The Breastfeeding Debate: Get Over Ourselves Already or Get a Room?

58 comments
December 29, 2011 ‐ By

"black mother breastfeeding"

If you ran into Target on Wednesday to pick up your usual products, depending on where you were, you might have been surprised to run into woman after woman breastfeeding around the store in areas around the country. It all started when Houston-area mom, Michelle Hickman, was repeatedly asked to relocate her feeding to a fitting room after she was found sitting in a clothing aisle trying to discreetly breastfeed her child. According to Time.com, when she reported the incident, guest relations told her, “just because it’s a woman’s legal right to nurse a baby in public doesn’t mean she should walk around the store flaunting it.”

Not a good move. Girlfriend rallied up friends, set up a Facebook account to organize a “nurse-in,” and yesterday, women showed up at Targets all over the country ready to feed in public–no matter who was looking. From one participant to more than 50, different stores attracted different groups of women to take part in the nurse-in. However, the reaction seemed to be similar all over: a few funny looks, some support, and for the most part, a lot of indifferent people too busy trying to get some post-Christmas deals. They came, they saw, they breastfed, and they’re hoping their small but courageous movement will change some attitudes about the very natural and healthy action.

The breastfeeding debate is and has been a tough one for a long time. While most mothers (I won’t go as far to assume all) just want to freely breastfeed their children with no fuss or muss, a lot of people still seem to be uncomfortable with boobs going free in public, even if they’re only out for a minute for a child’s sake.

If you ask me (which I know you didn’t), I think a woman should be able to breastfeed her child when she needs to, even if it’s in public, without feeling like people are giving her the death stare. It definitely is a very natural thing and while it definitely was something I had to get used to/comfortable with when I was younger, I’m not phased by it anymore (maybe just surprised though when I turn around and see a boob I wasn’t expecting). A child has to eat, and a mother has to do what she has to do. I understand that.

However, my only issue is with why the recommendation of covering yourself with a small towel or even going into a fitting room to breastfeed for others who might be uncomfortable with it gets met with such a strong disapproving reaction from mothers? I feel the idea that what your child needs is more important than what a grown a** person who should get over themselves already thinks. But for those who might not want to take their older children into an aisle and encounter an unexposed boob, I just want to understand why having an area for women to breastfeed without being bothered, just as there is an area to change young children in public places, gets met with such ferocious opposition? Especially when some mothers don’t even try to play discreet and literally just have their boob out to see, even when the child isn’t feeding on it. Maybe making a mother move and somewhat “hide” gives the idea that breastfeeding is somehow shameful, even though it isn’t, making some want to combat that feeling. But still…

While the struggle of the breastfeeding mother is very real, and the grown men who Tweet and make stupid or sexual comments about it should cease, we all know you can’t force people to be comfortable with something they’re not comfortable with. You can tell people that they need to look at it as something as simple as feeding a baby with a bottle, but if they still don’t see it that way, they’re going to feel a way about–and therein lies the problem. Therefore, I’m wondering, is compromising by moving to a breastfeeding-friendly area really all that demeaning and bad for a mom? Feel free to school inquiring minds like mine below (but BE NICE).

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  • GUEST

    Breastfeeding is a very natural and bonding mother and child moment. I would think that a mother would want that time to look at her baby while nursing without distraction, so she should be sure to be in an environment that would allow her to do so. I breastfed a set of twins and there is no way I could comfortably pull both of my boobs out in public and breastfeed. Coverups do come in handy yes, but have you ever watched a hungry breastfed child sucking on your shirt while you are trying to get it together quickly. It’s really about being MODEST in public not saying women can’t breastfeed while shopping. Just like a man can’t pull out his genitals and start peeing because he has to, a nursing mother  should just use some discretion because there are some sicko’s out there who get off on watching that.

  • Sherrimarie73

    Though I am not a mother yet, I look forward to it when I am married. My mother breast fed myself and all my younger siblings. By her example, I will be a mom that will look for the fitting room or a semi private place to nurse my child with a large light throw to cover up. I would not want any man other than my husband to see my breast quite frankly. I was raised with a level of modesty that I wish was a norm today. That type of modesty does not negate the beauty of breast feeding, but protects it for the mother and child.

  • Blah

    Breastfeeding in public is just plain rude if the mother does not properly plan ahead of time.. if your going to do it then be prepared for ANY situation meaning having bottles on hand, a cloth for concealing the business… I mean come on, sex is natural so shall me and my husband get it on in target right next to the breastfeeders. At the end of the day I’m sick of these crazed moms that have no life. 

  • Jae

    If homosexuals can freely walk around holding hands and kissing in public (forcing me to explain to my young children what homosexuality is before they are able to really comprehend), why is it an issue for a mother to nurse her child in public? Shoot, that can be easily explained to children…and for the adults with issues with it, that’s YOUR issue, it may not be the next person’s. I HATE feet, maybe i should start a campaign to ban sandals!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Toya-Lane/653016432 Toya Lane

    Im also a breastfeeding mom and I think that the issue with covering or moving to a private place has never crossed my mind. I, unlike most Americans, have had the opportunity to live and travel abroad to contries where breastfeeding is the norm and very much a part of the culture. Women don’t cover or go to special placed to nurse. Women are also very likely to be tending to various activities like working or shopping with nursing babies and feeding them is simply a very natural act that requires little thought. The sexualization of breasts in our culture is also an issue. If there were no strong cultural sexualization of breasts then this wouldnt be a topic of conversation. We need to get past it and the only way is to see more women breastfeeding in various social settings and being comfortable while doing som My daughter is 23 months and she can nurse whenever and wherever she pleases which is why you are not likely to see her out and about throwing a tantrum ….I can just offer her ninny and everyone an be at peace

  • hiswomanandlovingit

    As a mother of 3 who has (and is breastfeeding the newborn) breast fed all of her children, sometimes you don’t have the option of waiting to get home or having someone watch your child while you run out or even pumping the milk to put in bottles. None of my kids even entertained being bottle fed so that wasn’t an option. i have always covered up with a pashmina or a nursing shawl. I have only been confronted about my nursing a handful of times and then it was by women.

    If breastfeeding isnt for you, that is ok. I am not one of those “breastfeeding nazis” but dont tell me how i should feed and care for my child(ren) because you have issues. If you dont like to see me feeding my child, i have a very simple solution, DON’T LOOK!!

    • Natasha T

      As a fellow mom, amen! I breastfed in public too and I got stares, but I’m more interested in feeding my baby than worrying about what people think about me.

  • Guest

    I don’t think the issue is with breastfeeding itself, I think it’s having the breast partially exposed. I just watched the news where they interviewed one of the sit-inners(?) and she said the breast is natural and shouldn’t have to be covered up if breastfeeding. If that’s the case, can I walk around topless in public with my breasts showing without people taking offense? I don’t think so. And companies, such as Target, are probably showing concern for their consumers who may feel uncomfortable with the partial exposure of bare breasts, by asking the nursing moms to breastfeed somewhere else. I don’t mind breastfeeding in public; the baby has to eat, but is it too much to ask to use a coverup?

  • Blink

    Why are you women dismissing breast as a sexual organ?  Yes, God intended them to be for feeding, but we have turned them into sexual organs.  Im sure your husbands sexually used them in making that baby.  The butt wasnt intended as a sexual organ, but then again…

    Next, it amazes me how people want others to consider them in public, but dont think they have to consider others because breastfeeding is natural.  If you read most of these comments people are saying they just dont want to see your breast.  Not that it cant be done in public. And stop comparing what others do in other countries.  They also urinate in public in Gabon and dig up their noses in China.  Can I do that in front of you?  Or would you like me to have enough respect for you to be discreet. 

    Also , it amazes me how so many women on this site speak about respecting their choses regarding marriage, parenting, dating, etc and then makes comments about how they dont have to be considerate others.  hummmm….

    • hiswomanandlovingit

      No one is saying not to be considerate of others but when the child and the breast are covered up why is that still a problem?

      Feet can be (and are) sexual and yet no one is banning the sale of sandals or protesting flip flops. Hair on top of a woman’s head can be sexual and yet no one (in this country) is being forced to cover it or shave it.

      Urinating in public in areas not designated for the particular purpose is unhygienic for others as urine is only sterile to the owner. I have yet to go any where and find a lactation lounge or some sort that isn’t a bathroom. If adults wont eat in the public toilet, why should my children?

      • Blink

        In my opinion, covering up is being considerate of others

        • Blink

          Not a fan of separate areas.

  • GorgeousMe

    I have mixed feelings about breast feeding. While I do think it’s natural, how is it differnent from a woman flashing. Bottom line I just think people should be more considerate of one another. I understand you child needs to eat, but a blanket or better yet a bottle could get the job done just the same.

    • hiswomanandlovingit

      how is a bottle better? and some children don’t take bottles, none of mine did.

      • http://www.facebook.com/imani.finn Imani Finn

        yeah, my mom told me i hated bottles

  • reese

    How is this a issue?  I have never seen this in public at all.  But people don’t look.  Everybody wants their so called rights. I go to the park and there are two men kissing and nobody says nothing, but don’t breast feed in public?

  • Ms_Sunshine9898

    Breastfeeding is something natural that we have turned into something inappropriate or sexual just because a woman’s breast is involved. Why i personally would want to cover my breasts with a cloth there is nothing wrong with a woman breast feeding in public and anyone who thinks so needs to get over themselves because it is very natural and human!

  • Pam J.

    American men like breasts. They, and the women they’ve convinced, think breasts are for them to play with during sex, but they’re not. Perhaps everyone will get used to it once they review their high school biology. In some parts of Africa and South America, women can walk around with breasts displayed without breastfeeding at all and no one has a problem with it, but in the West, people get all bent out of shape and don’t want to see a hungry baby eat in the way nature intended. Maybe it has something to do with our Puritan history.

  • princ essa

    atually y r we so afraid for kids 2 see boobs. i mean young kids barely register it and others either hv them or spent a lot of time fantasizing about how to get a hold of them. it is bc as adults we r aware of the sexual use of boobs that we think its shocking to show our kids boobs.PDA should b banned too bc i dont want my kids to be looking at 2 adults practically swallow each other with hand up under dresses or pants. 

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/TheSapphireEmpress96?blend=1&ob=video-mustangbase A.J.

    I find it fascinating that some people have no problem with a woman shaking her bare breasts in a music video or adult movie, yet somehow start to cringe if a woman breastfeed her child in public.  I have no problem whatsoever with a woman brestfeeding in public; one can’t control when a baby is going to get hungry, and as long as she covers herself up with a towel, it’s fine.  Furthermore, our society does not make it easy for nursing mothers.  Perhaps if more retailers and public spaces had nursing stations, and made them feel comfortable instead of ashamed, we wouldn’t have this issue.

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/TheSapphireEmpress96 A.J.

      “Breastfeeding”, I meant.

  • Mizzparker

    Being a mom, and about to be mom for a second time….I breastfed my daughter wherever. Yes I, to the shock of some posters here, did breastfed her on a bench in the mall. However, I made sure it was a somewhat low traffic area near where we were shopping. Most people paid no attention. Most people need to just get over themselves, and some breastfeeding mothers do take things a bit far.

    To address the people that are all about a woman covering herself with a towel or a cloth, at some point most babies pull those things off. So that only works but for so long. People act as if they don’t see more cleavage on tv or walking the streets.

    I will be a boob popping mommy once again without apology! My hungry baby’s needs come before some grown up being uncomfortable with a natural function (not the same as using the bathroom). There is nothing wrong with having an area to breastfed; however I’ve found most of those areas are gross, uncomfortable, and put together with little or no thought.

    • Guest

      But when you breast fed, you did it in a discreet area of the mall. I have no problem when I see a mother in a low traffic area breast feeding. I actually commend her for trying to find a soothing area for her child. And I feel the same way with bottle fed babies.

  • Jean_Harlow

    I’m a mother of 4, including a 3 week old daughter and as I’m typing this comment, I’m breastfeeding her. I breastfed all my kids in public and my husband and I didn’t care about what others think. I even cover up when I breastfed and others told me to get a room but I paid them no attention because it’s legal here in Illinois to breastfeed in public. I rather see a mother whip out her breast to feed her baby than seeing people stick their tongues down each other’s throat and touching other women’s butts. Plus I participated in the breastfeed sit in at Target yesterday to show support for the woman who was told to go into a fitting to feed her baby in Texas back in November. I agree with @Natasha T,  breasts are not sex organs, god gave us those for a reason. Plus breastfeeding is making me lose the baby weight and I lost 10lbs of it so far.

    • Sweetgal

      it seems the main argument for being inconsiderate is an extremist religious argument “breasts are not sex organs and god…” which has NOTHING to do with the argument.

  • mekhia81

    I breast feed my son ANYWHERE! To ask a women not to breast feed her child in “plain view” is like asking a woman with a bottle not to feed her child in “plain view.” This argument is quite dumb and has no merit what so ever. We are so hung up on the fact that a breast is exposed ppl often forget that there is a PURPOSE for the breast to be expose. I also must say that i have NEVER see a women just let her breast HANG OUT for the sake of it. I would like to address the issue of a cover up. THOSE THINGS ARE HOT!! I am not going to have my child sweating and being uncomfortable so that STRANGERS can be comfortable. PLEASE GET A GRIP! I wish i would have know this was going on because i would have been right there with them FEEDING MY CHILD. on in the US is this such and issue. In many parts of the world breastfeeding and natural parenting is in encouraged but OH NO we have to make women feel ashamed and HIDE OUT to care for our children. HERE IS AN IDEA EVERY FAMILY FRIENDLY STORE SHOULD HAVE A BREASTFEEDING/BABY CHANGING DESIGNATED AREA! PROBLEM SOLVED! 
     

    • Eastendersfan

      If you dont feel comfortable covering up because it’s HOT then you should do it in an area where less people will see.  Why do people feel as if they dont have to consider others around them?  Im sure you expect people to be considerate and not yawn in your face (yawning is natural).  So why is it ok for you to not consider the fact that others dont want to see your breast. I wouldnt want you to have to wait to feed your child, but cover your breast.  I think most people dont mind if the mother’s breast is covered.

      • Live_in_LDN

        “Why do people feel as if they dont have to consider others around them? ”

        I guess for most mothers their childs needs are their prioritiy which defo trumps the opinions of strangers.

        Yawning in someones face is different as a baby is not involved.

        • Look

          So what natural physical actions are acceptable?  Do these have to be defined now??

  • Mary Norris

    Urinating is a natural function. It is something that we all do and a necessary function for life; however we as a society have deciding that urinating whenever and where ever you have the urge is not a good idea.  In fact, if the police see you, or someone calls the police on you, you can actually go to jail for it.   I think it is just good form and good manners to breastfeed in as private and/or discreet a manner as possible.  Can we just be appropriate?

    A couple of things, I am not a fan of women who are not breastfeeding walking around with most of their breasts or behinds exposed for the world to see ‘cos they think it’s cute, either.  Also, I nursed (breastfed) my children, so I’m not just some insensitive, judgmental prude sitting on the sidelines picking on nursing moms… IJS

    • Pam J.

      Perhaps you would suggest calling the police on women for breastfeeding in public. Urinating and breastfeeding are two different bodily functions – one involves eliminating wastes that can be very harmful to the general public. The baby has to eat in a clean environment. You might want the baby to have a meal in the bathroom to make you feel more comfortable. But, it’s not about you!

      • Sweetgal

        actually urine is about 70-80% water and is NOT at all “very harmful to the general public” so umm next excuse!

  • Rissa

    What exactly is a “breastfeeding-friendly feeding area?” I’ve tried squeeze/balancing on dressing room seats that are too little to sit on. I’ve walked past plenty of empty mall benches while my child screamed (got other stares for that but couldn’t figure out how to cater to both populations) to hopefully find a chair I can drag to the corner, gone back to the car, covered a baby’s head in an auto shop, church pew, park bench while the baby sweated. Mothers and babies shouldn’t have to go through all of that because people aren’t keeping in mind what breasts are for. I’ve breastfed 5 and decided long ago to stop being self-conscious about breastfeeding. Moving to a “breast-feeding area” (whatever that is) isn’t compromising. It’s only a discomfort the hungry baby who simply needs to eat and for the now of out-of-sight mother who’s in a corner trying to sit/stand/squat and feed her baby.

  • Me

    Nothing is wrong with breastfeeding in public if you don’t have any other choice but seriously why can’t you just go to a fitting room or somewhere private if it’s available? What is the big freaking deal!? I’m a woman and when I have kids I am not going to whip it out whenever I feel like it just because I can. If you have to do it in public use a towel or something else to cover yourself up! 

  • Cynthia

    Not for it.  Think it should be done privately.

  • darkman

    What’s more natural act than breast feeding (except give birth)? At least those women are using their boobs for what mother nature create them: feed babies. Most women are exposing everyday more boobs with their deep clivage than any breast feeding mother will do. Is it the view of another human being sucking boob that make people uncomfortable? There is no sexual act in it.
    I remember 2 guys staring at my wife while she was preparing herself to breastfeed… Not even ashamed! They were sad to see her covering her boob with a towel and run when they realized I was staring at them… We should stop thinking sex every time we see a woman body part.
    Breast feeding is a great moment between a mother and her infant and no one should be offended for that. When you travel overseas, people don’t make a big deal of it. Let’s get over it.

  • Guest

    I would think its more calming for mother and child to be in a discreet location. This location doesn’t have to be secluded but on a bench in the middle of a busy mall???

    • sweettea

      So the baby should just go hungry even though moms got the food right there. Thats silly breasts are for feeding babies. Biolocally they serve no other function

      • Guest

        Usually the mother is in tune with her child and can gauge when the child will be hungry. And therefore can take the child off to the side to feed him or her. I would feel the same if the child was bottle fed. The middle of a busy shopping malls can be very loud and environment is anything but calming. Especially with folks invading your personal space.

  • Natasha T

    I breastfed my daughter in public when she was an infant and I didn’t give a flying f**k what other people think about me (even though I got the stink eye look from them) and I still don’t. I even breastfed during church service and my pastor completely understands me as long as I covered up doing it. I’m feeding my child and breastmilk is waaaaay more better and beneficial than formula, especially the tainted ones you hear on the news lately. God gave us mothers breast for a reason, and boobies are not sex organs. If you don’t like what you see, don’t look and turn away! I did own a breast pump but that was for when I had to go back to work and my relatives had to babysit her and feed my daughter with a bottle of my milk.

    • darkman

      Well said!!! Organize breast feeding is a good idea, but if there is no choice, do it right away. I’m more offended by 2 people putting their tongue deeply in each other mouth (get a room!) than seeing a baby drinking natural milk.

    • Blink

      Right, you covered up!  So obviously you do care what other people thought.

      • Natasha T

        In church only, because I have to respect the house of the lord dummy! Elsewhere, I didn’t care!

        • Blah

          I’m not mad at you for breastfeeding whatever.. I’m mad at the fact you have a child 0_o you just sound so dumb… lol 

        • Lincoln

          Maybe you should consider frequenting that pew on a regular basis because your tongue doesnt represent that of a Christian.  Let’s remember how we are suppose to represent ourselves to others… Yours truly…a fellow Christian

  • Carolinagirl

    This whole discussion at this point in life is ridiculous. I mean women walk around half dressed boobs and/or butt cheeks exposed simply for male attention (or because its sooo hot ) but a mother trying to feed her child while continuing with her daily life needs to be hidden from public. I am 30 and I breast fed my son and felt trapped bc I was worrying about how people would react when I bf but hey after getting so behind in my home responsibilites I just did me. Most people had no idea what I was doing and really didn’t care. Most of the mothers who actually take the time to breast feed are really conservative and over cover themselves, ok.

  • JN31

    I’m on the fence with this one…

    I’m not a mother- I think a mother should have the right to breast feed since I cringe when I hear a crying hungry baby. I do think that there should be a private area to go to and breastfeed. The truth is it does make some people uncomfortable. Maybe someone doesn’t want their kid seeing a random woman’s breasts. Some say it’s a natural thing to do, well, so is using the bathroom. But, if I decided to go in the middle of the isle in Target, I’d be locked up. There is nothing wrong in asking that someone go to a more discreet area. It can be better for the mother to not be distracted and everyone is happy. I don’t think taking a few extra  minutes to get out of public view is going to harm the baby.

  • Guess

    In all my 30+ plus years on this Earth, I have yet to see a mother indiscreetly breastfeed in public.  Whenever I come across a breastfeeding mother she is placed out of clear sight / view of others and has a cloth covering her breast and/or the baby. So for me, personally, I dont see what’s the big deal.  
    I don’t think mothers should whip their breat out in front of others.  That shows a lack of consideration for the strangers around you. I will be a mom in a few months and I probably would go to the dressing area when possible just to avoid noise and distraction.  Make it more peaceful for my baby.

    Why all of sudden do we now need designated breastfeeding areas?  Come on…

    • Natasha T

      If you don’t like DON’T LOOK! I rather for a baby being fed on the spot than go hungry while mommy trying to find a place to hide to feed her baby.

      • Guess

        Never said that I didnt like.  Can you point out where I mentioned that?  What I stated was that most mothers dont shove it in people’s face.  Most are discreet so I dont see what the problem is.  Next, I said personally, “I” would go to a dressing room for my own peace of mind.  Never said other should do the same.
        And Im over this belief that women can just whip their breat out just b/c breastfeeding is natural.  Urinating is natural.  Should I do that in piblic.  Should I blow my nose at the Christmas table, that’s natural?  How about have sex in front of your kids?  Sex is natural…

        Read before you try to go off. 

      • kateebo

         yeah, bc finding a spot really takes SUCH a long time!

        • sweettea

          What if your on a bus or in a mall ?How about at a park? Hungry babies gotta eat no matter where you are. Breasts aren’t reproductive organs they’re sole purpose is to feed babies. No mother should be ashamed or have to hide in a bathroom somewhere to feed her child.

          • Pivyque

            Thats what bottles are for. When out in public, have the breast milk in a bottle. 

            • Guest

              What the hell is wrong with people.  IT”S NATURAL.  Only done all over the world like that… You should try getting out of your city more and maybe you will see what other (better) cultures are like.

        • Rain206

          i don’t know if you have kids or not but when you have a screaming hungry infant the last thing you want to do is run around looking for a hiding spot to feed your child.

    • Guest

      Yeah it’s only human nature.  People like you are what’s making everything worse these days.  Let them breast feed in public.

      • Guess

        You are a mess. lol
        Read my comment correctly before you try to attack.