Breastfeeding in Public: Why It’s Important to Be Discreet

Discretion DOES matter when it comes to Breastfeeding in Public

“I support public breastfeeding,” says one comment, “as long as the mother is being discreet about it.”

These words are like nails on a chalkboard to many mothers. These mothers are trying to change public perception of breastfeeding and normalize what is a natural and time proven process.

We have been breastfeeding our children since the dawn of humanity. Only recently in Western society has a stigma grown against breastfeeding in public.

So we push to normalize it….but there is a catch.

To normalize breastfeeding, people have to see breastfeeding…and yes, this sometimes includes exposure of (gasp) a mother’s breast, if only slightly for a second.

The case is being made that if you truly support breastfeeding mothers, you can’t project subjective standards on how they nurse.

“It’s ok as long as she is discreet.”

By the way, what exactly does discreet mean?

The definition of discreet…for breastfeeding in public

According to Webster,

Definition of discreet

1: having or showing discernment or good judgment in conduct and especially in speech : PRUDENTespecially : capable of preserving prudent silence

2: UNPRETENTIOUS, MODESTthe warmth and discreet elegance of a civilized home— Joseph Wechsberg

3: UNOBTRUSIVE, UNNOTICEABLEfollowed at a discreet distance

Good judgment, modesty, unpretentious, unobtrusive…..all of this seems to go along nicely with the image of a mother feeding her child.  

So why is there a call for discretion when Western culture shows us sexualized breasts daily in magazine, TV shows and on advertising.

As the next season of Game of Thrones prepares to be released, I realize how many people love this show….and it is a good show!

But are you telling me that you feel uncomfortable accidentally catching view of a nursing mother? AND, you made it through that first episode of Game of Thrones?!

So where is discretion really needed when it comes to breastfeeding in public?

breastfeeding in public, breastfeeding, normalize breastfeeding

Discretion is needed from YOU!

Good judgment to kindly look the other way and to not stare if you stumble on a nursing mother in public.

Unpretentious in realizing that if you have not walked in that mother’s shoes, you DO NOT know what its like to be her.  She may have not gotten any sleep, this may be the first time she has left the house with her baby, she may have worked countless hours to successfully breastfeed and now she finds herself with a choice to nurse in public or try to hide in shame of doing what she knows to be best. Show her some kindness.

Modesty in seeing a woman’s breasts for the biological function that they are, and putting your own sexual perceptions to the side.  Yes breasts can be sexual, yet they are so much more than that. Just as our hands can be used to hold a hammer, draw a portrait, or caress a loved one, there are parts of our body that have more than one purpose in this lifetime.  Stop thinking that breasts primarily for sex….they aren’t.

Unobtrusive….do not disturb a mother nursing her baby.  That makes you an asshole. The law protects a mother to feed her baby wherever she would be otherwise, and no, she does not need a cover.  But more importantly, even without the law, it just makes you a crappy person.

and lastly,

Unoticeable in that 9.9 times out of ten, a mother nursing in public is going to be solely focussed on her baby.  She most likely will not notice you. She most likely did not notice you notice her. Let her be. Carry on about your day.  If you happen to start interacting with a mother before you realize she is nursing and become embarrassed and feel awkward, its ok!  We realize this road is a little bumpy and that being around nursing moms is new to some. All that we ask for is kindness and respect.  You don’t have to run away!

So there you have it.


Yes, people need to be discreet when it comes to nursing in public….but not the mothers themselves.

The same women who are climbing the work ladder, breaking glass ceilings and changing what it means to be a woman in this country; many of these women also happen to be mothers.

To summarize, if you see a mom breastfeeding her child, be kind and respectful. That’s about it!

I understand that there will always be people who disagree with this issue. With any progressive movement that expands protections for people, there will always be push back.

Breastfeeding will become normalized, because as the biological importance of breast milk continues to be realized, women will no longer accept staying home and hiding in bathrooms.

The same women who are climbing the work ladder, breaking glass ceilings and changing what it means to be a woman in this country; many of these women also happen to be mothers.

To all the moms who are out there on a daily basis nursing their children despite condescending stares, mean comments, and unlawfully being asked to leave or go somewhere more private, thank you for your hard work.

You are paving the way for our next generation of mothers and it is so appreciated!

Courtney is a DONA trained doula and certified yoga instructor in the Jacksonville Florida area. She is trying to raise awareness for breastfeeding in public.
Courtney is a DONA trained doula and certifed yoga instructor in the Jacksonville Florida area. She is the mother to one daughter Cora, and is passionate about helping other moms with pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period. If you have any questions, send an email to [email protected]

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