Is breastfeeding in public provocative?

Every so often it seems I hear yet another story of a fellow breastfeeding mum being asked to cover up or to leave when she is feeding her baby out and about in public and this makes me sad and angry. Why do certain members of society seem to have such an issue with seeing an exposed breast with a baby attached to it? Young women can go out revealing just as much cleavage in a skimpy top on a night out, a page 3 model can bare all in a newspaper and this seems to be perfectly acceptable, yet seeing a breast performing the function for which is was created seems abhorrent in some people’s eyes.

Is breastfeeding in public provocative? Little Hearts, Big Love

One of the arguments that often gets raised when trying to defend breastfeeding in public places by pointing out that this is a very natural way to feed a baby is that ‘going for a wee is natural and men don’t get their willies out and urinate in public so why should women breastfed in public’. Well firstly, go down certain dodgy areas of cities on the weekend and you’ll probably see drunken men doing just that but secondly, the two are not comparable. I would go to the toilet to change my baby’s nappy in private in the same way as I would go to the toilet privately myself. I don’t cover myself when eating in public – why should I have to cover my baby when she is breastfeeding in public?

Is breastfeeding in public provocative? - Little Hearts, Big Love

The Equality Act 2010 states that businesses cannot ask a breastfeeding woman to leave just because she is breastfeeding her baby and as far as I am aware the caveat ‘unless she is feeding indiscreetly’ isn’t included. It makes me angry that women are humiliated and shamed for just feeding their babies, that many women feel they have to hide their babies under covers or not feed in public at all.

I was recently involved in a twitter debate about breastfeeding discreetly in public where a fellow breastfeeding mother who had been asked to cover up whilst feeding in public was told that she ‘only had herself to blame’ for being humiliated as she should have been feeding discreetly. When that comment was first posted, I felt there were parallels with blaming rape victims if they wore revealing clothing (a view I definitely do not agree with – no means no no matter what the woman happens to be wearing). This particular conversation actually ended up going down this route with the person attacking indiscreet breastfeeding remarking that exposing breasts was ‘provocative’ (in response to a photo comparing exposing flesh on a Saturday night out with exposing flesh whilst breastfeeding) and implying that women put themselves at risk of being attacked. Which begs the question – if I expose my breast to feed my baby, am I really putting myself at risk of being raped? What is wrong with a society where women are hypersexualised to an extent that breastfeeding is viewed as abhorrent and provocative?

I have to say that whilst there are times when I do breastfeed very discreetly (nursing tops are generally a staple item in my wardrobe), there are also times when I am less discreet – I will get on and feed my baby in the quickest and easiest way possible and if that involves exposing most of my breast, then so be it. Thankfully I have only met with one negative reaction – being asked to go and sit in a corner behind the door in a restaurant whilst trying to latch Jessica when she was tiny – if the idea was to protect the rest of the diners from being exposed to a breastfeeding woman, it backfired when I walked back across the restaurant with Jessica attached and feeding and sat back down with my friends. On the whole though, the comments I have received about breastfeeding my babies have been positive. I just wish that society would be welcoming of all women feeding their babies when out and about – whether they choose to breastfeed or bottle feed, be discreet or not. At the end of the day, we are all mums trying to do the best we can for our children – when they are hungry, they need feeding, just as we do when we are hungry. Why should this be an issue at all?


Joining in with Zena’s Suitcase for Breastfeeding Diaries:
Zena's Suitcase

18 thoughts on “Is breastfeeding in public provocative?

  1. Yes, yes, yes! I agree with you 100% and breastfed both of my little ones in public. Anyone who doesn’t like it can look away as far as I’m concerned. I love your analogy about weeing in public and changing your baby’s nappy and “What is wrong with a society where women are hypersexualised to an extent that breastfeeding is viewed as abhorrent and provocative?” – THAT! Great post.

    1. Thank you – I have to say, I’m of the same view – if you don’t like it, you don’t have to look! I do usually try to be discreet but to be honest, making sure my hungry baby is fed is more important than worrying about whether someone will freak out at a glimpse of an exposed breast! 🙂

  2. I try to be discreet, it’s not always possible, boobs get everywhere and babies get distracted. I don’t get what all the fuss is about, people are too easy to judge it seems. They should mind their own business. It shouldn’t be an issue!!
    I am lucky in that the worst reaction I have had to deal with is a few filthy looks, surprisingly from older ladies, which I would never have expected.
    I am lucky too, that there is a small shop in my local town which has a feeding room where mums can nurse their babies without having to buy a drink or go into ‘feeding room’ which are little better than toilets. It’s good for me as Boo gets really easily distracted and it provides a nice quiet place.

    1. It is nice when there are quiet places – especially once babies get older and are more easily distracted. It is not always easy to feed Sophie discreetly these days – she does have a habit of pulling at my top or pulling away abruptly leaving me exposed! I’ve had dirty looks a few times but thankfully nothing more. It would be so nice though if feeding babies was a non-issue however we chose to feed them!

  3. I absolutely agree with you! I very quickly resolved to stay out of all twitter debates regarding breastfeeding because I get too angry. These are people I don’t know and will never meet, why let them get under my skin? So, I know how irritating it can be. I feel very lucky because I have never been confronted or looked at weird (that I know of) when feeding in public. If I were either, I welcome the challenge. I’m curious to see what the “mama bear” in me would say. Ha!

    1. Thank you – I think I’ll be steering clear in future too – some people are never going to be convinced and it is very difficult to have a proper debate in 140 character snippets! Not quite sure how I’d react if publicly confronted these days – was quite calm about returning to my seat in the restaurant that one time (and the waiter who’d asked me to move may have only been trying to be helpful in offering somewhere discreet as he said nothing further when I returned still feeding)

  4. This is a great post. Even though I felt way too shy (not sure what word is best for my feeling so will just go with shy) to ever feed publicly I really admire women who do. I don’t think anyone has the right to ask someone to cover up or feed discreetly. Maybe if there ever is a baby #2 I will be able to feed anywhere. It’s something I do regret but I just couldn’t help it there was something stopping me 🙁 xx

    1. Thank you – I think if there was less negativity surrounding breastfeeding in public, perhaps women would feel shy about doing so – although I do understand feeling that way.

  5. I was so self-conscious in the beginning about feeding in public – mainly because I was worried I looked like I had no idea what I was doing, which was pretty accurate! Now though I will feed Arthur when he needs it, whatever the circumstances. I’ve had a couple of funny looks but no-one’s ever said anything. I hope I’d have the confidence to tell them exactly how strongly I feel about a child’s right to feed in public if they did! X

    1. Glad you’re more confident with feeding out and about now – funny looks are easy enough to ignore – hope you don’t ever have to defend your right to feed in public from anyone saying anything though x

  6. Very well said! This is not a debate we should be having when the positive effects of breastfeeding are so far reaching that they benefit society as a whole. Reducing the NHS bill for a start! I sit in wait for anyone to come over to me and ask me to leave/cover up/use a public toilet as I will be giving them a few words on twitter or otherwise! Another great post Louise, thanks so much for linking uagain #BFingDiaries

  7. Hi,

    Like you, I’m a breastfeeding mother. On a United airlines flight a couple days ago I got publicly shamed by a passenger for feeding my 4 month old daughter, then the stewards came and asked me to “cover up”. The whole ordeal was embarrassing and very hard as a new mother. This is completely against the law and against the airlines “policy”. But these kinds of situations are happening all over America right now and I’d like to ask your help to make my story go viral. I know what it’s like to fight for a cause you believe in and this is something very close to my heart. I’m taking legal action against untied airlines till they educate their staff and make their policy as strict as not smoking on an aircraft.
    Please like my story and share it, together we can make an impact.

    1. Juliet, I’m so sorry that this happened to you – it is so wrong that women are shamed for feeding their babies in the way nature intended them to be fed and to be asked to cover up and hide away whilst doing so. I hope that you get an apology from the airline and that they change their policy to avoid this kind of situation happening in the future. Have shared x

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