Bare Breastfeeding Boobies, Baby!
June 8, 2005 7:59 AM   Subscribe

I hoped the subject would catch your interest, dear Ask MeFi reader. I'm talking about breasts. Specifically, breasts being used for their intended purpose, feeding a baby. Recent news events have brought this timeless issue back to the forefront again, and the timing couldn't be more appropriate -- My wife and I need some advice!

We have a seven week old baby who is exclusively breastfeeding. No bottles (unless they contain expressed breast milk from good ol' mom), no formula, no water, no supplementing of any kind. He's been nursed in public a few times, and when people figure it out, the wife has been (so far) receiving compliments, like "Oh, I remember when I used to nurse, it's so wonderful!" and "you two look so happy together!" I'm worried that, as baby gets bigger (and it looks less like a cute cuddle and more like a meal), people will start to be confrontational.

In Illinois, we have the wonderful Right to Breastfeed Act which essentially exempts breastfeeding from public indecency laws. More local businesses are becoming enlightened about breastfeeding. My wife and I aren't "lactivists" (as the newsies have come to describe breastfeeding activists) -- we aren't activists of any kind, really -- but we still want to be able to respond to nay-sayers quickly, quietly, and if necessary, with a little tinge of condescending tone.

So, an open question to both MEN and WOMEN. Men: How would/do you respond if someone makes a comment about your wife breastfeeding in a public place, say in a restaurant, when your wife is being as discrete as possible about it? Women: Same question, but your husband isn't there, or you'd rather speak for yourself.

I'm not looking to start a flame war on the whole breastfeeding issue -- people who are sensitive about seeing a breast doing its job can just look the other way, for crying out loud; please don't threadjack to preach about it. :) I'm also looking for serious retorts, whether they're polite or a little bit ascerbic. Comments like "stop staring at my wife's t**s" are likely to incite violence, so we won't be using those types of suggestions.
posted by Merdryn to Health & Fitness (30 answers total)
Honestly, I've breastfed everywhere and no one's said a thing. I've gotten a few stares and kids asking what I was doing (who I was happy to tell them "feeding the baby")

However, I used a wonderful sling with a tail (so I could cover my daughter's head and my breast), I wore large shirts and I always carried a light blanket to cover up. One: I'm shy about my breasts in public, even for feeding. Two: People touch babies without invitation way too much. When the baby's not visible, the less likely they are to touch them.

How would I respond? It depends on what someone's objection is. Offended by my tit? I'd smile and readjust the blanket. Why do I have to do that here? My daughter is hungry. The airplane? You either get an eating baby or a screaming baby. I'd imagine you'd prefer the full and sleepy baby.

I don't think it's my job to defend breastfeeding. I just act like anything else is insane and I don't understand what the problem is.
posted by Gucky at 8:20 AM on June 8, 2005

At a restaurant? "He has to eat too."
posted by plinth at 8:21 AM on June 8, 2005

"I'm sorry it concerns you. I think my wife is being as discreet as possible."

Repeat as necessary.

Not sure why you want "a little tinge of condescending tone." What are you hoping will result from that?

Here in the Seattle area, we've never had an instant of flak about my wife nursing our son, even when he was almost 2. Illinois may be different, but I doubt it's that different. People who want to stage a confrontation over a woman breastfeeding are pretty rare birds.
posted by argybarg at 8:25 AM on June 8, 2005

Our baby was exclusively breastfeed the first 6 months, and still breastfeeds multiple times a day at 1 year. No one has ever commented to us about public feedings, nor even said anything within earshot. I hope you experience the same tolerance we did. If not, I suggest a simple but polite "please mind your own business" coupled with a demonstrative turning of one's back to the person making comments. Perhaps my wife will have other suggestions, I'll ask her when she gets home (stay-at-home-fathers unite!). If only our own families would have been as quiet as strangers have been.
posted by mollweide at 8:27 AM on June 8, 2005

Glad, so far, to hear that my worries might be excessive. And I'm not seeking condescending comments, just wanted to clarify that, at the most, a "tinge" of condescending tone is all that I'm willing to use when responding to people about this subject.

I have, however, rehearsed a line for restaurant use, if a member of the waitstaff says something like "Perhaps it would be better if you'd nurse in the privacy of the ladies room?". I'd hold my wife's hand, smile at the waiter, and say in a loud voice, "In fact, we're all happy eating our meals together at the table. Would YOU like to have a hamburger on the toilet?"

My wife will be reading these posts throughout the day, so keep 'em coming.
posted by Merdryn at 8:32 AM on June 8, 2005

My wife breastfed both our boys, for more than a year each. Granted, we live in the NYC area, but we never, ever got any kind of grief or problems for it.

The best thing, though, is to duck the issue of how to confront people by just helping your wife figure out how to nurse as conveniently as possible. By the time our second was nursing, my wife used to be able to get him hooked up and nursing in 2 secs flat, and even if you _were_ looking for it, you'd never really catch a glimpse of any flesh. That was really for her and the baby, more than any kind of prudery--the less fuss in getting started, the better for both of them. Pre-empting anyone else's ability to complain rationally is just a nice side-effect.

You may have already looked into these, but you can just start by making sure your wife is set up to nurse easily as possible, without having to disrobe halfway. Not only are there nursing bras with panels that let you snap the cups down without moving the strap, but there are nursing blouses that have these hidden access panels across the chest. All you have to do is pop a couple of snaps, and you've got a very quick and discreet way to nurse. (Gucky's sling suggestion is also a great one--we got a lot of use out of ours.)

Again, I'm not saying that your wife should be ashamed of breastfeeding in public, or accommodate the prudes by hiding herself. I'm just saying that by making things as easy as possible for your family, you also get things to a point where only the most obnoxious puritan could object. (At which point, your question about "What to say?" gets a lot easier.)
posted by LairBob at 8:34 AM on June 8, 2005

Mothering magazine has an online forum that will likely give you some great answers, too. (registration required)
posted by grateful at 8:57 AM on June 8, 2005

Breastfeeding doesn't bother me at all. In fact, I love it! However, when I was first around a lot of breastfeeding moms, I would sometimes feel a little uncomfortable because I wasn't sure how THEY felt about breastfeeding with people watching.

Now I've realized that if someone I'm hanging out with whips out a boob and starts to feed her baby, it just makes sense to keep having the conversation. Just because they're breastfeeding doesn't mean they can only think and talk about breastfeeding. in fact, they'd probably rather talk about something else-- a great book, the weather, the latest gossip, whatever.

With that all said, I did see one display of breastfeeding at a local park recently that I found a little gross. A two year old hopped into her mom's lap, pulled up her shirt and started drinking some milk, which was fine, but she was a very messy eater and milk was dribbling all over the place. I was probably more grossed out by the thought of the sour milk smell and having milk get everywhere than the breastfeeding itself, but the incident did make me examine my feelings towards breastfeeding in public.

To recap: Go to it! But if your kid is sloppy, throw down a towel or something.
posted by bonheur at 9:06 AM on June 8, 2005

My sister is breastfeeding my niece as she did my nephew and I'm all for it. But I'll take issue with your "intended purpose" crack: no other mammal that I can think of has big round protuberant mammaries when not lactating, including our close genetic cousins the apes and monkeys. The purpose of women's breasts - not "intended" but evolved - is to signify fertility and attract the male gaze.

Now, I'm off to the beach to play my little part in evolution's plan.
posted by nicwolff at 9:28 AM on June 8, 2005

What everyone else said. I breastfed both my kids all over the place and noone ever commented. I grant you that the atmostphere has gotten a little stickier these days (there was a big flap here about a breastfeeding mom at a public pool two years ago, surprised me) but basically I think if you act like there is no issue at all and you're minimally discreet, most people wouldn't dream of saying anything. If they do, I recommend Gucky's comment: ask them which they would rather have? A nursing baby or a screaming baby?

FWIW I hated nursing bras and gave up on them (once the milk stabilized & stopped leaking all the time) in favor of just wearing a big shirt. It's really pretty easy to nurse a baby with no or hardly any flesh showing.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:32 AM on June 8, 2005

atmosphere. The at most sphere is a different place entirely.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:33 AM on June 8, 2005

nicwolff: Your tongue-in-cheek (but nonetheless partially accurate) reply made me chuckle. Touché. How about referring to "one of their numerous, varied and sometimes titillating intended purposes"?
posted by Merdryn at 9:36 AM on June 8, 2005

nicwolff writes "But I'll take issue with your 'intended purpose' crack: no other mammal that I can think of has big round protuberant mammaries when not lactating, including our close genetic cousins the apes and monkeys."

Um, cows?

My wife breastfed for 14 months, often in restaurants and other public places and it was never an issue that I can recall. My daughter hated having her face covered so unless she was half sleeping even a cover blaneket wasn't used. Like LairBob said, once latched there isn't much to see. A dozen times a day provides plenty of practice to the point where after a couple weeks you'd need slow-mo to see anything.
posted by Mitheral at 10:08 AM on June 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

Oddly, one of the blogs I read just had an entry about lactivists protesting Barbra Walters. It was an entertaining read.
posted by GrumpyMonkey at 10:33 AM on June 8, 2005

I think there's good advice here. I never had anyone comment negatively when I was breastfeeding (about 14 months), and only once or twice did anyone stare.

I also don't recall any of my mom friends saying they got a negative reaction, either (and most of them are 6 months or 1 year into their 2nd breastfed kid).

The only in-public horror story I can think of was a woman I know who is very modest and chose to pump breastmilk for when she was in public. And once in the mall when she was bootlefeeding her son her own pumped milk, a random stranger came up to yell at her for bottlefeeding and to say she was going her son immense harm. Talk about needing to mind your own business!
posted by raedyn at 10:45 AM on June 8, 2005

Oh yeah, cows. Never mind.
posted by nicwolff at 11:05 AM on June 8, 2005

Although, don't we keep farm cows lactating pretty much continuously? I'm not sure what an udder would look like if it weren't being milked daily. (Sorry, derail.)
posted by nicwolff at 11:08 AM on June 8, 2005

My kids are 13 and 8, and I breastfed them until they were 18 months old or so.

I don't remember ever getting a negative comment, although I did have a few slightly older moms tell me that they wished they had breastfed their kids. I did explain to my daughter's Brownie troop and 1st grade class what I was doing, because I was getting tired of explaining one-on-one.

The only comment I remember getting was one woman asking me whether I thought the boy was getting too old to nurse -- he's a big kid, and she thought he was nearly 3, not 15 months.... She was very apologetic when I explained that he was still a toddler. She was not antagonistic at all, and we had a very nice conversation.
posted by jlkr at 11:19 AM on June 8, 2005

I breastfed my son anywhere and everywhere, as well (he's now 18). My feeling is that if people have a problem with it, fuck 'em. That's not very measured or logical, but it's the truth as I felt it then and still feel it today. You can choose clothing which can do the duty of concealment for a baby, or use a sling or a small blanket to cover if necessary. Images of breasts are inescapable in our world, and are used to sell cars, shavers, movies, etc. Why should feeding a baby cause offence? Because it's a reminder that the breast has a function other than ornamentation? Meh.
posted by jokeefe at 1:30 PM on June 8, 2005

You could cleverly allude to The Lion in Winter by saying that you're "supporting the troops".

Eleanor: Louis took me on crusade...I dressed my maids as amazons and rode barebreasted halfway to Damascus...I damn near died of windburn...but the troops were dazzled.

True, not many people would get it, but it would make you my hero.
posted by ontic at 1:56 PM on June 8, 2005

I have several friends who have breastfed their children until the children were well into walking, and despite having gone tons of places with these folks -- the fair, the park , resturants, art museums, you name it -- I've never seen anyone give any any of them a hard time.

The comments above sum up the experience I've witnessed:

-- currious children
-- other breastfeeding moms
-- older women who wish they had breastfed
-- no negative comments or odd stares

One very elderly gentleman we encountered at the local county fair stands out in my mind. My friend was walking with her baby in the sling, and had to pause for a minute or two in front of some booth or other. This quite elderly man in a John Deere hat stepped out from inside the booth and came up to speak to us -- we both feared the worst -- but he actually wanted to ask her if she needed a place to sit down. He was quite gallant and seemed completely nonplussed by her feeding ... he just wanted to make sure she was comfortable.

Congrats on the new peanut!
posted by anastasiav at 2:04 PM on June 8, 2005

"We're mammals. Look it up."
posted by Zed_Lopez at 3:25 PM on June 8, 2005

Well I have had a couple of negative comments made (I'm currently nursing our 3rd child, now 16 months). None of my babies liked or like having their heads covered while nursing so I probably haven't been very 'discreet' about the whole thing. Don't care either.

The comments made to me were: "If you keep nursing him much longer you'll make him gay."


"Don't you think it's weird to nurse a kid so old that they can ask for a drink?"

As you can see, both those comments related to the AGES of my babies (toddlers), not to whether I exposed a breast or not.

I think there's been so much media attention about breastfeeding rights lately that no one would dare to suggest your wife use a bathroom for feeding time. Try not to worry much and if it happens just give the ol' "could you be any more stupid?" glare.
posted by LadyBonita at 3:48 PM on June 8, 2005

LadyBonita: The comments made to me were: "If you keep nursing him much longer you'll make him gay."

That statement made my head explode.

Who knew? Breasts made me gay.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:02 PM on June 8, 2005

I breastfed until the boy was about a year old, but I rarely breastfed in public. The boy was born huge (about 11 pounds) and he just kept getting bigger. Also, I was bountifully endowed before pregnancy...once the boob fairy came, even the triple-Ds were too small.

Thus, finding a place where I could get comfy enough to support the boy in feeding position, and keep from smothering him with the Killamanjaro Cleavage was tricky. After once he got close to 20 pounds, it just wasn't all that feasible without it being almost a stage production...the opposite of trying to be discrete.

The only people I have had be rude about my child's diet were the folks I've nicknamed the "Nipple Nazi's". The overbearing women who swoop down upon a mother and a child with a bottle to give ponderous screeds about how you are damaging the child beyond all belief and how it's all your fault that the world is ending...before asking if the milk in the bottle is human or formula. I've had more than one run-in with the NN, they vex me greatly.

But as long as we're on the topic of breastfeeding, let me recommend that you spend the money on a really good electric double pump and freezer bags. That way you've got back up for days when you (the wife) are sick, when you're prescribed a regime of antibiotics or other drugs that are contraindicated for breastfeeding, etc. The pump also serves to keep production flowing on those times when you have to supplement, and it's very useful in helping women who have trouble producing enough milk increase their production. (More common than you might think.)

Congrats on the n00B! ;)
posted by dejah420 at 7:38 PM on June 8, 2005

I didn't get any flack, except from my mom and mother-in-law. I'm pretty modest, and made sure there was a light scarf or shawl in the baby bag. I could use it in case I needed a bit of camouflage. I felt very comfortable nursing just about everywhere, including my brother's wedding (it certainly kept the baby quiet.)
posted by theora55 at 8:18 PM on June 8, 2005

I have, however, rehearsed a line for restaurant use, if a member of the waitstaff says something like "Perhaps it would be better if you'd nurse in the privacy of the ladies room?"

I can only imagine this happening in a relatively fancy restaurant, not at Shoney's or a diner. A polite person would not bring an infant or other small child who is liable to cry other otherwise disturb other diners to a fancy-ish restaurant, so you should never face that situation.

I'd hold my wife's hand, smile at the waiter, and say in a loud voice, "In fact, we're all happy eating our meals together at the table. Would YOU like to have a hamburger on the toilet?"

I think a simple "I understand your concern, but I'll stay here." from your wife would suffice. More than that would be making a scene. Let them make the scene, if one must occur.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:41 PM on June 8, 2005

Funny, I'm a gay man, no attraction to boobs except I've always found them pleasant. Weird story behind that.

I think a woman breast feeding is one of the more profoundly beautiful sights in life. Except one time I was in a lecture given by a husband and wife, and wifey was breast feeding a baby or two. Fine. Then her 3-4 yr old son came up and helped himself to some. That struck me as weird (weird people anyway, I assure you, weird lecture).
posted by Goofyy at 12:29 AM on June 9, 2005

ROU_Xenophobe: Sorry if it wasn't clear, but I was being silly in that post. :)

All: Thanks for the all great posts; my wife passes on her undying thanks as well!
posted by Merdryn at 5:41 AM on June 9, 2005

I would like to second the idea that eating in the bathroom sounds repulsive, though. Not something you'd want the kid thinking is the thing to do...
posted by mikeh at 12:05 PM on June 9, 2005

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