The World Heath Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, followed by continued breastfeeding with appropriate complementary foods for up to two years or beyond. I personally subscribe to the saying, “food before one is just for fun.” Either way, women who breastfeed their babies for any amount of time, and do not live entirely off the grid, will most likely need to feed their babies in a public place. This means that each nursing woman faces the decision of whether or not she will breastfeed in public.
This decision should be a no-brainer, if a baby is hungry, you feed them, it is a biological norm. However, breastfeeding, particularly public breastfeeding, is not necessarily the social norm. But why is this the case? Why do women question and doubt the normal physiological means of feeding their babies? According to a 2011 Public Health plea by the Surgeon General, there are two main reasons that women chose not to breastfeed. One is a lack of knowledge and information concerning the health benefits of breastfeeding. This is a big problem, but thankfully one that is being remedied. But, there is another more critical reason cited as to why women do not breastfeed: They don’t know how.
My personal experience with public breastfeeding has been, for the most part, extremely positive. From the time I felt comfortable and confident feeding my baby (about two weeks in), I felt completely at ease doing so in public. I wasn’t confident because I am some kind of superwoman who is unfazed by glances, gawks, smiles or scowls. I had confidence because I’ve seen hundreds of women breastfeeding! There is much to be learned when watching other women breastfeed, and the more I saw, the more I learned.
There is also a spirit of solidarity and support among nursing mothers. As a new mother, I never felt uncomfortable with my boob hanging out to feed my baby because I was fortunate to be surrounded by breasts that came in every shape, size, color, and texture imaginable; but, they all do the same thing, breasts feed babies! One of my favorite public breastfeeding experiences happened when my son was nine months old. I was sitting at a bar having coffee at a hipster Riverside location while simultaneously feeding my son. The barista was a single girl in her early 20s. She watched us for a while with open curiosity, chatted a little, and then said “I want to do that one day.”
Public breastfeeding is of vital importance because it teaches women and girls how to breastfeed. We are social beings, community creatures – we learn behaviors by seeing them!
Programs like La Leche League, WIC, Lactation consultants, promote educators, midwives, even laws are all doing their part in supporting the initiation and continuation of breastfeeding. And while there is much being done to teach and support breastfeeding, in my opinion, it’s the collective demonstration of breastfeeding by individual mothers that has the loudest voice. Each woman who feeds her baby in public is primarily doing just that, feeding her baby. But, on a larger scale, she is normalizing breastfeeding. Public breastfeeding teaches, inspires, and supports breastfeeding and motherhood in general.
About the Author
Jacinda Golden has an almost two-year-old son who she spends most of her time with. She is the owner/midwife of River City Homebirth, a small home-based midwifery practice (www.rivercityhomebirth.com).Jacinda immensely enjoys her work & family. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and dabbles in arts & crafts.
“Breastfeeding.” WHO. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 July 2016.
Resources and Publications. (2016). Retrieved July 24, 2016, from https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/resources/index.htm
Office of the Surgeon General (US); Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US); Office on Women’s Health (US). The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding. Rockville (MD): Office of the Surgeon General (US); 2011. Breastfeeding from the Public Health Perspective.