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When Breastfeeding is an Event, It’s Not About the Child

Every now and then, a mother will be asked to cover up a bit when breastfeeding in public. And once in while, when such a simple, innocent request is made, all hell breaks loose.

A Knoxville, Tennessee, Chick-Fil-A became the site of a “nurse-in” last week.

The reason? An employee told a woman who was finishing up nursing of her 5-month old daughter that doing so without a cover was making some other customers uncomfortable, particularly with the thought of letting their own children play nearby.

It’s perfectly legal to breastfeed in public as long as the mom has a legal right to be in the location she wishes to breastfeed.

There’s nothing wrong with breastfeeding at all.

What’s wrong isn’t the act itself. What’s wrong is the manner in which the act is done. And what’s even more wrong is the stubbornness with which some moms operate when they refuse the extraordinarily simple request to be more discreet.

When I’ve broached this controversial subject before, I’ve received several notable responses.

I’m told that breastfeeding is a perfectly natural biological function. No one disputes that.

I’m told that breastfeeding at the table is much better than having to breastfeed in a “filthy” restroom. No one disputes that, either.

I’m told that if society has a problem with seeing a woman’s breast as something other than a sex object, you shouldn’t blame the mother for that. No one is really blaming the mother. The fact is there are plenty of women who do all they can to make their breasts sex objects. There are plenty, in fact, who seem to take great delight in doing so, and take even greater delight in the attention doing so provides. That’s not a breastfeeding mother’s fault, but it does contribute to the attitudes of those around her.

And, most often, I’m told that breastfeeding is only about the child. That’s where I draw the line when it comes to a staged event like a “nurse-in.” At a nurse-in, it’s not about the child.

It’s about making a statement. It’s winning an argument. It’s about pushing the envelope, even making people uncomfortable intentionally.

The child is merely a prop, a tool in that battle. No one should pretend otherwise.

I’m sure I’ve told this story before, but it’s worth a quick repeat.

Years ago, I was having dinner with my “second family”, and one of its members had a baby with her. She sat towards the end of a table at a family restaurant two or three seats down from me. It was a well-lit restaurant and we were having dinner. Over the course of a fun, laugh-filled conversation, I happened to glance her way as she made a comment, and I noticed that she was breastfeeding.

Actually, that’s incorrect.

I noticed a navy blue drape over her shoulder partially covering her baby’s head for that process. Out of respect, I went on with the conversation and paid it no attention. It took a second or two, in fact, for my brain to even process what I saw.

The point is this: through her modesty, she accomplished exactly what needed to be done without putting on a show. I was at the same table with her and didn’t realize it was happening. No one in the restaurant could possibly have had a valid reason to object.

A simple cover, a light drape, is not too much to ask. It really isn’t.

Those who are offended by seeing a woman breastfeed don’t have to watch. But those who breastfeed don’t necessarily have to breastfeed at that exact moment, either: there are breast pumps, after all.

There’s always an alternative, one way or another, if one is willing to make a little effort.

There’s no reason to say a woman shouldn’t breastfeed in public. It is a natural thing. But some natural things make others uncomfortable. They have every much right to be uncomfortable as mothers have to be outraged. No two people look at the same situation exactly the same way.

Any moms who really want to “educate” the public about how “natural” breastfeeding should be regarded ought to be willing to use a simple cover. It shows a little respect to those around them and simultaneously commands respect in return.

A little compromise goes a long way. That’s common sense.

127 Comments

  1. I can see both sides of the issue.. Though I do agree with you on the ‘nurse ins’, they seem to be doing more harm than good for the “normalizing breastfeeding” cause, and they do feel like they are more about making a point than about feeding babies. I breastfed both of my kids, but never did so without a cover (when I was in public). It is a modesty issue for me, and I never wanted to make anyone feel uncomfortable. I’ve also NEVER ben told to move, or that I couldn’t breastfeed there, because it wasn’t a show, I just needed to feed my kid. 
    A few things that make the issue more complex are that, yes, there are breast pumps, but they are very expensive and not every one owns one. Even some who own them, may not be able to pump. I will spare you the details, but I’ve tried VERY hard to get that thing to work, on me and it just doesn’t. I could never pump for my kids, so I could only breastfeed. The pump wasn’t broken, it is just harder than you would think to pump and not all women are able to, even if they can breastfeed without a problem. 
    Also, some babies won’t eat with a cover on. My kids never had an issue, because they were used to it, but I know several babies who would refuse to eat and just scream, or who would constantly be ripping at the cover while breastfeeding, and end up causing a larger scene than if the mom would have just nursed quietly with no cover. 
    Personally, I always used a cover, and I’m MUCH more comfortable if others do so (when we’re in public), but I do understand that it is harder for some because of pump issues or babies that refuse the cover. I actually trained my babies to be okay with the use of a cover because I had known some babies that refused it, so I even used my cover at home occasionally, when I didn’t need to, just so that the baby would be comfortable with it because I would’t nurse in public without one. But I can see that a mom might get stuck in a situation where she can’t pump, or doesn’t have a cover, or the baby refuses a cover…and I honestly don’t know what the answer is there. I wouldn’t say anything to a mom, but my comfort level is definitely with a cover.

  2. tedcoine patricksplace *sigh* such ignorance. Let he (and yes, nearly always a he) who is without ‘not about the child’ sin cast 1st (etc)

    1. martinburnsuk I’m sure there are issues about which men have VALID opinions that may not apply to their SPECIFIC situation. That’s life.

        1. martinburnsuk What’s your problem with attempts at discretion? It would seem even most MOMS I’ve talked to agree with that much.

        2. patricksplace Mothers can be as discreet as they want to be. It’s your imposition of *your* comfort zone that’s the problem.

        3. martinburnsuk No, it’s not MY imposition…it’s SOCIETY’S. My comfort zone is far less “imposing” than you seem to believe.

        4. patricksplace Society changes. Society varies. You’re trying to impose your value system onto society rather than letting it do so.

        5. martinburnsuk For some PARENTS, it’s not about “S.E.X.” They don’t want their kids seeing that. Why can’t they decide that for their kids?

        6. patricksplace *sigh* Children see far more at an earlier age. If parents aren’t mature enough to cope with the questions…

        7. patricksplace But just like racism, prudery has to be educated into children to exist. It’s not there naturally.

        8. martinburnsuk So it’s okay for you to impose what you think parents should be able to handle? Why do you think YOU get to do that?

        9. patricksplace It’s the same discussion as happened re racism. I’m happy to tell people to grow the hell up and deal with it, rather than…

  3. netster23 patricksplace No it’s about every child that needs to eat, when and where they need to without Mamas being shamed or harassed.

  4. […] “There’s no reason to say a woman shouldn’t breastfeed in public. It is a natural thing. But some natural things make others […]

  5. Kiboomu patricksplace sometimes that squirmy baby who is hot under that cover doesn’t allow you to be discreet. Even if you want to be.

    1. mformonsters I’ve seen covers made of material similar to bed sheets. Doesn’t have to be a “heavy, hot” cover as some have depicted. (1/2)

    2. mformonsters But you’re right, a squirmy baby may make it difficult, still most moms at least TRY for discretion…is THAT so wrong? (2/2)

    3. Kiboomu patricksplace when it’s 80+ degrees outside, go get a bed sheet, put it over your head and most of your body and stand up next to

    4. Kiboomu patricksplace someone. A bed sheet gets hot. And nothing is WRONG with discretion. I do it. I just wanted to point out that some

      1. mformonsters I absolutely agree with you. I’d say MOST moms try, in fact. A very vocal handful, however, seem to say they refuse to try…

      2. mformonsters …It may well be THEIR refusal that causes polarized feelings that wind up lumping all moms together. That’s unfair to all.

        1. patricksplace very true. Some do refuse. It’s just a great time to remember that we need to be accepting of others feelings even when..

  6. patricksplace politely disagree. Hungry babies need to be fed on their schedule. Suggesting formula/pump is not cool.

      1. patricksplace breastfeeding is best for mother and baby and hard work. Saying that they should do otherwise so YOU are comfortable is wrong

        1. TheGrantLife No one is saying they shouldn’t breastfeed. Don’t try to put words in my mouth. What’s wrong with discretion?

        2. patricksplace you said they should pump instead and then commented that they could formula feed. If you meant something else pls explain

        3. TheGrantLife I was pointing out that breastfeeding isn’t necessarily the ONLY option, not saying they SHOULDN’T breastfeed.

        4. patricksplace you’d be ok with a women pumping in public? Do you have kids or does breastfeeding make you uncomfortable enough to post ab?

        5. TheGrantLife Why would a woman pump in public? Isn’t the point of a pump so that you have milk ready when breastfeeding’s inconvenient?

        6. TheGrantLife My point is that it’s uncomfortable for different people for different reasons. Why shouldn’t their feelings matter at all?

        7. patricksplace I care how people feel but when a baby is hungry your feelings come second to feeding a child. Sorry.

        8. TheGrantLife Of course others’ feelings come 2nd. No one’s disputing that. Why can’t there be a middle ground via a little discretion?

        9. TheGrantLife Then it’s pointless to continue, since discretion was the real issue here. I appreciate your views in the matter, though.

      2. I totally agreed with you until you suggested pumping instead. Many women get far less milk from pumping than their babies are able to get by nursing. It would take me days of pumping sessions to get enough milk for one bottle for my son. It’s just not practical.

  7. What I’m seeing here is women who want their cake and yet want to eat it, too. I breastfed both my children, but was always discrete. And I’m sorry, but babies are on a feeding schedule. That means, MOMS, you should plan accordingly. It’s not like you don’t KNOW when your baby might get hungry. So if that means you don’t get to go to the mall or eat at a restaurant or see a movie… TOUGH. That’s what mothering is all about — sacrifice. You are asking the rest of the world to work around you because you wanna shop so badly you can’t put your child’s hunger first. You are asking the rest of the world to “get of it” when it comes to discomfort cuz you wanna do whatever you wanna do. This is the same damn thing moms are doing with all that nonsense about putting kids on leashes. Your freaking lazy and self-centered and forgot to put your KID first instead of yourself. There was a 6-month period with each of my babies when I didn’t go out in public much at all. And I don’t regret that. It is the choice you make when you decide to nurse. Then, when they hit their Terrible Threes, I again had about a 6-month period where I didn’t see much of the public eye. Cover up your boob. Stop putting your kids on leashes. Put your baby first. Don’t be such a selfish twat.

  8. Nurse-ins are about supporting the right to breastfeed. I don’t fully understand why parents wouldn’t want their children to see a baby nursing. Actually, I don’t understand it at all. I nursed my kids well past a year each, but kept myself pretty well covered – it wasn’t always possible because babies can be unpredictable. If I see a nursing baby, I point it out to my children – it’s beautiful and it’s a huge sacrifice for a mother to do for her child.

  9. thejoshuawilner patricksplace I don’t do nurse-ins but I do believe it is too much to ask a mother to cover up when breastfeeding

    1. foxy_freckles Why? It’d be one thing to ask a mom not to feed at all. What’s so terrible about a cover? What’s wrong with a compromise?

      1. patricksplace the choice is given to the mother. They know their child. If the child does not like a cover they should not be required to.

        1. foxy_freckles Then that’s not fair to the rest of the people in the room who might not like the lack of a cover.

        2. patricksplace it’s not the mothers job to be concerned with everyone else in the room. It is her job to feed her child the best way she can

        3. foxy_freckles The mother need not breastfeed the baby at that moment. Two sides to every argument. Why I favor compromise.

        4. patricksplace it’s much easier to for others to acknowledge what’s going on and move on than to tell a baby to wait to eat, which is cruel.

        5. patricksplace compromise is fine in situations that its possible. In this case you are asking the baby to compromise which is impossible.

        6. patricksplace foxy_freckles I despise this. “It’s not fair.” Fair to whom? Why are people so “offended”?? Never understood this statement.

        7. patricksplace foxy_freckles “Need not breastfeed the baby at that moment.” Of course, bc babies’ hunger follows ur schedule of activities.

        8. patricksplace foxy_freckles why should a baby be made to stay hungry for the sake of others? Why should we compromise on infants’ needs?

        9. patricksplace foxy_freckles I choose to use a cover, for my own comfort, but have forgotten it at times & had to go without.

        10. patricksplace breastfeeding is a dual relationship. By asking something of one you are asking something of both.

        11. patricksplace you just did! “The mother need not breastfeed the baby at that moment” i.e. baby should be left hungry!!

        12. patricksplace You are asking that we cover, and I’m just pointing out, it’s not always possible. Tired mom trying to remember a cover?

        13. lissaloudesigns People find new ways to get offended every day. I’ve heard parents say they’re not comfortable explaining it to kids.

        14. patricksplace I get that it makes others more comfortable, but, I’ve never seen a mom breastfeed without being discreet.

        15. Katiekrongard patricksplace I chose to cover for the first 7 months. Then covering became more of a show than not.

        16. becb1984 They’re not the same thing AT ALL. How about formula? Breast pump? There’s more than ONE way to handle the situation.

        17. foxy_freckles patricksplace well, and try getting a baby to be ok w/ a cover when it’s 105 degrees in the summer heat. Impossible.

        18. patricksplace I do completely understand your perspective. I think it’s just hard to understand unless you are a Breastfeeding mom.

        19. patricksplace Katiekrongard becb1984 the problem with this word it is immensely arbitrary. It is not something we can measure

        20. foxy_freckles Not necessarily, no. Presumably, a mom who’s being discreet wouldn’t attract attention to begin with, though.

        21. patricksplace I’m talking about feeding inside. Had to do it at church. No AC. I can’t predict conditions to feed.

        22. patricksplace Children *should* know how babies eat. It’s kinda hard to explain why a person’s in a wheelchair, but u do it – with respect.

        23. patricksplace the priority is feeding my baby, not the publics comfort level. I do my best to be private, but, it’s not my biggest concern.

        24. foxy_freckles No, didn’t block you. I was referring to your point that discretion doesn’t necessarily require a cover.

        25. Katiekrongard But see, this is my whole point: no one’s asking public’s comfort level to be your biggest concern.

        26. Katiekrongard It’s more about being AWARE of others’ feelings and doing the best to accommodate secondarily vs. saying, “I don’t care.”

        27. Katiekrongard It’s TRULY impossible to make everyone happy. Will never happen. We have to do the best we can.

        28. patricksplace Katiekrongard rarely will you find a mother that thinks “I don’t care”. That tends to be what others assume she is thinking

        29. patricksplace I get that. As I said, I prefer a cover, but, some grace for mothers who choose Breastfeeding would be nice.

        30. foxy_freckles Frankly, this is what I’ve heard some mothers actually say in this before. I respect that you DON’T feel that way.

        31. Katiekrongard Absolutely…and I think there’s more grace than not. On both sides, though, the louder folks cause the hardest feelings. 🙂

        32. patricksplace thats true but just because some do doesn’t mean the rest of us do just because we don’t cover. That’s a common misconception

        33. @patricksplace foxy_freckles Patrick, this argument could be made about anything. If you wear a t-shirt advertising Red Bull, and I’m uncomfortable with you advertising products like that around my kids, should I be allowed to make you cover the advertisement?

        34. patricksplace can you understand why we get upset over someone demanding us to cover up (not you specifically) when we aren’t doing harm?

        35. foxy_freckles Absolutely, especially if you already feel you’re trying to do your best to be discrete. Would definitely feel unfair.

        36. As it should be. RT foxy_freckles: patricksplace I’m doing my best to tend to my child, discretion is secondary to that

        37. foxy_freckles Katiekrongard Thanks for the discussion…really and sincerely appreciate your points of view. 🙂

        38. patricksplace just trying to explain that mothers who don’t use covers aren’t disrespectful, trashy, exhibitionists, indecent, etc

        39. patricksplace because you can tell that a woman is breastfeeding doesn’t automatically mean she is putting on a show or making statements

      2. patricksplace a cover implies it is something to hide, which its not. Breastfeeding is hard enough, women need to do what is comfortable

        1. @foxy_freckles patricksplace Foxy, this pretty much sums up my feelings on the matter. We generally don’t think people should be allowed to control what colors people wear in public, what they read in public, etc., so by treating breast feeding differently, we’re acting like it’s shameful.

      3. patricksplace a cover often brings more attention to the situation. Fighting to keep it on, peeking in to see if the latch is right

      4. patricksplace I wouldn’t want to eat with a suffocating cover. If you want to and your child tolerates it, fine. If you dont want to, fine.

  10. I agree with you 100%.  I breastfed myself, but always was considerate enough to cover up.  My husband gets very uncomfortable if he sees a woman somewhere breastfeeding. Feeling like if he looks at her to talk, then it will be perceived in the wrong way – feeling like if he looks away, he’s being rude.  If there is a covering, there isn’t an issue. What is the big deal with covering up your boob? There are a lot of garment that you can also very discreetly nurse so that it’s not uncomfortable for those around you.  The baby can still nurse, you are still bonding with your child, you’re just being considerate of other people… simple as that. No one is trying to take your right away from nursing your child, they are just trying to be considerate of other people in the room. Wholly mountain out of an ant hill.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.