9 Reasons you may be uncomfortable with seeing breastfeeding

by Jessica Martin-Weber
Photo from Instagram user Jeniholland.

Photo from Instagram user Jeniholland.

We’re well into the 21st century yet breastfeeding appears to still make many people uncomfortable.  I keep hoping those individuals that get upset about the biologically normal way to feed a baby are really a rarity but, unfortunately, it still seems to be a hot button issue.  Regardless of how a woman is most comfortable feeding her baby, be it uncovered at the breast, covered at the breast, a bottle of expressed breastmilk, or a bottle of formula, plenty of people are uncomfortable witnessing a woman feeding her child and any form of breastfeeding seems to especially elicit vocal expressions of discomfort from others.  I identified 9 reasons people may be uncomfortable seeing breastfeeding be it on social media or in person settings and tried to offer some solutions in overcoming what is essentially a discomfort about babies being fed.  And that brings us to our first point:

  1. Agism.  Breasts aren’t the issue for you, nope.  You just don’t think babies and small children have the right to eat in public.  Or you think that every. single. time they do eat the experience should be charged with connection and intimacy between that child and their care-giver, staring deeply into each others’ eyes approximately 8-24 times a day and not witnessed by anyone else.  Those babies, they need to keep that stuff happening in private!  And yes, a baby or the needs of a small child should actually come second to your own personal comfort about what you witness.  Older people, that’s a totally different story, they can eat when they need to eat and for the most part, where they need to eat and how they need to eat it without harassment, expectation of high level bonding, or a blanket.  On the go, sitting at a table in public, while reading a book or talking with friends, it’s fine for those over the age of 2 to eat in public and even for them to post pictures of their meals on social media.  But those babies better at least keep it under wraps!  Spending some time watching just exactly how adults eat or watching this video could be key in getting you over your prejudices.  No?  You don’t discriminate against babies eating in public?  Ok, have you considered that you could have…
  2. Boob-phobia.  It’s a real thing, check it out.  Perhaps you’re uncomfortable by the sight of breastfeeding because you have Mastrophobia, a phobia of breasts (or cousins gynophobia, a fear of female parts, or papillaphobia, a fear of nipples) and seeing breastfeeding makes you want to run away.  Which maybe that’s what you should do, complete with screaming and waving your arms hysterically.  Or do what I do when watching a scary movie, hide behind a pillow only risking a peek here and there.  Actually though, if you do really have boob-phobia, you should seek professional help.  If that’s not it though, maybe it’s…
  3. Brainwashing.  Which is totally understandable and you can’t help the cultural conditioning that has brainwashed you into thinking breasts are truly only for sexual pleasure.  You’re a victim of marketing and fear.  Boobs aren’t for babies, boobs are for men/selling cars/selling beer/selling clothes/selling sex/selling music/selling movies/selling… selling, or at least that’s what the prevailing messages in much of society seems to be selling.  If this is an issue, walking around with a blanket over your head to cut out these messages could be the solution.  But maybe you are completely immune to marketing and the societal messages thrown at us from every which way, in which case it could be…
  4. Judgment.  You believe, and the reasons why are unimportant (certainly not fear or brainwashing), that breasts that aren’t properly shielded and covered belong to an immoral, immodest individual of low character.  Women that don’t keep those things contained and pull them out and stick them in the mouth of their hungry child must not have a shred of decency and you judge them for that.  Even if they define modesty or decency differently than you do.  Such as “it would be indecent of me not to feed my child when they are hungry…”  Heading to the bathroom to have your dinner may be exactly what you need to get you over this unfortunate character flaw.  Not a judgmental person?  Don’t care what other people do?  Then maybe you’re uncomfortable with seeing breastfeeding because…
  5. Insecurity.  It could be anything.  Insecurity about your own breasts (male or female), insecurity about your friend/father/husband/brother/son seeing someone’s breasts (which of course means you make sure they avoid all malls, sports shows, magazines, and movies), insecurity in seeing someone breastfeed their child when you didn’t/don’t breastfeed yours, insecurity that breastfeeding or not breastfeeding is some kind of mark of “good parenting”, insecurity that others may be uncomfortable with someone else breastfeeding and you feel the need to make sure everyone (but the breastfeeding pair) is comfortable, or maybe just insecurity that humans are all mammals.  Whatever it is, and it could be anything, you personally battle insecurity and rather than face it in yourself you project your issues on to others.  Sitting next to a breastfeeding mother while she feeds her child and having a conversation with her may do the trick.  Not insecure?  If you’re confident enough to not be threatened by a woman feeding her child, could it be…
  6. Confusion.  You get grossed out by the sight of breastfeeding because of two words: body fluids.  It freaks you out that body fluids are free-flowing from a woman right into her baby!  Who needs to see that, right?  It doesn’t matter that it’s only natural because, hello, pooping, peeing, and sex are natural too and you don’t want to see any of THAT in public either, right?  It’s certainly only a matter of time before they’re bottling those body fluids up and feeding them to children too, I’m sure.  Fake urine will be flooding the shelves in no time, specially formulated to be just like the real thing.  Aside from the obvious fact that you really can’t see it happening during the act of breastfeeding, basic biology helps clear this up a bit: breastmilk = nutrition, urine/feces = waste, genital secretions = not food.  Some time studying basic nutrition and biology and understanding the basic differences should fix that right up.  Get the difference and not confused?  Moving on then, maybe it’s…
  7. Misogyny.  This goes along with the brainwashing point but it’s a little deeper.  If you’re uncomfortable seeing breastfeeding because of misogyny, you actually hate women and consider them less than men.  As such, their bodies are purely for men and a woman that would dare exercise her autonomy in using her body as she should choose, well she’s just asking for it, isn’t she?  A breastfeeding woman is just rubbing it in your face, isn’t she?  How dare she act as though she independently has worth and power over her own body.  Besides, seeing breasts in use in such an a-sexual way is a bit unsettling.  You haven’t sanctioned this and it’s uncomfortable to think that you have something in common with human babies. The way through this could be quite painful: start listening to women and catch a production of the Vagina Monologues.  But you’re not a misogynist?  Totally down with women as equals?  Great!  So what about…
  8. Denial.  There are people that spend time researching the emotion of disgust and have a disgust scale.  What is it, why do we experience it, etc.  Some triggers of disgust are understandable, like food contamination disgust.  We don’t want to get sick.  Obviously.  So why are you disgusted by breastfeeding, AKA, feeding babies?  It’s possible, these researchers theorize, that you just don’t like to be reminded of your animality.  Humanity is good in your mind but anything that connects you to the animal side of humans grosses you out.  That humans are mammals (creatures with mammary glands that use their mammaries to feed their young) is a fact you would rather forget.  Watch some Discovery channel, you’ll have to eventually confront that breastfeeding our young isn’t the only animal-like behavior we homo sapiens have.  Not that?  Then…
  9. Unfamiliarity.  When we’re not used to seeing something it can be startling when we come across it.  This isn’t your fault, you’re just not familiar with this as normal and actually expect the alternative to the biological norm instead.  You just haven’t seen breastfeeding enough to be totally down with it.  The fix to this one is pretty easy, see more breastfeeding.  You’ll get over your discomfort the more you see it and soon it will become just as normal as it actually is.  Don’t worry, more and more women are doing their part in feeding their babies in public, with and without covers, and you’ll get more comfortable with it the more you see them out and about or posting their photos on social media so hang in there, there’s hope for you yet!

 

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 What would you add to our list?  Why do you think people may have issues with witnessing breastfeeding or encountering breastfeeding images?  If you’re uncomfortable seeing breastfeeding, why do you think that is?   Did you used to be uncomfortable seeing breastfeeding but are ok with it now?

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Comments

  1. Holy cow! I was totally #9 just a few short years ago. I made one of those “you’re still doing THAT?!” To my sister while she was feeding her 15month old – in her own house! Bless her, she took it with grace and explained thy it was a personal choice. I don’t think I’d ever seen anyone breast feed a toddler before. Fast forward to now: thanks to my sister and to sites like this one, I’m proudly still breast feeding my 17month old with no plans to stop any time soon.

  2. Gabrielle says:

    As a mother of an 18 month old boy who continues to nurse on demand, whether in public or in private, I am a 100% breastfeeding supporter and encourager. With that being said, when I read this article there was a lot of great information, but the delivery left me feeling a bit negative. The article starts off on a very negative tone, almost as if it is a retaliation to a personal attack, and being the reader, made me feel as though I was the attacker. Which obviously isn’t the case. I just wonder if taking that defensive approach is really necessary to make a point? When it could just be written as a “just in case you don’t know this already” or “here’s some interesting facts” rather than accusing your readers of being insecure or perverse or misogynists, etc.

    Not trying to negate the very valid points made in this article but just giving you my perspective as a reader and supporter of this cause.

    • That is really well put, Gabrielle, and you’re not the only one.

      I feel the writer thinks someone who feels uncomfortable with seeing breastfeeding has automatically openly insulted or criticized someone for doing that and is deserving of this attitude. It isn’t necessarily so.

      Taking a tone like that is in danger of promoting an ‘eff you’ response from anyone coming in who might honestly trying to explore why it makes them uncomfortable, and producing the opposite effect to what the writer wants.

  3. Laura McCoy says:

    Maybe you need a disclaimer at the top of the post.
    “This post contains satire. Please continue only if you understand that, and have a sense of humour.”

  4. Arianna says:

    About #9. I never saw breastfeeding until a couple a times when I was indeed bothered. This means it’s my issue to deal with the unfamiliarity? Why isn’t the mothers feeding babies in public because I personally don’t want to see? Is my right to not see breasts sucked by a baby. You can choose to be discrete, but I can’t choose not to see them. I’m sorry, but apparently for some of the mothers the hormones took over their mind. You gave in the basic instincts of having babies, it’s fine, if they and you are happy, ok with me. But don’t make other human beings approve your basic instincts because you can’t control them.

    • Actually, yes, it is your issue to deal with.

      ” Is my right to not see breasts sucked by a baby.” Sooo… it’s your right to never see anything that you find the least bit disturbing? No, sorry, it’s actually not. You see, as an adult, when you see something you don’t want to see, you have options. You can look away, turn your head, keep walking, read your book/newspaper/smartphone, converse with your companion, in short, focus your attention elsewhere. I see things I don’t want to see all the time, and find redirecting my attention to be an excellent coping strategy. In other words? I mind my own business.

      A baby does not have that option, they don’t know they’re “in public”, they’re just hungry, and they have the right to eat, in fresh air and comfort, just like you. I did not “give in” to anything, I can control myself just fine. I chose to have a child, consciously and deliberately, and then 2.5 years later, I did so a second time, again very much on purpose. You want to talk about controlling one’s baser instincts? How about the instinct to avoid the unfamiliar because it might be a threat, that’s a BIG one. Why should your inability to control that basic instinct and exercise two seconds of self-discipline trump a baby’s need to eat?

      Simple answer; it does not, and it should not. So, mom feeds baby, you mind your own business. Baby eats, you are not forced to stare, everybody wins.

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