The bare necessities of breast feeding. Or why I don’t want to see your breasts at the mall.

21 Jan

Given that this post is about breast feeding, I thought it was appropriate to make it a two part series.

I have always thought of myself as an advocate of breastfeeding. If you can physically do it, I think you should. It’s economical, healthy for the baby and a special bonding time between mother and child.


But one day at a public event, I was sitting beside a woman whose child was straddling her lap and facing her breast, which was completely exposed. His little head bobbled back and forth as he aimed to latch on while she was turned talking to her friend. I tried to tell myself I was ok with it, repeating the buzzwords I’d heard in grad school; Economical, healthy, bonding. Economical, healthy, bonding.

But it was then that I had to admit that while I was a lactivist, my lacitivism had limits.

But I don’t have kids so what do I know, right? I wrote to my friend Kristie B, a self-proclaimed lactivist. She’s smart, feisty, and a breastfeeding mama so I asked her for her thoughts.

“Babies need to eat. All the time,” Kristie said. “Being able to breastfeed means no lugging around bottles, special water, formula – then worrying where to heat it. All you need is you.” So far, I’m with her. The whole process is pretty impressive. “As you know, I’m a huge lactavist, I support women breastfeeding anywhere, anytime, any way that works for them.” She then went on to outline common things she’s heard.

Women should breastfeed in bathrooms
I remember being 13 and sitting across the table from my annoying, much younger brother. I’d yell at him for various things, and my parents would say, “if you can’t stand him then go eat your dinner in the bathroom.” That would always stop the complaining.

Kristie and I agree that nobody should have to eat in the bathroom.

Breasts are sexual. Children and men shouldn’t be looking at them
“Children and men should learn that breasts have a purpose other than sexual fun bags,” Kristie said. It’s true, breasts are multi-faceted. I think that when God made them, He was saying, “now here’s something you’ll all really like”. But where I don’t agree with Kristie, is that just because breasts have an alternative function, does not negate that they are also sexual. Take a man exposing himself in public. His member is both functional and sexual but goodness knows, I don’t want to see it, especially if I’m just at the mall getting some frozen yogurt.


It makes me uncomfortable to see a woman’s breasts
Kristie states, “the world shouldn’t have to adjust to what makes you comfortable. If you don’t like it, don’t look”. I agree with her to some extent but doesn’t the same hold true for the extreme lactivists? Do the people not wanting to see exposed breasts just need to adjust? As for the “if you don’t like it don’t look” philosophy, I agree that I shouldn’t continue  looking at an exposed breast, but there aren’t any flashing lights that say, “warning, don’t look, exposed breasts in 20 meters”. Once I look, I saw.

Women should pump and give in a bottle instead
Kristie raises a great point here, “Pumping is very time consuming, expensive and uncomfortable. Have you tried to heat a bottle with a hungry baby? Lifting your shirt and feeding your child takes seconds. No crying!” I don’t think women should have to do this if it doesn’t work for them.

But then here is where my friend and I differ.

Women should cover up
“Try something for me”, Kristie says, “pour yourself a glass of milk, lay down, cover your head with a blanket and try to drink. Is it comfortable?”

It’s true, we don’t eat like that but only because we can’t. Trust me, if I could, I probably wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. Kristie goes on to say, “this comment is usually said by someone who has never tried feeding a squirmy baby under a cover. I’ll be honest, I tried multiple times to feed [my daughter] under a cover. Every time she would unlatch, pull the blanket away, cry…all while I was spraying milk everywhere soaking my shirt. It was a disaster.”

She’s right about that. I haven’t been in that situation with a screaming hungry baby who needs eye contact to eat. But is it necessary to have experienced something to have an opinion about it? If that was true how would we be able to discuss issues or concepts such as poverty or the future?

But then Kristie explained how she breastfeeds. Wearing a tank top under her shirt, she doesn’t lift her shirt until her daughter is in position. Onlookers can apparently only see the back of her daughter’s head. Kristie has tried to think of a compromise.


But the lady beside me at that event and others I’ve seen like her, I can’t help but think they’re using their baby to prove a point. I know that breastfeeding is an amazing thing. You feed another human being with your own BODY. I get it, it’s cool. But I still don’t need to see actual breasts in the process. When women act like it is necessary, I feel like they’re essentially giving us an F you. Or “the nipple”.

But what do you all think? Should Western society rethink how we look at breasts? Are we trumping individual freedoms by expecting women to cover up? Are lactating women disrespecting others when they don’t? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Subscribe to this blog (also check out my contest page) and stay tuned for part 2 where I explore how long women breastfeed.


Posted by on January 21, 2013 in Uncategorized


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18 responses to “The bare necessities of breast feeding. Or why I don’t want to see your breasts at the mall.

  1. Shannon

    January 22, 2013 at 9:56 am

    Good hot topic!
    This is a common discussion between my husband and I, as we are parents to a 14 month old, who has been breastfeeding since birth.

    I agree with every point that Kristie B brought forward, and our family also encourages breastfeeding anytime, anywhere.

    In the beginning I only breastfed at home, or behind closed doors at friends and families houses trying to not ‘put anyone off”. Anyone with a breastfeeding child knows keeping a cover on is nearly impossible, and being a women who is well endowed, even more of a challenge for me. I spent hours pumping milk for outings adding much unneeded stress to my plate as a new mother. One day after shopping, my 4 month old at the time was wailing in a Second Cup. I hadn’t brought milk, not intending to be out long, and was left with no choice but to breastfeed in the corner. I was left staring at her smiling up to me, happy I wasn’t denying her food. She didn’t care who was around. Why did I?
    From then on, although Im still discreet about it (tank top as well!) I was much more open to breastfeed in public places, it had nothing to do with those around me, in fact when I’m holding my girl, not many things matter aside from her.
    Why do mothers have to compromise what is a natural, primal and instinctual behavior that is normal and a necessity to mammals in general?
    I personally believe that western society has been primarily male influenced for so long that BOTH men and women think of breasts in terms of sexuality first, and functionality second, when in actual fact it should be the opposite.
    However, as with all controversial subjects, there are extremists that many feel are in your face. Breastfeeding women who actively and forwardly make the choice to breastfeed anywhere, are allowing women like me to gain confidence as I tend to my child in the most natural way possible. Some babies graze when eating, so needing the breast readily available is necessary, and if a mother feels like she is in a place where she can offer her breast openly, I applaud her. She is part of normalizing breastfeeding in society.
    In the most stressful situations for children (ie: malls, restaurants etc) breastfeeding is not only a tool for food, but is a fabulous outlet in comforting and calming an overstimulated baby.

    My husband and I agree we want to raise our daughter to view the male and female form without shame and with respect. We believe embracing the natural purpose of a mothers breasts anytime is imperative for that to happen.

    • Poppy Marrins

      January 22, 2013 at 10:29 pm

      Thanks for your thoughtful response Shannon!

  2. Kaitlyn

    January 22, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    I don’t have any kids, so I can’t comment on this as a mother, only as an observer. And to be honest it has always made me feel uncomfortable to see a boob hanging out in public. The place I’ve seen it the most is working in restaurants. The part I struggle with in this scenario is you can’t really fully look away, you still have to refill their drinks, give them their food, etc. I also feel that if I am explicitly looking away that would be noticeable to the mother, who might then take offense that I was putting in so much effort to avoid looking. I prefer to see women covered, but I can understand a mothers point of view as well, and I mean who knows how I’ll feel when I have kids of my own. Sitting here today I think I would feel too self conscious to bare it all, and I would prefer to be covered, for myself and the public. But who knows!

    • Poppy Marrins

      January 22, 2013 at 10:30 pm

      I know what you mean Kaitlyn, perspectives may change once our life circumstances change. However, when people start out modest, it would likely be a big stretch to bare it all.

  3. Scott

    January 22, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    Breastfeed your child, that’s great! Cover yourself up or go somewhere private while you do it.

  4. @Wolf_Mommy

    January 22, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    Modesty is subjective. You may have found what the woman at the mall did distasteful, someone else may not have, she likely didn’t think twice. Everyone has different comfort levels with their own bodies and seeing the bodies of others. The reality is, the more you see breastfeeding in it’s various forms, the less you care about the degree to which a woman is covered. And that’s a good thing. As your lactivist friend pointed out, breastfeeding is difficult for many women. With my first child, a preemie, I found wearing a bra and a shirt were a huge hindrance with his weak latch and my fumbling dexterity. With my second, it’s much easier. Women should be free to breastfeed in public with or without a cover for this reason alone, though there are arguments for other reasons as well.

    Over the span of my advocacy for breastfeeding, I’ve come to see this as a feminist issue. These are MY breasts and I don’t want uninvited sexuality imposed on them, especially when I’m nursing a CHILD. The presence of the child should neutralize any sexual sentiment going on immediately. I find it offensive when people sexualized my breasts while I’m breastfeeding.

    Having said that, I personally am a fairly modest person. I don’t use a cover, I usually unhitch my bra, pull up my shirt and latch my baby on. I don’t think much can be seen, maybe a flash of nipple then mostly the baby’s head. She likes to pull off and latch on again and I try to manouver so that not very much my nipple is seen, but I’m sure some of it is during this behavior on my baby’s part. But she can’t help it, there’s little I can do about it…it’s just the reality of how she nurses. So then what, shall I stay home? Or not breastfeed because of this? If we all agree and understand that breastfeeding is not a sexual act, that it is not an indecent act, why should anyone be telling I am being inappropriate when I nurse in public?

    • Poppy Marrins

      January 22, 2013 at 10:34 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to describe your personal experiences. I think this is an issue where people are really polarized! I’d love to hear your thoughts on part 2 where we will discuss how LONG women breastfeed.

  5. New Momma

    January 23, 2013 at 11:29 am

    Thank you for the interesting read. My perspective on this changed dramatically about 4.5 months ago when I suddenly had my own baby to feed. Breastfeeding is great and amazing but it is hard and exhausting and can be awkward and uncomfortable. While those covers are a great idea, they don’t work for everyone. My baby absolutely hates them and so do I. As someone who doesn’t like to expose myself regardless of the situation, I have learned to plan outings around feedings but this is difficult. And so is breastfeeding. And so is having a new baby. I wish I was a momma who didn’t care. It would be one less challenge in my life. Breastfeeding is hard. If a woman feeding her child in public makes this all a little less challenging, I salute her.

  6. Momma Bear

    January 23, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    I thought about this for awhile before I threw in my two cents. I am a mother of two. While I was unable to breastfeed my children if I was physically able to I would love to have done it. That being said nursing your baby in the bathroom is gross you shouldn’ t have to. However, the reality is no one wants to see your damn boobs. Your boobs are sexual that’s how you got the baby in the first place.

    Just like my husbands penis is a sexual thing it is also used for peeing which is another “normal” bodily function. That doesn’t mean we want to see people peeing in public. Look at it this way would you pull out your boob in front of your dad and say I’m just feeding the baby. If you are comfortable with that and your father is comfortable with that then good on you. But if your dad doesn’t want to see them neither does anyone else.

  7. Mom of Two

    January 24, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    Interesting discussion. And breastfeeding twins adds another layer of complexity. As a mom of two 10 month olds who were exclusively breastfed until 7 months, I found I always had to feed pre-emptively in public. In other words, stagger the feedings so I don’t end up with two screaming, hungry babies. Covers may work alright for a singleton, but I have yet to find a cover that makes tandem breast-feeding discrete.

    Once babies reach a certain age, they are also way too interested in what is happening around them for them to be content under a cover. When I use a cover in public, they think we’re playing “peek-a-boo”! Now I like to use finger foods and a sippy cup with water when possible.

    I’m interested in reading next month’s blog on length of breastfeeding. Nursing my twins has been one of the most rewarding — and challenging — experiences of my life. We’re now at 10 months and going strong… can’t imagine giving it up yet.

    • Shannon

      January 24, 2013 at 3:20 pm

      I just wanted to say that I think it’s incredible that you have been nursing twins for 10 months! Breastfeeding is one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced, and although I love it, it can be incredibly difficult and I can’t help but admire someone who is doing it with twins.

  8. Amy

    January 25, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    Trust me i was the most modest of them all! I found breastfeeding disgusting, i guess because of society, upbringing etc….But im also very into health and natural things so when i got pregnant i told my husband “i will try but if i dont like it ill stop”….this absolutely makes me laugh now! i could never deny my child all the benefits and I slowly became confident in doing it anytime anyplace. I got familiar with a few mums who felt the same which helped alot! There were still the friends who were too uptight and judgemental about it, and their husbands even worse, but i backed off from them a bit.
    I also spent days agonising over the perfect thing to wear when i gave birth so i could still keep my top half covered..I was so worried after seeing all these photos snd videos of women lying there with their top half exposed. I heard the stories that once it happens you wont care….yeh right i wont!!! anyways i was still covered but when it came time to try and feed my baby i had to uncover and i tell ya what, he pood on me from the way from my vagina to my boob and not only did i not care about that but i did not care about the semi nakedness! Just pointing out that as one of the most modest woman out there you will definately change how you feel! Provided you have support i guess. My husband was very supportive and even encouraged me to breastfeed in a food hall when i felt too embarrassed to. Next time round i would never let a little baby cry or wait for food. You live and you learn!
    But support is the key and by the time all the modest people get round to having kids and changing their ideas-its a slow process! It needs to be instilled in our daughters and sons how normal it is, so they keep passing these ideas down.

  9. Heather (your argumentative video store friend)

    January 26, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    Thank you for the balanced and thoughtful read! Its interesting that while you admit your lactivist friend makes some compelling arguments, your reservations ultimately come down to feelings of discomfort. And while I’m sympathetic to these feelings, discomfort is problematic as an argument for, or against anything. Discomfort can have many different sources, some legitimate, some not. Some people are uncomfortable seeing others in sock and sandals, or people with face tattoos. Some are made uncomfortable by homosexuals holding hands in public. These feelings of discomfort are related to personal hang-ups that can not be anticipated by the “perpetrators”. The truth is, none of these examples are doing any real harm, and I would argue that the responsibility is with the person who is uncomfortable: both to address their hang-ups, and find peace with the things that bother them. And as many of the commentators above have mentioned, breastfeeding undercover comes with a whole multitude of frustrations, and complications. That’s a level of discomfort that might trump that of the innocent bystander getting an accidental peek.

    Personally, I am not made uncomfortable by public breastfeeding (just as I am not made uncomfortable by the naked breasts of strangers in movies or swimming pool change rooms). The mental associations I make with breastfeeding are some of the most positive thoughts I can muster, ones of nurturing, bonding, affection, and commitment. These are the feelings that overwhelm me when I see a mother nursing, and although I would never stare (out of respect for the woman), I truly believe it’s a beautiful thing. Sex never enters the mind, although I acknowledge that breasts can be quite sexual in other situations.

    As I have learned over recent months (through much reading, no first hand experience yet) breastfeeding can be incredibly difficult and frustrating. Many strong and determined women have tried and quit. When my child is born, nursing effectively will be priority #1 through #100 for me, and the discomfort of others will be, oh… most likely not even on my radar. I will not be rubbing it in anyone’s face (and I seriously doubt there is anything but a miniscule minority of women who are intentionally doing that), but I will be doing what is right for me an my baby knowing that what I am doing, and how I chose to do it is not actually hurting anyone anywhere. In fact, it may be doing the good work of normalizing breastfeeding in our culture.

    Perhaps I am misinterpreting your position, and if I am, I’m sorry. But the situation you described seems to be nothing more than an issue of awkwardness, to which I would reply with the utmost affection and respect: get over it. Better yet, embrace it. Awkwardness is a part of life, and always will be. Choosing to be okay with it is more affective than fighting it.

    • Poppy Marrins

      January 26, 2013 at 9:54 pm

      Freedom of expression can also be met with freedom of reply, which I guess leaves us in a vicious circle of differences.

      The issue of breastfeeding is more multifaceted than I originally thought; it isn’t just about whose discomfort gets the trump card. The purpose of interviewing my friend Kristie, who is very different than me, was to start a dialogue about the two sides of the debate and open the floor for discussion. I’m so glad that this post was able to accomplish that.

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply Heather, our discussions are always a pleasure!

  10. Kristin

    May 15, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    Would love to use the pic on here of the baby at the breast for education advocating breastfeeding. Is that possible?

    • Poppy Marrins

      May 16, 2013 at 9:53 am

      I just used a picture that I found on google images. I don’t even know the original source. So go for it, but I recommend trying to find and cite the original source if you can! That’s always the best thing to do. Thanks for visiting my blog!

  11. Angel

    June 2, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    As a mom of 3 and 38 weeks with 4 I can speak with a lot of experience I think covers are great for the starting feeding and the end not so good for during most baby’s won’t put up with it but baby also covers the mom during that time if the mom is completely exposed that’s not ok it sounds like what you saw was a mom who needed to help her baby get on I have not and will not just hang my self out there but I will make my self and my baby happy

  12. Kamilee

    April 4, 2015 at 9:31 am

    I feel like breastfeeding has many advantages, & can enhance a bond & promote health. I do not like seeing breasts. I’m probably too conservative, but I don’t want to see other women’s boobs. I agree with the penis comment. I also feel like if I were in a work scenario feeling harassed, for the smallest thing, I would have a valid & credible aruement. This is not the case with full-frontal breastfeeding, however. My opinion is vilified for being against women’s rights. Where are my rights, then, to eat across from, & have a conversation with, my sister-in-law, whose large breasts are taking up most of the picture?


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