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What’s the issue with breastfeeding in public?

It’s a HOT day in North Queensland. The families flock to the public pools. Bright umbrellas, laughter, the odd cry and colour everywhere. It’s a beautiful day in Australia.

A young boy is in the toddler pool with his mother and another two children. He is bigger than the others. And louder, but in a strange way. He grunts, loudly, frequently, shouts but the words are unintelligible. He lies on his stomach and splashes. And occasionally punctuates the cheery noise with “No, no NO.”

One little girl in pink swimmers with a frilly skirt and blonde pigtails frowns at the boy and then whispers in her mother’s ear. Her mother gazes thoughtfully at the other family and then slowly but purposefully walks to the kiosk.

Minutes later a young staff member in a yellow polo shirt approaches the family. “This is a toddler pool. Your son is too big to be here. We have had a complaint that his behaviour is upsetting other pool users. I think you would be more comfortable in the other pool.” The mother explains that her child has a mental and physical disability and that she is concerned for his safety in deeper water. The staff member apologises and leaves, and later returns with complimentary ice-creams for the whole family.  He smiles and says “I am so sorry – we didn’t intend to discriminate against you or your son.”

This is a story. But the discrimination issue is real. For people of other racial backgrounds, for people who live with disability, for women, and men, and those of some sexual orientation, and for breastfeeding mothers.

Our society is aware discrimination is illegal. That you can’t refuse to serve a person in a restaurant because of the colour of their skin. That public buildings need wheelchair access ramps. That you cannot be refused work because of your religious beliefs.

So why is breastfeeding so different? When an incident occurs which is brought to the attention of the media (like the one at Bribie Island last week) why is the response in popular media a survey which asks “Do you think breastfeeding in public should be banned/allowed?”.

What is it about this issue which means a mainstream TV commentator feels he has the right to say that breastfeeding in a “high-traffic area” like the edge of the pool is not on and it should be done “more discreetly”?

We don’t expect people to be “more discreet” about their racial background (let’s ask Asian people to wear sunglasses, or people of colour to wear long sleeves because it would be “more discreet”) so why should breastfeeding mothers continue to hear public discussions about whether their natural feeding relationship with their child embarrasses or offends others?

Our society equates breasts with sex and generally people are pretty blasé about seeing breasts in skimpy bikinis or spilling out of low-cut bras. But breasts weren’t designed with a sexual function in mind, they were designed to nurture our young.

The mother who feeds her child in public is not judging your choice to breastfeed (or not breastfeed – often bottle feeding mothers feel judged when using a bottle to feed their baby in public). A mother’s choice about how and when to feed her child is personal and should be respected by all of us. Breastfeeding in public is protected by law regardless of the position the baby is held in or the manner in which the mother exposes her breast. So how about we recognise discrimination when it happens and as a community we say “No. This isn’t right – let her feed her child her way” and get on with our own lives?

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4 comments so far -

  1. Honestly comparing a testicle to feeding your baby what a weirdo!!! I have four kids all were breastfed with another on the way while I’m still breastfeeding, I feed in a corner if that’s what I feel like, I feed in the food court if my other children are with me and they are eating, I feed in the park on the bench, i feed in my front yard while I’m supervising the kids, I cover my breast sometimes and sometimes I don’t because it’s my baby and my breast and it’s up to me how and where I feed my baby. My babies health is my concern not you mixed up head being offended. Never had anyone comment in a bad way just a funny look sometimes but you know what if someone were to say anything ever id say straight out – did you mind when you poured breast milk on your cereal that belonged to the cows baby. Why can’t my baby have his milk on tap from his mum, or do you want to put it on your cereal instead. Maybe I’ll squirt my breast while I’m at it too lol only joking.

  2. i have breastfed 5 children for 13+yrs and counting, my youngest is 6mths so i have another 3 or so years to go 😀 sadly i see no improvment in the way breastfeeding mothers are treated both in public and behind closed doors, 17 yrs ago i was being harrassed and abused, with even my own mother telling me that i was a sexual deviant and perverted for feeding my son then ages just over 3 (but apparently anything over 2-3mths is too long) to not so long ago when my youngest was 5weeks my partners friend informed me that my breastfeeding in public and in front of people is disgusting and just the same as if he whipped out his left testicle and fed a child with it ! im really disturbed at the mentality of some people and that even amoungst women there is a condecending arrogance towards mothers who “lower”themselves to animals mearly by chosing what is best and natural for their children, ive had women say” ïm no bloody jersey cow” im not doing that its gross” i think it is a truely sad state of affairs that when people hear the word baby they immediately assosiate it with a bottle

  3. I like the way you make people think about discrimination in a different light. Thanks for your clever take on the issue, monkeyboyzmum!

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