Sunday, October 2, 2011

Is Covering Up the Issue with Public Breastfeeding?

I've already seen some angry tweets in response to this blog post published at Babble: "Public Breastfeeding: Just Do It (Discreetly) and Shut Up About it Already"

In it, author Meredith Carroll discusses how well her first month of breastfeeding her baby has gone and how she attributes that to her willingness to nurse in public--with a cover. She says that she has "never gotten so much as a double take."

It's funny. My personal stance on breastfeeding is actually pretty close to Carroll's. I've never breastfed in public without a cover, and I try not to really breastfeed in public at all when I can help it. It makes me uncomfortable, and I hate trying to juggle a squirmy baby and make sure that everything stays covered up while also looking around to see who is watching and how they're reacting. I'd rather just go to the car, but that's not always possible. 

Just because I happen to personally obey Carroll when she commands "keep the peep show between you and your baby. And stop acting like the world is coming to an end if someone is offended at the site [sic] of your breasts" doesn't mean that it's okay for her to say it. 

First of all, nursing a one-month old discreetly in public is a lot easier than nursing an older baby. For one thing, people (in my experience) are a lot less judgmental about a nursing newborn than they are a nursing six- or nine- or twelve-month old. Now, they raise no eyebrows when those same babies are given bottles, so I don't know why they think breastfed babies are magically supposed to be weaned by six months. Also, one-month-old babies have a pretty limited range of motion and they don't have as much ability to protest their environments. Older babies often object to being covered up and they don't tend to hold still, making staying covered up (even when you're trying your hardest) pretty difficult. 

Secondly, Carroll repeatedly compares breastfeeding to sexual provocation. I'm not giving my baby a "peep show" and saying "unless you're Teri Hatcher and they're real and spectacular, no one wants to see your saggy, milk-filled breasts" is almost as insulting as when she says "Besides, if they were so great, Hugh Hefner would have come knocking to see your knockers already."

I think she's missed the point. Maybe there are some women out there that want to use breastfeeding as an excuse to finally make the world look at their boobs, but I haven't met any, and I kind of doubt they're very prevalent. No, these "breastfeeding fanatics"--as Carroll calls them--aren't asking for the world to passively stare at their breasts. In fact, they are asking for the opposite--the ability to use their breasts without sexualization. The ability to feed their children without someone calling it a peep show. 

So, congratulations, Meredith Carroll. I'm glad breastfeeding is going well, and I hope it continues. I'm glad that you feel comfortable making a choice to breastfeed in public, and I'm very glad that you haven't experienced any negative responses. Many, many women haven't been that lucky and would appreciate it if you weren't part of the problem. 


  1. Hrm, I notice that the blog post you've linked to here has been edited. Specifically, the title. Interesting...

  2. Yep. And the Hugh Hefner reference is gone, so you missed a real gem there!