Boobies: To See or Not to See

A Facebook friend recently posted a poll that asked, “Do you think women should be forced to cover up when breastfeeding in public?”

The Facebook friend voted “YES” in the poll. Here are some of the comments that came out of that posting.

I’m not saying don’t breastfeed ladies, so don’t get your panties in a wad. I’m just saying cover it up, everyone out there doesn’t want to see your kid suckle your teat. I know it’s a natural thing, but you know what? Takin’ a dump is a natural thing too but you don’t see me doin’ it in public do you?

There is nothing wrong with breastfeeding in public, but it is offensive when women spill out the entire breast for the world to few. It is private, sweet moments shared between a mother and her child and should stay that way. Be respectful of yourself and others, use something to cover yourself.

As for breastfeeding, I think it’s very nice and lovely for all concerned. Personally, I don’t care to see it being done, especially in public

I really don’t care if you don’t cover it up ladies, as long as you don’t care if I peek. Deal?

I was kind of flummoxed at these reactions. Why does anyone care whether or not a little boob gets exposed while a mother is trying to breastfeed her baby? First of all, I’m pretty sure most women would prefer to do it somewhere quiet, comfortable and private because it’s just better all around for the whole process. But sometimes, your kiddie gets hungry when you’re out and about (and they do tend to not always follow a rigidly prescribed schedule). The babe in question gets cranky and commences to wailing and there is no private place available except the public washroom which is nasty, so you sit yourself down in a public thoroughfare and do what needs to be done.

Again, I’m pretty sure no nursing mother wants to flash the general public, but sometimes it can’t be helped, especially if the kiddie is a bit older and doesn’t like having a blanket over its head.

So,  some boobie will make an appearance —  if you’re paying close attention and have trouble averting your eyes. Why is this a problem?  Breasts are not offensive. Men let them hang out all the time. Feeding a child is not the same sort of “natural process” as taking a dump. Breastfeeding, as another commenter pointed out, doesn’t leave behind a stinky pile of poop for you to clean up.

Yes, many people think boobies are sexual organs and therefore apparently need to be kept behind closed doors or on the pages of  Playboy, but boobies are also essential to the nurturing of infants and toddlers – in fact, my research indicates that this is, in fact, their primary biological purpose!!!!!

So, why does this issue inflame and offend so many people?

35 responses to “Boobies: To See or Not to See

  1. AMEN!! I nursed all three of my kids in private and in public, most people didn’t even know they were nursing cause I’d let my blouse fall down to their face level. That is what boobs are for, only our culture makes them sexual.

  2. I get that the whole breastfeeding thing is good and natural and best for baby, but in public, I don’t particularly want to see the breast that’s doing the feeding. Maybe it’s because I’ve subconsciously bought into the breast-as-sexual-object culture, I don’t know. I’m not mortally offended when I do see it (after all, I have breasts too – I have a good general idea of what they look like), I would just prefer not to. I would also prefer not to see butt cheeks and cracks in public places too, but I may be in the minority there as well, judging by what I see downtown.

  3. I’ve read a couple of articles lately that say young French women, mostly, do not want to go topless on the beach any more. I wonder if this is part of the same thing.
    I have breastfed in public, for the reasons you cite, as discreetly as a hungry, kicking kid would allow. If faced with a challenge, I think I would have snarled something like ‘Don’t look if you find this offensive’. I must say is puzzles me a lot that people react with this ‘because it’s a private thing’ reasoning. My mother-in-law tried to insist that I take the baby behind closed doors to feed her; when she came to my house, she had to sit there and suffer while I nursed in the living room.
    Just as an aside — breastfeeding does indeed lead to a pile of poo, eventually. And the baby does it in public.

  4. I thought boobies were meant to be play-things for us knuckle-dragging horny males.

    But using them to make MILK?

    Huh…..Somehow, that doesn’t seem…well….NATURAL.

  5. i’ve wondered that myself for a long time. i do recall seeing it happen at a young age and being terrified (not sure why). probably b/c i was raised catholic and nakedness might send me straight to hell.

    i have no issue with public breast feeding and i completely agree (as a mom that breast fed) that no nursing mother wants anyone looking at their boobs.

    i think some people just are uncomfortable with it and rather than deal with their own shit, they have to put it off as the fault of another person.

  6. Connie – It’s crazy, isn’t it that looking at swimsuit models with barely a strip of fabric covering the nipples is “desirable and sexy”; teenagers and even older women revealing as much cleavage as possible is “beautiful”; but a woman revealing a little, but probably less, breast while feeding her baby is “offensive”.

    Pinklea – You are perfectly entitled to feel however you want to feel about the things you see and experience. That’s cool. You, at least have some understanding that it might your issue that you feel that way — not a universal truth – and are not of a mind to “force” women to cover up just so you don’t experience a moment of discomfort. I’m also not real thrilled about men walking around topless in malls or downtown and, if I’m being perfectly honest, there are a lot of bodies and body bits and bodies squeezed into a lot of different clothing types that I’d rather not see, but that’s my problem and I’m perfectly aware that it would be really self-righteous of me to try to impose my preferences on everyone else.

    Mary – You are my hero! All the things you’ve been through and dragged yourself out of at a time when women weren’t allowed to be all that assertive. We really have to have lunch some time. Seriously, let me know when you’re in the city next. (And yes, ha ha on the poo. And those diapers full of poo)

    Friar – I know, I know, eh? Women are really out of control these days. Back in the day the establishment worked so damn hard to convince women to reserve those jugs for their menfolk and that babies were much better off with Carnation Evaporated Milk mixed with a little corn syrup. And what did we do? Defied the rules and started using the boobies as milking machines again. Now they’re all misshapen and messed up with stretch-marks and then we complain when our men decide they find a young 20-something more desirable. Sheesh.

    Dr. Monkey – Understood.

    Leah – Exactly. Just because you (or whoever) reacts badly/uncomfortably to something or is offended by something, doesn’t mean the thing itself is inherently bad or offensive. Like I said to someone earlier, there are a lot of things that offend me at some level, but I can’t make the whole world adhere to some arbitrary code of conduct just to make me feel better. That would be scary.

  7. My poor grandfather used to stare at the walls and the ceiling and his hands and the floor whenever I breastfed in front of him. He never said anything, and neither did I, but his embarrassment filled every nook and cranny of the room.

    I think some people are uncomfortable with breastfeeding because it takes breasts out of context for them. They like to look at breasts and feel sexual. Nice and simple and uncomplicated. Throwing a baby into the mix just complicates everything. It’s taboo to feel sexual while looking at a baby but they automatically feel sexual while looking at a breast. To see a baby sucking on what they perceive to be a sex organ, well, it turns them on and creeps them out and makes them feel all perverted and ashamed. And then, because they can’t deal with their own confusion and shame, they feel angry at the woman, because she’s ‘forcing’ them to look at something that arouses such anxiety in them.

    That’s my theory anyway.

  8. I find this very infuriating. To liken nursing with taking a crap? I suppose this commenter would expect women to sit in a cruddy bathroom stall to nurse. Downright offensive and perfectly ignorant.

    Maybe he/she should start eating his lunch in a bathroom stall and see how he likes it.

    I’ve had to nurse in public before. It’s not a choice women make lightly. I mean, it’s not like we want to flash the public. But it’s life.

    People like this? Make me want to take out my offensive nursing vessels and hit him in the head with it.


  9. I breastfed in public tons of times and tried to be reasonably discreet about it. I’m a reasonably shy about exposing myself, though, so that was about keeping myself comfortable. On the other hand, I’m perfectly fine about other people feeding their babies in public, even if they do expose a bit more boob than I would.

    Sometimes it wasn’t easy to be discreet. I distinctly remember both kids going through a phase at about 4 months when they would get distracted REALLY easily. Whilst in full-suck mode, they would suddenly let go to look around a bit, while the milk continued to squirt out in a geyser-like fashion. During that phase I tried my best to find a quiet, solitary place to breastfeed when I was away from home. Again, that was for my own comfort since I was sort of mortified by the whole squirting milk thing if it happened in public (when not in public, I was more fascinated in a “holy crap, does that stuff ever shoot far!” kind of way). LOL…Apologies if that was graphic.

  10. This is offensive because women’s bodies and anything to do with them or for them are supposed to be controlled by men. There is very little money to be made from breastfeeding and so it is inherently bad.
    Men are often not allowed to have fun with the breasts when they are in this mode and that is inherently bad.
    And further more the law was changed in Ontario to allow women to walk around topless but hardly any of them do it. Why? Because they know we would like it and so their refusal to expose themselves for our pleasure is inherently bad.
    Therefor it is only right that they should not expose themselves for something as trivial as feeding their babies.

  11. My mother would be offended, I’m sure. She is actually breast obssessed. She points out every pair of implants on television and every pair that is overexposed.
    The reason—-
    My father was breast obssessed. He touched every breast he could, fell off the toilet if Dolly Parton happened to come on tv while he was in the bathroom and spent hours flipping channels to find a pair of breasts.
    The problem—-
    Mom had breast cancer (five separate cancers in one breast). She had implants that ruptured, etc etc, so she has no breasts. Now, because she has no breasts, I really think she feels insecure about this whole thing and wants everyone to cover everything. I feel bad for her, I really do.

  12. Zoom – I think you’re probably right. It’s a good theory. I don’t know what else it could be. It was nice of your grandpa not to make a real issue out of it considering how embarrassed he was.

    Skygirl – Yes, it would be much better for everyone if nursing mothers had to wear some sort of breastfeeding burka so as not to inflame the passions of passersby.

    Mary Lynn – Ha! I remember when mine did that, too. Big slurpy popping sound as head turned to see what was going on. Milk everywhere. No need to apologize at all.

    Bandobras – Thank you for that very succinct synopsis. I get that it makes some people uncomfortable. They’re perfectly free to feel uncomfortable, as long as they recognize that just because they’re uncomfortable with something doesn’t mean we all have to conform to something that will make them comfortable. Maybe seeing two men kissing makes you uncomfortable. Maybe seeing a mixed race couple makes you uncomfortable. Maybe seeing women draped head to toe in black makes you uncomfortable. Maybe seeing a really obese person eating at the next table to you in a restaurant makes you uncomfortable. These are all your issues. Deal with them. (Ya, that little rant wasn’t directed at you – I just used the comment as a forum)

    Savanvleck – Sheesh! I find myself saying that a lot to you and the stuff that happens in your life. I’m sorry your mom feels that way. And I’m sorry that your dad probably helped make her feel worse than she ordinarily would have. They’re just pockets of fat, people!!!

  13. Some Moms are quite good at breast-feeding in public. They’re discrete, they don’t’ make a big deal of it. You can sit right next to them, and you hardly even realize they’re nursing. .

    But some Moms (I’ve known a few) are a bit “in-your-face” about it. They whip the things out, and expect everyone to acknowledge them.

    Hey, lookit me, World. I’m breastfeeding. I’m so PLEASED with myself….Pay attention to ME. I’m a Mom. I’m the ONLY person on the world who’s ever done this. Lookit Lookit Lookit. And don’t you DARE comment.

    Another person I know made such a big deal of weaning their kid. They celebrated with a CAKE. And announced it on Facebook for the whole world to see. And said what a big event this was…

    The kid was four and a half.

    You know, when Junior’s old enough to cut his meat with a knife and fork and eat cake, maybe it’s time to loosen the apron strings.

    But that’s just my opinion.

    (*okay, rant over*)

  14. My son’s face covers more of my boob when nursing than what I see hanging out all over campus on frosh week.

  15. I think Zoom has a really good point too. And ‘in your face’ nursing moms (just about any ‘in your face’ type, frankly) both amuse and annoy me.
    The worse adversity I had to overcome with breastfeeding was that I had no nursing mother peers (my friends all used bottles but one) and no advice – mother, grandmother, MIL, all used bottles. Home visiting and hospital nurses, AND my doctor, all without any good advice. Doctor full of bad advice. After I had figured it out myself, mostly, a La Leche League was set up in the city where I lived.
    This is a great thread; I keep coming back to see what’s new. And about lunch? Love to. Will figure out a schedule and email you.

  16. One of the few things I am pleased that the Scottish Parliament has done is to make it illegal here to interfere with a woman breastfeeding in public. That said, I doubt many women would want to make a public spectacle of it anyway.

  17. I’m surprised this bothers people, but I’ll go with Zoom’s theory. I do remember once that my neck got sore on the airplane from trying NOT to look at the woman breastfeeding beside me. I breastfed for 5 months but always did it at home. If people were over I did it in the bedroom. Doing it in public never came up. Why would I be dragging an infant around in the germy world?

  18. Friar, Friar, Friar – Do you talk like this in front of the Panther? You were doing so well there in your first comment. The in-your-face, first-person-ever-to-do-this thing is something new parents do about all aspects of parenting, not just breastfeeding. Being a new parent is a scary, exciting, freaky, amazing, fun and confusing time. Despite everything you’ve seen and heard over the years, it’s all so incredible and so incredibly new to you that you sometimes can’t help but be really obnoxious about the fabulous joys of parenting. So, I’m just sayin’ it’s not just about the breastfeeding. And, when you’ve been breastfeeding for 4 ½ years by jove you deserve a cake and a little bragging. Because all those years you couldn’t really drink or consume too much caffeine or use any drugs whatsoever no matter how sick you got. People who follow a child-led weaning/toilet training/etc., model aren’t forcing their kids to nurse for 4 ½ years – they leave it up to the child to wean him/herself. By that time it’s not really about nourishment anymore, but more about bonding and soothing and to me it seems so much nicer than popping a pacifier in your child’s mouth when it’s bedtime. I think anything that keeps children need a lot more parental closeness than they get most of the time. They’re ripped out of the womb and plopped into a cold, dark, gated bed all alone and left to cry themselves to sleep with their little plastic soothie. Anyway, that’s another blog post, so I’ll stop now.

    SDI-PRS – What a mysterious pseudonym…and yes, interesting isn’t it?

    Mary – Zoom almost always has good points. The thing about in-your-face types is that they’re the people who push the envelope and make change happen. If we all just skulk in dark corners being discrete, women would still be wearing ankle-length dresses and corsets. It’s the loud, outspoken, obnoxious, in-your-face people who drive change. Yes, they are over-the-top (like the militant feminists of the 60’s, the black panthers, the grey panthers, the militant gays) but they make everyone sit up and take notice and push, push, push for social change. Squeaky wheel and all that…

    Loth – Well, I certainly never strung up a banner and made a public service announcement when I had to do it in public. It’s really much nicer to breastfeed at home or in a quiet, cosy spot. But not always possible, unless you never go out (and some older people advocate mother and child not leaving the home for the first 6 months).

    Geewits – Well, did you never have to shop in all those 5 months or visit people or go to the doctor or just outside to the park or to a play group or anywhere? Yes, of course, I always tried to wait until we were home (and only because it was more relaxing for both of us) and most of the time I managed to arrange things so that we were, but it wasn’t always possible. And yes, I was really surprised at how much it bothers people, too – which is why I thought it was worth a blog post

  19. Women aren’t breastfeeding in a covert attempt to ‘flash’ anyone bits if their body that should not be seen in public. As has been mentioned already, there are many other instances where butt cheeks, cracks, overhanging bellies and man-boobs are deliberately on display which should best be discreetly covered.

    And, by the way, the way some people eat in public is way more offensive than a baby feeding.

  20. again the in your face people drive me batty. this one woman at the mall was just BEGGING for attention when she was baby-talking at her little baby “does baby want some yummy ummy milk???does baby want boobies???” while feeding her baby. i have no problem with nursing your baby in public, just keep the inane dialogue to yourself.

  21. I nursed in public when I had to… all-time low was being offered a chair to nurse in the effing bathroom at Target, um… do you eat your lunch in the bathroom? I didn’t think so. I was totally discreet and comfortable in public, not showy at all as Friar mentioned, although that is annoying, I’ll agree. My baby was pure heaven to take out; we even nursed in church. Hey, it was good enough for Jesus…. come on people, face facts.

  22. @XUP

    Well, then. Why not keep nursing till five. Six. Or ten?

    Who’s to say what’s the right age? By all means, let the CHILDREN decide.

    With that approach, you’ll end up changing their diapers till they’re almost six.

    (Which is what exactly happened to that parent I know).

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    2) I was hoping we could use your ‘scribing’ talent for our website.

    The Best Shows Youre Not Watching (dot) com [all one word]

    ‘The Clone Wars’ is one of our featured shows. We’re hoping to round up a few people who can occasionally contribute perspective (via an article/blog) on the shows – maybe a recent episode, future direction, plot shortcomings etc.

    What’s in it for you?
    Primarily a larger audience back channeled to your blog. We don’t pay but the site has a lot of promise and we’re pretty excited about getting it off the ground. Let me know what you think.


  24. I had some doctor appointments, but fed her before. I stayed home the rest of the time. She was an only child so I had no need for playgroups or parks. Surely people don’t take a newborn only child to a park? What’s the purpose in that? As for shopping, I sent my husband or left her with him. I do remember getting a big wet spot on the right one as I was checking out at the grocery store once.

  25. Violetsky – I always thought breastfeeding was more about the feeding than the breast part, but apparently some people have had in-your-face experiences which have scarred them for life.

    Meanie – Again, that’s a little odd, but people carry on all sorts of inane babble with babies, so why not when they’re feeding? All part of the fun of being immersed in the public.

    Alias – I don’t even like going to the bathroom in places like that. I sure wouldn’t nurse there.

    Friar – Believe it or not, toddlers and even babies are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. Self-weaning can occur anywhere from age one to about 4/5. Once they go to school they very rarely feel the desire to rush home at lunchtime for a little top-up. Most kids, at some point, also want to stop wearing diapers. Sure, you encourage them, but you don’t have to follow any sort of program. At about 2 ½ my daughter announced one morning that she wanted to wear big girl panties from now on and she did. She had 2 minor accidents that first week and that was it. No trauma. No anxiety. I also let her self-wean. Once she started eating regular food she wasn’t all that interested in the boob anymore except as a soothing thing.

    BSW – You must have me confused with a blog that actually did an article on The New Adventures of old Christine. Thank you.

    Geewits – You were a lot more organized than me, I guess. And I pretty much had to take her along if I went out since there was no one to leave her with. But ya, I took my baby outdoors every day for fresh air. When she was 5 or 6 months and could sit up she’d enjoy watching the kids playing or we’d sit on a swing together or on the grass.

  26. BSW- I wrote an article about that show, but I’m thinking you haven’t read it unless you are my LiveJournal friend.

  27. Late to the party. As your readers have noted, it’s all about perspective. I haven’t seen that many women breastfeeding in public but until now, all I’ve done is accept it and move on. But now I wonder if I should do a little more. If the woman looks comfortable, then I don’t need to do anything. But if she looks worried, then maybe I could ask if I can help with maybe standing or sitting somewhere to shield her a little from gawkers? Like, if it was a mall and she was sitting on a bench, I could stand to one side and block the view? I do something similar, occasionally, when I am driving a car and find myself behind someone on a motorcycle. I “block” for them, by staying behind them (instead of passing) so other drivers can’t get too close. Unless they are driving a Harley in which case it is just too darned loud to stay behind them. (I have a motorcycle license and I know how vulnerable those guys are, out there. Like bicycles, only faster.)

  28. yeah, but sometimes i feel like people like that are looking for an audience. i just don’t like attention seekers much i guess (non-breastfeeders included).

  29. I don’t know, maybe it’s more prevalent here in Quebec, but I see women breast feeding all the time. No one seems to give it a second thought (or glance as the case may be). I see people chewing with their mouths open all the time, which I find a helluva lot more offensive…

    Besides, breasts are primarily supposed to be lunch boxes aren’t they?

  30. Alias – Ha ha. SPAM is so stupid.

    Julia – Do people actually gawk? When I did it, I just noticed people looking away in embarrassment most of the time. Anyway, I don’t think nursing mothers need to be hidden away or shielded. The more they’re seen the more likely that people will learn to get over themselves and accept breastfeeding as a normal part of life. But you could always sit yourself next to the nursing mother just so she doesn’t feel alone. Maybe she’ll want to chat or maybe that would distract the baby. You’d have to play it by ear.

    Meanie – Where would the world be without performers, eh?

    Jazz – I’m not surprised Montreal is more comfortable with normal life stuff. The whole city is so much more European that way. It still surprises me how that old puritanical streak is alive and well in most North American society.

  31. i think bandobras nailed it already, but i have to say: if you are looking around in public and see something you’d rather not? my advice to you is to look the other way. it’s really not that difficult. judging everyone you see sure is time-consuming, tho. i ride the bus, you know. i see and hear things every day i’d rather not hear or see. but i’m not the Tyrant of Trimet, and so i just turn up my headphones and look out the window.

    anyone who compares nursing to taking a shit, or thinks babies should feed in restrooms is welcome to take their own meal in there and enjoy the ambience. just so they know what they’re asking women to do with their days. small babies nurse, a lot. often. not necessarily for long, either. if you have to do all the feeding in private, you would never go anywhere, which is total bullshit. most moms who nurse toddlers don’t go in public anyway because (a) toddlers are generally able to wait and (b) few women want to expose themselves to vicious shit-talk about themselves nursing.

    i get so tired of this attitude: ‘why can’t you weird women-people do your womanly things where we don’t have to see it?!?’ um, because we have a right to live? in public even. holy fucking hell.

    @XUP, sorry if this sounds hostile, topfree equality is one of my campaigns in life. also, beating down the theory that breasts belong to men and therefore anything we do with them for ourselves we need a decency license to do it. those people can fuck off, especially the ones who don’t argue against tits showing in absolutely every commercial enterprise they’re used for.

  32. Hallie – Like I said before, feel free to be hostile here anytime you want.

    “judging everyone you see sure is time-consuming” – har har har

    Anyway, I totally agree. Interestingly, did you know that in 1991 a university student in Ontario was arrested for walking down the street topless on a hot day (trying to make a point). She fought a long, hard court battle, with a lot of support and was finally acquitted in 1996 and it’s now legal for women to be topless in Ontario. Gwen Jacobs was our fearless, topless leader’s name. I wonder what she’s up to these days?

  33. Wow… late to the party on this one… (I’m way behind on blogs. Sorry.)

    You know I had such a hard time breast feeding (I am actually biologically broken, and well, these boobs are just for show) that there is no way I would do it in public. And to make both my father, father-in-law and grandfather comfortable, I would in fact leave the room. It just wasn’t worth it. We’d all feel like shit and well, I didn’t need the “we’re not looking at your breasts.”

    It grates when some women treat breastfeeding as a political act, but every woman should have the right to do it, whenever and wherever she chooses.

    (I think it a bit odd, that kids are still breastfeeding once they are eating a complete diet. There was a clip with a woman who was still breastfeeding her children you were like 9 and 6… that in the public I would definitely creepy.)