Breastfeeding in Public: An Insider’s Look into the Controversy

Kara and Jason Kincaid, with 5-year-old Melanie, 3-year-old Will and infant daughter Mya.

Kara and Jason Kincaid, with 5-year-old Melanie, 3-year-old Will and infant daughter Mya.

If you spend time online, you’ve seen the stories. Moms asked to cover up or stop breastfeeding in public as to not offend people around them. While health experts and most of society agree “breast is best” when it comes to feeding your baby, how did where the baby eats become so controversial?

We talked to three current or former nursing moms to get their take on the issue.

• “Anytime I nursed one of my babies in a public setting, including once on an airplane, I covered up with a blanket because that was my personal preference, and honestly, to prevent any uncomfortable moments for those around me.”
• “I nurse in public because my babies need to eat. I try to be modest by sitting in corners or private areas, but I rarely use a cover.”
• “I’m much more comfortable doing it if I’m at a kid friendly place like the park or zoo. I’m hesitant at restaurants where the ages of people are more diverse because I feel judgement.”

Springfield-area resident Kara Kincaid is nursing baby No. 3: sweet, little 6-week-old Mya. While she generally tried to avoid nursing in public with her first two, she now finds herself in a different position.

“I work hard to establish a schedule and plan my outings in between feedings,” Kara said. “But this time, I have two older kids who want to go out and do fun things, so I’m forcing myself to be more comfortable with it.”

Breastfeeding moms, regardless of whether they use a cover, are legally permitted to nurse at any public or private location in every state but Idaho. But as mom-shaming stories continue to circulate online, it’s easy to understand the hesitation some moms feel.

“Many are fearful of negative comments,” said Judy Skelton, RN, a lactation consultant at Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital. “But I don’t believe negativism is the majority. But with social media, you hear more about those experiences. It makes for a better story than the 99.9 percent of others that walked by and didn’t even notice or even those who gave the mom a smile.”

While Kara continues to push out of her comfort zone, she still prefers to nurse with a blanket or cover. Although she’s never received a negative comment, she’s mindful of those around her.

“I feel respecting other people’s discomfort is important to helping them start to see breastfeeding as more normal,” she said. “If I’m blatantly showing myself to others and causing them to be angry, they are probably not going to change their minds about it or start to accept it as normal.”

It’s a mindset many experts agree with.

“Breasts have been sexualized for many years in the media and movies and not seen for their primary purpose of nurturing and lactation,” Skelton said. “We need to teach our children that breastfeeding is the norm and not let it be seen as a dirty or bad thing. But at the same time, moms need to do their part and not intentionally cause controversy. We can all be respectful of each other.”

Memorial Health System offers breastfeeding support groups at Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital in Lincoln, IL, Passavant Area Hospital in Jacksonville, IL, and Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, IL.