Opinion: Breastfeeding in public is bad and we all should feel bad
Somewhere in the politically correct wave that began in the early 90s, public breastfeeding became a thing that we all collectively decided we should support. It didn’t work. So let’s pull the plug on this social experiment, shall we?
In 1999, the United States’ House of Representatives decreed that breastfeeding should be permitted in all Federal venues and that no funds should be used to prohibit women from breastfeeding in any Federal buildings or property. The Fair Labor Standards Act required employers to provide a reasonable break time and place for women to breastfeed children under one year old if needed. Acceptance seemed on the horizon.
Fast forward to the present and we’re still grappling with the spectre of a bare breast in an infant’s mouth. In 2007, protests were staged at Applebee’s across Kentucky after a mother was kicked out of for breastfeeding her child in a booth in the middle of the restaurant. Just last year, a Federal judge ruled just last year in Texas that lactation is an act for which women can be discriminated at the workplace as it’s not actually related to pregnancy.
These aren’t just isolated incidents.
Earlier this year, a study commissioned by breastfeeding company Lansinoh found that 40 percent of women still feel uncomfortable breastfeeding in public. Previous studies have shown that only 43 percent of U.S. adults believe that women “should have the right to breastfeed in public”; one would guess that a much larger amount of U.S. adults would feel uncomfortable if women opt to do it.
Is it a condemnation of breastfeeding? Or is it safe to say that after almost two decades of fighting to force breastfeeding down the throat of Americans that maybe, just maybe, we’re not comfortable with the lactating menace being constantly held in front of our eyes.
Just today, a New Hampshire woman spoke to the Boston Globe about her lawsuit against her employer for terminating her. Seems awful right? Well, they didn’t fire her for breastfeeding…they fired her because she wouldn’t return from maternity leave. She felt as though if she went back to her employers at the New Hampshire Department of Health and Services — a government office — she “would have been insubordinating” by opting to feed her child from her bosom rather than from a bottle she’d pumped into.
Last week, a woman in Hawaii made headlines for her attention-mongering with photos of her young daughter “sneaking a suckle” in while the mother did some nude yoga. Commenters came out of the woodwork, not opposed to her pride in breastfeeding but wanting some sort of explanation for the bizarre desire to share the overly intimate photos with the public.
Is it even worth this ongoing “battle” at this point?
No one can deny that breastfeeding is a great boost for children; studies show that breastfeeding has positive benefits on children’s immune systems or in fighting off allergies. There are other studies that show cognitive development getting a boost from extended time with mother’s milk.
There are also health benefits to regular prostate exams and OB-GYN appointments. But it’d unquestionably cause some trouble if you tried to get either of those initiatives going on a public bus.
And that’s ignoring the unintended side effect of exposing a sexual organ in public, regardless of intent: a search for “breastfeeding in public video” shows a high index on Google Trends. Do you think the people searching for this information in video form are new mothers hoping to learn the finer points of giving nutrients to their child? Or, far more likely, typical Internet people fetishizing a necessary part of child rearing that might be better saved for a private room?
Maybe it’s time to write off public breastfeeding as something we all thought was a great idea that just didn’t work. Maybe we shouldn’t expect everyone in our nation to be able to ignore the inherent conflicts that come with something we’ve sexualized for centuries being on display in public. Maybe we can just go into a bathroom to feed our child and not act like that’s the biggest inconvenience on Earth.
We as a country tried to be open minded and supportive. We failed. It’s time to give it up.
Keep your breasts out of my face when not requested and I’ll do the same for you with every part of my body. It’s my promise.