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You may be wondering where I've been and why I haven't written anything. For a few days I was busy, for a few days the weather was glorious, and now, for the past 50 hours, I have been without power. Yes, without power. The same storm that knocked over the main stage at Ottawa's Blues Fest on the weekend also knocked out our power and we have been in the dark since then. I've been at work, but have been too swamped to write on my lunch break or anything.

So, tonight I'm stopping briefly at a coffee shop to let you know where I've been and to give you something else to read while I wait for my life to return to normal (which really, it won't, even if the power comes back on because I have two weddings and a conference to attend in the next couple of weeks on top of work and life).

My friend Loralee wrote a post about how her thoughts on breastfeeding in public have evolved. I appreciated her honesty and can appreciate the place that she has come to, even if I would like her to come just a little bit further. Fair warning, there is a comment that is incredibly maddening and unfair, so if you don't want to get really upset just read Loralee's post and close it before reading the comments.

Here's her post:

Do mothers openly breastfeeding in public make you uncomfortable? Yeah, me too.

What do you think? Can you accept someone coming to the point of still feeling uncomfortable yet recognizing that that is their problem and not the problem of the breastfeeding mother? I can live with that. I think if we were all a bit more tolerant about the things that make us uncomfortable, the world would be a better place.

Photo credit: Chris Toombes on flickr
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Reader Comments (11)

of course, i think its awesome that we can accept we have differences and that our difference might make us uncomfortabl. That certainly doesnt mean that I must stop making healthy choices if someone doesnt like them. Hooray for breastfeeding & cool people.

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteranderziod

(I wrote a novel as a comment on the other post... I'll try to keep it short over here...)

We cannot control what makes us uncomfortable, but we can control how we react to it. (Mayonnaise grosses me out. When I see someone eating a sandwich with mayonnaise on it, and a big, white glob of it squeezes out of the sandwich as the person bites into it, I gag. I double-gag when I see a glob of mayonnaise on the side of the person's mouth. Seriously. But that doesn't mean I tell people they can't put mayo on their sandwich.)

Being uncomfortable seeing a nursing mother is a learned response, taught by society. If we grew up seeing nursing mothers, we wouldn't be uncomfortable at seeing it as adults. The more we see it, the less we'll A) notice it (because it will be commonplace), and B) be uncomfortable about it.

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCriss

I quite liked this post :-) I think it's good to be honest about the fact that while public breastfeeding is good, and normal, and desirable, not everyone will be able to accept it as "normal" right away, and yelling at them won't help to bring them around. I've had to laugh at myself, in fact, as before I had a child I didn't really feel comfortable seeing public breastfeeding either. I certainly never would have bothered a mom over it, but I tended to find the sight of what I still viewed as a partly sexual object a bit awkward (depending on the amount of flesh shown). I've now been breastfeeding for over three years, and in that time have nursed publicly in numerous locations, having learned that an infant's needs really do need to come first. Let's just say I don't notice a bit of breast any more...

I think awkwardness is fine--it can lead to education. I think it's also to be expected, given how rare public breastfeeding is. I even try to be sensitive to it when I can (I might try to avoid breastfeeding in front of a shy male friend, for example). But I agree that it isn't the mother's problem (or the baby's), but the viewer's--if it's too awkward, they can always look away. Hopefully as it becomes more common, fewer people will be bothered by it.

July 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIsabelle

I feel like on e of the greatest things I ever did for the advancement of mankind was nurse at my local climbing gym in front of a bunch of twenty-something year olds, most of them male. :D Most of them were my friends as we climb there quite regularly, and I like to think that they think of me as a great (or at least good?) climber which gives me some "cred". I managed to climb all through my pregnancy (safely - this is a sport I have done for more then half my life and I know my limits and pulled way back). So when the baby was born, I brought her in to show my friends and hang with my hubby while he climbed. We she got hungry, I didn't want to go isolate myself, so in the middle of a conversation, I sat on the floor (thats what one does at the gym) and bean to nurse. I admit *I* was uncomfortable. It's much easier to nurse in front of strangers. But I acted like I wasn't. I didn't uses a cover, but my shirt/ babies head covered the important parts. I honestly don't know how others felt. They certainly didn't act uncomfortable. I was very likely the first time they had seen a woman nurse though. No one acted like anything was happening at all. It was very cool and I'm very proud of it. I'm sure they could see how much portable a baby is when you don't have to bring bottles! Once I was climbing again they got to see that since mom nurses, dad gets to change diapers. otherwise mom wouldn't get to climb enough!

July 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterlisa

I can live with that too. There are many things in the world that I might find discomfort with, but as long as I keep it to myself and don't push my feelings on others that's okay.

July 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

I have gotten to the point with our 14-month-old that I'm no longer defiantly public about breastfeeding when among my partner's family members BECAUSE they have tried so hard to be respectful, even though I know some of them are uncomfortable with it. The male cousins in particular will continue conversations with me while their eyes roam around the room; I have to resist the urge to laugh! But I'm grateful that they make the effort. So I feed my son when and where he needs it, but if there's a way to just step to the side of the room, I do. And actually, given the zoo that happens at family gatherings, it helps him stay focused, too.

Interestingly, I'm less sympathetic to the general public, and with one exception, have never gotten any crap for public breastfeeding. I actually have gotten more kudos from middle-aged moms and stories about their extended breastfeeding than anything, to the point that sometimes I'M a little uncomfortable with the beaming stranger who's fixated on my breast. And of course, that amuses me about myself!

July 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

For me what's important (and beautiful) about Loralee's post isn't that she's uncomfortable but doesn't force that on other people. What's important is a) she had an intense emotional reaction to something (public breastfeeding); b) rather than making that reaction someone else's problem, she let herself observe it - *why* am I reacting this way, she asked herself; c) after asking the question, she spend a long time trying to come to terms with possible answers / what was going on with her; and d) she was honest about her struggle and her awareness that it was her problem. This is really, really important - most of us have reactions to people or situations that are negative (I'm including racist, homophobic, transphobic, misogynist, ethnocentric, just plain mean spirited or ignorant). It's part of being a human being. And instead of leaning into the negativity in an effort to bottle up the shame, we need to hold the feeling and interrogate it. To be honest out it. It's only through the process that Loralee outlines in her post that we can arrive at truly compassionate communities. It's so important to give ourselves and others space to have complex reactions and to work through them, because it's the only way we grow and learn. (I'm thinking in part of how upset people get when possible racism is brought up and so many devolve into a kneejerk - I'm not a racist! I have black friends!- rather than really thinking about the ways that living in racist-patriarchal culture has unconscious and subconsciously formed our thinking and reactions.) Same here with sexualization of women's breasts and our complicated attitudes about them.

July 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErin

I hope your power is back, now.

As for publicly breastfeeding, I was highly uncomfortable with it before I had children, even as I knew it was a mother's right and my problem. It was really only having that baby and actually breastfeeding that removed any last bit of discomfort for me. Having traveled my own road from squeamish to openly breastfeeding in public myself, I can hardly judge another person's journey - unless they're infringing on my rights. But admitting it makes you uncomfortable and accepting that it's your problem isn't infringing on my rights.

July 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

I have nursed both of my children in public and, for whatever it's worth, I did so with modesty, without a cover (two shirts, a bra, a receiving blanket, a napkin, I can make do with whatever is handy), whenever my babies were hungry. I did always keep in mind the appropriateness of the situation and the clothing I was wearing (i.e. if I needed to nurse my infant & I had a non-nursing dress on at a fancy restaurant, I wouldn't have pulled my top down & nursed at the table because that's not appropriate. But I would have at a family restaurant with a strategically arranged shirt & bra combo.), but if my babies needed to be fed, I'd find a comfortable place & feed them. Babies shouldn't need to wait because someone else might be looking.

Which brings me to my problem with this whole "controversey" over nursing in public. I

It always strikes me as odd, both the public outcry and the VAST number of posts & comments on the topic of nursing in public. Because, I want to know WHO IS LOOKING? Or rather, WHY are you looking? Seriously. The fact that people are so obsessed with what SOMEONE ELSE is doing - with their own body - in their own space - with their own baby - is beyond weird to me. Who stares at & gets in the business of strangers who are minding their own business? In what other circumstance does ANYONE. EVER. DO THIS?!?!?

A breastfeeding baby is typically content, mostly quiet, and not running around at the same time - so a nursing baby isn't infringing on others' peace. Breastfeeding requires said baby is held closely - so a nursing baby isn't infringing on others' space. So what would even prompt someone to stop what they are doing, check out closely enough (and you would have to get really really close to see any more skin than what a typical woman wears on a typical summer day), and then STAND IN JUDGMENT on what they just got close enough to see? It's truly baffling to me. I never noticed women nursing before I was a nursing mother myself. So I have to ask people who have a problem with public breastfeeding:


I believe that's what everyone who is concerned about breastfeeding in public, or concerned about their own reaction to a quietly breastfeeding baby & mother pair in public, need to ask themselves: Why are you looking?

Breastfeeding is feeding a baby, plain & simple. Since there is no rukus occurring, no abuse happening, no mistreatment of children, it really boils down to this: It's not your baby, it's not your business.

July 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkelly @kellynaturally

That is such an excellent question. Prior to having a baby of my own, I think I saw maybe two or three women breastfeeding at all, and I don't recall ever seeing it done in public. I just didn't see it happening, and I rarely see it now. I'm sure it's happening, but I'm not looking for it. I'm focused on my own business.

July 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

Thanks for linking to the post, I have to say I really enjoyed it! I'm breastfeeding my now 20 month old and struggle with my own confidence to do so in public, regularly. What Loralee really did was strip down why she feels uncomfortable, why I feel uncomfortable and what others may/may not think/feel/want. It was really insightful and explorative, brilliant! A friend of mine wrote her thesis (degree I think) on attitudes towards breastfeeding in Ireland (a majorly bottle-feeding culture), it's so fascinating.
Thanks again Annie,

July 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterÁine

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