Before I had my first baby I thought I would be a fearless breastfeeding mom, whipping out a boob and feeding my baby whenever and wherever. Then I became a mom and realized that, well, I was not a big fan of breastfeeding in public. I'm a pretty private person by nature, so I didn't appreciate people staring at me and judging me. Turns out, I'm not alone. I asked other moms who've been shamed for breeding in public to speak out, share their experiences, and highlight just how messed up it is to make moms feel uncomfortable, judged, and embarrassed for simply feeding their children.
The first time I was shamed for breastfeeding I was in the waiting room at the doctor's office. I was out in public for the first time with two kids under 4, trying to keep my preschooler entertained and desperately hoping that my baby would stay asleep. He didn't. Walking in the waiting room or sticking a pacifier in his mouth wouldn't soothe him, either, so I knew he was hungry. I sat in the furthest corner I could find and started to feed him when, almost immediately, a nurse approached and asked me what I was doing. I thought it was pretty obvious, so I joked, "Just giving him some lunch." She scowled at me and said I was making the other patients uncomfortable, then asked me if I might be more "comfortable" in an exam room. I would have been... because of her.
When I've asked other moms to share their experiences I heard stories of strangers, friends, and even their own moms shaming them for feeding their babies in public. Since July it has been legal to breastfeed in public in all 50 states, but that doesn't keep people from making nursing moms feel unwelcome, and even unsafe, in public spaces. So with that in mind, and because the first step in fixing a problem is acknowledging that one exists, here's what the following moms went through when someone decided to shame them for feeding their babies in public:
"This happened at Comic Con in my city. It was about 9:00 in the morning. I sat at an empty table in the cafe area, which was pretty deserted. I parked the stroller next to me, my 2-year-old sat opposite me at the table, and I placed my diaper bag on the table. You couldn't see me unless you were actually looking. A couple, perhaps in their 40s, sat at a table diagonally opposite me. Before long, I could see that they were talking about me.
The woman, turned around in her seat several times to stare at me and give me a disgusted look. Her partner continually sneered at me. It was really awful and I felt self conscious, anxious, and shaky. I didn't confront them. I wish I had. I am supportive of breastfeeding wherever you need to, but I had deliberately made myself as unnoticeable as possible. I was also alone at the time. I felt really vulnerable and upset by this experience. Those people went out of their way to stare and give me rude and disgusted looks. It was really awful."
"I was at IKEA with my mum. I’d spent four months pumping for my son, and he was never good at latching, and [my mom] spent months nagging me to try harder to direct feed him. I’d undone my shirt, arranged the baby, lifted my boob out, and soothed him on to it. [My mom] said, 'Can’t you cover up? That’s not very discreet.' Literally the only person who has ever shamed me for feeding in public was my mother."
"So, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Security was called due to an altercation I had in the Diebenkorn/Matisse exhibit. My baby was hungry. I was walking around feeding her, when out of nowhere an older man came up to me and started yelling that I should cover up. I asked him if he put a sheet over his head while he ate.
He said, 'I'm offended. Cover up.'
I said, 'Nope. It's my legal right to feed her wherever and whenever I want.'
He walked off. I was so angry and so shaken. The irony of this happening in a modern art museum with breasts and vaginas all over the walls is not lost on me."
"I was at a bookstore sitting in the kids' department, feeding my baby with a cover. A fellow customer asked me to 'do that in the ladies room.' I politely declined, and he then asked a manager to ask me to stop or leave. I happened to be a supervisor at that store. The manager told the customer to please leave if he had an issue."
"My sister-in-law asked why I didn’t just give [my son] water until I got back to the house. We were out for a family day, my son was 2-months-old. I even had a cover."
"I took my baby to the art museum with my mom. He was probably about 10-months-old at the time. We had go through a traveling exhibit, and I decided to nurse him on a bench. We were by the exit of the exhibit, not in the middle of things. My mom said, 'Are you sure you want to nurse him now?' She got up, walked to the exit, brought an an employee out, pointed at me and asked, 'Is it OK if she nurses here?' The employee said, 'Yes, this is an art museum. People generally expect to see boobs here.'"
"I'm a combo-feeder and have been shamed for both actually. I received several random comments from people passing. Mostly 'Ewww,' or 'Do you really have to do that here?' The most memorable was hearing, 'That baby is too old to be breastfeeding.' [My son] was 9-months-old.
Once at a sporting event that we paid quite a bit of money to go to, I was asked rather forcefully if I wouldn't be more comfortable using the designated nursing room. (Not really, I wanted to see the game I paid for). I didn't move, but it was clear I was unwelcome."
"I was shamed for breastfeeding by other breastfeeders. This was a largely hoity-toity upper-middle-class hipster mom’s group in Toronto. They were all more minimally endowed than I am and had the latest in baby gear, including expensive nursing covers. I was poor and decidedly more shabby. I also needed three pairs of hands to wrangle my giant boobs, my giant flailing baby with nursing issues, and my industrial-size nursing bra with unwieldy clips in the July heat and humidity, but I only had one. I couldn’t use a cover because my baby would refuse to eat under it. You’re allowed to be topless in Toronto, so I took out my boob with extreme trepidation and tried to stuff it quickly into my baby’s mouth. They all looked disgusted, and one of them said, 'There are covers, you know.' I never breastfed in public again. I basically learned that whatever I could do was going to be wrong."