Is breastfeeding offensive?

I’ve written a bit recently about how sometimes I just want to tell someone to “get over it” when they claim to be offended by something. Breastfeeding is a great example of this.

Apparently a flashy London hotel has asked a breastfeeding mother to put a napkin over her baby’s head while breastfeeding.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/dec/05/sit-in-corner-nigel-farages-tips-for-mothers-breastfeeding-in-public

This has sparked the usual outrage from other breastfeeding mothers and rightly so. About 40 of them gathered outside Claridge’s Hotel in London to protest. Full story at –

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/dec/06/mothers-breastfeed-claridges-cover-up-protest-hotel-nurse-in

What is so offensive about a woman breastfeeding her baby? It’s a beautiful sight. Are people offended by breasts? Well, in most cases you don’t see any breast and if you do, then maybe you should direct your gaze elsewhere. Are people offended by an infant drinking milk? How absurd is that?

I breast-fed my babies for five years in total, much longer than most other mothers. Daniel was breast-fed for just over two years and Elizabeth for three years. Both children would have gone on for longer had I not got sick of it. There are so many benefits that it seemed like a no-brainer to me to breastfeed for as long as possible.

Firstly, it’s free! I never once had to buy baby formula or milk. This meant that we could spend the money on other things. You can also stuff your face as much as you want without putting on weight. Another benefit was that for the first time in my life I had boobs. This was a bit of a novelty for me although I’m happy now to have my old flat chest back to what it was. Then there are the health benefits and although I’m mentioning these after the more superficial things like stuffing your face and big boobs, this does not mean they are less important.

One study found that breastfeeding for 18 months or more reduces a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer by a whopping 34%. Another study found that for every 12 months of breastfeeding, a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer is reduced by 4.3%. Why isn’t everyone doing it? This is like a free pass or a get-out-of-jail free card. What strange creatures we are to forgo all these things and more and instead waste our money on milk from another species altogether. But if we do choose to breastfeed – something humans have done for millions of years – others object and find it offensive??? Really? The absurdity makes me want to bash my head against a brick wall.

There are also wonderful environmental benefits to not having to rely on cows to feed the infants of our own species. We ought to be applauding women who manage to breastfeed their babies. We should encourage them to do so where ever they want to and make them feel supported and welcome. If you want to help a breastfeeding woman then don’t make her feel like she’s upsetting others by asking her to cover up. And give her some water. Breastfeeding makes you very thirsty. If someone at a hotel or restaurant is upset or offended by a woman breastfeeding, then that person should be asked to get over it or leave. They should not be welcome if they cannot tolerate a member of their own species feeding their child.

31 thoughts on “Is breastfeeding offensive?

  1. I don’t know how anyone could find breastfeeding offensive. What a strange society we have created.

    I suppose breasts are sex ‘objects’ as well and perhaps this makes people uncomfortable.

  2. The other advantages being transfer of immunities and the generation of a stomach lining which protects against allergies. Too many of those around in recent years.

    As for other people being uncomfortable. I think it is for them to get over it. I suspect it does sometimes include jealousy of another person flaunting their happiness and/or objecting to another persons bold confidence. Some people do tend to think that a person doing their own thing in public is an “in your face” personal affront. Sanity being an essential pursuit for humanity, there is not a lot of it about. 😀

  3. I’ve just had another and curious thought about this. Some people cannot see or even know about an event without imagining themselves as participants and/or have a generalised view of humanity unable to distinguish between on and another.

    In this case it is reminder of being that infant and sucking a upon a mothers breast. Later, for those with a gender preference foe women, the breast becomes sexually desirable. Mother ~ sex, how uncomfortable for those who are incapable of a distinct separation of responses. I wonder if there are more objections from men than women.

    1. It could be mostly men although I’ve just encountered a woman on Twitter who thinks women should cover up so it’s not exclusively men who object. I really shouldn’t follow the #breastfeeding tag – it’s got me all riled up.

  4. Thinking of this holistically, the whole experience of starting a family, the pregnancy, birth, baby, and all that is so wonderful and when we had our first 30 years or so ago, we never thought it odd to go to a folksy party when our first borne was just 4 or so weeks old and some feeding required. No one blinked an eyebrow and our daughter seemed to like the music. It was never a subject for debate. Why do we seem to need to make an issue out of something so natural and part of living, assuming mum and baby are not locked away, Taliban style, at home. Nature is beautiful, and humans are part of nature.

    1. Yes, forcing mothers to stay at home or hide under a cloth struck me as being a bit religiously fanatical or Taliban style, as you put it.

      I used to feed my babies when I went out. I was incredibly lonely at home during this time and would have been miserable if I couldn’t go out. Fortunately no-one ever said anything to me but if they had, I would have been mortified and humiliated and I would have lost a lot of confidence.

  5. The short answer to your question, I believe, is context.

    Do I support breastfeeding? Absolutely. Would I feel it were inappropriate if a woman was openly feeding in a cafe? No. In church? Yes. On a bus? No. In a work meeting? Yes.

    There are some situations where respect for others trumps personal beliefs. Fortunately, the vast majority of these situations aren’t the kind that just pop up, so a courteous mother will be able to plan ahead & if need be alter the usual schedule (or use expressed/formula milk) to avoid the embarrassing question of ‘to feed, or not to feed’.

    When I am considering if a situation is suitable or not I ask myself whether I would eat. If the answer is no, then why should I feed my daughter?

    1. I think the answer to my question is an emphatic NO! Breastfeeding is not offensive at anytime or place. I think it’s entirely appropriate to breastfeed in church if the mother wants to attend services and she has a young baby that needs feeding at the same time. Feeding during a work meeting is a little unusual but if the mother has arranged with her employer to bring the infant to work one day – perhaps there’s no-one else too look after them – and the mother has a meeting to attend, then why not? No-one needs to be disturbed by this. Far more disturbing is a screaming baby.

      We’re constantly hearing about child abuse and neglected children in our society, lets support and encourage mothers who choose to put their infant’s needs before those of others. This is exactly how it should be. People who claim to be offended should be the ones to cover up their views as it is grossly unjust of them to prevent someone else from taking care of their child, and frankly, none of their business. They are the ones who need to learn a bit of tolerance.

      1. I’m sorry that you would consider my courteous discretion as neglect. I have never, to the best of my knowledge, let any of my children go hungry.

        I have however, moderated my behaviour (the only thing in the world I truly have control over) in situations where, as in my previous comment, eating a meal of any kind would be deemed inappropriate. It doesn’t take much to move a feed forward by 30mins to fit it in before mass, or to take a bottle to a meeting out of respect for the reverent nature of the first & the professional (& therefore surely not public) nature of the second. Just as one takes into account the form of language & level of dress code appropriate to each situation.

        Perhaps if everyone were a little more tolerant of those around us in today’s society (including the different religious, cultural & generational backgrounds), there would be a far fewer of these debates.

      2. Kelly,

        I’m sorry that you would consider my courteous discretion as neglect.

        You have misunderstood me. That’s not what I think at all. I think if you have a good routine going then that’s fantastic and make the most of it. It’s certainly not neglect. However not everyone is able to stick to a routine with a small baby and nor should they be expected to. I also think most mothers are very discrete about breastfeeding already.

        The point I really wanted to make is that breastfeeding is not offensive. It’s entirely appropriate during a church service if a baby is hungry and needs feeding. I think most churches would be tolerant and understanding of this and I would hope that they are. An adult eating during church is not the same thing. A baby doesn’t understand social norms like an adult and we also understand that we’ll be able to eat after the service is finished. An infant doesn’t know this.

        Pope Francis seems to agree with this when he recently encouraged mothers to breastfeed in the Sistine Chapel –

        http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2014/january/pope-francis-let-moms-breastfeed-in-church.html?paging=off

        “Some will cry because they are uncomfortable or because they are hungry,” the Pope said, according to CNN Belief. “If they are hungry, mothers, let them eat, no worries, because here, they are the main focus.” At least one mother obliged, breastfeeding her daughter during the ceremony beneath the chapel’s famous painted ceiling.

      3. I just want to make clear that it’s perfectly fine for someone to choose not to breastfeed in public if they feel uncomfortable or don’t need to. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. And it’s also equally fine for a mother to bottle feed if that’s what she prefers. I don’t think we should force anyone to breastfeed if they can’t or don’t want to. I definitely do not classify this as neglect.

        I just don’t think we should make it difficult for people who want to breastfeed their babies. Let them do what nature intended and make them feel welcome and comfortable. It’s not anything to feel ashamed of or embarrassed by and it’s certainly not offensive.

  6. Hear, Hear! Some ladies from church took on their own crusade with our new minister at the time, to come and visit our house to ‘bless us and our family’ then got around to the main reason why they were visiting, which was the fact that my breastfeeding in church had made some people feel ‘uncomfortable’- never mind the baby who was happily satisfied, and others who were spared from his crying…They then brought out these scarves, with which I could feed more modestly- when I told the plunket nurse about this- she was gobsmacked and then showed me what I wish I could have told them at the time- that they put the scarves around their eyes- if thine offends thee, then turn the other way! I still tell other breastfeeding mothers that story- I boycotted church for sometime after and made it pretty clear that there was no way I would stop feeding- people say there are acts that might be best done in private, like masturbation or defecation- and breastfeeding does not fit into this picture, I believe. How can Christianity attract more customers when its ‘rules’ exclude people doing things that God intended to be done?! While I don’t wish to start a religious debate, it really riles me how an outfit that preaches tolerance and love etc, turns around and prejudices those that practice love in their own way and live life that is not hurting or harming anyone, whats the problem? Thats my opinion anyway!

    1. I hope you told honestly them what you thought of this idea? I’m finding it very difficult not to call those ladies and the church a beeping beeper. It’s hard to believe that people aren’t tolerant of others taking good care of their children. What kind of crazy society have we created for ourselves?

  7. Context is trumped by necessity. If baby needs a feed, they need a feed – unlike us it would be wrong to delay. I have a sister who breast fed during lectures at university. She sat at the back and was far less of a distraction than if her little boy was screaming his head off?

  8. i find the fact that breast feeding to most people is offensive, these “trendsetters who waltz about in miniskirts and barely enough material to cover their ladybits is laughable, breastfeeding is a very natural think to do albeit its not for everyone and in fact some women are unable to do it, i have recently read that a lady “offended” someone by feeding in public?
    why is this wrong? the mother is thinking in the best interest of the infant when feeding, its comparable to starving an adult, im sure they would whine and splutter if they were not fed, utter tosh coming from these people who think that a public space is for them to dictate what they think other people should do in a public place, expecially when thery are blatant adverts with women in nothing but their undies? im sorry it seems that this is socially accepted but breast feeding is not………..get over yourselves you silly bigots

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