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Nursing: A Double Standard

By James Hoyle
On September 30, 2015

Activists have been pushing for breastfeeding women's rights with posters such as the one pictured above. 
Photo courtesy of


There have been many well-documented accounts of the benefits of breastfeeding children. While some women cannot or choose not to breastfeed for health reasons, those that are healthy enough to do so are encouraged to, as the nutrients within breast milk help the newborn become healthier and stronger. In an article written for, Dr. Ruth A. Lawrence, author of Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession, states that breastfeeding reduces the risk of illnesses that could prove fatal for a baby, such as pneumonia, colds, and viruses, as well as decreasing risk of childhood cancer and slashing the chance of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) by half. Breast milk, since it occurs naturally, is environmentally friendly, to boot. According to the National Institute for Health (NIH), the more women know about the benefits of breastfeeding, the more they are inclined to do it. With all of the benefits mentioned above, and if women are so encouraged to breastfeed, why do we as a nation make it so difficult for mothers to do so? 

In this country, public breastfeeding is perfectly legal in almost all areas. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 49 states and the District of Columbia have laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location, with 29 states and the District of Columbia even exempting the act from the public decency laws. Despite this, many take issue and even offense to women publicly breastfeeding. For example, according to an August 2014 article from CNN, a mom in Beverly Hills was escorted to the bathroom of a store for attempting to publicly breastfeed her child. She took to social media and in less than a day more than 100 mothers participated in a staged nurse-in to protest. This event happened as recently as 2014. So why is it some still see public breastfeeding as a thing to be stigmatized and avoided? 

The answer is simple: breasts and their true purposes have been hijacked by corporations and advertising companies. One need only turn on the television to see that breasts are used as objects to sell everything, from cell phones to fast food. However, when a woman tries to use her breasts in their intended purpose (the feeding of offspring) many get up in arms and complain about public indecency. It would seem to me that there is a great double standard here, and that for the sake of the public good and the health of the nation, our outlook on public breastfeeding must change. 

Some may argue that a mother could simply just go to a bathroom to breastfeed her child and spare the rest of us from the site. That would be a fair remark, except that the state of hygiene in many public restrooms is not the best. Ask yourself this: would you like to eat in the bathroom of a gas station? Most people would say they wouldn’t. However, this is the kind of conditions newborns are often forced to eat in due to our social stigma against public breastfeeding. On top of that, many bathrooms do not have chairs, so a mother is either forced to feed her child on the toilet or on the floor. Oftentimes, there may not be a bathroom for a mother to go to, and a newborn simply cannot wait. Some could also argue that a mother should pump and carry breastmilk in bottles before going out into public. Unfortunately, not all women are able to use the pump effectively, not to mention carrying around the breastmilk in bottles requires it to be at a certain temperature, which is an inconvenience that could be avoided if we simply did not mind a mother doing what she is designed to do: feed her child.

This is not to say that a woman is a bad person for wanting privacy when they breastfeed. That is a perfectly legitimate reason to demand privacy. However, for convenience’s sake and also for public sanitation, a woman has the right to feed her child in public and not feel ashamed for doing the right thing. If the act bothers anyone, they simply do not have to look. Parenting is one of the hardest things to do, so much so that more and more Americans are opting not to participate in it. For this country to continue to thrive, we as a nation must do all we can to encourage the family unit in all of its endeavors. If that means changing a hypocritical and degrading double standard, then so be it. 

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