Breast-Feeding Controversy: The Fight to Nourish in Public

ByABC News via logo

July 18, 2006 — -- Although studies show that breast-feeding is healthy for both mother and child, 57 percent of the public are uncomfortable with public breast-feeding, according to Babytalk magazine.

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests mothers feed their babies breast milk exclusively in their first six months.

Breast-feeding in public is not outlawed in any state; however, 42 states have laws that specifically protect a woman's right to breast-feed in public.

Still, moms across the country are being asked to stop nourishing in public places.

Some Texas mothers demonstrated outside of a mall where a security guard demanded a mom cover herself while nursing her 4-month-old baby. Other similar peaceful protests have been called "nurse-ins."

"Pumping and nursing is very time-consuming," said Susan Kane, Babytalk's editor in chief. "A baby needs to feed every two hours. Then you burp and change, and before you know it, it's time to start again. That is your job, and everyone else around you needs to support you."

This year's National Breast-feeding Awareness Campaign was also met with controversy.

One of its ads shows a pregnant woman clutching her belly as she is thrown off a mechanical bull during Ladies' Night at a bar and compares the behavior to failing to breast-feed.

"You wouldn't take risks before your baby's born," the advertisement says. "Why start after?"

Even some public breast-feeding advocates don't agree with the ad.

"My generation was raised on formula," Kane said. "Breast-feeding is better, but this demonizing [of] formula is ridiculous."

Kane said that 82 percent of babies switched back and forth between breast milk and formula.

It is not "all or nothing," she said.

There are many health benefits to breast-feeding.

Breast milk protects babies from colds, flu, ear and repertory infections, pneumonia, diarrhea, and even obesity, doctors say.

It also helps mothers burn up to 500 calories a day. Some studies show extended breast-feeding reduces risk of ovarian and breast cancer, as well as Type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.

But, the breast is equated with sex. Though 70 percent of women try to breast-feed -- and most stop before they want to -- people feel uncomfortable when a woman exposes herself in public.

"It goes down to 36 percent at six months -- basically cut in half," Kane said. "Then by a year, it's only 17 percent still breast-feeding."

Kane said that 45 percent of women stopped because of physical problems, such as cracked and bleeding nipples. Others stopped because they worked and did not have the time.

"Most workplaces are not accommodating," she said. "You need a private place to pump. Sixty percent of women with small kids are in the workplace full time. You have to make a living. Then on top of it, you've got that negative public attitude."

Mothers who breast-feed, Kane said, need support, not public insecurity, especially when they return to work.

"And of all moms who had breast-fed, 90 percent of the ones who went back to work full time didn't make it to six months," she said. "They just don't have the support."

For more information, visit the Babytalk Web site.