Women should not be shamed for breastfeeding in public

Nahila Bonfiglio

Women’s lives are an ever-shifting landscape. Rigid expectations from 20 years ago have been replaced by a non-exclusive set of standards. Women have careers as well as families, and juggling so many different responsibilities can be quite a struggle.

This is enhanced by the fact that mothers, particularly those in the workforce, still have personal lives. As the demands of life shift and women take on more responsibilities, they are faced with the difficult task of balancing motherhood with their previous commitments. If a woman on the go has her newborn with her, that means she will likely have to pause at several points in her day to feed her child. Before condemning a mother for breastfeeding her child in public, one must consider not only the encouragement from doctors to feed “from the breast,” but also the potential health benefits, such as reduced risk of heart disease and breast cancer.

Dr. Steven Abrams, chair of the Department of Pediatrics for the Dell Medical School, explained the demanding nature of caring for an infant. Most newborns need to be fed every few hours, depending on their age. A hungry child will wail incessantly, and if a mother waits too long to feed her child her breasts can become painful and even engorged. Extreme cases can even lead to more threatening risks including hypertension and heart attacks.

These are things that critics of public breastfeeding seem to ignore, focusing instead on their own comfort. Critics will argue that a mother need only find a private place like a bathroom to feed their child. However, Abrams pointed out that breastfeeding generally takes between 15 to 20 minutes, and there are very few public restrooms that are comfortable to sit in for any length of time, let alone almost a half hour.

There are also those who will argue for carrying a bottle of breast milk or formula for the child when a family is out and about, but Abrams noted that most children don’t learn to take a bottle until they are between four to six weeks old, and most doctors don’t recommend bottle feeding even after that point.

“It is always best and simplest to feed a child at the breast,” Abrams said. “It doesn’t matter where mom is at the time. You need to feed the baby based on his or her need.”

Mothers are entitled to their own decisions on how they would like to care for their children, and if they should need to do so publicly, they should not have to fear backlash from strangers.

“The right of a baby to be fed at the breast exceeds the right of a person to feel comfortable, particularly when the mother is not exposing herself,” Abrams said.

If you see a woman who is caring for her child, regardless of whether you agree with when or where she is doing it, keep this in mind — it is none of your business. You have no right to insert your opinion into her life, so keep it to yourself. And if it really offends you, here is a bit of advice:

Walk away.

Bonfiglio is a journalism junior from Oak Creek, Colorado. Follow her on Twitter @NahilaBonfiglio.