Breastfeeding In Public? Not In My Front Yard

In the 1980s when my daughters were born, in the US, I was advised to breastfeed them until they were at least a year old. I was also urged to do it as much and as often as possible. So during that first year I nursed my babies wherever we went: the public library, the mall, and the coffee shop.  It wasn’t a big deal, all the other mothers did it as well, and no one ever stared at us or made a comment.

That was how life was in Iowa City, a small university town in the Midwest, where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” It was that simple, mother’s milk was essential to the well-being of the baby, hence breastfeeding mothers were made welcome everywhere.

But our breastfeeding friendly world has disappeared, we read about it every day in the papers and in social media. The last example is the incident at the Claridge hotel in London where a mother breastfeeding her hungry baby seemed to have offended the sensibility of the other guests. She was asked to cover her breast as though she was Janet Jackson at the Superbowl.

This sudden burst of puritanism is yet another manifestation of the negative attitude to women in general and to mothers in particular. A recent study published in the online journal Maternal & Child Nutrition finds that breastfeeding in public is frowned upon and that  mothers are made to feel “marginalised and ashamed.”

This ill wind brings to mind a bleak period for women.In the 1950s, women in Britain, the US and Israel were told by medical practitioners and the media of the time that infant formula was superior to mother’s milk. Breastfeeding was looked down upon and was only practiced by the poor and the uneducated. Since at that period most middle-class mothers stayed at home (75% in Britain ), they kept busy sanitizing and warming endless bottles for their babies instead of just breastfeeding them.

Today no one in her/his right mind would refute the supremacy of mother’s milk, but the attempt to restrict and delegitimize all signs of natural motherhood is troubling..

In addition, nowadays almost all mothers work outside the home, but short maternity leaves make breastfeeding exceedingly hard. Mothers who choose to continue breastfeeding once they go back to work have to take heroic measures in order to do so. They have to pump during lunch break and to  find ways to freeze and store their milk.

Sadly the twenty first century has become a bleak period for women as well. Women today face discrimination and hostility if and when they choose to become mothers. Motherhood, and everything surrounding it (pregnancy, fertility treatments, maternity leave, child care issues, etc) is no longer regarded as a priority in our society. It has been demoted to being a woman’s choice, and as such it is her sole responsibility and she is the only one who  pays, full price, for going through with it..

It is important to realize that when it comes to breastfeeding in public, a rose is not just a rose. We must find ways to once again give motherhood the respect it deserves. A good place to start  is by making sure that public places are friendly environment for breastfeeding.

P.S. Just as I finished writing I saw this article in The Guardian:

Nigel Farage says breastfeeding women should sit in a corner

About the Author
I have a PhD in English literature from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and I usually write about issues concerning women, literature, culture and society. I lived in the US for 15 years (between 1979-1994). I am widow and in March 2016 started a support/growth Facebook group for widows: "Widows Move On." In October 2017 I started a Facebook group for Older and Experienced Feminists. I am also an active member of Women Wage Peace and believe that women can succeed where men have failed.
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