The Crestiad

Cedar Crest College newspaper since 1923

Should women be allowed to openly breast-feed their children in public?

By Stephanie Kershner, Staff Writer

Breast-feeding in public is a topic that comes in and out of the media’s radar on a relatively consistent basis. What always strikes me about discussing this topic is the wide range of reactions from women not only about what is appropriate but about what rights they have to their children, their bodies, and public places.

I will start out by saying I am a firm believer in a woman’s right to openly breast-feed her child in public. Now this statement could mean different things depending on the reader’s point of view so I will try to dissect through what this means to me.

I believe that any woman has the right to breast-feed her infant, regardless of the nature of the venue, with or without a cover-up and without being ostracized to less than desirable locations.

Let’s consider this to be my bill of rights for the breast-feeding mother in public. While it is not completely comprehensive, it addresses some of the major concerns I see brought up when breast-feeding in public is discussed in the main stream media.

Let’s continue to dive deeper into what this bill of rights means.

“I believe that any woman has the right to breast-feed her infant.”
This is probably the simplest aspect of my bill of rights. If a woman chooses to, she is within her rights to breast-feed her child.
Studies are constantly linking the health benefits of breast-feeding to the development and well-being of the infant. Interestingly enough, researchers are also finding many health benefits for the mother when she decides to breast-feed her child.

Now, just because I believe that every woman should have a right to breast-feed her child, this does not mean that I think every mother has to breast-feed her child. If a mother chooses not to breast-feed her child that is also within her rights.

“…Regardless of the nature of the venue…”
This is where I often begin to lose people. Everyone can come up with their favorite venue where breast-feeding seems inappropriate. The locations unsuitable for breast-feeding can range from church service to their favorite restaurant to an airport.

However, I completely disagree and challenge us to explore, why are these venues inappropriate for a mother to feed her child?

At least twice in the recent news, Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church has encouraged mothers to feed their children, if hungry, even inside the revered Sistine Chapel.

When we examining the restaurant’s inappropriateness, it is often said that it could be considered unsanitary to allow a mother to breast-feed her child in a venue where food is prepared for others. Why is it unsanitary for a mother to breast-feed her child in a restaurant but not to bottle feed a baby in a restaurant?

Ideally, the mother is not behind the line where the food is prepared to begin with so sanitation really does not seem to be the issue but rather personal comfort.

I believe a lot of society’s issue with breast-feeding, in any public place, can be dissected down into our feelings on the female body and what the female breast has come to represent. But we will examine this more in the next segment.

“… With or without a cover-up…”
If I didn’t lose you at breast-feeding should be allowed in any location, this is another aspect of my bill of rights that may be difficult to swallow. I do not believe any mother should have to cover up her breast when breast-feeding in public.

If the cover-up provides the mother with some comfort and allows her to feed her child more successfully, then by all means, use it.
However, I do not think that a cover-up should be the expected norm.

My daughter hated the cover-up and it made it almost impossible to feed her. It also made me more uncomfortable fidgeting with the thing while trying to keep myself covered then if I had actually just been exposed. Plus those cover-ups can be uncomfortably hot.

Why do we think mothers need a cover-up? What is wrong with a female breast-feeding a child?

Society, unfortunately, has turned the breast into an object of lust rather than function. A woman who has her breast out in public is seen as attention seeking, regardless of the nature of her exposure.

The fact that I instantly thought of the word exposure to describe a woman’s breast shown in public is a testament to this phenomenon. When we learn to see the breast for its function in breast feeding, purely as a means to feed a child rather than a sexual organ, I think society can begin to reevaluate its stance on the cover-up.

Paula Wesson/Crestiad How many grown adults would happily take their own lunch into a public restroom to eat?

Paula Wesson/Crestiad
Public restrooms are not an acceptable place to herd breast feeding mothers into so they are not seen feeding their child.

“… And without being ostracized to less than desirable locations.”
As a mother who breast-fed her own child, this is a hot point for me. There is nothing worse than needing to feed your child and the only location deemed acceptable is a public restroom.

How many grown adults would happily take their own lunch into a public restroom to eat?

I am going to venture to guess that there are very few people who would enjoy their lunch in a public restroom. The question then becomes, why would a baby?

Babies at least have the benefit of not understanding what happens in a bathroom nor any concept of what germs are, but that is not the point. Public restrooms are not an acceptable place to herd breast feeding mothers into so they are not seen feeding their child.

Although I know that we, as a society, are not yet to the point of accepting my bill of rights across the board, I believe the conversation must be started. By beginning a dialogue and debating these issues with each other, we give ourselves the opportunity to grow and hopefully, make this world a better place for everyone.

Originally posted here


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This entry was posted on February 17, 2015 by in Opinion and tagged .
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