Breastfeeding and thinking of others

By Jessica Martin-Weber

human decency and breastfeeding

I try to avoid reading comments on just about any articles that have to do with infant nutrition, particularly on breastfeeding in public, except on those sites where I’ve come to trust the atmosphere is conducive to healthy dialogue and engaging conversation. Sometimes I can’t help it though and I get momentarily sucked into the train wreck of society’s most opinionated who found a platform to spew vitriol laced with unverified “facts” and self appointed expertise. I’ve read enough of these comments over the years that I have come to expect a certain set of responses, each presented as though it is the first time anyone has ever thought of it. From the comparisons of breastfeeding to human waste or sex to implying the mother must be an exhibitionist or even pedophile, the “enlightened” arguments, most often lay blame on the breastfeeding woman as to how her feeding her baby is damaging society.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

Hundreds of thousands feel empowered by the anonymity of the internet to say that women feeding their babies the biologically normal way are damaging society. And of course, because moms can’t win, still other mothers are blamed for damaging society for not feeding their child the biologically normal way and using bottles and/or formula.

Something is wrong with society? Blame the mothers! It simply must be because of the female portion of the parenting population!

I can think of a lot of practices that are damaging society but for the life of me I can’t see how a woman feeding her child could even be fathomed as one, let alone worth commenting on anywhere at all.

One of my cynical favorites are the comments that talk about human decency and pride. How could a woman be so selfish? Some people are uncomfortable with witnessing breastfeeding, why in the world should they have to suffer so badly when a woman uses her breast in their presence to feed her child? What about human decency? Does she have no pride and self respect? It’s not that hard to show a little courtesy to others and cover yourself while you do that. Can’t she think of others and stop being SO SELFISH and just be DISCREET? What is wrong with these women that think it’s just fine to FEED their babies right there where everyone can see it? For goodness sake, WHAT IS THIS WORLD COMING TO?

All over a woman feeding her child.

I wish I was joking. I’m not. In fact, I avoid reading these comments usually because it makes me want to say bad words. All the bad words.

Then there’s the fact that I don’t only come across this in comment sections of online news or blogs, nope, people say it to my face.

You’re worried about human decency and damaging society? What about the children going to bed hungry every night in your community? The lack of health care for many in the world today? What about the dangerous, polluted water millions of people drink daily and the children who get sick from it? How about the corporations ruining the environment often in already compromised areas and successfully lobbying so they aren’t held accountable? And the million other human rights violations destroying lives, destroying children?

Not a baby being safely fed. That is not an issue of lack of human decency. Making it one and overlooking real concerns is. News flash: a mother’s first responsibility is to think of her children, that is her thinking of others. And because thinking of her children involves thinking of the good of society and making well informed decisions in her care of her children, feeding her children and meeting their needs is part of caring for society as well. Thinking of what others in society may think of how she is feeding her child? Yeah, that doesn’t really help anyone and if you think so, your privilege has blinded you. Should she choose to cover or not, how she feeds her child is her decision and whatever makes her and her child comfortable. Not anyone else. Think of others? Ok. When I’m breastfeeding I’m thinking of my child, it’s not about anyone else. Doing it in public doesn’t make it anyone else’s business either.

I have to believe that in a generation people will be shocked that this was an issue, embarrassed that it was. Like other topics that have made society uncomfortable at times, a woman feeding her baby in public will some day no longer be a topic of scrutiny, debate, or attack. I hope. Just like civil rights issues, formerly taboo health issues, and environmental concerns that used to be dismissed, eventually infant nutrition will no longer be confused with real issues of human decency. Except for where infants and their families don’t have access to nutrition. Want to get up in arms about something? Find something worthy.

There is one point these commenters sometimes make that I do agree with, what has happened to human decency? Only I wonder if we ever had it and have instead confused human decency with privilege. Because too often we turn blind eyes to the real battles moms face and focus on demeaning and petty “mommy wars.”

Let’s fight the real battles and let’s not worry about being discreet about it. Let’s really think of others.


  1. Love is perspective. The hope that one day this wont be an issue is why I don’t cover up and why I don’t hid the fact that I breastfeed. One day I hope my daughter will feel the same way, and that the world will except it as well.

  2. Thank you for writing this! It’s so perfectly what I want to say to people who comment to my face, on my FB posts, or anonymously elsewhere; I just haven’t had the words to express it like this. I choose to believe that in a generation feeding a baby–however you choose to do so–will be accepted.

  3. i “love” the argument that breastfeeding in public makes others feel guilty. so i should feel guilty because i can/will do something someone else doesn’t/can’t? I’ve already inflicted enough guilt on myself for:
    1. having two parents when my best friend had a single mom
    2. being a really good test taker so i don’t have to study like my college roommates.
    3. being financially stable and able to purchase a home in my 20s when others have too much debt to pay their bills.
    4. getting engaged when my bestie is still single.
    5. having a baby when my friend is struggling with infertility.
    6. being able to produce enough milk when a friend has to supplement when they really wanted to EBF.
    7. not having a house as clean as my friend who had a baby two months before me.

    I’m frankly just tired of feeling guilty, and i know i will feel guilty if my baby is hungry and i don’t feed him.

    I don’t even feel guilty about mommy wars anymore, because the mommy wars are really a war inside ourselves, as we constantly compare ourselves to our own ideals. can we get off the guilt train yet????

  4. Michelle T says

    I’ve had nothing but support since I started breastfeeding. No one has been weird and I don’t cover and don’t particularly care who is around. Honestly with as much publicity as nursing in public has received in the past few years, I’m surprised people don’t consider the topic “old hat.” Why are we still discussing this? There are laws and science on the side of breastfeeding. There is no sound, logical argument against NIP, only this “I think it’s _____” (fill in the blank), sort of nonsense. I’m sure there are plenty of people who don’t like cursing or bikinis or tattoos or belly buttons or hairy armpits. Does that mean no one is allowed in public this way? No one’s “feelings” trump my rights or yours.

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