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Breastfeeding in Public
Children need to be fed. They need the right nutrients in order to be healthy, starting as soon as moments after they are born. It is something nearly the entire American population can agree on. Then why is it not legal everywhere to do so? South Dakota and Virginia have laws specifically stating mothers are not allowed to breastfeed in public, due to it being public indecency, and Idaho is the only state that has not passed any similar laws (Samakow 1). Even in the other 47 states where public breastfeeding is legal, such a stigma is held against it that mothers are often asked to leave public places or to “cover up” if they are breastfeeding (1). Because the purpose of a woman’s breasts is to provide food and nutrients for her child if she wishes to have one, all women should be legally allowed to breastfeed in public, and should be allowed a comfortable space (that is not a restroom) to breastfeed if they prefer to do so in private, since a woman’s life should not have to be scheduled around when her baby needs to be fed, and since the sexualization of women’s breasts should not inhibit a child from being fed when he or she needs to be.
Breastfeeding is the complete form of nutrition for infants and babies, providing an abundance of protein, fats, energy, immunoprotective proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, and more (Dalzell, Rogerson, and Martindale 118). Breastmilk is unique in its nutrients and that it cannot be adequately replaced by any other food substance (Benefits of Breastfeeding 1).
Breastfeeding has incredible health benefits for both the mother and child, strengthening both of their immune systems (Benefits of Breastfeeding 1). Infants are naturally susceptible to illness, and breastfeeding helps reduce this susceptibility not only early in life, but later on as well, decreasing a child’s risk for the development diabetes, heart disease, and cancer (1). Breastfeeding mothers’ chances of developing osteoporosis as well as breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer are reduced; breastfeeding also allows for easier weight loss after pregnancy and giving birth (1). Breastfeeding also works as an effective form of natural contraceptive, 98% more effective than condoms (1). A mother’s mental and emotional health can also benefit from breastfeeding; a mother’s emotional health and confidence are improved through the development of a personal and intimate relationship with her infant(s); this interaction between mother and infant helps set “health and psychological foundation for years to come” (1).
This being said, since breastfeeding is the best option for the mother and child when it comes to feeding her baby, it’s logical to assume that a mother should always have to option to breastfeed her child no matter where she is, especially considering babies’ breastfeeding schedule and breastfeeding conditions need to be specific in order for the babies’ optimal health and comfort (50 Reasons…1). Infants aged newborn to six months need to be fed around 6 times per day, and as the infant grows from six months to one year old, around 4-5 feedings are required a day (Feeding Guide…1). It would be quite difficult for a mother to maintain this feeding schedule if she is out in public where some places do not allow breastfeeding. Take Karen Penley’s story, for example a homeless mother staying in a shelter who prefers breastfeeding; however, when she tried nursing her son at the shelter, she was told to cover up or to relocate (Bologna 1). Penley was told by a shelter worker that he had the right to refuse service (1). Penley soon after released a statement to all mothers, “I want all breastfeeding moms to know they’re not doing anything wrong. We shouldn’t have to cover because we’re not being perverts. We’re feeding our children and our children deserve it” (1).
Sure, the option of pumping breast milk is available for some moms, however, feeding through a bottle can cause babies to reject the nipple during actual breastfeeding (50 Reasons…1). Another point to be discussed is that women should not be forced to cover up while breastfeeding, since it’s essential to ensure a baby is being fed at the right time (for reasons discussed above), and placing some sort of cover over a baby while breastfeeding can cause discomfort for the infant and lead to it refusing to eat altogether.
Breastfeeding in public also provides financial relief for the mother along with having social benefits. Women who breastfeed save approximately $800 a year from not having to buy formula and this amount doesn’t even include the money spent on bottles, pumps, etc. (Benefits of Breastfeeding 1). As mentioned earlier, breastfeeding provides incredible health benefits for the infant, and this comes into play again when considering the amount of money that could be spent on health expenses. In a recent study, after six months, a group of formula-fed infants had $68,000 in medical expenses, while an equal number of breastfed babies only had $4,000 (1).
Despite all of this information and the evident benefits of breastfeeding in public, the majority of adversaries claims that breastfeeding in public, especially without a cover of some sort, is indecent exposure and public nudity because breasts are sex organs. This argument is somewhat sensible since women’s breasts can play a role in sexual arousal (Barber 1). However, breasts, for men and women, are actually secondary sex characteristics; such characteristics are specific to each sex, but are not necessary for reproduction; therefore, the exposure of a woman’s breasts in public, especially when being used for breastfeeding, should not be considered public indecency or nudity (Sex 1).
In conclusion, if a mother chooses to breastfeed her child, she should be able to do so legally and openly due to the reasons that breastfeeding is extremely beneficial for the health of the mother and baby, and in order to make sure babies are getting the nutrition they need when they need it, it is crucial to allow public breastfeeding in all places for the mother and baby to live a normal a life as possible. Breastfeeding also provides the mother with financial relief, which can be much needed for pregnancy and raise a baby is very expensive and stressful. Steps to be taken to help this women’s right progress primarily include more education on women’s breasts, their purpose and function, and the many benefits of breastfeeding.
Barber, Nigel. “Sexual Wiring of Women’s Breasts.” Psychology Today. May 7, 2013. Web.
February 27, 2016.
“Benefits of Breastfeeding.” Natural Resources Defense Council. March 25, 2005. Web.
February 17, 2016.
Bologna, Caroline. “Homeless Mom Says She Was Told To Cover Up While Breastfeeding in
Hawaii Shelter.” Huffington Post. July 1, 2014. Web. February 27 2016.
“Breastfeeding State Laws.” National Conference of State Legislatures. December 22 2015.
Web. February 17 2016.
Dalzell, Janet, Elizabeth Rogerson, Linda Martindale. “Breastfeeding and Nutrition.”
Breastfeeding: Contemporary Issues in Practice and Policy. Radcliffe: 2010. 117-130. Print.
“Feeding Guide for the First Year,” Johns Hopkins Medicine. N.d. Web. February 17 2016.
Samakow, Jessica. “These Are All The States Where It’s Legal to Breastfeed in Public.”
Huffington Post. August 1 2014. Web. February 17 2016.
“Sex.” Gendered Innovations. N.d. Web. February 27 2016.
“50 Reasons for Breastfeeding Anytime, Anywhere.” Ph.D. in Parenting. May 13 2010. Web.
February 17 2016.