It was this Facebook post, and many like it around the internet, that first brought my attention to this ongoing debate.
The June edition of Elle magazine sparked controversy this month as there were two printed versions of the front cover. One for general release, showed model Nicole Trunfio holding her baby son, while the second version, exclusively for subscribers to the magazine, showed mother breastfeeding.
As a 24 year old male with no children, I have no reason to have a strong opinion either for or against breastfeeding in public. So it is fair to say I am taking an impartial approach. I wasn’t surprised by the great number of responses that came from women in support of breastfeeding in public. A small number were actively against the subscriber’s edition, complaining that it was indecent and not appropriate for a magazine cover.
Still a taboo
Breastfeeding is better for your baby, fact. The milk contains antibodies which strengthens your baby’s immune system while also building the relationship between mother and baby. However, despite the obvious benefits only 32.07% of children are exclusively breastfed in the first 6 months of their life, according to a study conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Evidently, breastfeeding in public is still a contentious issue. Many mothers feel too embarrassed to do it in public, or will choose not to in order avoid being harassed. This opinion and attitude, of course differs from country to country, an issue we have touched on before.
Lack of education and exposure
Interestingly, the vast majority of positive responses and attitudes in regards to breastfeeding in public were flooding in from women from across the world. For those in the opposing group, their main arguments stemmed from their belief that breastfeeding in public was indecent, with some even comparing it to urinating/defecating.
I think that much of the controversy boils down to a lack of education and exposure, especially in the more conservative countries. A research paper on male attitudes to breastfeeding found that men who had siblings who were breastfed and had witnessed ten or more different women breastfeeding were far more accepting of it in public. The studies suggest that the attitude that breastfeeding is wrong/disgusting develops directly from parents trying to hide it away from their children.
One man’s opinion
Maybe it is my liberal leanings, but after reading all this information I believe that it is ultimately the mother’s decision. They should be able to feed their child when, where and how they please. I have read some ridiculous comments for both sides of this argument (For breastfeeding: formula is apparently 100% poison, and for those against breastfeeding: a woman breastfeeding in public is so aggressively intrusive that it is impossible to look at anything else).
Ultimately, I think a lack of education or in many cases narrow mindedness is the real problem here. The more society forces women to breastfeed out of sight and the less we discuss it, the easier it is for people to believe that it is something wrong and unnatural.
It seems strange to me that in this day and age, we as a society can not deal with the sight of a breast in public, and that for some people it is the height of offence. Quite frankly, we need to grow up and leave the feeding to the parent.