Kasey Kahne and Target 'Nurse-Ins': Why Is Public Breast-Feeding Still an Issue?


The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mothers exclusively breast-feed their babies for six months, and continue nursing for at least one year, or as long as is mutually desired, after introducing solid foods. Forty-five states have laws that specifically allow women to breast-feed in either public or private areas, and 28 states have specific clauses that exempt nursing mothers from public indecency exposure laws.

Full details can be found on the website of National Conference of State Legislatures, a non-governmental organization that provides research for policymakers, HERE.

Hausman said the reason people might be uncomfortable or disgusted by seeing a woman breast-feed in public is that the practice is framed as an intimate moment between mother and child, and when done in public is viewed as a women "subjecting other people to their bodies."

Another issue, Hausman said, is that in our "medically regulated culture," breast milk is perceived as a bodily fluid, and therefore is disgusting and something to be feared.

While some advocates who support public breast-feeding ask that the woman cover herself while doing it as a sort of compromise, Hausman said this was imposing another rule.

"The message is very confusing: 'You should breastfeed, but you should cover up so no one knows what you're doing,'" Hausman said. "The question is, why is it necessary to cover up, why is that such a big issue, when women who are nursing are more covered up than women who are walking on the beach."

The debate about whether it is appropriate for nursing mothers to breast-feed in public areas has raged for decades and public opinion on breast-feeding in open areas has changed dramatically with time.

"Sesame Street" aired an episode in 1977 when (human) character Buffy breast-fed son Cody in public, without covering the baby, in an effort to explain to Big Bird that the baby was drinking milk from her breast. In a later '70s episode, character Maria explains breast-feeding to another (human) child, while covering herself as she nurses her baby. At the time, it was hailed as a positive, educational way for teaching children about the practice.

Hausman said breast-feeding was at its lowest in the 1970s and there was a huge push at the time to do more education and promote the practice. She added that pro-breast-feeding communities also thought kids should remember being breast-fed, so there were many attempts to include it in children's books and plays.

"It's somewhere in their subconscious that they remember being breast-fed ... and that's important for normalizing it for future generations," Hausman said.

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