A Beginner’s Guide to the Public Breastfeeding Debate

According to society, three subject ought not be brought up in polite conversation: religion, politics, and public breastfeeding. These are subjects encompassing countless years and countless factors, all the little things that leads to a person’s experience and deeply held views. If you wanted to hear heated words and perhaps see friendships end, bring up religion or politics. If you want to see a blood bath, bring up your opinion on public breastfeeding.

There is no better place for the great public breastfeeding debate to occur than the internet. Here, everyone with a WiFi connection can give their views, and as I discovered the views ran the gamut. While most people seem to be okay with breastfeeding, the when and where is all over the spectrum from bare it all to stay in the home until weaning is through.


So, for your greater understanding, here are some brief summaries of the philosophies I’ve seen via a great many forum/comment section arguments. I will present them, more or less, from most conservative to most liberal:

Breastfeeding is just plain wrong!

Yes, most people seem to be okay with the idea of a mother using her breasts to nourish her infant. But as it turns out, there is still a small number of people out there who think otherwise. This is usually due to generation or culture. Over the decades and centuries breastfeeding your own infant has gone in and out of popularity and common decency. For a good chunk of the 20th century, particularly since baby formula went on the market, breastfeeding was considered common, poor, and rude. My grandmother explains that in her day, breastfeeding was viewed as something only those in poverty did. Other cultures view breastfeeding as sexual and thus a sin against a child. The colored community has a difficulty history with breastfeeding (I can’t go into proper detail here, but I recommend looking it up, it’s enlightening and also comes with a movement to encourage breastfeeding among women of color.) In other scenarios, for no particularly describable reason, breastfeeding is just wrong. People of this category will argue breastfeeding should not be done at all, neither public or private.

Breastfeeding should be done at home

This perspective holds that breastfeeding is an intimate act of love and nurturing that ought to kept inside the home. This keeps babies in a safe, comforting place and some argue away from germs and voyeurism. The mother can attend to her baby’s needs without hassle and, most importantly, with the ability to give her full attention to baby’s needs. Errands are ideally done by others. A mother who is outside the home breastfeeding has made a serious error in scheduling and is putting lesser needs above the importance of caring for her child.

A bottle of pumped milk or formula is the proper alternative to public breastfeeding

If a mother must get out of the house and isn’t able to schedule her child’s feedings accordingly, the ideal choice ought to be a bottle. A mom can pump milk for a bottle or have formula available. This balances the needs to the hungry baby with either common decency or the mother’s modesty and pride, depending on the view. A mom can pull out that bottle and feed the baby and everyone wins.

Common arguments against this: Not all babies are happy bottle-takers, not all moms can pump, not all babies like formula.

Find a private place to breastfeed

If breastfeeding needs to be done outside the home, a mother can find a quiet, secluded spot where she can nurse her baby. The mom has an intimate, peaceful time breastfeeding where she away from prying eyes and distractions–as possibly does the baby. She can rest and enjoy her baby. On the side of the public, a breastfeeding mother is no longer in public. Choosing to excuse oneself from the business of the public is proper, discreet, and respectful while still providing a nice retreat for mother and baby.

Breastfeeding moms should cover up!

This view sees little reason to lock breastfeeding mothers away while they feed their children, but believes covering up is the way to go.

There seems to be two schools of thought here:

Breastfeeding moms should cover up for their own comfort: A modest woman does not want her chest exposes even when a baby is there. A woman hates the idea of people seeing her breasts, glancing her way purposely or an accident. A mother just feels happier and more comfortable when she is covered up as she breastfeeds.

Breastfeeding moms should cover up for the comfort of everyone else: This perspective holds simply that no one else wants to see a woman’s breasts. The arguments are more detailed: this can cause sexual thoughts in others, can expose something to children they aren’t ready to see, public display of breasts is immodest and indecent for the community, or they just make others generally uncomfortable. Here, the rights of the group trump the rights of the individual. More people are uncomfortable than comfortable, majority wins.

Breastfeeding in public ought to saved for emergencies

This view holds the same as covering up, but allows for a little wiggle room. Sometimes, life happens. A mom can’t find a convenient private spot, or doesn’t have anything with which to cover up, etc. She tries her best, her best isn’t ideal, oh well. Everyone here needs to be respectful, consider the situation, and relax a little.

The establishment should get its wishes

Individuals with this view may or may not be public breastfeeders themselves, but that has nothing to do with the matter. Nursing mothers should consider the wishes of those around them, particularly the owners of whatever public place they are in. In other words, if someone involved with the public place in question asks you to leave or cover up, the respectful and proper thing to do is follow the wishes.

Breastfeeding uncovered in public should not be shamed

These public breastfeeding defendants see breastfeeding as a natural act that has been too long suppressed (see the first couple of views) and needs to be normalized. A mother who is breastfeeding in public and uncovered should not be scorned or shamed or punished. This mom is doing her best by her baby and putting her baby’s needs and perhaps even her own convenience ahead of others. Human nature happens to make herself and her offspring more important to her than the feelings of others: Her baby needs to eat, and she will feed her baby the way she sees fit at the time she sees fit.

Breastfeeding uncovered in public should be celebrated

This takes the last view into a greater territory. Breastfeeding is natural, but also beautiful and tender. There are few things greater than one person nurturing another little human and it’s wonderful be it in private and public. This view seeks to normalize breastfeeding and celebrate it. The breast should not have unnecessary sexuality attached to it, and a society where mothers can freely bare their breasts in order to feed their babies is a great one indeed.

Some views and arguments that fit in various places on the spectrum:

Breasts are sexual vs Breasts are functional

This argument is based around the conflicting ideas of breasts being sexual or gross bodily function organs or being natural, baby-feeding organs. Often you can find the argument about urinating/defecating, having sex/masturbating, or even oral sex in public as comparisons to public breastfeeding. The argument against this is that breastfeeding is not relieving waste matter or giving a sexual thrill and therefore cannot be fairly compared with the former.

Another version of this is that breasts are for the bedroom, being primarily sexual objects. The counterargument is that breasts are scientifically considered a secondary sex characteristic in the same category as facial hair and are primarily for feeding babies, not sexual pleasure.

There is a middle road here that says breasts are meant for both nurturing and sexual pleasure, and circumstances best dictate how the breasts are used.


This is a hot topic based on the idea of finding a secluded spot to breastfeed. Google this and you’ll find plenty of women who were told to nurse in bathrooms.

One argument is this is a quick, usually available way to appease the public. Bathroom stalls are private and out of the way. Problem solved.

The counterargument is that bathrooms are disgusting and germ-filled and that no one else would eat their food in a bathroom.


This was touched upon before, but it’s pretty much the center of the public breastfeeding debate. Who has the best claim to their rights?

Some argue on the more conservative view, with the rights of many trumping the rights of the few. These people see moms who breastfeed in public as being selfish and inconsiderate. They argue they have the right to go out in public, eat a meal, etc., with reasonable expectation they won’t be forced to see something they do not wish to see. These people usually want the problem solved by staying home to begin with, using a bottle, covering up, getting a room, etc.

On the more liberal view, the rights of the individual come first. A breastfeeding mother figures as long as she is harming no one she has a right to be in public and feed her child as she wishes. She has just as much right to be in public as anyone else and she is willing to fight for her needs and wants before those of others. These people usually want the problem solved by others turning their heads, keeping silent, ignoring the problem, or even just making friendly conservation.

There they are, the bundle of perspectives I’ve seen on the internet. I’m not sharing my own opinions on the matter in this post, but I merely wanted to give a little light on what so many people believe.

And give the warning this is a very passionate topic.









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