Breastfeeders, Please Sit at the Back of the Bus.

Look, I know that breastfeeding is offensive to some people. When I nursed my first child, I usually excused myself to go to my car or another room.  Some people are willing to fight for their rights, and others, like the old me, will hide in another room in an attempt not to “offend” anyone.

But as I age, and see the world with more wisdom, I see the bigger picture.

In almost every state, women’s right to nurse their young is protected by law. Forty-five states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands have laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location. Twenty-eight states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws.  (Learn more here.)

Breastfeeding mothers are often harassed and treated like second class citizens. The are told to go to the bathroom or some other private location to feed their babies. For a while, I thought that maybe women should just go to the bathroom.  “Why cause a commotion? Why pick a fight? Just nurse your baby, that’s all that matters,” I would tell myself.

But is it?

It’s not as black and white as minorities being treated poorly. It’s not as cut and dry as racial discrimination.

Or is it?

It certainly doesn’t seem as mean or harmful.  But let’s think about this. Fifty some years ago, racial discrimination certainly didn’t seem cut and dry.

“Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.”
― Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays

Shouldn’t breastfeeding moms be a part of the herd? Isn’t that what is best for the herd? Isn’t that what all the experts say is vital for the herd?

When nursing moms feel they need to excuse themselves to nurse, they are being told that breastfeeding is offensive to some people. Well, WHO CARES if people are offended?

I know that this post is not some new scientific breakthrough about the benefits of nursing or a really cool breastfeeding tip, but I think it’s still important. I already explained why women shouldn’t be asked to bottle feed their nursing babies while they are in public. We’ve discussed the breasts’ place in human sexuality already. But I’ve skirted this issue until now. Because I was ashamed to say what I believe….

Is expecting a woman to nurse in a private place discrimination?

I really think it is.

I actually think it’s sex discrimination.  I think it is sexist to expect a woman to feel shame about feeding her child. I think it devalues part of what it is to be a woman. And you can’t choose your sex any more than you can choose the color of your skin.

Sure, you can choose to breastfeed in public or private. Heck, you can choose not to breastfeed at all. But is that all there is to discrimination? Whether or not you can choose?

Does that mean that it wouldn’t be racist to tell your white friend who has a black spouse that if they are going to hold hands, they aught to do it in the bedroom or in their car, or anywhere else where it “won’t offend people?” NO WAY! We understand that now. In a different era, not so long ago though, that is exactly what people did.

One could argue that some perfectly natural things should only be done in private, like peeing for example.  You don’t pee in public, right? The difference is, if a person is told to pee in private, she will still do it. Nothing is going to stop anyone from peeing. Often, women who are told to feed their baby in private have babies that nurse so long and so frequently, that they would choose to just bottle feed. In asking a woman to nurse only in private, you are asking her to choose between her role as a member of society and her role as a mother.

That is an unacceptable set of choices.

There is nothing  innately wrong, indecent or immoral about a woman nursing her baby. <– Now THAT part is cut and dry.

It’s all perception. And women, doctors, and activists are actively working to fight that perception.

Perception will change. 

In fifty years, when our grandchildren learn about the discriminatory history of breastfeeding, which side will you have been on?

7 Comments

  1. Karen

    I think the point wasn’t that peeing is comparable to breastfeeding. The point was that if someone is told enough times not to bf in public , they may feel pressured to bottle feed whereas someone told to pee /poop in private won’t get a colostomy bag fitted.

  2. Nancy Tomas

    I understand your point completly. But I also know there are girls like me that dont feel comfortable with it just as much as not feeling comfortable with having sex in public even when is a natural thing. I don’t mind at all having a girl breastfeeding in front of me but i DO feel embarassed when there are men of kids around cause men see things diferent and even while covered you can get the “visual” of a breast…it be like having sex in public but with a blanket around so “no one can see”. Anyhow, never saw it your point of view and totally understand now how some women feel about it, it is just not comfortable with me, specailly when having 3 little curious boys in the house (: Your point makes me more understanding of people that think this way, this was great! Thank you!

    • Mike

      Nancy,
      Your feelings of discomfort with it are completely valid. The thing is, and what I believe Dawn is hoping for, as well as many others, it shouldn’t be awkward. That isn’t to say that because we believe strongly that women SHOULD feel comfortable with it, that you must. The point is that our society has made breasts nothing more than sexual objects, and that people DO act all crazy about something that is a natural act, and should be given no attention as a bad thing. If the majority of people embraced breastfeeding as the normal way of feeding your child (there is obviously some scientific, and evolutionary reason that milk comes out after childbirth), then it simply would not be uncomfortable for the majority of women. If more children were made aware of its normalcy, it would be normal for the adults, as those children become adults. At least for this family, that is ultimately the goal. Make people realize it is normal. There is nothing sexual or wrong about it. The more the people around breastfeeders are comfortable with it, the more comfortable the rest of the breastfeeders will become as well. I’m very glad that we have managed to surround ourselves mostly with people who support the same lifestyle that we do, so it has not been much of an issue for my wife. I’m very glad that she has never felt the need to go hide to do something so natural as feeding our little girl when she is hungry. The one time it was ever made an issue, prior to a larger family Christmas party, we just opted to spend time with the other family instead. We were much happier to spend time with people who care to have us there, than who felt uncomfortable with us there.

      • Dawn

        That’s exactly it. I get that it’s strange now. But one day, it won’t be, because of those women who are paving the way…. Change is always uncomfortable, but this is something that needs to happen and will happen. The point of this post was to demonstrate that one day, we will look back and think, “It’s SO STRANGE that breastfeeding moms were shoved in bathrooms and back rooms….”

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