “bring it on, bitches!” was enough all by itself to ward off any trouble.

  5. Amber   AmberStrocel

    Thankfully, I have never been confronted on nursing in public, either while doing it or even online. I’m not sure why that is, in particular, but the result is that I don’t have a lot of clever retorts.

    Online, I delete comments that cross the line into personal attack. I’ve only done it outright once (and not about breastfeeding), usually I’ll just warn the commenter if I feel they’re crossing the line. You’re free to disagree with me, but you’re not free to call me names / question my worth as a person / right to parent as I see fit / etc. Even the newspaper doesn’t publish every letter they get, you know?

    Beyond that, I am glad to know that my right to breastfeed anytime and anywhere is protected by law in my jurisdiction. You don’t have to like it, you don’t have to be comfortable with it, but you can’t prevent me or harass me. Knowing that increases my confidence. Plus, I honestly think that without the hooter hider most people don’t even know I’m nursing – it’s really much less obvious than I would have thought before doing it myself. That’s the irony of ‘covering up’ – it draws much more attention to breastfeeding than just going about your business.

  6. Melodie   bfmom

    I haven’t been confronted while nursing in public either although I was with a friend when she was and I thought she handled it beautifully. We were walking downtown and this guy (who was volunteering at a United Way stand of all things!) shouted out to her “hey lady, you’re downtown!” She gave him a curious look and then retorted, “I’m just feeding my baby!” Then after thinking about it and chatting with me she turned around and went to the booth and asked to speak to the person in charge. She then went on to say how unprofessional this person was being in representing this charity and that she had the legal right to breastfeed in public anytime and any place she wanted to. At this time the guy was standing a little ways away doing somehting else but as we left he was called over, and we assume he was reprimanded in some way. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone else who is with the culprit or even say something out loud so other people can hear, although not directly said at the person who criticized you. It’s kind of a cowardly thing to do, I admit, but it’s that head-on confrontation that scares people away from saying anything in their own defense. It’s hard for me anyway.

  7. The only time I’ve ever been confronted was at a public swimming pool in Tallahassee when Charlotte was still an infant. It was a busy day and I was sitting on a chaise lounge with her under a shade umbrella, and happened to have a terrycloth swimsuit cover up on my body, so I was wearing a LOT more clothing than most of the people at the pool. I was already in a bad mood because I went to the pool for a playdate for my 8 year old and they made me pay for Charlotte, even though I wasn’t about to take a 2 month old into a public pool. In Florida a woman has the right to breastfeed anywhere that eating is allowed, and that was my retort to the young lifeguard who came over to talk to me. He said, “Well, eating isn’t allowed here.” I looked around and saw that it was true, I was inside the “no food or drinks” zone…but I was *surrounded* by people who were drinking Cokes, letting their kids eat goldfish crackers and whatnot. I said, “You are discriminating against me, singling me out. Look at all these other people eating and drinking!” He looked quite uncomfortable but said, “It isn’t allowed…” so I stormed off, asked my playdate mom friend to bring Madeline home later, and asked for a refund at the check in gate. They did give it to me and I had big plans to follow up, but you know how things go when you’re a new mom…I never got around to it. I did boycott that particular pool for the rest of the summer and instead just went to the beach a lot where no one ever bothered me. I wish now I had followed up on that scene though.

  8. Anna

    I do have a little laminated card I’ve carried, published by my state’s “Breastfeeding Taskforce”, with the law printed on it. I’ve never had to produce it, but it’s been nice to have. Nobody has ever treated me disrespectfully (probably because of that sense of confidence mentioned by the mother in another comment!) but as another woman mentioned above, the law protects me, so end of story– they may disagree with my right to breastfeed in public, but it is legal, so anybody’s squeamishness or ignorance is their owm problem, not mine.

  9. Honestly I’ve never had anyone even look at me funny. It is surprising to me that so many woman have these hostile experiences. Maybe it is just my aura of hostility?

    (Hi! Fairly new reader, but I do like to answer questions. :)

  10. Dionna   CodeNameMama

    Thank you everyone for the responses. I heard time and again from people who don’t think we need to “normalize” breastfeeding that they’ve never heard anyone make a negative comment to a nursing mother. Obviously they just haven’t taken the time to ask.
    Anna – I would love to see a copy of that card!

  11. You are absolutely correct that breastfeeding should be normalized. I agree because so many of the young mothers I know don’t really understand the benefits. They think it is more convenient to bottle feed. I really don’t understand that logic. :)

  12. Mandy

    We just keep on doing what we feel is best. Over the past few years, I have made a concerted effort to support other nursing mothers I’ve seen. It started when I saw a woman nursing her baby in the restroom at the mall. I felt a need to go back and make certain she didn’t need anything and to make sure she knew she could breastfeed anywhere. The look of relief on her face to have someone say something in support was all it took. I now try to, at the very least, make eye contact and give a big cheesy smile to any nursing mother I see. Perhaps rather than trying to educate the ignorant individuals out there (most of whom are too self-centered to care about any other point of view), we should just openly stand up and support every single nursing mother we see so that others will join. Perhaps soon we would no longer be a minority in this country.

    I’ve never had anything said directly to me. All the neative comments I’ve heard were said to others very LOUDLY so that I would hear. A memorable experience happened at JoAnn’s. We were in the back section getting some large pieces of decorator fabric cut for backgrounds. The person cutting the fabric was new and was taking a really long time. We assured her that we understood and that it wasn’t a problem.

    We were entertaining the kids, Eoin was almost three and Eilis was 10 1/2 months old. At some point Eilis wanted down so she could walk around with Eoin. Later, she had reached her limit and wanted to nurse. I “discretely” stepped out of the way to latch her on and then stepped back to speak with my husband and son. The more experienced employee that had come to help the new employee made some comment about Eilis being “too old for that.” It was specifically said in a way that it wasn’t directed to me but that I would hear. I ended up writing a letter to the store and never heard anything back. I never saw that employee again, though.

    The funniest part? Eilis nursed every single time we went to that store from then until she was almost three years old. It didn’t matter if we had just eaten and nursed, as soon as we were walking around in that store, she *had* to nurse. I don’t know if it was her own little lactavist act or if she was insecure there because of the incident. I smiled every time, though.

  13. Rachel H.

    As an expectant mother… you are all my heroes! I feel so strongly about this and knowing that I will have a militant group of lactivists supporting my choices makes me even more confident in my choice to breast feed when my child needs to eat!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Thank you Rachel :) I really hope that more women will feel more comfortable nursing in public b/c of the women who have had the courage to do it in past generations. It’s like I wrote on the guest post I did for API Speaks this week: “I take immense comfort in the fact that my son might not need to fight these same battles because we are normalizing it for his generation, simply by living.”

  14. Trish   mylittledrummer

    I used to breastfeed singlely in public anywhere, and though I saw some “looks” no one said anything directly to me.

    Out of respect for my elderly FIL I wouldn’t feed directly in front of him but other family members I did.

    I was limited though having twins it is more difficult to twin/tandem feed in public both for positioning & exposure of both breasts (plus I have a a skin condition with lumps & bumps I don’t wish to expose.)

    My favourite line came from my FIL …he said ‘don’t try to break any records’. When they were about 1 yr old. A few times now when asked how long will I feed my twins for I say …” I’m going for the record”

  15. Breastfeeding makes me uncomfortable.
    Had this one when we went to register the baby’s birth – he was very polite and I could tell he didn’t mean any harm so I went next door fed baby came back carried on – he said thank you and meant it.

    You shouldn’t let other people see your breast while nursing (especially my husband, son, brother, daughter, whatever).
    got this and just shrugged and said hubby has seen the boobs MANY times had he not I’d be worried – other kids we have a free house we don’t walk around all covered up my children came out of my body they will have what I have soon or have a wife with what I have they may as well not get the shock that we don’t look like Playboy!

    If you must nurse in public, do it somewhere out of public view or cover up.
    why? is my answer
    Would you urinate in public? – it has been known when I am desperate!
    Would you have sex in public? – it has been known – however sex remains a private matter why are you sexualising a human need ( would love decent answer to this)
    Breasts are too sexual to expose. maybe to you but as my baby is NOT likely to feel sexual desire I’ll carry on using my MAMMARY GLANDS to feed my child if it turns you on I’d start saving for the therapy.
    Nursing in public goes against our cultural norms. mm never had this but would say and look at how well we’ve done obese children cancer rises general illness increase and tearaway kids who can’t bond great I’ll be uncultural thanks!

    never had many bad experiences never had to get too annoyed for my baby’s rights fortunately

  16. Meaghan

    I have had too many problems with nursing in public. I once nursed my 3 week old daughter in an OB clinic and a nurse came up to me and told me people were uncomfortable with me nursing and escorted me to another room. I was so confused and mad. There were pictures about breastfeeding in that OB room and a slogan saying “Breastfed anywhere anytime” whatever..I had another embarrassing moment. I was nursing my 3 month old son in my baby carrier and a man made a sexual comment about it. A man who I just met at a bbq. It was sick I cant even type it on here. Lets just say my face was bright red and I was speechless. Everyone was looking at me waiting for me to say something, but I just left. I was too angry to say anything. Despite my bad experiences with nursing in public I still do it. I try to do it privately as I can, but people are definitely offended by it or weirded out by it. I don’t think it will ever be normal. I hope to inspire other moms out there. Most people wont notice, but there are a few who do and have to open their big mouths.

  17. christy   home_mom

    I’m pretty late on this train but wanted to add my 2¢. I’ve bee there done that all over. Worked a full time job where my baby came with me, I was able to keep her under my desk while she was little and went to our tech closet to feed her. When I changed jobs and couldn’t bring her with me I pumped in restrooms. I feed her in the store with blankets etc. It can get pretty crazy as they get older and don’t want to be covered up. I love all the new cute maternity tops and wraps that give you the discreetness without the huge shawl look. I stop breast feeding when they are ready to move on and when I am as well. 2 is a bit old for me because it’s time for their little bodies to grow up in my opinion but I don’t knock anyone for venturing over that age. People can say what they want, Like miss Kim. She can’t change anything I do with my babies so I really could care less what she has to say about it.

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