For my last speech of the semester (yay!) we needed to choose a topic of debate and take a position on it. My first thought was breastfeeding in public, but I almost didn’t do it because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to present the other side fairly. I’m happy I decided to go with it because I think I did a pretty good job. And since it’s on topic for my blog, I figured I’d post a transcript here.
By show of hands, who here has ever seen a mom breastfeeding public? Maybe you felt a little squeamish about it, or maybe you just didn’t even care at all. This is the center of the debate about breastfeeding in public. One side says that it is normal and should be encouraged, and the other side says that it is indecent and should be discouraged. It is my firm belief that breastfeeding in public directly affects breastfeeding overall and since breastfeeding is so important for the health of mother and baby, breastfeeding in public should be encouraged.
First let’s talk about what the proponents of breast-feeding in public have to say. Their main argument is that it is not an issue modesty but simply a baby eating. And many states agree. The national conference of State legislatures breast-feeding laws last revised in 2011 states that 28 states have laws Specifically exempting breast-feeding from indecency laws, and 45 States have laws that allow a woman to breast-feed any location public or private. Utah is Included in both these groups.
The second argument that they make is that discouraging breastfeeding in public shortens the overall duration of breastfeeding. In the article Got Milk? Not in Public! In international Breastfeeding Journal in 2008 Jacqueline Wolf states “If women are made to feel uncomfortable with public breastfeeding, breastfeeding becomes difficult, if not impossible, to sustain. Women who have successfully breastfed for long periods of time know that unless women can feed their babies anytime, anywhere, they’re going to end up housebound. And it’s the rare American woman who is willing to be housebound for months on end. So, many women give up breastfeeding early and opt for the bottle.”
Now let’s talk about what the opponents have to say about breastfeeding in public. Their main argument is that it is immodest and indecent. In an article written last month by Amy Bushatz she talks about the story in the Schofield Barracks commissary in Hawaii. Two women were told that they needed to leave because they were breastfeeding while shopping. While there were no regulations about breastfeeding in the commissary at the time of these incidences, the commander is developing a policy because of the “questions raised about what is considered exposure and how it is perceived by others.” By using the term exposure he turns this into a debate of decency.
The second argument they make is that it can make others feel uncomfortable. In an article by Sarah McGrath in 2010, she talks about the Head Start program in Washington. This program has a specific emphasis on nutrition and regulations about giving moms information on breastfeeding, but they told a mom that she was no longer allowed to breastfeed in the classroom because it was making others feel uncomfortable.
Now that we have those two sides and their arguments in mind, here is my opinion. First I will offer two solutions that that opponents to breastfeeding in public often give so that the mom will not need to breastfeed in public. The first solution is that you can time your outings around feeding. This is difficult for even the most scheduled baby, but especially so in circumstances like mine with my first daughter. She had horrible reflux and needed to nurse every 60 to 90 minutes for the first six months of her life. It was impossible to time outings around feedings, because even a short grocery store trip can take 60 minutes. And even a baby who is not in such an extreme circumstance may sometimes need to nurse more often than they normally do. Maybe they’re teething, having an growth spurt, or even just feeling overwhelmed from being out and about. So that mom is stuck in the middle of the store with a crying baby not knowing what to do.
The second solution that they offer is that you can pump milk and bring it with you. Besides the logistical issues of needing to purchase the pump, find time to pump and clean the supplies, and store it while out to keep it fresh, there’s the issue of milk supply. Breastfeeding is supply and demand system, Which means that the more you nursed the more milk you make. Conversely, if you skip feedings you will make less milk. So if a mom does this repetitively she will lower her supply, decreasing the duration of breastfeeding overall, bringing us back to square one.
The only solution is to just allow moms to nurse in public. In that same article by Jacqueline Wolf in 2008, she talks about how in other countries where breasts are not sexualized but rather some other part of the body such as the thighs or even the shoulders, breastfeeding in public is not an issue. And beyond that, they think that it’s very peculiar that it’s an issue here.
And yes, it can make others feel uncomfortable. But so does picking your teeth when you’re done eating, or a woman wearing a short skirt. And no one tries to say that those are indecent or should be outlawed.
In conclusion, I believe that we should encourage mothers to breastfeed in public. The proponents of breastfeeding in public say that it is an issue of eating not modesty and that by discouraging breastfeeding in public shortens the overall duration of breastfeeding. The opponents say that it is immodest and indecent and that makes others feel uncomfortable. As a society we choose what is considered indecent and by allowing and encouraging moms to breastfeed public, we will normalize breastfeeding so that this is not an issue in the future.