Looking through photos to accompany this article, I ran into an image of a woman sitting on a bench, breastfeeding an infant that was flagged with an “Adult Content Warning.” My jaw dropped. How could this sweet, simple picture warrant a warning? But then I realized: this bizarre occurrence is a perfect example of the conversation around breastfeeding in public that’s taking place right now. Should women (who choose to breastfeed versus use formula) be “allowed” to feed their children in public, or is it “too inappropriate”?
The problem is: this argument, at its crux, is ridiculous. The thought that the discomfort of some adults should in any way affect the nourishment of all newborn children within their line of sight is, quite frankly, preposterous. In case there’s any confusion, babies cannot feed themselves. They’re completely reliant on their mothers for life and nourishment. On average, newborns feed 8-12 times per day, taking up to 20 minutes per breast. That’s an average of up to 8 hours a day new moms can spend breastfeeding.[i]
Are we meant to say that new mothers should live in isolation in a nursery-cave, hidden away as to not offend the delicate sensitivities of a few strangers, doing nothing but function as human udders? Or, if they do dare venture out, they must be sure to pack enough pre-pumped breast milk for their little one, not to mention the pump itself in case they need to express? Or, or! Must they employ the ever-appealing option of feeding their child under a tarp, regardless of the baby’s temperature or comfort? Honestly, not even the baby will stand for that one most of the time.[ii]
This isn’t even a matter of breastfeeding rights, or boobie rights, or whatever other cute name you may hear it called: it’s basic women’s rights.
Policing how and when women feed their offspring is an act of oppression.[iii] It’s not the kind of oppression that is as obvious as child brides or unequal wages, but it’s the kind of subtle, insidious oppression that helps keep women marginalized. Shackled by obligatory nursing covers, breast pumps, or the need to run for shelter every 90 minutes or so, nursing women are not free to walk the world on equal footing as men.
Relatedly, telling women what to wear, how much to wear, and when to wear it is a tactic of control.[iv] This is seen again and again in cultures and religions across the globe. And it goes both ways: women are told to wear both less and more to be appealing. The incongruity of the messages is irrelevant; what matters is the way in which they control the recipients. (To be clear, I’m not condemning women who choose to wear certain coverings to honor their religion. I’m standing up for those who are made to wear things without choice.)
If you, as a mother, feel more comfortable covering up while breastfeeding or using bottles then please, do so. If you feel more comfortable breastfeeding in the privacy of your own home, do so. But you should never be confined to these rules or locations. The point is that women should be free to choose whichever solution best cares for themselves and their babies. Let’s end the judgment, the oppression, and the absurd regulations.
If you feel differently, by all means, let us know in the comments.