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The Social Stigma of Public Breastfeeding

breastfeedinginpublic-ki wolfThe thing about having children is, your whole reality changes as the world keeps spinning under your feet. You still have errands to run, shopping to do, places to be and things to do.

If you choose to breastfeed, you have to learn to adapt to doing it when your child demands, however you can and under terms you can feel comfortable with – which ranges vastly from person to person.

Let me preface by saying, I don’t believe people are “out to judge” breastfeeding mothers like some sort of nasty monsters waiting to attack us in the bushes. I feel the issue is much more of an ingrained notion of what breasts are, than a purposeful will to make things difficult for struggling new mums.

The widespread idea, (in varying degrees), that public breastfeeding is rude, yuck, wrong, uncomfortable to look at, confronting, and inconsiderate of others honestly isn’t at all surprising.

We are the children of generations of social conditioning. For many, many years it has been “common knowledge” that breasts are a sexual body part, hardly differing from a penis or vagina, whereas there has been little to no active educating until very recently that they are, in fact, the tool of breastfeeding.

Here are some examples of the sexual connection to breasts that is socially ingrained in so many of us:

“My dad commented the other day that my cousins were often bottle fed formula by my grandmother when she was babysitting as she thought that breast feeding was “dirty”. This was in the 1970s.”

“My husband prefers I do it under the bib as even though he agrees it’s perfectly natural he says (and I quote) ‘peeing is natural too but you don’t see me whipping my d*ck out and peeing at the restaurant table’.
He is worried it might make others uncomfortable if it were bare breast, personally I could care less but as a peace keeper I use the apron.”

“I guess I see it as genitalia in a way as well though. I like previous poster’s husband’s analogy ‘its natural to pee but he wouldn’t go flopping his duck around at the table for all to see’.”

One of the largest scale examples of this sociological stance, took place earlier this year on Seven’s Sunrise TV show with David Koch, who shared the fairly common view that women should be more “classy” or “discreet” when breastfeeding.

However, with the normalisation of breastfeeding evolving throughout the country, two breastfeeding activists stood up for the right to breastfeed against this widespread opinion.

One of these women, Amy Ahearn, has joined us for the article today to discuss how the incident is significant in the effect and reflection of Australia’s views towards public breastfeeding.


Hello Amy. Thanks for joining us for the article.

Amy: you’re welcome

So tell us, prior to Kochie’s comments, where did you feel Australia was in terms of normalising public breastfeeding?

Amy: Prior to Kochie’s comments, I was slowly becoming aware that breastfeeding wasn’t really considered the normal way to feed our babies to many members of our society. From what I could see, a woman feeding in public was regarded as a bit of an oddity at one end of the scale to outright disgusting at the other – this is just going off reactions from people I knew, had seen or discussed this with.

So, when you first heard what was said on the Sunrise Show by such a well known public figure, what was your initial reaction?

Amy: My initial reaction was a mixture of disappointment and annoyance. I was disappointed that he was allowed to address such an enormous audience with what appeared to be ill-thought-out words and I was annoyed as I could see the potential implications.
I’d struggled in the early weeks with breastfeeding – the last thing I wanted to hear was that there was some kind of shame attached to it.

Do you think such views will affect decisions made by women struggling to latch and establish breastfeeding?

Amy: I do believe his attitude and others like it could certainly be a contributing factor in the decisions made by some. If you felt that you couldn’t feed in public, the idea of being confined to the parents room or home may well influence your decision on how you choose to feed.


Despite how we’ve been conditioned to see breasts, they are not primarily sexual body parts.

Sure, we do use them as an intimate object in our private bedroom moments, however, they are designed specifically for feeding our children.

If you take a step back and examine the breast biologically you will find this:

“Breasts are complex, specialized organs whose primary function is to produce milk for the infant and baby. They are made up mainly of fat and breast tissue, intermingled with nerves, blood vessels, lymph vessels and lymph nodes, muscle tissue, and connective tissue.”  – The Visual MD

Moving to a room, covering up, and being discreet, although comforting to those with the conditioned idea of the sexual breast, is not the most practical way to breastfeed for everybody.

It can encourage feelings of alienation, guilt, shame and for some, makes an already difficult task much harder to accomplish.

So what can we do?

Well, luckily a lot is already being done to educate Australians on the benefits of breastfeeding.

The law regarding public breastfeeding in Australia states:

“Under the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 it is illegal in Australia to discriminate against a person either directly or indirectly on the grounds of breastfeeding. Direct discrimination happens when a person treats someone less favourably than another person. For example, it is discriminatory for a waiter to decline to serve a patron who is breastfeeding. Indirect discrimination happens when an apparently neutral condition has the effect of disadvantaging a particular group, in this case women who are breastfeeding. For example, an employer may impose a requirement on all employees that they must not make any breaks for set periods during the day under any circumstances. Such a condition would particularly disadvantage women who need to express milk.” – Australian Breastfeeding Association

More businesses, individuals and organisations have evolved to be much more accepting of women breastfeeding in public than previously heard of. The attitude we as a country should be aiming for is to see breastfeeding in public in the same way as we see any other normal, public activity, such as wearing a bikini at the beach or eating a burger in the park.

We need to educate our children from a young age of the true function of breasts, well before they are introduced to their sexual use. In fact we need to breastfeed in public more, to show those around us that it is the normal thing to do.

We need to challenge our reactions and discomfort, to find its core, its origin and question the practicality of enforcing women to move for our comfort, rather than adjusting to accept the natural function of breasts.

As controversial as my opinion may be, I believe the decision of how discreet a woman is while breastfeeding needs to be the choice of the woman and that this is pivotal to the normalisation of breastfeeding in public.

If a baby is not being breastfed at the time or a breast is blatantly exposed while not feeding (as argued by some), then it’s fair to say that’s an unrelated issue to breastfeeding entirely. One to be addressed under a different topic.

Finally, remember the children we feed, teach, and show today, will be the next generation’s example of social normality.

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