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Should Women Breast Feed in Public?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

There have been several cases around the United States in which women breastfeeding their infants in public places were confronted and ordered to stop. This despite the fact that they and their infant were appropriately covered. They’ve been told to leave places such as, buses, stores, work places, and colleges and universities, malls and other similar settings.

In Colorado, one woman at a public swimming pool, was nursing her baby when a life guard informed her that she would have to do that in the rest room. This was only one case of women being told to go to a bathroom to finish nursing.

Most states in America have laws protecting nursing mothers from harassment when they nurse in public. Laws having to do with indecency and nudity do not apply to these women. The problem is that employers, college and university officials, public transportation workers and people in general, are unaware that this is allowed.

Needless to say, people fall along two very distinct sides about this practice. Women who advocate nursing oppose doing it in public because they view it as something that should be done privately at home. From their point of view, it’s important for people to think of etiquette when outside the home. In other words, a woman should not take their breast out for everyone to view, nursing mother or not.

On the other hand, mothers who have to go to work, shopping, school and elsewhere, state that, once their baby becomes restless and starts to cry because they are hungry, there is no other way to comfort them but to breastfeed. Given the fact that infants become hungry in fairly short intervals, they need to be fed quickly.

Among those who advocate nursing in public are the point is made that breastfeeding is not a “dirty activity,” akin to functions of elimination. There is a sense of insult that such an attitude persists when breastfeeding is likened to something foul and disgusting.

Many other women with and without breastfeeding infants, insist that this is a natural function that it’s time for the public to accept it. They site the fact that nations around the world, including industrialized and technologically advance fully accept this without any difficulty. They point out that a woman who is nursing does not “reveal or expose their breast,” and, therefore, this is not a matter of etiquette.

Finally, there are men and women who report feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed around a nursing mother when they are sitting on a bus, train, or, even in the shopping mall.

Perhaps a big part of the problem is that Americans society views breasts as sexual objects that have no other purpose than to attract men. In a variety of societies around the world, Americans are considered strange for thinking of breasts for anything other than providing milk to babies. In other words, not everyone around the world sensualizes breasts.  

What are your opinions about this controversial issue?

Your comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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