Breastfeeding: Normal or Taboo?
June 2, 2011 1:22 PM   Subscribe

What's the attitude of the general public like towards public breastfeeding where you live?

I'm asking out of personal curiosity and particularly interested in answers from Toronto, Paris and the South of France, because I'm going to those places soon.
posted by pick_the_flowers to Human Relations (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My wife breastfeeds, but not in the places you have listed. Here in the conservative, Scandinavian midwest my wife doesn't have any issues with it from other people at all. She gets complimenraty stares (not glares) of other women of very young children. She even gets compliments from many people, too.

It helps that we have a not-so-secret law in MN that women can breastfeed anywhere (public or private) without being harassed, everything can be exposed, and no cover is required.
posted by TinWhistle at 1:57 PM on June 2, 2011

I live in Chicago. Back in college, I encountered two separate breastfeeding events. One was during my student job at a museum, where one patron came up to me to complain about a woman breastfeeding in the (relatively quiet and private) basement near the restrooms, as if it were the most horrible atrocity to ever befall the world. The other was when I was defending my BA thesis. My adviser had just had a baby (which she brought to my defense) and decided to start breastfeeding as I was in the middle of a lengthy explanation. No demure button down shirt with a draped blanket here. Nope, she just lifted up her top, bra-less, and whipped out a breast. I was pretty distracted, but the other 6 people in the room didn't seem to care.

Anyway, that's two wildly different reactions that took place on the same liberal campus, so it may be difficult to generalize attitude by location. Most people will probably be unfazed, maybe even supportive, but there are going to be scandalized and offended folks everywhere. Don't let them get you down.
posted by phunniemee at 2:02 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I hope that this Guardian article doesn't bode too poorly for breastfeeding responses in France.
posted by crabintheocean at 2:07 PM on June 2, 2011

For travelling to Toronto: you shouldn't have too much trouble breast-feeding in public places, particularly if you are discreet. I have heard of women being kicked out of restaurants/asked to feed their babies in the bathroom (yes, that is gross, unless there is a separate powder room area), but that is controversal (women then go have feed-ins). And my mother says that she fed my brother and I all over the place when we were babies in the 1970s; she says she never had any trouble because no one knew that she was feeding us. Ponchos were in fashion, and she just slipped us under and pretended we were sleeping. (I don't think women should have to be that discreet, but if the breast is not visible, I really can't see that anyone has a right to complain).
posted by jb at 2:07 PM on June 2, 2011

I live in Toronto and breastfed my now 7 year old daughter until she was two and a half. I did it pretty much anywhere, anytime and never once had an issue with the general public. I did it in the aisle of the grocery store once, when she was teething and screaming her head off; I did it in many restaurants and department stores (the patio furniture section at the Bay was particularly accommodating one day); I did it in parks and playgrounds and places where tourists frequent like Riverdale Farm or the CNE.

I was always pretty discreet about it for my own comfort - I didn't ever use a blanket over her head let alone one of those (in my opinion, ridiculous) covers or (the, in an attempt to be more tasteful and sophisticated I guess) "Hooter Hiders". Those actually seem more conspicuous. I wore a nursing tank under my regular old tee shirts, and many times, nobody even noticed she was feeding. A friend would happily pull down her v-neck for her child, exposing her full breast, and I never noticed anyone look askance at that either (though I was amazed at how casual she was at first, but I was a noob and after I got around a bit more, I saw others who were really very much more exposed when doing it). I might, just might, once in a while use a pashmina just to give her more privacy, when there were distractions and she was pulling off a lot.

Really, you see all means of feeding, from people just pulling up their shirts and letting it all hang out while they get their babies situated, to people who excuse themselves to another room. At the school playground, at the farm yesterday, and in all sorts of places you see breastfeeding in various styles; but only if you're looking for it. Most people don't, I swear. I just notice because I'm another mom.

As well, the Ontario Human Rights Commission fully supports public breastfeeding. I have a friend who is training to be a LLL leader, and funnily, she feels more persecuted for breastfeeding a toddler in public than I ever did. She also claims that people are incredulous that she uses glass glasses, self-led feeding and a whole slew of other things that we just did as a matter of course, but we never noticed people noticing us.

What's better to know is where all the best places to change a diaper are! Feel free to MeMail me for any more information or advice for babies in Toronto. Picking up a copy of the Little Paper is a good idea.
posted by peagood at 2:20 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Breastfeeding in Toronto should be no problem. Any place that it's normal to take a baby will be fine with it. Ontario has a pro breastfeeding stance as does Toronto, anywhere anytime. That being said, some places are more difficult logistically as downtown Toronto has a lot of small establishments where there isn't a lot of room to get comfortable. In many cases I have found the back seat of my car a more comfortable place as its quiet and private.
posted by saradarlin at 2:23 PM on June 2, 2011

What's the attitude of the general public like towards public breastfeeding where you live?

In my social circle? We feel it's wasted on the young.

More broadly, I noticed it garnering passing disregard in Toronto in the past, where I've spent maybe a collective five or six summer months of my life. And while I have no South-of-France experience, it's certainly common and accepted most everywhere else in Europe.

I have never seen a Hooter Hider™, but I wish to invest in this firm based on the name alone.
posted by rokusan at 2:25 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I mean physically comfortable. I've never been made to feel out of place or that its taboo.
posted by saradarlin at 2:26 PM on June 2, 2011

I live in the Portland, Oregon metro area and breastfeed my son whenever and wherever, and no one has ever made me feel uncomfortable about it. I even fed him while standing in line at the DMV once! Lots of restaurants, libraries, in church (I'm Unitarian so that is no biggie)... no one has blinked.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:27 PM on June 2, 2011

I now live in LA, but I've nursed my kid in public all up and down the west coast of the US and in several parts of the east coast, and in Holland and Germany. I have nursed him in restaurants and malls and bookstores and supermarkets and museums and subways and military bases. The worst I've ever gotten was that awkward "Oh, is he sleeping? OH." thing. And once another woman offered me a blanket on a plane.

I also kind of don't give a shit if people are freaked out by my boob. Especially when my kid was very little, I was barely keeping it together, and nursing was one of the few things that just worked. So if somebody wanted to be glare-y, whatever, someone else's weird boob hangup is none of my business.

I now nurse a toddler in public, and sometimes I feel a little awkward because now he's pretty big and likes to pop off and look around. But I still don't feel that anybody is giving me attitude for it.

(As Peagood mentions, I have noticed that some women who are very into breastfeeding rights have weird interactions with "Can't you go do that in the bathroom?" jerks - but I don't know if that's cause or effect or confirmation bias or what. I may just be totally oblivious.)

When my son was very new, I felt a little bit awkward about nursing in public, because it was such a production. I always felt like I needed an extra hand! But several really nice things happened to me, where I would be awkwardly breastfeeding in a restaurant, and another mom would come over and say "It's great that you're nursing him, I always did it in restaurants, carry on!"
posted by thehmsbeagle at 2:58 PM on June 2, 2011

In Ottawa, and an hour outside of it, nobody cares; the only people I ever saw take the slightest notice were either other parents of the very young (who smile at you) or mothers whose nursing career was decades ago (familiar smile again). Open public nursing is very common anywhere that it is normal for young children to be; there is lots of breast in the children's section of the library, for example. And then in the rest of the city one just runs into it here and there as one runs into young children here and there.

Only once have I ever seen one of those dishcloth-with-ribbons "cover" deals in use, and it was very awkward for the mother using it, and it was hard to not steal glances at the odd display; my father looked over, puzzled, a few times and asked "What was that? Is that...normal now?" when we left. I actually felt worse for her than for the one girl I saw go off to the toilets in a restaurant to nurse.

One caution: many malls have "nursing lounges," which does set some people up with the idea that one is supposed to nurse there. Sometimes these are quite nice and now that my kid is too old to nurse on the go I will kind of miss one in particular, which had low lights, lots of quiet, and unusually comfortable chairs. But I went to check one out at one mall and yikes! They had pulled the toilets out of an ex-bathroom and thrown a few stools into this fluourescent-lighting tiled thing and called it a nursing room. Hightailed it back to nurse in the food court. So, yeah. Sometimes those are worth looking for, and sometimes those are worth avoiding.

(I am sure there are actual "Can't you go do that in the bathroom?" jerks; however, I am also sure that a great number of supposed encounters with same that one reads about on the internets are entirely scripted. Mothers who use bottles are not immune to this particular flight of fancy, and will also post elaborate stories about fantasized encounters in the formula-powder aisle of the drugstore, where somebody came up to them and said X and they said Y and then [big blog post o' nonsense]. Note the cadence of the discussion when you come across these stories; only rarely will it ring true...)
posted by kmennie at 3:45 PM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I traveled to the South of France with a three month old baby, and no one ever said a peep about me breastfeeding anywhere. On the contrary, it seemed that just about everyone was delighted to see a baby, and people were exceptionally nice and accommodating about any baby-related needs or requests.

I live in the SF Bay Area and have never had any unpleasant encounters regarding breast-feeding, but I can't say that people generally are as nice about babies and small children here as what I experienced in France and Spain.

Have a great trip!
posted by ambrosia at 4:08 PM on June 2, 2011

When I lived in Paris, there was a huge picture of a breastfeeding baby on the building of a milk company near my metro stop. There is no stigmatisation of breastfeeding in France. I've seen mothers breastfeed in parks, on the metro and on the tgv...
posted by stereo at 4:31 PM on June 2, 2011

in portland it's no big deal as far as i can tell. i see it in breakfast cafes, here, there. it's as ok to do as wearing a hat inside.
posted by rainperimeter at 4:40 PM on June 2, 2011

More conservative area of the US midwest -- nobody cares. The only reaction I ever got was at restaurants, more than one waitress offered, "Oh, can I get you an extra glass of water? I was always SO THIRSTY when I breastfed mine!" (Yes! Please!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:57 PM on June 2, 2011

Well, some folks on metafilter have a problem with it.

A woman at a mall nearby was asked to leave when breastfeeding, prompting a protest nurse-in.

My wife has done it in public in NY, CT and IN, and plenty of airports and planes, and hasn't had anyone say anything to her directly. Not long after our first son was born she was nursing him at Laguardia, feeling overwhelmed with him and a pile of luggage while I went for the car, and a woman sat down next to her and talked about how much she missed nursing her kids (who were now 20+).

The worst reaction we've gotten is from my mother, who would never say anything but avoids looking in the direction of my wife while she's breastfeeding.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 6:10 PM on June 2, 2011

I breastfeed my kid wherever he gets hungry. I live in South Carolina and I'm sure there are people of the more conservative bent that would prefer I didn't, but the law here says I am allowed to nurse wherever my son and I are legally allowed to be. I usually wear a stretchy cami under a t-shirt, so the cami gets pulled down and the t-shirt gets pulled up, so my kid's big noggin hides most of the skin.

I was present at a playgroup meetup in a mall play area where a woman very vocally confronted a woman with our group for nursing her 2 year old. She told her it was gross and then proceeded to give us all the stinkeye from across the play area. My friend told her to get bent while the rest of us sat there with our mouths agape. It was like one of those things you read about in a breathless, overwrought post on a mommyblog, but it happened right in front of me.
posted by chiababe at 7:19 PM on June 2, 2011

I live in Phoenix, Arizona, and have never experienced anything even approaching a negative reaction to breastfeeding in public. My son is currently 16 months and nurses whenever he is hungry or thirsty, wherever we are, and has since he was born. I have seen other women breastfeeding in public all over town- at bus stops, on the lightrail, in the mall, restaurants etc.

We have also travelled to Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana - I saw no difference in anyone's reaction. I honestly think that most people don't even notice - and I am not one to use covers or blankets because I think it draws attention (I also think that covering up in public plays in to the taboo-ness of breast-feeding in public and says to others that breastfeeding is somehow shameful, sexual, or dirty... And it is absolutely not any of those things.)
posted by LyndsayMW at 8:55 PM on June 2, 2011

Here in Vancouver, I breastfed two kids to age 2+. It's so common to do so in my circle - to that age or older and in public - that I feel like everyone's in on it. But I was also one of the people at the famed H&M nurse-in two years ago, so there are some barriers. But Vancouver has the highest uptake of breastfeeding and the longest tenure of breastfeeding in the country or they did 2 years ago, when last I looked. YMMV elsewhere in Canada.
posted by acoutu at 12:28 AM on June 3, 2011

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