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Breastfeeding in Public

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In America, the right to breastfeed in public is protected by law, and all but three states have passed legislation stating that women who breastfeed are exempt from indecent exposure laws.

But despite these decrees, like any issue involving the right of women to do what they want with their bodies, public breastfeeding is still a highly contentious issue in our society.

Aside from the basic question of whether breastfeeding exposes a woman indecently, it seems that the (more tangible) crux of this issue lies in the lack of appropriate spaces for women to breastfeed in. For example, when a woman is out in public, it may be difficult or even impossible to find a comfortable place to nurse for a solid 30 to 45 minutes. Such circumstances would include waiting for the bus, spending time at a swimming pool, or riding on an airplane. And while some would argue that women should just "plan around" these unfortunate situations, not everyone is provided with the luxury of choice, whether it be because of time, money, or freedom constraints.

Another issue closely related to this is using a breast pump. Many working mothers find it difficult to secure a private, comfortable place to pump milk over their lunch hour. Sometimes, the only place to do this is in a bathroom or bathroom stall, but as most lunch breaks are no more than an hour, should a breastfeeding mother be forced to eat her lunch in such an environment? Or should she be made to choose between eating and pumping? For most women, it is not an option to simply go back home and pump.

The most creative solutions to these problems have revolved around contemporary nursing clothing. There are a number of companies, including Motherwear, My Nursingwear, and Expressiva, which make beautiful clothing specifically designed to enable discreet nursing. Products offered by these companies include dresses, blouses, and swimwear that allow women to breastfeed while also covering the majority of the breast.

Add a Comment4 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

As a man, I personally like to see breastfeeding, as I like boobs and want women to feel accepted. What's the big deal?!

August 25, 2010 - 5:05pm
EmpowHER Guest

Is this a post about public breastfeeding and/or workplace pumping or an advertisement for nursing clothing and a nursing pillow? Not a lot of accurate information here. :( Low income women nurse less, not more. Indecent exposure laws have not decreased harassment incidents and have no impact on the ability to pump in the workplace. There is no evidence that women wearing specialized clothing are harassed less. I'm afraid I don't get the point of this article.

December 18, 2009 - 7:29pm
HERWriter Guide

It is true that women in a higher socio-economic status tend to breastfeed more than women with less education and fewer means. Women on WIC (Women, Infants, Children) benefits receive free formula which can discourage breastfeeding.

Planning around breastfeeding can work on occasion (I can breastfeed and then take my kids to the park for a couple of hours and then back home to feed again) but it's a pain. Who leaves home for only two hours on a consistent basis? Especially for women in more rural areas - by the time one gets to one's destination, one has to head right back home again to feed! Breastfeeding in cars can be a bit tricky once the baby isn't a newborn anymore and don't start me on the "just feed in a bathroom stall" because that's an insane request. Breastfeeding in a toilet stall while balancing on a toilet seat with narrow elbow space is a ridiculous notion as well as a filthy one.

Larry Craig felt up another man's legs because he has a "wide stance" and needed so much room his legs ended up in another man's toilet stall yet women are supposed to sit for up to an hour on a public toilet seat with no back to rest on, and no side arms. Well ok then! Why not pay bills in there too, get some work done and what the heck - fix dinner!

Women who breastfeed need to (and the vast majority do) use some discretion and everyone around them needs to deal with it. No-one should be forced to leave a room or a building just because they are nursing. We see women and teens strutting around with their breasts pushed up and hanging out at the mall every day, we're subjected to about 3,000 commercials every day, many of them showing sexualized females but a woman breastfeeds under a small blanket in the resting areas outside the Dillards or Macy's section and everyone is disgusted. Oh the horror!

December 18, 2009 - 1:16pm
EmpowHER Guest

"Unfortunately, mothers (more specifically, low-income mothers who cannot afford formula and bottles) often bear the brunt of this debate."

This statement is ignorant. Breastfeeding is significantly more prevalent among higher socioeconomic classes. According to the U.S. Government's Healthy People 2010 report 78% of college educated women initiate breastfeeding while only 48% of those without a high school diploma do.

December 18, 2009 - 7:43am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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