By Dr Elenia Kolokotronis

That breast is best is a hands down no argument known fact – the world over has known and seen that breastfeeding is the best way for mother and child to feed, nourish, bond and love each other as only Mother Nature intended. However we do need to understand that there is an ongoing issue with how breastfeeding is done, especially if it is done in public. With this in mind we further explore if public breastfeeding is socially accepted, by whom it is accepted and why some dynamics may find breast exposure during feeding offensive.

The narrative on breastfeeding has changed. It is no longer a simple understanding that “this is the only way to feed my baby to grow and survive” sense any longer. Breast milk has substitutes and may no longer be chosen if that is a decision made. The breast  too, has substitute in the form of baby milk bottles with teat’s so perfectly designed that the companies that develop them invest fortunes in the research and development for infant and baby bottle teat’s to most likely match a mothers nipple. Millions of infants and babies have grown successfully and safely on formula feeding via bottles. But that aside we need to look at the socially accepted (or not) ideology of breast feeding in public and all the trimmings that go with it  – good and bad.

We know that the nutritional or developmental benefits of breastfeeding is vital and that this important act is imperative for the life and growth of our children but when done in public the story may change to how the society who witnesses the act may feel rather than the actual focus of a mother feeding her child. If the breast is visibly exposed or shown in public whilst feeding occurs, we see a bigger change in the response of the society who may be witnessing it – and this is almost always leaning towards a negative response for two reasons. Firstly, within our society there exists communities where breast expose is not permitted regardless if in the context of breastfeeding. The public attitude leans towards the feelings that breastfeeding is only acceptable if it is discreet and no breasts are actually visible. Secondly within our scope there are minors who may not have been exposed to sighting of female breasts at which, if seen in public may be found offensive or disturbing by the child or the parent of the child. There has been a lot of in-depth research as to why a breastfeeding mother may conjure such possible offence when feeding her child and following information was found based on passers-by, readers and callers-in:

Depending on the age of the child being breastfed often breastfeeding will be not be for nutritional purposes but for comfort so it can be said that the mother is teaching her child to use the overdue breastfeeding as a comfort crutch. Added it was found disturbing to see a child of six years old being breastfed;

That most of the passers-by who were asked about how they felt regarding public breastfeeding responded they did not mind if it was done discreetly with no breast or nipple seen;

That non-mothers felt offended by their boyfriends or  husbands seeing another woman’s breasts on show to feed her baby and that it should be done in private;

That many ethnic groups found it against their practices to share a space with a woman baring flesh regardless if she was feeding her child. They felt that their wives could manage without doing it in public so could the others.;

That sitting next to someone in close proximity who suddenly whipped out a breast and began feeding her child was found uncomfortable and offensive;

These are all based on the articles on Parent24, research articles by International Breastfeeding Journal and Quora as well as some of my own research is added here when looking at breast vs formula feeding on the emotional wellness of new mothers. As seen here there is an international look and overall feel that the feeling is the same: Breast is okay in public IF the actual breast is not seen.

This may cause an influx of reader responses stating that breasts are a part of a woman’s body and nothing to be shy of when feeding our children however we also look at the other side of that coin and state that so is male and female genitalia and ask ourselves if we would be comfortable with them on display if needed for a similar act such as breastfeeding and having a breast fully exposed.

Interestingly enough WHERE public breastfeeding is happening is interesting as if we look at most of Africa for example breastfeeding in public is the norm and is not even looked at as anything other than feeding your child. In the USA, public breastfeeding is legal in most states but not all – Utah and Idaho are still not fully legal. Public breastfeeding in the UK is completely legal and is made comfortable and acceptable for all by investing millions of Pounds to facilitate breastfeeding mothers with private spaces and amenities to accommodate them. In the UAE breastfeeding is permitted however it is imperative to respect the local cultures that this is done in modesty and in piracy. In other Muslim countries breastfeeding is permitted in public places but not in open view of the public meaning that the breastfeeding mother and child need to find a private space within a mall or facilities in a park or eatery to feed her child. To actually publically display her breast is forbidden.

Personally I am not against public breastfeeding with or without breasts exposed however I do need to be fair here and add that if one is going into a space or place – that space or place is SHARED. It is an environment that is inclusive of all persons and these persons may differ widely in acceptance, understanding, tolerant, expectation, social or religious characteristics or interest from each other. What one may deem okay may not be with another. Therefore in conclusion I suggest that if we are to move smoothly forward with the best way to feed your child publically do so with consideration for the people you are sharing that breastfeeding space with.

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