I think there’s a very human desire to want to fight for something. But sometimes we go over the top.
Ever since I entered the age of having friends who are moms (and now being a mom myself), I see at least one blog or online article a week on Facebook or elsewhere defending breast-feeding in public against the wicked nay-sayers. There’s the most recent Buzzfeed with captions aimed to satirize anti-breast-feeders, people on social media commenting on the Giselle picture, or that spoken word piece, to name a few.
Prior to being bombarded with these breastfeeding crusades, I remember living a life where seeing breastfeeding in public places was normal enough to elicit neither offense nor praise from myself or those around me. I saw the occasional fellow mom give some empathetic remark about either the joys or tough parts of breast-feeding, or maybe asking the feeding mom how she was doing, but that’s about it. I saw plenty of boobs in babies’ mouths in church–a few of them in paintings of Mary and Jesus–and yes, this was two popes before Francis. (Will somebody throw some ice on the mainstream media? They seem to have been shocked by that statement). The world I lived in had very, very, very few nay-sayers and rude, judgmental comments to breastfeeding in public.
A couple years or so of seeing the breastfeeding crusade blogs and articles had me second-guessing my boob-friendly little world when I had my baby. Rather than having the empowering effect that I think they intended, the fact that they existed and were written with such gusto and frequency convinced me that there were a lot more judgmental people out there than I originally thought.
It wasn’t some rude comments or dirty looks from passerby that made me nervous about public breastfeeding in those first couple months, because those never happened. I only continued to experience the same encouraging responses I had seen in my youth. It was the public breastfeeding crusades plastered all over my Facebook homepage that made me cower and nervously check to make sure my boob was totally covered whenever someone walked by. It was those blogs and articles that made me waste too much time angrily thinking of witty retorts for the people in church when I decided to forgo the blanket coverage that was so uncomfortable for my daughter. (Granted, I still cover part of my milk jugs with a scarf or part of the Moby wrap, but total flashing, courtesy of my daughter’s active arms, still happens).
I never got to use any witty retorts. The “worst” comment made to me was when I attended my mom’s church, and she mentioned some of the older people there might be offended if I didn’t go to the cry room (the room designated in some Catholic churches for parents and kiddos who need a space to be noisy or playful). I told her that Pope Francis said breastfeeding out in the open was okay, and so those old people would just have to get used to it. Know what my mom said?
Just kidding. All she said was, “Okay. Whatever works best for you two.”
I’ve breast-fed with incomplete coverage in many, many a location, and have never once received a rude comment. Many friends have voiced the same experience. That could definitely just be where I live, but I’m going to a propose a theory: I think the hype around public breastfeeding and those who judge it is excessive and perpetuates a fear and offense that isn’t always merited as well as just more and more articles crusading against what was probably a singular or even miss-perceived incident (“Can you believe she offered me a private room to use?!”). I understand some women may have a different experience than mine and have heard a lot of rude comments and judgmental people, but I’m not sure the rate of those incidences matches the hype that’s out there. I understand the intent of some of these articles might be to encourage and empower, but I don’t think that’s always the effect.
If we could do something better, I’d say we should focus on the benefits of breastfeeding as well as teaching the more modesty-prone moms various options for coverage so that they can find something that makes them feel both comfortable and confident. If anything needs to be said about the possibility of people taking offense, I think it’s this:
(1) 99% of the people don’t care or even see that a part of your boob is on display, and they’re just happy to know a baby is quiet and content.
(2) Don’t read into comments that don’t explicitly say, “I am offended that you are breastfeeding.”
(3) The small amount of judgement that does happen isn’t worth your time or worry. Know that it could happen and leave it at that. Let the offended person waste time worrying about it. You have a beautiful baby to attend to and lots of wonderful, couldn’t-care-less-that-you’re-boob-is-showing people to talk to.