Latest News

Breastfeeding in Public: Why and Why Not?

This is a selfie I recently snapped of myself breastfeeding my 2-month-old in our local YMCA’s “mother’s privacy room”— a great nursing room with beautiful furniture, soft carpet, comfortable couch, dim light, and everything that a great nursing room should have.

But what I really wanted was to breastfeed by the pool, so that I can feed my baby and watch my 4-year-old swimming at the same time.

My baby finished the nursing session just when my preschooler finished his swimming lesson for that day. When I stepped out of the mother’s privacy room, my older child grumbled, “I did very well today, Mom. But you were not there to watch me!”

“I’m sorry,” I said. And I meant it. “I wanted to watch you but Jasper was hungry. I had to feed him.”

“Why don’t you just feed him by the pool? I saw other kids eating on the pool chaise lounge. That should be okay.”

For one moment, I wasn’t sure how to answer his question. Apparently breastfeeding is a totally natural thing to him. He sees babies eating mother’s milk just like toddlers eating gold fish.

But to many adults, that’s not the case. We’ve seen mothers shamed for breastfeeding at Walmart, Disneyland, and yes, YMCA.

The hostility makes many moms, including me, hesitate to nurse in public. In theory, I am all for breastfeeding in public. But in reality, I don’t always feel comfortable breastfeeding in public. I would only nurse in public when my baby is absolutely hungry, I absolutely cannot find a nursing room, and I am absolutely sure that no one would notice me.

That’s unfortunate. Breastfeeding in public is a civil right. And it should be not just a civil right, but also a social norm for two reasons.

One, mothers need to have their normal life keep going while breastfeeding. No mother could breastfeed for one year (which is really just the minimum recommendation) if she could not continue her life while doing so. If a nursing mom has to stay at home, unable to dine out, to go shopping, or to watch her older children swimming in the pool, how can it be possible for her to breastfeed for one whole year?

Two, children need to see breastfeeding in public. Some argue that breastfeeding in public would offend other parents with kids. This is insane. Breastfeeding mothers are not something that was recently invented. Merely two generations ago, it was not unusual to see a woman nurse her baby in public. All the trouble started with the using of female bodies to sell cars. There is nothing inappropriate about breastfeeding in public, except the people who are sexualizing it. And if our children grow up surrounded by sexualized images of breasts from Hollywood but never, or only rarely, see the normal, natural act of breastfeeding a baby, how can they have healthy ideas about women’s bodies?

Breastfeeding will not be seen to be natural until we see more women breastfeed in public. If you’re a nursing mom, please breastfeed on​. If you’re not nursing, please show some support.

To-wen TsengBreastfeeding in Public: Why and Why Not?