Is Breastfeeding In Public Still Taboo?

June 9, 2014
breastfeeding, public, taboo, harassment, breast, child

It was last Monday, when a friend in Dallas posted a rather shocking message on Facebook. From the words she had chosen to compose the post, I knew she was dreadfully disturbed. She wrote: “I am embarrassed and exasperated. How can someone have the guts to come up to me and stop me from feeding my own child in my own car?  Who the hell gave him the authority to walk straight up to me and give me these shitty orders? Is it a crime to feed my baby? All I was doing was breastfeeding my child in my bloody fucking car. If he finds it so provocative and annoying, he better go f**k himself.”

A security guard outside a grocery store had stopped her from breastfeeding her six-month-old, saying it was not allowed in public and that “she shouldn’t create a scene”. She was so shocked she stopped instantly. It was only when she returned home, she realised the humiliation she had been put through. When she couldn’t put up with it any longer, she decided to share it with her mother and some close friends, some of whom asked if she had been exposing too much.

“I was completely covered,” she insisted. I ask, what is so strange or mortifying about breastfeeding in public that impedes men and many women to settle over a reciprocated conclusion? Since when has having food become taboo. After all, it’s all about feeding your helpless, hungry child when it needs to be fed. Isn’t it as simple as any adult stepping into a restaurant when hunger calls? Have you ever thought about taking your meal inside a toilet or a private area? Why should your baby, then.

I advised my friend to do exactly what an Australian mother of two did this Friday at The Children’s Hospital in Westmead, Sydney, where she was stopped from breastfeeding her sick son in the children’s lunch area. A mother’s outrage, a nurse in protest and media coverage of the incident forced the hospital administration to apologise a few hours later. I tried to encourage her to be as audacious as this mother and retaliate. I suggested she must file a harassment complaint against the security guard and ensure that he be charged for the mental agony he had caused her and for depriving her child of her right to be fed.

After all, it’s not illegal to breastfeed in public. In fact, most countries, including Australia and the United States, protect a woman’s right to breastfeed in any place, public or private. Under some state laws, stopping a women from nursing in public or forcing her to cover up is a violation of her civil rights, allowing her to exercise her legal rights to sue for damages in a court of law.

What I find more interesting and amusing, however, is when my friends with children give me what-to-expect-as-a-new-mum advice. Arranging alternatives for breastfeeding somehow makes it to the top of the list.  “There would be instances when you wouldn’t be able to breastfeed, for instance in public,” they warn me. But, who decides on that after all? Doesn’t it work according to when the baby needs it? I had not made up my mind about it until I came across the When Nurture Calls campaign, designed by art students at the University of North Texas. This thought-provoking series of advertisements shows mothers breastfeeding in unhygienic, cramped public bathrooms with punchlines such as ‘private dining’ and ‘will you eat here?’ making the viewer rethink about the entire concept of breastfeeding.

The irony is the sexualizing of female breasts that encumbers a woman’s moment of nurturing and connecting with her child into something intimate. But sadly, it’s not just the men who do it, it’s also the women. Luckily, in an attempt to reinforce the beauty of the moment, some women in Atlanta are trying to break this taboo by taking ‘selfies’ while breastfeeding or photographing other women while nursing. After all, the only way to break a taboo is to make people see you do it.

Seeing these little angels enjoy their most favorite time of the day, safe and sound in their mother’s laps gave me goose bumps, and a tear or two.  I’ve made up my mind. I will not hesitate to breastfeed my child in public. Will you?

Image via todaysparent.com/baby/breastfeeding/10-tips-for-breastfeeding-in-public


By Ayesha Hasan

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