The debate over breastfeeding in public is yet another powder keg in the never-ending culture wars. Suddenly, a mother feeding her child in public has become a political statement in itself.
As pediatricians increasingly promote breastmilk over formula, mothers can be found feeding their babies in stores, parks, banks, and libraries. With more women nursing openly in all spaces, we’ve seen an explosion of think pieces, blog posts, and editorials loudly promoting or condemning this practice.
Those who are in favor
Advocates in favor of breastfeeding in public say it is absolutely essential for modern mothers with busy lives. These days, women compete to live up to the “supermom” standard. Their days are full of packing lunches, grocery trips, walking the dog, laundry, blogging, day trading, PTA meetings, and chauffeuring kids to soccer practice. They argue that moms on the go should be free to nurse their babies wherever and whenever.
Many of these women buck against public pressure to nurse in lactation rooms or behind a breastfeeding cover. They see so-called “public decency” arguments as thinly veiled attempts to regulate women’s bodies and limit their freedoms. For them, breastfeeding in public has become an act of rebellion and self-expression.
Should a mother’s intimate moments with her baby be shared with others?
Meanwhile, critics see the issue as a question of public decency. Many people are uncomfortable with women breastfeeding just anywhere. Does everyone need to share this intimate moment with you at the bank, they ask? What about in courtrooms or the workplace?
Many critics ask whether the brazen act of breastfeeding in public is necessary to begin with when there are so many other options available.
Instead, they encourage mothers to pump plenty of milk before leaving the house or to nurse in the privacy of their cars, a bathroom, or lactation rooms. This view is supported by the endless assortment of chic nursing shawls and scarves available online which are designed to allow women to feed their baby discreetly.
So who is right in all of this?
As the culture wars rage on in the news and social media, the most any mother can do is decide for herself. Some women will continue to champion the appropriateness of breastfeeding in public, regardless of the situations.
It was only this past June that a representative in the Australian parliament, Larissa Waters, made history by breastfeeding her 14-week-old baby while addressing the chamber on camera.
While many moms may be inspired by her example, others will continue to choose the privacy of their homes or cars to feed their children. The ebb and flow of social change is beyond the control of any one person. For now, each woman can only decide for herself.