Could We Talk About Nursing?

posted in: Confessions 118
Migrant Mother, 1936. Photo: Dorothea Lange via Wikipedia.


Being publicly introspective is one thing.

I’m obviously comfortable — or comfortable enough — to puzzle over my personal emotions and experiences here on the ol’ PG. This blog has existed well over a decade, after all; it must not be too painful or I wouldn’t do it. But it’s important to point out that most of the time when I write a post with question marks all over it (literally and/or figuratively) it’s that I’m confused or conflicted or just curious about something within myself, within my lived experience. I’m the interviewer and the interviewed; I’m my own judge, jury, executioner, mortician, etc. Being confused about myself or wondering about my own life is a closed circuit. Do you follow me? If not, it’s my fault, not yours. This is hard to explain.

Now, having a blog gets weirder when I’m puzzling over something that is outside of my experience, especially when that something is more controversial, say, than a broken clock. In fact, when I’m puzzling over something serious, something I have no experience with and legitimate confusion about, my general rule is to not blog about it until I have some damn sense.

But I legitimately don’t know what to think about public breastfeeding and I want to ask you about it so that I can begin to maybe work through my confusion. And it’s scary, because I take great pride in the quality of the comments on PaperGirl (and my Facebook page) and whenever something even slightly spiny comes up on the ol’ PG, I shut my eyes real tight and pray you all do the right thing and don’t “talk ugly” to each other, like Gramma Graham would say.

You have never once talked ugly. But still: Read the rest of this post, take a mo’, and then comment if you wish to comment. And I hope you do! Because I’m serious about need perspective from various peeps, especially those who have breastfed their babies on planes.

Here’s the deal:

Today on the plane back from Portland, I looked to my right and wow! I did a double-take: A woman across the aisle was nursing her infant and Mama’s breast was out. Her (lovely! natural! blessed-be!) most generous cantaloupesized right breast was present and accounted for, actively being used for what is, absolutely, an amazing, beautiful, exquisite reason. The breast was out so to feed a human being she birthed from her literal body. Miraculous! Understandable!

And yet!

Wow, that was a very naked breast in a very public place in 21st century America. And I was like, “Okay. I cannot make sense of this data at this time.” This is a foreign sensation for me, as I like to think I have a fairly strong philosophical foundation that informs how I feel about most things. This one had me stymied, friends. It really did. Some of the back-n-forth in my mind went like this:

ME: It’s indecent, showing that much naked flesh, and it’s a sex organ, right?

MYSELF: Yes, and it’s a life-giving breast! You are brainwashed by a germaphobe-run society! It’s beautiful! You’re weird, not her!

ME: Having the whole thing out in front of God and Southwest Airlines Flight 55 seems a little dramatic, though. Come on. Like, she is trying to be seen right now.

MYSELF: She’s a nursing mother! What is your deal?? Covering up what nature has so brilliantly put in place is wrong and a function of the patriarchy!

ME: Yeah, okay, sure, but good grief, Woman! Cover your boob! A little!

MYSELF: It is early.

ME: No, it’s not “early.” It’s 5:05 a.m.

MYSELF: (Pause.) But it’s beautiful!

ME: I’m going to wrap my scarf around my head and go to sleep, now.

Okay. That’s it. That is literally all I can write for you without going into some deep, armchair-psychology self-analysis about what surely are repressed feelings about not having kids or a partner at this point in my life. I’m not interested in all that. I just need some input.

Very open breastfeeding in public. Discuss, my loves.

118 Responses

  1. Janice Tucker
    | Reply

    So as a mom, breastfeeding is natural and normal. As a woman who tends to be very modest, I cringed at public, full on breast out, feedings. I didn’t mind other women, I actually admir s their blasé attitudes. As a society, I think we have a hard time separating breasts and the part the play in sex from their more nature driven functionality in feeding our offspring. So, I’m just as conflicted as you. I love that we can make choices today that used to send us to the closet, bathroom or corner hiding under a table cloth.

  2. Kate
    | Reply

    I’m a breastfeeding mother and I sometimes have similar conflicted feelings. I’ve fed in public a few times and try my best to minimize the skin I’m showing. I understand if others aren’t as shy as me. I used my car a lot because my son never let me use a cover, he would just pull it off.
    In the end I do think our society is a little too prudish. Human bodies are amazing things. And hungry babies aren’t to be messed with, haha!

  3. Deb
    | Reply

    Why is a boob considered a “sex” organ. It is an organ that serves the purpose to nourish a baby!! Seeing a woman’s breast doing what it was meant to shouldn’t be offensive. Sometimes I think this society is backwards. Why do people pay money to see senseless movies with car chases and shooting, but will not hold dear the very thing that keeps this society surving? Ok I’m off my soapbox!!

    • Mary Spriet
      | Reply

      Because women promote their large (and sometimes not so large) breasts as “sexy”. We do this! You know we do! So then why are we so offended when people feel uncomfortable about seeing someone breastfeed in public? Yep, you are giving everyone a free peep show. It’s like saying “I can walk around topless because I’m breastfeeding and nourishing this precious baby”. Can’t have it both ways. I see nothing nothing wrong with DISCREETLY feeding in public. I do think some women just like the shock value. This is ridiculous….. just use common sense. I would never do this in front of say, my Grandfather. I know he would be embarrassed……. Common sense!

      • Lisa Gentile
        | Reply

        I think this is at the center of the puzzle. We have a lot of mixed messages about breasts in our culture. Some women do use them to send messages. As a result our ancient, saber toothed tiger detecting brains question motives.

        Meanwhile, we, like Mary, can open ourselves up to exploring our own thoughts on breasts, modesty, messaging, and feeding. This is how we learn from others things like how some infants detest cover.

  4. Debbie
    | Reply

    Breast fed 3 babies. Not too often in public. Didn’t go out as often as young mothers seem to need to do these days. (Yes, I am an older reader and quilter). But when need to with others around it can be done discreetly. That being said, I think we would be better off as a society having an atmosphere of caring and support for mothers who are taking such good care of their children and feel such freedom to breast feed in public. It is a blessing as well as a commitment to do this for your child.

  5. Beth Ann
    | Reply

    I nursed both my children.

    I am large chested, and found that there was only one comfortable position for me. This required pillows and everything had to be ‘just so.’ Because of that, the only public place I ever nursed was in the back of my minivan.

    Believe you me, were I able to do it differently, you might have seen my large breasts in public! Neither of my children liked to be covered – so a blanket was not an option. I would not have nursed in a bathroom (I mean, really!? What idiot suggests THAT as an option? Would you eat a sandwich in a bathroom stall?)

    It’s not sexual, and people need to stop making it sexual.

    And just think, that mother was helping to calm her child and prevent ear problems on the plane!

    • Mary Spriet
      | Reply

      I’ve seen a lot of bathrooms that have a sitting rooms, separate from the facilities. I don’t know if they are for that purpose but I think it’s a wonderful idea. A little discretion goes a long way.

  6. tisha @ quiltytherapy
    | Reply

    It’s fine. It’s a breast. Go to an art museum and you will see a number of them in paintings. Most days in public you see the same amount of breast from non nursing women. That mom was probably terrified to nurse in public. The public shaming they receive is obscene. People give them looks of disgust and horror. I have seen people look at a nursing mother like she just kicked a puppy.

    Others will scream, “Cover up! Go to the bathroom! Gross!” I hope someone that scorns a mother calls out everyone in their life for doing something in public they disagree with. They will spend hours and days of their life being in disgust. I choose to enjoy my days and a breastfeeding mother and child have ZERO impact on my day.

    • Kathy
      | Reply

      Well said. It’s quite a regular thing in many other cultures, including European countries.
      Plus, take a look at some of the gowns celebrities wear. This is something Americans need to GOI. Get over it.

      • Judy Forkner
        | Reply


    • Laurinda
      | Reply

      Thank you- very well said!

  7. Cristine
    | Reply

    As a nursing mom I can say this… with my first child, I hid myself when nursing a lot… I was super concerned about how everyone else felt. With number two, I’m just not. My number one goal is that my little one is fed. That being said, the amount of actual breast showing while my daughter is nursing is significantly less than that which shows with some of the more revealing outfits society finds acceptable these days. With the exception of when I’m first getting her latched, her head covers just about everything.

  8. Jo Chalk
    | Reply

    Mary, I didn’t breastfeed my two children so breastfeeding wasn’t something I could relate to. Several years ago the same conversation played around in my head and I am old enough to be your mom. I realized it was uncomfortable for me to see but that was my ‘problem’. I did and have continued to do a “get over it, girl! It is a mother feed their child, nothing to see here, keep moving.

  9. Val
    | Reply

    I think that breastfeeding in public is lovely. I think that the people that insist that Mama covers up with a blanket should have to eat their dinner with a blanket over their head. You really don’t want a hungry baby to cry because you don’t want her to breastfeed in public.

  10. Ruth
    | Reply

    a) Where, on a plane, should a baby be fed? I sure hope you wouldn’t say “the restroom.” Bad for baby, bad for mother, and bad for other people waiting to use the restroom. Not to mention, no seatbelts in there.
    b) Have you ever tried eating or drinking with your head under a blanket?
    c) That’s what breasts are for, primarily, and for sex secondarily.
    d) If something offends you and you’re conflicted about it, averting your eyes, as you did, was a good choice.

    • Brenda F
      | Reply

      Thank you! My thoughts exactly!

    • Emily
      | Reply

      Well said. Thank you!

  11. Sue
    | Reply

    A beautiful thing…I don’t have a problem with it… And I’m an old lady.

  12. Melanie Hoadley
    | Reply

    Try this in your mind…Replace the word breast with “plate of food” or “cup of coffee” …it’s just another source of nutrition that we could choose to feel indifferent about seeing.

    You would never think “oh. No. That man’s bottle of water is showing how indecent”.

    It shouldn’t be shameful to eat in public (unfortunately some people are disgusted by breastfeeding in public but it really is just eating)

  13. Beth Callins
    | Reply

    I believe that we have been told it was wrong for so long that we’ve begun to believe it. We see the breast is an object have sex we forget that it was first used to nurture. We’ve become a society that wants to trap women into believing that their bodies are only good for sex that has been told us it was very young age to watch what we wear will be used wrong with that badly of cover ourselves our bodies are something to be scared of they can attract the wrong kind of attention. Well we should have been. A wonderful and beautiful day that God has made us and he made our body support the children that we bare we should not be ashamed of them we should treasure our abilities to feed our child and support each other in doing so. Sure it’ll make us uncomfortable at first it’ll stir up all kinds of emotions of being told what we should be doing what we shouldn’t. If we always listen to what we were taught and never questioned whether it was right or wrong we would never grow. This is no longer a man society we no longer blame rape victims for what they are wearing we no longer wonder why children are being molested and abused is it because if they aren’t watched or they aren’t dressed appropriately we know that it was wrong for the person to rape them. But yet you still feel conflicted!

  14. Jay Mulder
    | Reply

    I think a lot of people have a similar internal dialogue. I think nursing women should absolutely do whatever they want to. And the rest of us can let em do whatever they want to wherever they want to.

  15. Patti
    | Reply

    Just don’t look, whether it makes you uncomfortable or not. I’m sure I nursed in many public places and never hid what I was doing…just feeding my baby. What was bad on a plane was when I saw a woman playing solitaire with pornographic cards!

    • Barb Allen
      | Reply

      The solitaire thing made me laugh out loud! Oh my goodness!

      • Judy Forkner
        | Reply

        Me too! I’d never even thought about pornographic cards! Still laughing!

  16. Cheryl Haupt
    | Reply

    I breastfed both my sons, and I am so very glad to have had that wonderful bonding time. I usually threw some light cover over the whole process, as this was 30 years ago, before a major TV network got fined big bucks for a brief flash of Janet Jacksons breast. As the mom was on an airplane, nursing the baby helps alleviate the very acute & painful air pressure build up in their little ears. It’s a beautiful thing; and some people might take offense at witnessing love and caring live and in the flesh, so to speak. Which is kinda sad, isn’t it?

  17. Jennie
    | Reply

    I don’t know either! I am conflicted too!
    Yesterday I walked through the grocery store and saw the same thing as the mom was ordering meat from the butcher. I couldn’t have done it. I guess I can’t multi-task like that.
    When my daughter was an infant and we were in public I would find a comfortable private-as-can-be spot and use a scarf to cover. It was my private, intimate moment and also my cue to sit down and take a break.
    On a plane I used a scarf because I was more about cherishing our sacred bond and not sharing it, than showing the whole aisle my boob.
    There is nothing to prove. It is natural. So slow down…there is a
    something so special about an intimate, private moment with a baby. Let’s appreciate that.

    • Wanda
      | Reply

      This is exactly the way I felt when nursing my son 38 years ago. It’s a wonderful bonding time. I’m glad to see more mothers nursing and hope they enjoy it as much as I did. I was discreet and covered up or went into another room but was my choice not because I felt shamed. Just the process of nursing my child was freeing

  18. Jennie
    | Reply

    But maybe there is an opportunity here for a line of quilted baby covers!!

  19. Marilyn S
    | Reply

    I nursed all 4 of my children. I usually wore a looser t-shirt so that I could lift it enough for my kids to get what they needed withour being uncovered so much. I would usually nurse where ever we were — no need to run to a dirty public restroom — yuck! I am bothered by women who pull their top down to expose their breast and then having the baby latch on because it is a lot of “naked flesh” and there are ways to do it without exposing so much. I never had a cover that hooked around my neck, but I know several friends who have used those and like them. But I did love the excuse to sit down for a few minutes several times during a busy day to feed the baby.

    • Anita Roy
      | Reply

      Those fabric things that hook around your neck….we call them “Hooter Hiders” in the South…and they work IF your infant cooperates. Sometimes they draw more attention than Momma’s breast might, so decide for yourself and GET OVER IT!

  20. Pam
    | Reply

    She should have covered herself in my opinion.

  21. Kate
    | Reply

    Well, Mary. It’s not about you or your feelings. I mean that kindly. We all have a choice about being either offended or offensive. And the choice is in our heads.

    Have I breastfed? Yes, two lovely babies for about six months each. Did I hang it out in public? No, but I don’t hang much of anything in public. And BTW, breasts are not sex organs, they’re mammary glands. We have them to provide sustenance and confort to our young. While we’re trying so hard to take ownership of our lives, we need to also take ownership of our bodies. My guess is that young mother is very comfortable in her own skin, totally exhausted, and doing the best she can. Let’s all applaud! Who on this planet wants to be on a plane at 5 AM with a baby who can create absolute chaos in a nanosecond. The entire passenger list should be praising God that the baby was peacefully, quietly nursing.

    • Mary Dusenberry
      | Reply

      Amen to my favorite reply.

    • Elle
      | Reply


    • Claire
      | Reply

      Thank you! I agree with this point of view. Mammary glands, end of story.

    • Kathlene
      | Reply


  22. Carol Burtz
    | Reply

    I’m a 70 year old mid western woman who breastfed both of my children in the 1970s. When they were hungry I nursed them regardless of where we were. Restaurants, airplanes, furniture stores.. The most public feeding I remember was on a New York subway in close proximity to a group of eight or ten young men (gang members?). I figured everyone would be happier if my 18 month old was not pitching a very loud and obnoxious fit. I just pulled up my blouse and she latched on. I don’t think much of my anatomy was on display. In any event, it’s my opinion that breasts when they are in the company of a hungry baby have more rights than anyone’s eyes ( which can be averted or not). It’s a beautiful thing which I wish we would see more of rather than the sexualized fashions commonly seen on tv and magazines. I encourage every mother to have the courage to breastfeed, but if you, of all people are hung up on it, then how can we expect the misogynists to suffer the embarrassment of a momentary glance of something they jealously consider sacredly sexual?

  23. Deborah Stone
    | Reply

    Mary, your reaction is completely normal..beautiful, awkward, startling, voyeristic.
    I nursed three children, mostly at home, occasionally in a restroom, covered.
    Within all the issues of life, the pendulum swings between extremes. Currently there is an almost militant cadre of nursing mothers presenting their breasts to all. Nursing is important, nurturing and healthy for mother and child. A graceful, thoughtful woman seeks a balance between modesty and being a poster child for breastfeeding rights. Let’s hope the pendulum swings to center.

  24. Melody A.
    | Reply

    I breast fed both of my sons in the 80’s, I would have had a receiving blanket over most of me and them, That is because I felt exposed myself but had made a choice that I was going to feed them this way so unless I planned to stay home all the time, it was going to happen once in a while. Your experience today involved a woman that is much more open about breast feeding in public and being seen doing it than I ever was able to feel comfortable about. Americans have sexualized breasts to a great extent and consequently are often uncomfortable seeing a woman expose them for doing the job that is part of why women have them. So I looked up what is the world view on this: very interesting article showing what most westernized countries do. Love your blog and writing. Take care from Iowa

  25. Lisa
    | Reply

    I feel that your grappling with this is perfectly normal, we all do. If we are honest. But I feel it is a disservice to ourselves and our children to continue to sexualize this body part and this act. We can learn so much about ourselves and our biases by facing the fact that it is simply a mother nourishing her child both physically and emotionally. Society interfering in that diminishes women and reduces a women’s choices during an already difficult and vulnerable time. The new research about the importance of breastmilk continues to grow. How you choose to feed is such a personal choice, Breastfeeding can be very difficult and it can take some real skill to be successful. Making other people comfortable should not be a worry for a mother already fretting and worrying about raising a healthy happy human being. Breastfeeding in public will continue to feel uncomfortable for many of us until it becomes the norm. In Europe on a beach I was a bit shy and nervous for the first hour or so, then I stopped noticing all the topless women, then after another hour I was envious of the women’s confidence and freedom. That’s also how I felt with breastfeeding at first I covered up and was so nervous, eventually my baby kept pulling the cover up and feeding had to take place. Then I found me feet and was so grateful to be able to feed anywhere. There is an amazing slam poet Hollie McNish who defends public breastfeeding. Check her out on YouTube

  26. Debora Zenor
    | Reply

    I breastfed both of my babies. Granted, it has been awhile but, I believe in some discretion. Never were my breasts exposed in public. Why make others uncomfortable when it can be avoided. I even nursed my baby in a very crowded courtroom while in session without being “discovered”. My babies, never for one second, went hungry. Just like everything else with a baby, prepare in advance. Clothing that easily disguised, lightweight blanket when needed, etc. Not only did I wish to “share” with the general public, I didn’t want my babies to be interrupted by noisy “ interested” strangers-germ issue aside. Breastfeeding is beautiful, healthy, natural and all that stuff, but it’s also between a mother and child. I preferred to keep it that way.

  27. Jeanann
    | Reply

    As a mother who nursed her sons I always felt more comfortable doing so privately or with my breast covered. My husband agreed that privacy was what he valued also.

  28. Barb Kowalski
    | Reply

    Breastfeeding can be done without flashing the whole plane.

    • Sandy JU
      | Reply

      If the baby is hungry, feeding is so much better than the baby crying. I breastfed and all the baby needs is the nipple. I didn’t feel comfortable other than at home, so I used gauze diapers to cover my shoulder and upper breast. (The gauze was never used for diapers!) Occasionally, I pumped and used breast milk in a bottle for malls and long outings. It gave me much needed time to relax. My breasts were never large, so covering up was easier for me. Feeding in public is never a problem for me to see. I avert my eyes because I don’t want the mother to feel uncomfortable. I silently cheer her on. I do have a problem seeing giant amounts of skin exposed. There should be some degree of modesty. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have experience with large breasts!

  29. Tami Moore
    | Reply

    I get exactly what you are trying to express nd why you were feeling. I also have given birth to two humans and breast feed them. But not in public I am also a Labor and Delivery RN. Teaching breast feeding and being supportive of breast feeding is my job. I full support women feeding their children by what ever means they choose. And if they choose breast that means in public if they need to. The uncomfortable feelings seeing bare breasts are those that society have taught us. Mary what you felt is how I would have felt too. But I also would have felt, you go momma. At one time pregnant women hid their bellies. Now they celebrate it. We are working on getting breast feeding to this same place.

  30. Nicole Hannah
    | Reply

    As someone who has breastfed in public I have an opinion which I will now share for you.

    There are food boobs and “look at me, I’m sexy boobs!” Since there is a time and a place for everything I feel it can be summarized thusly:

    Food boobs = anytime, any place. Get that job done, get that baby/toddler fed.
    Sexy boobs = nice outfits, dates, bars, looking for attention, whatever.

    Those two states of being are mutually exclusive. MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE. Food boobs are not sexy boobs and if you (as a breastfeeding person) think they are sexy then you’re doing it wrong. As for people in the vicinity of food boobs, if you think that’s sexy that’s your deal, not the breastfeeding woman’s problem.

  31. Sue Barnette
    | Reply

    Same thoughts have run through my head, but I also am the mother of 16 beautiful children. All breastfeed with my breast covered. No indecent exposure.
    Yes they are a God given best way to feed babies, but must you just let it all hang out?

  32. Annette J Deardurff
    | Reply

    I nursed my daughter for almost a year, but i was always covered. Granted, that was 37 years ago, and today’s nursing mothers are sometimes very ok with taking care of this natural act uncovered in public, because it is a natural exercise using what God intended the breast to be used for. However, making love and going to the bathroom are also natural exercises using what God intended those various parts to be used for – but i would not ever want to do either in public and on public display. I would personally prefer that nursing moms would be more discreet in public by staying covered. Just my opinion, as a mom who nursed her only child and considered it a wonderful experience.

  33. Kathy L
    | Reply

    Nursing an infant during a flight eases the pressure on the babies ears. I’m in my 60’s and nursed both daughters on planes, but I tried my best to place a blanket over us. Understand that babies don’t like being covered, especailly in the heat or daylight, so that cover gets rearranged or pulled off. Breastfeeding is natural and should be encouraged and supported by society; it should be the Mother’s choice to cover or not, and society should look away so as not to draw attention by others that can make it a “problem”.

  34. Gammy
    | Reply

    I breast fed 2 of my children. Yes I fed them in public BUT unless you looked very closely you never knew it. I used a very light blanket and lightly covered my breast and my babies head. I do believe that babies should be fed in public but I also believe that some women like to use that moment to , as my grandmother would say, show off. I see no reason to hang your entire breast out for all to see. I’m sure there are countries that breast feed in many different ways but in the USA we normally don’t show our boobs unless we are on a topless beach someplace.

  35. Melinda
    | Reply

    I think a little modesty is not a bad thing.

  36. Penny
    | Reply

    I breastfed my son for 2 1/2 yrs, and I was not comfortable with my breast exposed if we were out in public. I arranged a diaper (cloth) to cover us both. Every woman feels differently, but to me it’s kinda in your face, I can do what I want. I don’t understand why a woman wants the whole world or in this case plane to witness her nursing, but that’s just my feelings

  37. Sue Bartholomew
    | Reply

    Clearly, you were left feeling uncomfortable. I nursed babies for what amounted to several years, collectively. On planes and elsewhere. It isn’t difficult to be discrete. IMO this mother was making a statement. Really! Is that necessary to do?

  38. Michelle Tothill
    | Reply

    I am the mother of three children, none of whom have ever tasted formula. The middle one did get bottles of expressed breast milk when I had to go back to work 4 weeks after he was born. Two of my three would pull any covering down, so I tried my best to be discrete. However I felt that my children had the right to eat when they were hungry and where they were hungry.

    I was told in a community centre, where I found a comfortable sofa to sit and nurse, that there was a chair in the ladies restroom, and I should go there. I asked the staff person if they would eat their lunch sitting beside a toilet, they of course looked at me as if I was nuts. I did not move. I was told a similar thing in a shopping mall by a security guard (male of course). I told him to fetch the mall manager and tell the mall manager to eat in the rest room. Gee they declined too.

    On a plane nursing is one of the few things that can help with the pressure changes in a babies ears. It was the very best thing for the mother to do. Or perhaps the plane would have preferred a screaming child in agony as opposed to a glimpse of flesh? There truly is no other place on a plane to nurse a baby. I flew with one of my children when he was 11 months old, nursing kept him calm and content and the ride was peaceful for all.

    When I see a woman nursing in public, whether discretely or fully exposed, I smile and continue on my day.

    Other than when a baby latches, generally all that can be seen is skin, no more than is exposed on most beaches or the front of magazines.

  39. Deb
    | Reply

    I think it’s very natural. I don’t think of the breast as a sex organ in the first instance. It certainly can be and is, but for me it’s primary purpose is to feed a baby. We don’t think of cows udders as a sex organ, just a facility to provide our milk. Of course I think there is no need to flaunt stuff but then I question myself as being an old fuddy duddy. Just do what comes naturally I guess. There are ways and means of being discreet, but I can’t judge what is comfortable to another, so the onus is on me to accept or move on.

  40. Stacey
    | Reply

    I am a very private person in general but I have to say that giving birth with half a dozen medical personnel present really knocks down my sense of privacy for quite a while. For me learning to breastfeed was a real struggle and during the first months I was so focused on trying to get my baby to eat without intense pain that I lost all thoughts of my breasts being sexual and thought only of them as a means of feeding my child. Covering sounds great but is actually really hard to do, especially when the baby is very small and needs extra help to latch and stay latched. I haven’t personally traveled by plane with a nursing child but I have heard from friends that it is very upsetting and stressful for the baby. Nursing is soothing. I bet that mom was so grateful she could nurse her little one instead of agonizing over a crying baby in a confined space full of strangers!

  41. Jane Sanders
    | Reply

    I had the same feelings about some of the dresses that were worn at the Oscars last night and they certainly weren’t feeding a baby. I don’t pretend to have answers. Even if I was a size 0 and I am far from that, I wouldn’t be comfortable where some of those clothes. I know that my father was mortified when I breastfed my son in a restaurant when he was 4 months old and we were seated in a back corner and I had a huge blanket covering me and the baby with my back turned to the rest of the guests. It was either that or leave without eating although we would have had to pay or a screaming baby.

  42. Judy Forkner
    | Reply

    I’m always happy to see a mother breastfeeding her baby. One of the reasons many women have trouble breastfeeding is because they are embarrassed, or others have made them embarrassed about feeding their baby in public. Many babies do not like having a blanket or other covering over their head when they are nursing. They want to be able to gaze at their mother’s beautiful, loving face while they are drinking that wondrous milk from their mother’s breast!
    Please do not ask said mother to put her milk in a bottle for the purpose of feeding in public. One of many wonderful things about breastfeeding is convenience. The convenient part is having the milk go directly from the mother’s breast into the baby’s mouth! If the mother has to pump, sterilize a bottle, keep it cold & then warm it up for the baby, the convenience factor is looong gone!
    Breastfeeding should always be encouraged–better for baby, better for mom, better for the planet!!!

    • Elle
      | Reply


  43. Lauren
    | Reply

    Not a single person on that plan wrapped a cloth around themselves to eat the cardboard croissants the flight crew handed out, yet a mouth is arguably far sexier than a lump of leaking fat.
    Breasts are not, in fact, a sex organ. The reason they are perceived as such is that they indicate reproductive capacity (just like waist to hip ratio, and red lips). The cart got put before the horse and now all of America is metaphorically driving backwards.

  44. Donna
    | Reply

    Hi Mary,
    Thanks so much for your thoughtful blog! I have lived through this — twice, breastfeeding my oldest for 9 months and my youngest for 6 months. I fed them in lots of public places, BUT I’m a bit of a prudish person, so I was very discreet. I didn’t quite put a blanket over my kid’s head, but I did use a blanket to cover my boob throughout.

    My babies and I were both very comfortable, and so was everyone else around me, because often, they couldn’t even tell I was feeding — they thought the baby was just sleeping on my lap.

    However, having said all that, I wouldn’t want to condemn any Mom for doing what she needs to do. I’m just saying it’s possible to breastfeed without showing off whatcha got, and that was my preference.

    Even so, there seems to be so much nudity or near nudity on show these days (TV, social media, etc.) that’s it’s hard to condemn a much more natural reason for flashing a bit of boob. Also, I’m American, but I’ve lived overseas for a long time now, and I realise that other nationalities are a lot less bothered by naked boobs than we Americans are.

    Maybe it was just the shock of seeing it in such an unusual place — a topless beach (or even an regular beach) might make it less shocking, because there’s already so much flesh on display.

    Hope this helps. Love your column, and thanks for sharing your wonderful insights and perspectives on life.

  45. Kerry
    | Reply

    Interesting subject – yet very brave of you to bring it up. Undoubtedly will fire up emotions. For me it stems via my mother. I was an older child when my brother was born. I found it absolutely revolting to see her feeding my brother openly in front of me but not in public where she was discrete. Even worse she played with the milk flow. I thought there was nothing as vile as what I was witnessing. Probably if I had been younger (I was 8 years old) and had many siblings and growing up with a natural thing it all may have been different. At this point I say feel free to correct my grammar and insert commas etc. where you feel like going arghhh! LOL. So deep were my feelings that I bottle fed my own two children.
    I think it is a sort of phobia which I am trying to address. Like my fear of thunderstorms – so that my children were comfortable we’d sit and watch the lightning together. I’m fine with it to a point – I can sleep after it arrives, although my alarm bells trigger a warning long before it arrives at night. I certainly don’t want to be outside in a storm. I get a lot of static build up during the day if there’s a storm imminent! Baby steps – which brings me back from the digression.
    I am comfortable when I cannot see, although I know what’s going on. Friends used a wrap around shawl/sling and you cannot see. I don’t like it when people flaunt their breasts as I feel they want to trigger adverse reactions. In this day and age where people are divided then discretion, such as the shawl/sling, is a more powerful tool to aid people’s acceptance. There are lots of men who feel awkward, maybe not with their own partners, but in public. By bearing all seems to make the situation worse, not better and brings out the extremists on both sides – mums need to win over the middle of the roaders or those who struggle to accept and not push them away to the negative side.
    I hope I don’t upset anyone – this is just the way I feel at the moment. I’ve come a long way so far to tackle my “phobia”, so please don’t be too quick to judge me.

  46. Brenda King
    | Reply

    Dear Mary- I breastfed two babies, one for six months, one for a year. Breastfeeding Moms must work, clean house, shop, travel, etc . and babies need sustenance, no matter where, or when. Yes, breasts are erogenous zones, but before that, they are convenient, safe, cheap, perfect temperature milk producers, for our beloved babies. No matter the size or shape, sexual appeal or not, breasts are meant to feed babies. Mothers of nursing babies should not be chased into dirty bathrooms, or other uncomfortable banishments. Nursing is a natural, beautiful, loving thing to do. It is healthier than not nursing, for baby and Mom. Colostrum is found initially in breast milk, and nowhere else. It provides the babies with immunity until their immune systems catch up. Mothers regain their figures quicker due to uterine contractions of the uterus during nursing, and uterine bleeding is decreased. Babies are stimulated by seeing their mother’s face, feeling her touch, and grow to be secure, happy, healthy babies! I’d prefer that some modesty is employed by nursing Moms, by covering the breast when nursing. But, if you are made uncomfortable by seeing another woman’s breast while she feeds her baby, maybe you need to rethink your discomfort. Americans pretend to be sexually enlightened, but being upset by seeing a woman nurse her baby proves that we are not. Many have been confused about the role of breasts. Let’s all think about it!

  47. Mags
    | Reply

    I’m chuckling as I read this …. erm, the baby was being fed! I don’t think the mother had much choice being on a plane. Where was she supposed to go? Surely not the toilet. ….. Were you served breakfast on the plane? Did you eat it whilst sitting in your seat? The mum was simply giving her baby his breakfast. I think the screams of a hungry baby might have been more intrusive ….. I’m still chuckling, lol.

    I’m a just-over-60 woman from England. I breast fed both of my sons. I used mother and baby rooms where possible. I also had the melon sized boobs – impossible to be discreet. There was a stigma then about feeding in public and I suspect it still exists. One thing that does strike me is the difference in terminology used in UK and USA. In England “nursing” a baby does not mean feeding. Nursing means soothing, comforting, rocking etc. Anyone can nurse the baby, but only the mother can breast feed. I wonder if the vocabulary we use,and the connotations attached,affects our opinions … anyway, I’m rambling. Thanks for chuckle! Keep them coming. xx

  48. marcia kraut
    | Reply

    Biologically, your breast is for feeding your babies. What’s to get emotional about? I am a mother of six and have nursed all of them, and in public. My three daughters have 9 children between them and they all nurse whenever their babies get hungry and in public. I guess its easier when you have been brought up seeing your mother breast feed and understanding the purpose of breasts as the life giving organ it is first, before discovering that men like them too. I don’t understand how women can be offended by other women breast feeding in public while they are on a beach in a thong and tiny bikini top barely covering their nipples. I have no problem with women breast feeding in public,. I believe women should not change their behavior about how they feed their babies to avoid offending others. Its hard enough taking care of babies, without relegating yourself to emergency feeds in filthy gas station bathrooms, or avoiding going out in case the baby gets hungry.

    • Elle
      | Reply

      Thank you!

  49. Katie D
    | Reply

    Your me/myself convo makes perfect sense to me. It reflects the confusion in our conflicting cultural perceptions of breasts and breastfeeding (at least here in America). Many of us believe breasts and breastfeeding are natural, beautiful things which shouldn’t be confined to private chambers. But at the same time, breasts are extremely sexualized, private parts, in our culture. We can’t hold both of these perceptions simultaneously without a compromise like modesty when breastfeeding in public (at least partially covering up the private sexy breasts/public non-sexual baby feeders). Some women rebel against this social convention of modesty because they feel it’s oppressive, so they make a statement by letting it all hang out, regardless of how uneasy it makes others. So if that woman was of this culture, then I’d think she’s making a statement, or else is seeking attention, because it’s hard to ignore how uneasy people become around a fully exposed breast in a social setting- even with a baby attached. I get what drives the need to buck off oppression, yet I don’t believe covering up a bit means you’re doing it out of being oppressed by any shame or are a slave to patriarchy. I believe modesty is simply the practical way to reconcile the conflict, to reduce confusion and social uneasiness, while still allowing moms to feed babies naturally in public. Well, I’m not a mom, but I’ve known a lot of breastfeeding moms, so that’s my 2 cents!

  50. Glenda
    | Reply

    Interesting topic. I live in a community where breastfeeding in public is common, think Amish. Because of discretion you could almost miss it if not paying attention. I once did a social benefit interview and the client just flopped it out to feed the baby. Gauche!! Oh,well. Mothers cover and feed in public and that is fine, I smile at them. I’m not a prude, feeding is natural and beneficial. BUT as natural as it is, I find it inconsiderate to bare one’s self in the public of strangers. Not because it’s wrong but because not everyone is as enlightened as me or the bare mother. She should be polite and not brazen about her dedication. Being as bold as your example is more aggressive and self congratulatory in my view. And by the way, the breast is a sex organ because men make it so. First and foremost it was an udder for the child, men just cashed in on their Mommy needs, HA! Just my opinion folks. And by the way I didn’t like breastfeeding but good for everyone else if they do.

  51. Mary Paulger
    | Reply

    Breast milk is best for baby, right balance of nutrients, right temp. We all agree breast is best.
    When baby is hungry s/he will let you know in no uncertain terms that now is the time….
    and that time may be on an aeroplane, in church, the Mall, wherever.
    For decency, it’s ok to cover the milk filled organ with a scarf or a coat, so long as baby can breathe. I once nursed sitting on a bench in the street, but apart from some fluffing and slurps, I doubt anyone noticed. I doubt they were affronted. I hope not. But if they were, their problem. My child was my priority.

  52. Ann Bailey
    | Reply

    I question the woman’s motivation – what statement is she trying to make? That’s all I’ll say on that thought. The breast is a beautiful, sensual and utilitarian PRIVATE organ. But modesty still is the way to go. Mommy should just put a baby blanket over her breast and maybe even baby who will feel warm and secure while she’s feeding and that should be all that matters. Just my opinion.

  53. Pat
    | Reply

    I’m 74 & probably a little more conservative than most. But, why can’t the mother just loosely drape a baby blanket over her shoulder covering baby & boob ?

  54. Cathy Valcourt
    | Reply

    Listen to “Myself”. Smart woman!

  55. Barb Allen
    | Reply

    Tricky, Mary, very tricky topic. I breast-fed my babies in the late 70’s / mid 80’s. That (1) means I am old(er) and (2) represents a time frame wherein breast-feeding in the U.S. was starting to make a comeback. My point in referencing the time frame of my experience is that there was no public endorsement of plopping out the boob – quite the opposite, in fact, because if an observer realized that I was nursing my li’l punkin, he or she would become embarrassed, flustered, irritated, etc.

    I nursed the babes wherever we happened to be if they wanted to be fed – heavens to Betsy, the racket of a baby who wants to be fed NOW takes a back seat to polite society’s attitudes. It wasn’t difficult at all to feed without a complete reveal of the assets. A few twirls of the clothing, or an artful arrangement of a blanket, or even the handy loose top that a baby fits beneath made me feel comfortable and un-exposed. And the baby got to eat – that is, after all, the point of the whole thing.

    And there is the core of it, I think – “made me feel” – the baby doesn’t care. It’s the mom’s sense of self and awareness of others that governs this very personal choice of how much to expose. It isn’t necessary to pull out the whole breast – doing so will draw attention because yes you are right, it is a sex organ, too. So I gotta wonder…why does a mother go that route? Has she thought about it? Is she making a point (if so, what exactly is that point? I’m not really clear on that.)? Does she want to show the world that she can successfully breast-feed and is such a good mommy? Or maybe she hasn’t thought about it and is just going about her business. (I find that hard to believe because it is a conscious decision to expose or not to expose.) Or is she challenging somebody about something?

    Anyway, I think it’s okay to be startled when you see the whole-boob thing going on. It’s not a societal norm, yet anyway. And I think it’s okay to decide to disguise a nursing baby. I also think it’s okay to expose the breast, as long as the mom realizes that she has made herself and her child (and her CHILD) a target, both visually and emotionally. My personal preference is discretion so that the baby feeds in peace and the mother is calm and relaxed, enjoying the little sleepy high that nursing gives her.

    There you have it – one opinion. Thanks for asking!

  56. Melissa P
    | Reply

    Such an interesting discussion! I became a mom at 41, so I had many years of thoughts and ideas about breastfeeding under my belt. I’ve changed my mind about many of those ideas now, but I will say that I would have the exact conversation with myself in your shoes. I’ve breastfed in cars, but never in bathrooms because of the germ factor, and the fact that I really felt strongly that going to a bathroom was somehow hiding what we were doing, and it really isn’t anything shameful.

    (Sidenote: There are now these awesome Mamava pods in airports and other public places, and they just make my heart sing. However, once you are on the plane, the fear of the baby wailing is stronger than almost anything else, and breastfeeding helps so much with the pressure changes!)

    I never wanted my breast out in public. I’m not sire if that makes me a prude. I’ve breastfed on several planes, and I did my very best to cover up, but I’m sure there were a few seconds of flesh at the beginning anf end, so if someone looked at the right moment, there you are.

    On one hand, I applaud that Mom for doing what she was comfortable with, but I also feel like it is nice to be aware that others may be put off by seeing a fully exposed breast, and so covering up as much as is comfortable for the baby is an ok compromise in public. But, then I see a Victoria’s Secret commercial and it gives me pause, because we are comfortable with that amount of breast, aren’t we? Sigh.

  57. Pattie
    | Reply

    The most comments that I have ever seen on one of Mary’s blog posts. I breastfed two of my three kids in the 80s. My daughter nursed all three of hers. Breasts are made for feeding children; don’t want to see the breast don’t look! There is no flaunting going on and I am sure the mom just wanted to feed her child. One of my daughters-in-law pumped her breast milk and bottle fed it. Worked for her! My other daughter-in-law breastfed Twins unapologetically often at the same time when then were little. Frankly how someone and where someone feeds their child is none of our business.

  58. Rachel
    | Reply

    I tried to be discreet, but I’m sure in my years of breast feeding (5 kids) someone saw some boobage. On a plane it’s even harder. Better that the baby was fed and kept comfortable than squaling in the plane at 5 am!

  59. Barbara
    | Reply

    There are so many comments on this, I don’t think you need to hear another one, but . . . . . I am conflicted too. I understand it all, I just think breastfeeding your precious baby should be done with a little more privacy,. It’s very special and it’s a bond between you and your child, not for anyone else.

  60. Pamela Keown
    | Reply

    I would never say anything to a mother breastfeeding her child. But I do not care to see it. I do not wear fashions that show my breasts. And I don’t like to see others in them either. This is my opinion. Natural or not, I do not care for it.

  61. Karen Mead
    | Reply

    I just read a very interesting article that showed humans are the only mammals that retain visible breast size when they are not nursing. We are the only ones who think breasts are a part of sexual attraction and not just a provider of nourishment for the young. Did we miss some evolutionary step along the way? No wonder we are confused!

  62. Marianne Fons
    | Reply

    Mary, this is your mom. Though there are already many comments from the ol’ PG readership, I’ll weigh in as well.

    I nursed you and your sisters in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I’m a modest person by nature, and I dislike making other people uncomfortable if I can avoid it, so I always lifted my shirt or used a lightweight blanket or cloth diaper for my own modesty and in appreciation of other people’s sensibilities. Anyone who looked my way would easily know what I was doing. I neither hid nor flaunted. In retrospect, I believe covering up provided personal privacy for both of us.

    On a slightly different topic, in those days, there was no such thing as a diaper changing table in a restroom or anywhere. When in a public situation and a change was needed, I rarely found it hard to locate a semi-private place to do this and always had a separate receiving blanket along with me to put on floor, sofa, grass. My intent was privacy for me and you as well as courtesy to others.

    For the record, I was the first woman to use Lamaze training in a delivery at Madison County Memorial Hospital (1975), and I experienced many stares and comments when I carried my baby in a yellow corduroy Snugli.

    I am pleased these days to see more and more Mother’s Rooms in public places as well as Family Restrooms. Mother’s Rooms provide a private, location for moms to nurse, change diapers, change kids’ clothes if need be. Family Restrooms provide a private place for children of older parents to help the parent with toileting, a place for a person with GI issues to go, and relieve the constant anxiety of transgender persons to find a bathroom.

    • Barbara
      | Reply

      Hi Marianne, I also had a baby girl in 1975. I enjoyed reading all the comments this subject has brought about.

  63. Angela Clemons
    | Reply

    I’m 60. No kids. My breasts were not used for the purpose for which they were created, but they were used as foreplay and so were more “sexual organs” as opposed to ‘life nurturers.”. This is a lot of the reason why I’m always taken aback when I see a nekkid t***y in public. I’m not offended by breastfeeding moms, but I am curious how they got so bold about complete strangers seeing their boob. Women of my generation would sometimes breastfeed publicly but were careful to stay covered. I was told one time that the ladies in National Geographic certainly didn’t bother to cover their breasts and it was absolutely acceptable in their societies. Well, yeah, and I remember boys in my class huddled around the National Geographic giggling and pointing at the first boobies they had ever seen that weren’t attached to someone in their own families. So, I’m always slightly shocked at public breastfeeding, but also feel an “awwwwww” in my soul at the sweetness of mother and child in such a nurturing moment. And at the end of the day…to each his own.

  64. Ginny R
    | Reply

    I breastfed both of my children and I wholeheartedly support mothers who breastfeed. However, in a public place use a baby blanket, a shawl, a sweater, something to provide a bit of privacy for those around you. Just common courtesy. Women today enjoy more freedom in breastfeeding than I did in the 1970’s.

  65. Leanne
    | Reply

    I breastfed both my babies many moons ago. I’m a fairly modest person in general so I wasn’t completely comfortable breastfeeding in public, but I did it when the need arose. If my baby was hungry I fed them, wherever I was. I did try to provide myself as much privacy as possible, but my kids hated being covered with a blanket. I’m very happy that we’ve come all this way allowing women the freedom to breastfeed anywhere but if I’m really honest…. my internal conversation would’ve gone a lot like yours!! Lol! Well written article and all of the comments I’ve read were wonderful too! ~LN

  66. Linda
    | Reply

    Openly breast feeding a baby makes me uncomfortable. There is nothing wrong with being discreet. There are a lot of bodily functions or activities that are natural but not everyone else wants to see it.

  67. Charlotte
    | Reply

    Midwife from New Zealand talking here. NZ has some of the best breastfeeding statistics in the developed world. My area has the best breastfeeding stats in the country (94% exclusive BF on discharge from hospital). And we’d like to increase the rate because the flow on effects on health of babies and therefore health of community are so amazing. The battle is with public acceptance – the sexualising of women’s breasts to the point where it becomes awkward when someone uses them for their actual intended purpose! So your feelings are pretty indicative of society as a whole. But I say feed the baby – whenever and wherever it wants feeding. Because the more we see it, the less awkward we’ll feel. And I’d much rather feel slightly awkward than listen to a baby scream it’s head off on an aeroplane because it’s hungry and/or it has sore ears and needs to feed to pop the pressure difference, right?

  68. Ang
    | Reply

    I think we need to think about what would have happened had that mom NOT fed her baby:
    1. Baby crying because she/he is hungry.
    2. Baby crying because her/his ears hurt.
    3. Baby not nursing well and crying because she/he doesn’t like to be covered (one of my daughters was like this).
    4. Mother in pain because she didn’t nurse – not nursing on time is painful!
    5. Mom trying to bottle feed – my oldest refused to eat for a whole day when I was gone – she would only breast feed.
    6. Mother has to pump her milk – which to me is way more “odd” to do in public than nursing. And I don’t know how you would even do that on a plane.
    When my daughters were 2 & 6 months old, we flew from Chicago to Tucson. Two gentlemen were horrified that we were going to sit in front of them! Older daughter was kept busy with books, stickers, etc., younger daughter nursed and slept a good part of the flight. After the flight, the gentlemen found my in-laws meeting us and said what wonderful grandchildren they had! I felt like I had won a gold medal 🙂

    So basically, listen to “myself”. I prefer modesty too – but sometimes food is more important.

  69. Lisa Phillips
    | Reply

    I breastfed in the late 80’s and early 90’s . It was so much more of a cover yourself period—-women still wore giant smocks to hide their pregnancies. I think it is awesome how women don’t hide their pregnancies and they breastfeed in public. Sure beats the days of going and sitting on a toilet to breastfeed because it made others feel uncomfortable. Personally I would probably still use a cover-up but that is much because my girls were easily distracted by activity and often nursing was a time for them to relax. I’ve had friends who pumped at work to pump in the bathroom or wash their pump in the bathroom—-that my friend is what is disgusting. I am glad we are moving past those old notions and pleased that we have choices.l

  70. Nicole Starling
    | Reply

    Dear Mary,
    I love these conversations and those open enough to ask. Great commentary so far! Here’s my view.

    Food is life. Baby bellies are so small, only as big as a quarter at first! They need to eat often (like sometimes every 30 minutes to an hour). No matter how discreet you think you may or may not be, it all changes when you realize your child might literally die if your nutrition is not sufficient. Its a scary thought—think about it. This human relies 100% on you. Its especially stressful amidst the emotional roller coaster of childbirth-hormones, no sleep, and a new crying baby in your house.

    And while breastfeeding is natural, it may not be easy or come naturally to everyone… I was at home crying, hurting and spraying everywhere for months. I think it was way harder than my C section. Literally I would rather be sliced in half again vs having to learn how to breastfeed. I could be the odd woman out.

    Anyway, once I finally learned how to properly breastfeed my baby, my former modest self didn’t give one dam about anyone’s feelings—not one. I’m sorry but I didn’t. I cared that I could feed my baby. That’s it.

    So back to this amazing woman on the airplane who was able to pull it off… how about we care more about her ability to nourish and calm a human being and less about her exposed bosom? How about we say, good job and not give a second thought to how discreet she’s being or not being?

    I was fortunate enough to raise two babies in California where breastfeeding is quite the norm. I can’t tell you how amazing it made me feel when a male or female would stop over while I was breastfeeding and say, “ good job mama!” When you’ve only slept in 2-3 hour increments and you are stressed because you don’t know what the f-you’re doing, this is the best.

    So my advice is always to applaud every woman breastfeeding—the journey is long and hard yet beautiful and life giving. Is this really the moment we question something like discretion?

    • Elle
      | Reply

      Thank you!

  71. Laura
    | Reply

    I *thought* I had left a long, thoughtful comment but I don’t see it so perhaps it has disappeared into the corners of the internet?

    What I will say is that we are so quick to assume we know what motivations other women have – that they are intentionally exposing themselves – when really, unless it is someone we know (and we’ve asked) or someone who has stated publicly what they are doing we have no idea . Maybe that mom would *like* to cover up more but her baby will scream nonstop if she does! Maybe her baby spat up all over her cover-up. I can come up with reasons all day long.

    We are so fast to judge each other.
    Other women are our own worst enemy.

    • Donna
      | Reply

      Thanks for bringing up an excellent point! We really judge each other far, far too harshly!

  72. Elle
    | Reply

    I can’t read all the comments as I find too many of them depressing/offensive, so i’m Looking away. Mary, this is Elle (Miles’s Mom) from DC. You know me! You don’t think of me as someone who would be trying to show off my boobs. You have also seen me nurse Miles (in your hospital room, i’m pretty sure). I have large breasts, and nursing him was hard. I always wore nursing friendly shirts, but I was uncomfortable with my stomach showing, so I usually pulled my shirt down rather than up. I tried in early days to use a blanket to cover, and frankly, I don’t have enough hands for that. It was all I could do to hold him and get my breast positioned correctly for a proper latch. And i’ve been that woman on the plane many times. And that woman in the supermarket just trying to find a bench to sit down as quickly as possible as he went from 0 to 60 in 2 seconds flat. I think what all these people who are looking down on me for being “indiscrete” are forgetting is that just because they could do something a certain way doesn’t mean everyone can. My goal was always to feed my baby as quickly as possible before all hell broke lose. I was never trying to put on a show, and I know of absolutely zero mothers who are. Do I wish I could have afforded the super-cute, super-discrete, super-expensive nursing shirts that would have made it easier than my Motherhood Maternity elastic necklined pull-down shirts? Yes. Could I after I left my job to take care of my high needs baby and our family’s income was now much less than half of what it was, and we suddenly had crazy medical bills for all his specialists? No. Did I get glares from people at some of the most vulnerable moments in my life when I was exhausted and just doing everything I could to be the best mom I could be? Yes. Am I tired of the crap that big-breasted women, in particular, get over this issue? Beyond. Am I proud that through an unbelievable array of hardships (like my breasts bleeding from the trauma of undiagnosed tongue-tie, feeling like my nipples were being subjected to a cigarette lighter while I had thrush, etc., sleep deprivation so severe that the thought of another baby gives me hives) that I never gave up? I breastfed Miles for more than 4 years, and I am proud that I made the sacrifice that I did to give him the best start in the world that I could, especially given his medical issues and our pediatrician’s counseling that breastmilk was medicine for him. Can I also say that it took just one mom riding by on a bike in a park in Chicago giving me encouraging words after some family members made me feel awkward about breastfeeding by asking questions like this about the appropriateness of breastfeeding in public to completely make my day/year? I hope if you ever end up breastfeeding a baby that that supportive mom is there for you when you need her! I certainly will be!

    P.S. the worst part of flying with a baby for me was not the breastfeeding on the plane, though that was incredibly challenging given narrow seats and the length of Miles’ body. It was the poop explosion that the diaper didn’t contain that not only was all over him, but all over me. He had a change of clothes. I didn’t. Lesson learned!

    • Judy Forkner
      | Reply

      When I read your comment, I think “Nevertheless, she persisted”! Good job Elle!
      And I remember experiencing that poop explosion all over baby & me with our 2nd baby while eating lunch at a really nice restaurant in Beverly Hills while on vacation! That was in 1976!
      I was a bit shy about nursing in public early on when our 1st child was born in 1969, but decided that I didn’t want to keep us closeted away. With most of my clothing I was able to be fairly discreet, but sometimes you want to wear something other than a loose fitting shirt with pants or a skirt!

  73. linda
    | Reply

    I was very comfortable nursing both of my children in public when it was necessary. The oldest found having a blanket covering her for modesty very distracting and so I gave that up….the second one needed the blanket cover to keep him from being distracted. 🙂 Shrug. I do not find public nursing objectionable and don’t think it should be an issue, frankly.

    🙂 Linda

  74. Mary
    | Reply

    I breastfed my daughter, and I fed her whenever she was hungry. Out of respect for others who were bothered by the fact that I was nursing much more than I was at nursing whenever and wherever we happened to be, I did try to keep us both as covered as possible. It is possible to breastfeed and still maintain a certain degree of modesty. I wouldn’t be comfortable flopping my whole boob out there for the world to see!

  75. Jane Berg
    | Reply

    Breastfeeding is the best thing a mother can do for her child if she is able to do it. While I am somewhat modest and I covered up most of the time, I did have to feed my child totally exposed on a couple of occasions. At first I was very embarrassed, but then realized that I needed to do this for my hungry child. Mothers should never feel embarrassed about feeding their child and no one should even suggest they not do it in public, nor should they ridicule a mother who inadvertently wore the wrong blouse when they left the house (perhaps it was the only clean on in the closet that day). Anyone offended by this has the option to turn the other way- a mother does not have the option to not feed her child.

  76. Lizzie
    | Reply

    I breastfed my four, which added up to about seven years of nursing. I fed them in public, on planes, etc. but never showed my skin. It wasn’t difficult, I just planned ahead with wardrobe choices that allowed easy access. Consideration for the others around you is key. Alternately, I would appreciate consideration when I’m our with my family and subjected to obscene language. The “f” bomb is dropped in casual conversation nowadays with no regard for the “little pitchers with big ears”.

  77. Miss Daisy
    | Reply

    Breastfeeding is not art , where was she supposed to go on an airplane – cover it up . What is next people , urinating in public , it is also a body function , having a bowel movement , where do we draw the line. A little modesty never hurts anyone , come on be a lady and cover it up . There are even clothes out there for that purpose . Set a good example . We are all entitled to our opinions and are adults I hope so no one should be ugly . I don’t think you should apologize if something makes you uncomfortable . Have a fabulous God filled night.

  78. Anne
    | Reply

    I’m a thirty something from Europe. Most of my friends have kids and not a single one of them does not feed in public. I am not feeling offended and nor are they. In fact, none of them have felt compelled to ask me or any other person if we are OK with them breast feeding in public. Some of them use covers, but most of them do not. I feel that they try to do it as decent as possible, however. I certainly have never experienced anyone commenting on their feeding, whether in a cafe, restaurant, living room or other place, although I am curious to hear from my friends whether they have in my absence. I do recognize feeling slightly insecure at first when I am talking to someone who starts breast feeding, but having experienced that chatting can just continue over the head of the babe, I’m not feeling that unease anymore. Having said that, I travel a lot for work and come across things that to me seems to be crossing a line. This year I attended a conference. Halfway one of the sessions, a woman with a crying baby came in. First she tried to nurture him by walking around and whispering soothing words, but since that did not help she sat down and started breast feeding openly. Now, to draw the picture: the room was full of men and women wearing suits and seriously trying to discuss a scientific article. First the baby was crying. That was not beneficial to concentration. Then the lady started breast feeding open and in public. The crying stopped, but concentration was gone anyway. I do not think anyone was offended the fact that she was breast feeding in general, but it just felt not the time and the place to bring a babe and do that. (hope not to offend anyone with this comment)

  79. Mary Lou Maloni
    | Reply

    Baby was hungry and momma took care of the baby’s need. I breastfed my youngest child often while at the soccer field/school play/recital etc for my older ones. Fortunately the baby did not mind being covered, however some babies do mind being covered. Also sometimes it is way awkward when you are one handed arranging said cover. I am pretty sure in that awkwardness I wasn’t always covered. It is no big deal unless we make it so, which is not necessary

  80. Lisa Gentile
    | Reply

    It takes courage, hope, and vulnerability to explore what we think and feel about something we encounter in our culture by asking others to talk it out with us. The experience of observing something is about the observer. So the observer has every right to process. I am encouraged by the responders who are not quick to scold and judge those who are working through it for not being neatly over it.

  81. Rosemary Small
    | Reply

    I understand your thoughts. I had my three children in the 70’s and 80’s and always sought a private place to feed my babies. Back then mothers’ rooms, as they were called, were found in all malls attached to the female toilets. I found it a lovely, quiet time amid all the hustle and bustle of shopping. When visiting friends and family I removed myself to a bedroom and fed whatever hungry baby I had at the time. I enjoyed the quiet, just baby and me time while I fed my daughter or sons in a private place.

    It wasn’t acceptable back then to breastfeed in public. I imagine a nursing mother would have been arrested for public exposure and I’m sure my family and friends would have been shocked should I have brazenly (as it would have been thought back then) exposed a breast and attached a baby. Even had public breastfeeding have been considered acceptable back then I don’t know if I could have done so. To me a breast is a breast and I couldn’t expose mine in public for anything.

    Having said all that my daughter and daughters in law all have no problems with breast feeding wherever they are when baby stars making those demands. I found I wasn’t uncomfortable with them doing so, although it took some getting used to by my husband, and his dad just never coped. Public breastfeeding began with mothers, my daughters included placing a baby blanket over their exposed breast. Unsurprisingly this tended to cover baby as well and soon lost favour. Me, I’m still in favour of this method for modesty’s sake, but understand mums who don’t want their babies covered up as if the whole beautiful process was unsavory.

    When I’m out and about and encounter a breast feeding mum I don’t feel confronted, like you I see the beauty in the mother/baby bonding session. So I suppose my take on the subject is it’s not only fine for anyone who wants to breastfeed in public, but their right to do so. I just know it wouldn’t have been for me.

  82. Kathleen
    | Reply

    Sorry kids! I don’t like seeing someone feeding on someone’s breast in public. If the baby is hungry on the plane,maybe you could have pumped before that. Just my opinion.

  83. Britiney
    | Reply

    I’m a nearly 50 year old mom of 3 teenage boys who I breastfed until each was between 18 months and 2 years, so I have some experience to draw on. As at least one commenter mentioned, it is definitely possible to breastfeed, without a cover-up even, and show very little flesh. I really really really support women breastfeeding in public, but I think there should maybe be a little give and take in that it can be done without drawing attention to the fact that it’s happening and without making others uncomfortable. Back to the fact that I have 3 teenage boys. Regardless of my level of support for breastfeeding moms, I would be extremely uncomfortable sitting next to one of my kids on that plane and would NOT want them to have to try to process that in their pubescent states. They’ve seen my sister breast feed her babies and I had no problem with that, but she was discreet and they didn’t have to figure out where to look and weren’t made to feel uncomfortable while she was doing it. There are rules about public nudity, right? Isn’t that a thing? I think breastfeeding is beautiful, but I also think moms can be attentive to the sensitivities of people in the proximity, whether they agree with them or not.

  84. Andrea S.
    | Reply

    I e done it before with my 2 kids. At that point you really don’t care what other people think. When you have a screaming crying infant that needs to be feed, you have one job, which is to whip it out and let them go to town. If someone else doesn’t like it, that’s their problem, you are being a good mother. Also, pumping isn’t as easy as some people make it seam. I unfortunately was not able to pump, and had to exclusively breastfeed both kids for 6 months, and life does not stop because you have a hungry kid.

  85. beckie
    | Reply

    People turn their faces away from that which startles them. A breastfeeding mother, burn scars on a face, a missing limb, little girls who’ve with chemo hair and so on and so forth. The problem lies with the viewer, not the breastfeeding mother, scarred person, amputee, cancer child, etc. We avert our gaze regardless of how that may make others feel. but then, if we’re made of good stuff, we get over it. We don’t stare or focus on this one aspect of this persons life, we simply exchange a smile, a greeting or a bit of chitchat as normal and move on. I breastfed my children, I wasn’t making a statement or in your facing when I wasn’t covered, baby would pull that blanket off his face quick as I put it on, you get over that modesty thing or give up breast feeding, breast feeding is the better choice. Feeding a baby, bottle or breast, is normal. Smile and move on.

  86. Kate
    | Reply

    I cannot resist. I was flying across the continent with an eight month old. We had taken an early flight from a small local airport to a major city, to catch the cross country flight. Baby was ready for a nap. As we boarded the flight, he started to wail. I was going to nurse him, once we took off and was trying to sooth him, when the flight attendant came over, and started by stating the obvious. ” The baby is disturbing the other passengers. ” Too bad, I think, however, I restrain myself for a moment. ” There is no one in first class, so if you and the baby come with me, the other flight attendant will bring your bags.” Score!
    Away from the noise of the other passengers, he quieted down immediately. After take off, I could nurse him in this very private wide seat, and lay him down for a nap, on the empty seat beside me.
    Only time I have ever flown first class!

  87. Nita K
    | Reply

    While I can empathize with some who find this uncomfortable it saddens me. It is a natural process and until we can accept our bodies for what they are intended for rather than objectifying breasts, we will never be equal or break the cycle of harassment so many face. I am an older (65) year old mother who breast fed my child. Trust me 33 years ago it was tough to find a clean private place when you were out and baby was hungry. So I got over the modesty and the odd looks to do what I felt best for my child. Unfortunately even today I can recall some of the ugly comments. I look forward to a time in my life when this has become a non issue.

  88. Donnamarie Falk
    | Reply

    As a registered nurse who worked labor and delivery, I don’t have the same response as others who have not worked in that field, I just am rooting for that baby to latch on. And I would rather have a contented full happy baby on the plane with me than a screaming squalling hungry infant who needs comfort and succor. And as a mother who has traveled with infants, It is really really hard and people can be so unkind because other passengers are afraid my infant will ruin their travel experience. I’m also guessing that this mother was on her very very last nerve, she is traveling and the reason my not be a pleasant or happy one, it is way too early for any adult human to be on a plane no less than with a nursing infant. Her life is a whole lot harder than mine as I sit there with my hot Starbucks and morning USA paper. So I say, it would be great if she could be a little more discreet, but if she isn’t in that frame of mind, then you feed that little angel and grow her up to be wonderful. God bless them both as they go on their way.

  89. cineasia
    | Reply

    Some women just actually do not enjoy breastfeeding in public. I found it to be a huge hassle. And I got all kinds of judgment from women that assumed I was “ashamed or a prude. So I literally got pressure TO breastfeed in public. I really just hated dealing with always having to find a place to sit down (because breastfeeding standing up was uncomfortable on my bad back) and I couldn”t get anything done if I was trying to run errands and my son wanted a million tiny feeds in quick succession. The simplest trip to a store could end up taking forever by the time I found a place to sit and did a feeding and then started shopping again. So I breastfed mostly at home and did bottles of pumped milk or formula while I was out because it was simply less stressful. The sad thing is so many women are quick to label someone like me as a prude or ashamed simply based off of what they see, but it really just boiled down to me doing what was most comfortable for my back.

  90. Sue Kelly
    | Reply

    Thank you, Mary, for starting this discussion. I, for one, believe in breastfeeding but please be discreet about it and try to cover up when possible. I think that just because a mother CAN breastfeed in public she should ask herself SHOULD she? Will it make others around her uncomfortable. I successfully breastfed my child with this mindset and it was a satisfying experience.

  91. Molly Grue
    | Reply

    I would like to add another angle to the story: You don’t know what happened before. Taking care of a child is EXHAUSTING. You don’t know what that young mother had already to deal with before being safely on the plane. I have myself been to exhausted to care about anything but the next step. And then there is the pressure of people around you who don’t want the baby to cry. Nursing is the easiest option to keep it’s ears free. So to sum it up: Stop judging. You don’t know what they have been through.

  92. Colleen
    | Reply

    Wow Mary great conversation you shared from your experience.
    I did breastfeed in the early 1970s . I was very modest and truly not comfortable in my own skin feeding my baby with people around was uncomfortable for me, even in my own home I always fed my baby alone it was my choice
    (my mother had my brother when I was in 4th grade and breastfeed him comfortably that was fine I had no problem watching her feed him )

    So if it where me on that plane most likely I would be trying to give my baby a bottle of water and have a fussy baby. My own body would have been a mess also because once the baby starts to fuss cry the body reacts so breasts get full might leak definitely hurt then I just don’t know perhaps both the baby and I would be crying

    The breastfeeding mother on your plan was a better mother than I was because she put her baby’s needs first.

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