Breastfeeding in public- what's the big deal?

Breastfeeding is a normal and natural way to feed a baby however breastfeeding in public can be seen as a controversial thing to do, and mothers who do so can be met with criticism or judgement.

Social attitudes toward breastfeeding

At Medela, our mission is to be the worlds’ leading advocate for mothers’ milk by supporting and encouraging mums to feel empowered to breastfeed and express whenever and wherever they need. So why does breastfeeding in public stir so many feelings of discomfort and create so much debate?

In our modern fast-paced western world, we are exposed to images that sexualise breasts everywhere. You only have to open a magazine or look on the internet to see sexily cladded half-dressed images of women, and yet we don't bat an eyelid at these images. The constant flooding of the sexualisation of women has somehow dampened our response and normalised it. Yet when it comes to a woman breastfeeding her baby in public, people can have exaggerated responses and often there is backlash towards the woman. You only have to do a quick google to find endless stories of women who are shamed in public for breastfeeding and told to go somewhere else to feed their baby, often a bathroom or somewhere that causes the woman to be in a vulnerable position.

Its time that we changed this narrative and saw breasts and breastfeeding for what it is- nourishing a child! I have never met a woman who wants to exhibit her breasts during breastfeeding or wants to attract attention to herself overtly. There is nothing disgraceful about a woman uncovering her breasts to feed her baby in public, and if the sight of it makes you feel uncomfortable, you need to simply look away. It’s time that society recognised the life-giving benefits of breastfeeding and offered support and congratulated women who breastfeed in public.

Offer support to a breastfeeding mum

It's not all bad, though so don't despair! Attitudes are changing and most public spaces these days welcome and support breastfeeding.

"The Australian Breastfeeding Association  Breastfeeding Welcome Here program was developed to improve community acceptability of breastfeeding in public through the promotion of breastfeeding-friendly premises. These can be everything from a cafe to a hairdresser, community centre or public library. Venues can receive a Breastfeeding Welcome Here sticker to display that they welcome breastfeeding on their premises. The Australian Breastfeeding Association Breastfeeding Welcome Here program was developed to improve community acceptability of breastfeeding in public through the promotion of breastfeeding-friendly premises. These can be everything from a cafe to a hairdresser, community centre or public library. Venues can receive a Breastfeeding Welcome Here sticker to display that they welcome breastfeeding on their premises".[1]

 If you see a mother breastfeeding in public, offer her a gentle smile of solidarity and let her know she is doing a good job.  There is a lovely story of a Breastfeeding mother's cafe surprise where 'New mum Briar Mcqueen, the 22-year-old had just received the breakfast she had ordered in her local cafe when her nine-week-old son, Jaxon, wanted a feed. So of course, the eggs have to wait, right? Briar began to breastfeed her son. Then a woman approached her. Briar was worried she was offended by the fact that she was breastfeeding in public. However, she couldn't have been more wrong. The lady smiled and said: "What a good mamma putting your son first, let me cut your food up for you so you can eat with one hand. We can't have your food going cold, can we?" She then proceeded to cut up Briar's meal for her"[1]

Know your rights about breastfeeding in public

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, it is your right to breastfeed in public and anyone who asks you not to maybe breaking the law:

"Australian Federal Law breastfeeding is a right, not a privilege. Under the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984, it is illegal in Australia to discriminate against a person either directly or indirectly on the grounds of breastfeeding

It is against the law to discriminate against women who are breastfeeding. This includes women who need to express milk by hand or using a breast pump. There are some limited exemptions.

Discrimination happens when a woman is treated less favourably because she is breastfeeding or needs to breastfeed over a period of time. It is also discrimination when there is an unreasonable requirement or practice that is the same for everyone but disadvantages women who are breastfeeding.

Example: It would be discrimination if a cafe refused to serve a woman because she is breastfeeding.

Example: It may be discrimination if an employer does not allow staff to take short breaks at particular times during the day. This may disadvantage women who are breastfeeding, as they may need to take breaks to express milk"[1]

Let this knowledge arm and encourage you to breastfeed anywhere, anytime.

Teach the next generation how to breastfeed

Even though breastfeeding is natural, it doesn't always come naturally to every woman. Think of it like learning to dance. We all have a natural rhythm and can happily bop along to a tune, but if we want to learn a dance, we have to be shown how to do the steps.

In the early 80s, a mama gorilla at an Ohio zoo failed to care for and nurse her first infant. Realising that the gorilla needed to learn these skills before the birth of her next baby, the keepers brought in nursing mamas from La Leche League for the mama gorilla to watch.  When her next baby was born, the mama gorilla was able to nurse (with continuing support from her keepers) – the only difference was that she had learned from the example of other nursing mamas[1].

When we breastfeed in public, we inadvertently teach our future mothers and partners the delicate dance of breastfeeding. If we don't show the next generation how to breastfeed how are, they expected to learn?

The more that we normalise breastfeeding in public, the less it remains an issue, and soon all mothers and babies will feel welcomed and supported, and our society won't even bat an eyelid!


[1] Australian brestfeeding association- breastfeeding welcome here programme

[1]Breastfeeding Mothers Café Surprise

[1] Australian Human Rights commission, Breastfeeding date accessed 29/02/2020