The Unwarranted Judgment Surrounding Breastfeeding In America
Between the 1800′s and 1960′s, breastfeeding in the United States declined drastically. Breastfeeding during this time was something generally only practiced by the lower and uneducated class. During the 1960′s, feeding an infant by breast was considered disgusting — and people who could not afford infant formula were frowned upon. Fast forward to 2014, and our nation has come a long way in recognizing that breastfeeding, especially in public, is a natural way for a mother to feed her child, right?
While the media, medical providers and organizations have made great strides in advocating about the many health benefits of breastfeeding, truth be told, behind closed doors (and sometimes not even then,) breastfeeding is a dirty word. Despite all of the well-documented health benefits associated with breastfeeding, society still frowns upon a mother nursing her baby in a public setting.
Across the nation, women’s breasts and bodies are objectified. There are restaurants named after breasts, where women parade around in tight, revealing outfits, women who take off their clothes at strip clubs, women who flash men just to see their reaction, and women who star in pornographic films. What do all of these things have in common? Society does not frown upon a woman’s breasts “on display” for any of these purposes — but, when a woman breastfeeds in public, many people take offense and/or feel uneasy when breasts are visible.
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A couple of months ago, Karlesha Thurman became the talk of the nation after a picture surfaced of her breastfeeding her 3-month-old daughter at her college graduation. Society reacted, and the majority of feedback was negative. People took to social media to voice their disapproval over the “incident.”
That picture of the girl breast feeding her baby at graduation was not “empowering” at all.
— Mexican Vampire (@lovelylooksz) June 9, 2014
Not to mention the fact that she took a picture. Like breastfeeding is one thing, at/during a graduation in public is another AND a picture?
— Slim. (@whatdidaprilsay) June 8, 2014
In many other countries around the world, breastfeeding in public is normal and routine as grocery shopping. Furthermore, mother’s who reside in countries that truly support breastfeeding in public are proud to breastfeed — whenever the baby wants to feed. But in the United States, a mother cannot sit on a bench in public and breastfeed without catching at least one judgmental glare.
Society is confused, and this confusion comes at a great cost to our American mothers. On one hand, society says, “Breastfeeding is best and is a natural way for a mother to feed her child.” On the other hand, society whispers, “Please breastfeed behind closed doors, or cover up your breastfeeding child and your breast so I don’t have to see you nurse in public.”
It is this mentality that induces shame in our nursing mother’s — and that shame is both damaging to the nursing mother and her infant. On many occasions, nursing mother’s have weaned their babies early — for no other reason than they were made to feel uncomfortable while nursing in public.
Every state across the nation has either a law in place that allows a mother to breastfeed in public, or a provision which says breastfeeding in public is not grounds for indecent exposure. While these laws were designed to protect a breastfeeding mother, the truth is, these laws merely look good on paper. Any private business or establishment can ask a breastfeeding mother to leave at any time — and there is no recourse for the nursing mother, she must oblige.
If a nursing mother refuses to leave an establishment once being asked to do so, she can be charged with trespassing. The laws that “protect” a mother’s right to breastfeed in public were a step in the right direction, but unfortunately, they fall short of allowing a mother to truly breastfeed at any time, in any place.
The idea that a mother can breastfeed her child in any public place, at any time, is an illusion.
Recently, Olivia Wilde did a beautiful photo-shoot for Glamour magazine while breastfeeding her infant son, Otis.
— olivia wilde (@oliviawilde) August 5, 2014
While celebrity mom’s like Olivia Wilde are slowly changing the way society views breastfeeding in public, in truth, if a non-celebrity mom were breastfeeding her naked baby at a public eatery, there’s a chance she would be asked to leave the establishment.
American nursing mothers are left hoping that one day, our nation will embrace breastfeeding in public. After all, the judgment that surrounds nursing in public is unwarranted — it has no basis or foundation.