Breastfeeding in Public: Setting the Record Straight

For some reason breastfeeding in public is extremely controversial in the United States.  It’s like society forgot that the true purpose for breasts was to feed and nourish babies, not flaunt in low-cut dresses.

Day after day, my Google alert shares another story of a controversial nursing in public incident… who knew I would be blind-sided by a story that took place in my OWN CITY???

On Tuesday, February 19, 2013, FOX 5 San Diego aired a reoccurring segment called Ask the Moms.  In this segment, three women (an MD, a mom blogger, and a psychologist) shared their OPINIONS about breastfeeding in public and boy was this a doozy!  Actually, let’s cut to the chase… it was absolutely appalling!

Here are a few of the comments they shared on this segment:

Dr. Melinda Silva, MD (specializing in cosmetic medicine) – “Every public place has a family restroom you could go to or you could go to a car if you don’t have anything to hide your breasts.”

Mary Burt-Godwin, Mom blogger – “In our society, breasts out are just not accepted with our culture, so they (moms who want to breastfeed without a cover) should just go to another country where that is accepted.”

Rachel Goldenhar, clinical psychologist - "Personally, I think when the child is beginning to bite or walk, they are starting to individuate and separate from mom anyways, so it is a natural time to wean."

I was horrified that these women would share such judgmental comments LIVE ON TV!

Each minute of the segment got worse and worse! 

I started to receive Facebook messages, emails, and texts asking what we should do about this debacle.  That’s when we decided to use social media to our benefit to bombard the FOX 5 San Diego’s Facebook page to request to have me on the show to provide a response based in fact and including the California legislation that protects a woman’s right to breastfeed in public.  You spoke, they listened!  Talk about banding together as a group of women warriors!  We are STRONG when we work together!

On Thursday, February 21, 2013, I had the pleasure of being interviewed on FOX 5 San Diego to provide an educated response, to these ladies audacious comments.

Me and Rachel.jpg

Robin and Rachel

Here is the Fox 5 San Diego interview with me and Rachel Rainbolt (of Ohana Wellness), another fierce advocate for women’s and children’s rights.

Unfortunately, with such a short amount of time to cover all of the issues brought forth in the Ask the Moms segment, I felt like I was cut short. I had so much more I wanted to say. 

If I could have had just a few more minutes during this interview, here is what else I would have included:

  1. I disagree wholeheartedly with the statements made by the panelists that breastfeeding in public is not acceptable.  It's only close-minded people that value that they shouldn't be made to feel uncomfortable over a baby's need to eat.  It's really a sad statement on our society that people can't stand the sight of breastfeeding.
  2. Photo credit: Elaine GingeryThe issue with stating comments like ‘a woman should use discretion’ is that everyone's view of discretion is different.  Comments of this nature, alleging that a woman is doing something shameful that needs to be covered up, open the door for nursing in public harassment and shaming a mother for breastfeeding in public.
  3. I mentioned the nursing in public harassment incident that transpired in Chula Vista in early January, where a mother was harassed by the bailiff for nursing her baby in the courtroom.  What I didn’t have the time to mention was the multitude of stories I have come across in the past month of so where a mother was SO traumatized by being shamed while breastfeeding in public that she became fearful to leave her house, just in case her baby had to eat while they were out.  When interviewing Whitney Thomas on the Boob Group last week (episode will be available in March), the tears in her eyes and the quivering in her voice were heartbreaking as she recounted her breastfeeding in public harassment story.  She didn’t want to leave the house for months.  How can a mother sustain breastfeeding, and meet her personal breastfeeding goals, if she feels she cannot leave the house and breastfeeding comfortably in public?  That’s why these comments, such as that ‘breastfeeding in public is not acceptable’ are so debilitating to breastfeeding mothers.
  4. I really wanted to mention that since nursing in public harassment is so prevalent, a non-profit organization, called Best for Babes, has actually established a hotline where they collect stories and council the mothers who have been shamed for breastfeeding in public.  The number for this hotline is 855-NIP-FREE.
  5. Dr. Silva stated that there are many women being pressure to breastfeed longer.  What I see more often is women being pressured to NOT breastfeed because of situations like this, which is one of the main reasons why 60% of women are not meeting their personal breastfeeding goals (as stated in a study in the journal, Pediatrics, in 2012.
  6. As for weaning, babies often begin to bite somewhere between 4-8 months... usually as a result of teething, not a need to become independent and wean.  The average age for self-weaning is somewhere after 2 years old and children can be VERY independent, even though they are still breastfeeding.
  7. Please ignore the bottle in the background.  Clearly, the person who chose this image didn't realize that 'breastfeeding in public' meant that a breast was feeding the baby, not a bottle!  Ugh!
  8. Lastly, it is always beneficial to feature experts who specialize in the topics being discussed in an interview. The three women on Ask the Moms may have all breastfed their babies, but they were not EXPERTS on the topic of breastfeeding, therefore, their comments were purely their opinions.  Unfortunately, the ‘facts’ and opinions they stated were incorrect, inflammatory, and basically ignorant.

The overall message I hoped to leave everyone with was that we just need to support one another.  Motherhood is difficult enough and judgmental comments do nothing for anyone.  When, where, and for how long a women breastfeeds her child is up to her and her child.  It is just up to us (as society members) to provide support so that she can meet her personal breastfeeding goals.

How do you support mothers who breastfeed in public? 

Have you ever been harassed for breastfeeding in public?