Although it's completely natural and legal to do, many Americans take issue with mothers breastfeeding their babies in public, seeing the practice as risqué. In fact, a recent study by Aeroflow Healthcare found that a startling 1 in 4 people think public breastfeeding is "inappropriate," demonstrating the harsh and unfair stigma so many parents face daily.
Attitudes towards breastfeeding have, fortunately, evolved overtime, and there have been strides both legally and informally to help protect mothers. For instance, breastfeeding in public became legal in all 50 states in 2018, and lactation rooms are being added in more and more spaces, such as airports. But these developments haven't totally changed the way people view breastfeeding in public, as a large portion of the American population still sees the act as indecent, largely because of the unjust sexualization of breasts. Just last week, a mom claimed she was kicked out of a public pool for nursing, highlighting how prevalent negative sentiments towards breastfeeding are. And now thanks to Aeroflow's new research, there's more than just anecdotal evidence to back up the claims.
In May 2019, Aeroflow Healthcare — a durable medical equipment supplier that helps women obtain items such as breast pumps through their insurance — conducted a private study of 1,048 adults living in the United States in order to glean information on general sentiment towards public breastfeeding and public pumping, and the results were less than encouraging.
The study found that both men and women don't support breastfeeding in public, with 25 percent of women and 22 percent of men reporting they find the practice inappropriate. That translates to 1-in-4 women and 1-in-5 men. Likewise, the research found that 41 percent of men and 34 percent of women don’t believe new moms should be able to breastfeed or pump in a restaurant, even though it's a space designed for eating.
It's surprising to see that the results indicate that, on the whole, women have more negative connotations towards public breastfeeding than men do. The results show women are more likely than men to feel uncomfortable when seeing a woman breastfeed or pump in public because they find it "too personal" — about 1-in-3 women (30 percent), as opposed to just under 1-in-4 men (24 percent). Considering these attitudes impact women who are simply trying to feed their children the most, the lack of support from fellow women is particularly frustrating.
However, the research did find women are more likely to advocate for breastfeeding mom's equal rights in the workplace than their male counterparts. The gendered split on beliefs about lactation rooms and work breaks for pumping seem to demonstrate men's lack of understanding of the demands of breastfeeding on the body.
The discrepancies here point to a lack of knowledge men have about the actual physical toll of breastfeeding on the body. Moms can't simply wait until they clock out to pump; breast pain and leaking are realities of not pumping when your body demands it, according to NPR, and continued prejudices against public breastfeeding will only continue to cause them discomfort, as well as a sense of shame they in no way deserve.
"It’s discouraging that new moms still do not have the broad support from both men and women in this country to breastfeed in a public setting," Jennifer Jordan, Aeroflow Healthcare Director of Mom and Baby, explains in a press release. "These attitudes make it challenging for women to confidently return to work, run errands or visit a restaurant without the fear or anxiety of being shamed."
Jordan went on to tell Romper that "the more we can offer increased accommodations and support, the faster breastfeeding in public will become normalized." She added, "We need to protect new moms and their infants, which can be done with measures as small as supporting the breastfeeding moms in your life or encouraging your local government to pass legislation that explicitly protects moms’ rights to breastfeed in public."
Every parent deserves to choose how and when they feed their child, and the only opinion that matters is theirs. You can help breastfeeding moms by contacting your local officials about laws that can protect them, or simply by advocating for them when you see them in public. Breastfeeding isn't sexual or inappropriate, and hopefully seeing the stunted views so many still have will motivate people to advocate for new moms.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to clarify Aeroflow Healthcare's description.