Breastfeeding in public

Feminist ideology and the effect it has had upon society
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Breastfeeding in public

Postby Gavin » 25 Jan 2013, 21:56

My attention was drawn recently to a picture which shows, on the right, three women on a beach wearing bikinis, and on the left a woman breastfeeding in public. The caption said something along the lines of "If you find the picture on the left, but not the picture on the right, offensive, then you are a hypocrite". I thought this was quite simplistic and PC.

Revealing clothing has arguably gone too far now, and a lot of women taunt men and voluntarily dress like slags. No-one pressures them in any way to do this, although feminists often do make efforts to somehow route the blame back to men. There is, of course, a big difference between dressing in an attractive way with femininity and dressing in a sluttish way which suggests no self-respect. But when woman are on a beach, for goodness' sake, one expects them to wear bikinis! I can't really see the problem with that.

On the other hand, I notice a bit of a trend with breastfeeding in public now, in that it has been become one of the "battle axes" of feminism, as it were; another opportunity to "make a statement" of some kind. Fight back at the patriarchy, those evil men who made it possible (somewhat inconveniently) for the baby to be born in the first place.

Of course, if a baby needs feeding, that's fine, but once upon a time it was right to show some discretion in such a matter. It seems to me that this is a fairly private moment between mother and baby and it should be done privately if possible. In public if essential, okay, but not in some kind of a showy way, and ideally in private. While the former situation might in some cases be sexually flirtatious, it seems to me latter is even more sensitive since it has a some degree of intimacy about it (between the mother and the baby, obviously). Thus it is something of a shame, perhaps even inappropriate, to conduct it overtly in public and - to some extent - to involve everybody else in it.

I wonder what other people think about this matter. I just just thought it was a completely false comparison in this image - typical of those which do the rounds on the Internet. I also saw it as yet more evidence of the "me first" culture and of some women trying to fight a fight which isn't really there.
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Re: Breastfeeding in public

Postby Heather » 26 Jan 2013, 15:26

Babies should ideally get all of their nutrition from breast milk for the first six months (often every 2-3 hours), and the majority of it for a year. Oftentimes babies who are breastfed refuse the bottle, so that the mother is the only possible source of nutrition. I urge you to think of the very lonely life that women would lead if they had to be at home for all of this.

I agree that breastfeeding should be done discreetly with blankets and such, and preferably in a semi-private area, but I'm the only person on this board with any practical knowledge of it. I'll tell you that 100% discretion is not easy, and at times I've had to rely on others to be sensitive about it. It's difficult enough to arrange life around a nursling. Sometimes we're going to have to appear in public. I don't think it's disingenuous to compare it to wearing a bikini. If either bothers you - look away discreetly. There's a good chance that the woman is just as embarrassed and has a hungry baby and no private place for nursing it. I've been there too many times to count, not because of poor planning, but because life happens and I had no other choice.

I completely disagree that this is about the "me" generation. This is about babies that are crying to be fed. It's all very well to be an armchair theorist, but reality is not so simple. It sucks to be shamed about feeding your child. I've been there, too.
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Re: Breastfeeding in public

Postby Gavin » 26 Jan 2013, 16:05

Thanks for replying to this, Heather - I thought and hoped you might. You certainly are the person who knows best about this on here!

It doesn't make me feel uncomfortable, I was thinking more of the woman herself really. Also I still think it is a false comparison with women in bikinis really. That's more sexual, I suppose, but I don't see this as sexual at all.

Anyway, your points are well taken..
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Re: Breastfeeding in public

Postby Elliott » 27 Jan 2013, 01:28

I think this is really a matter of etiquette, in that (as yet) we don't really know what the etiquette is when one sees a woman breastfeeding. Are you meant to look away? Or is that rude? It's a fairly new thing in public, and I think people aren't yet sure how they are supposed to behave when they see it.

I'm not against women breastfeeding in public. Actually I'm for it, insofar as I think they should be allowed to do it and nobody should jeer, complain or criticise them when they do it. But, at the same time, I don't think it's surprising that there is a certain anxiety about it. I feel anxious about it myself, even when my sister-in-law does it. I certainly think that if a woman does it discreetly, nobody else has any right to complain; and in fact I would question their motives in complaining.

And at the other end of the spectrum, there is certainly a group of feminists who use breastfeeding, like they use every issue to do with women, to have a go at men. We should hold that vindictiveness against the feminists, but not the women who breastfeed. A lot of these feminists will be childless harridans (like Germaine Greer) who have never breastfed anyway.
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Re: Breastfeeding in public

Postby Gavin » 27 Jan 2013, 03:02

You've clarified exactly what I meant really there, Elliott.
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Re: Breastfeeding in public

Postby Heather » 02 Feb 2013, 15:12

Regarding breastfeeding etiquette, I think it's best to follow the woman's lead. Making a production of looking away or acting awkward will make feminists happy and embarrass normal women. Obviously if she's made an effort to be inconspicuous, you should just go about your business. However, some women, especially extroverts and/or those with large families, don't want life to grind to a halt as they feed the baby and will keep working/walking/chatting as they do so. In this case it's fine to speak with them. Sometimes they've become so good at public breastfeeding that childless people don't even know they're doing it! Personally, I'll go quite far out of my way to be discreet in public, and don't want anyone bothering me then. However, in my own home, and especially if the child is very young and nursing frequently (which also means I'm recovering from birth and unable to move to different rooms easily), I'll nurse in front of my guests, covered up of course, and be open to conversing with anyone. Women have always acted perfectly natural about this type of situation, which I appreciate, and about half of men are more comfortable reading or playing on their phones, which I understand.

I think the reason why you're seeing more public nursing is that breastfeeding has never been more popular or pushed since the invention of modern formula. Indeed, I'm as likely to see a woman sneered at for giving her baby a bottle as for nursing it in public!

On the whole, I think that public nursing is a great development. My mother-in-law lived in rural Texas when my husband was born. He absolutely refused bottles and breastfeeding was considered grossly indecent in that area, so she was forced to cover themselves with mounds of blankets in the blistering summer heat whenever they had to be in public. I'd rather live in a world where a few feminists make people uncomfortable with public nursing (and the rest of us do it discreetly) than have to endure my mother-in-law's situation.
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Re: Breastfeeding in public

Postby Mike » 03 Feb 2013, 10:25

Heather wrote:I think the reason why you're seeing more public nursing is that breastfeeding has never been more popular or pushed since the invention of modern formula. Indeed, I'm as likely to see a woman sneered at for giving her baby a bottle as for nursing it in public!


Oh, don't I know this! When our daughter was born (by emergency caesarian, after a 16-hour labour), my wife's milk didn't come in, for a variety of health-related reasons. So after weeks of trying, we resigned ourselves to formula. It was not what we wanted, but we had absolutely no choice. And my wife, who was already (illogically, but understandably) beating herself over the head for not breastfeeding, was on the receiving end of several subtle guilt trips from friends. Breastfeeding has become a real feminist hobbyhorse in recent years, which is ironic in some ways.
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Re: Breastfeeding in public

Postby Mike » 06 Jan 2014, 03:13

In relation to my last post, I thought the following might be of interest: a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald this morning (our liberal-left daily) which I felt impelled, for once, to respond to.

Richard White (Letters, January 4-5) has some good suggestions for reducing health costs, but he misses an important one. There is overwhelming evidence that breastfeeding reduces the incidence and severity of both short- and long-term illnesses, allergies and obesity in children. It reduces the number of visits to GPs, hospital admissions and productivity losses when parents need to take time off work. The longer a baby is breastfed, the more marked these reductions are, and breastfeeding also protects the mother against long-term health issues such as breast cancer.

While most women understand the importance of breastfeeding, they often give up because of peer pressure, a lack of support and the erroneous view bottle feeding is almost as good. National and international organisations such as the World Health Organisation recommend exclusive breastfeeding for six months, continuing while other foods are introduced gradually. In Australia the number of mothers still exclusively breastfeeding at five months is just 15 per cent.

The Australian Breastfeeding Association turns 50 next month. Continuing federal government support of the Australian Breastfeeding Association and the reinstatement of its recently disbanded Advisory Panel on the Marketing in Australia of Infant Formula would go a long way to educate our society and help reduce health costs by providing a healthy start to all our children.


And my reply (which might get printed in tomorrow's edition, will be interesting to see):

I cannot believe that Margaret Grove (Letters, January 6) is serious when she suggests that "peer pressure" is partly responsible for new mothers choosing to bottle-feed. The only real pressure these days comes from exactly the opposite direction - from the increasingly shrill, aggressive and insensitive breastfeeding lobby.

Due to a number of complications following the birth of our daughter, my wife was unable to breastfeed, not for want of trying. Her disappointment at not being able to do so was exacerbated, to put it mildly, by the insistent apocalyptic messages from the usual pressure groups about the supposed dangers of bottle-feeding, and the often explicit suggestions that "selfishness" was at the heart of the matter. In her case, nothing could have been further from the truth.

There is a thin line between advocacy and moral blackmail, and the breastfeeding lobby crossed it long ago.


Mainly for reasons of brevity (they're much more likely to print letters if they're short), I didn't actually touch on the part of that original letter that annoyed me by far the most, which was the suggestion that some hectoring, illiberal pressure group should actually be funded by the Australian taxpayer.
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Re: Breastfeeding in public

Postby Jonathan » 09 Jan 2014, 20:07

Breastfeeding is good, breastfeeding is fine, breastfeeding is better than bottles, but using bottles doesn't mean you're a bad parent.

But the question here was about public breastfeeding. More precisely, I think it meant the modern-day phenomenon in which a breastfeeding mother deliberately does not take sufficient precautions to guard her modesty, forcing this duty upon the males around her.

I see this as three modern-day ideas which, regrettably, reinforce each other.

1) The individual before society - why should I lift a finger to make other people feel better?

2) Strident Feminism - why should a woman inconvenience herself to prevent men from feeling awkward?

3) Naturalism - if it's natural, it must be right. What could be more natural than breastfeeding?

I'm not saying women should let their babies scream and cry instead of feeding them just because they're in public; I'm not saying they should hide in an alley or in a public toilet; but often you see simple expedients deliberately being avoided, and you have to wonder why.
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