Publicly Shaming a Nursing Woman Is Not Just Wrong – It’s Dangerous

A much-needed discussion around the right women have to be free from sexual harassment on college campuses, in workplaces and while walking down the street has taken center stage recently, but one group of women hasn’t received their fair share of attention: mothers. Specifically, mothers who are breastfeeding their young children.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil, a bill is expected to be signed by the mayor that would fine individuals or businesses who try to stop women from breastfeeding in public. The legislation is a response to reported harassment against mothers, which almost any nursing woman can confirm to be a contemporary problem.

Mothers in the U.S. do not face explicit legal barriers to breastfeeding. Some states have protections for breastfeeding on the books. But public shaming remains a consistent problem, especially since a large number of people aren’t aware of the existing statutes.

In many otherwise welcoming settings, new mothers continue to face marked discrimination. This month, Kristen Hilderman reported being harassed on a United Airlines flight by an attendant who tossed a blanket at a woman’s husband and told him to “help her out.” Tara Léger received an apology from a manager after she was told to stop breastfeeding in a Canadian mall because it was “offensive.” We previously highlighted the story of Ingrid Wiese-Hesson, a California woman who was banished by a manager to the bathroom to finish feeding her son.

Globally, the number of children breastfed hovers below 40 percent.  The CDC’s current data shows that in the U.S., only 40.7 percent of children are exclusively breastfed at 3 months. In states like West Virginia, Kentucky and Mississippi, the number of babies breastfed exclusively at 3 months drops to under 30 percent.

Support for on-site breastfeeding by state child care regulations only exists in seven states. The three aforementioned states with the lowest breastfeeding rates were all reported by the CDC to not have full breastfeeding support in their child care statutes.

In 18 states, there are fewer than two available Certified Lactation Counselors (CLCs) per 1,000 childbirths. Only eight states have 10 or more CLCs available per 1,000 childbirths.

Keep in mind that human breast milk is linked to a series of long-term benefits for children, from lower cancer risks to increased immunity and intelligence. Breastfeeding is recommended as the best nutritional option for babies by medical consensus.

Exchanges, like Only the Breast, are popping up for mothers to buy, sell or even donate breastmilk, so that parents unable to personally breastfeed children are still able to provide the nutritional benefits to their children.

Breastfeeding literally saves children’s lives, with the World Health Organizations stating: “If every child was breastfed within an hour of birth, given only breast milk for their first six months of life, and continued breastfeeding up to the age of two years, about 800,000 child lives would be saved every year.”

A diverse swath of countries, most recently Mexico and New Zealand, are attempting to find ways to support breastfeeding with their public policy. Countries are beginning to recognize that supporting the rights of mothers is not just the most ethical decision but a matter of public health.

In the U.S., we need to start enshrining the rights of breastfeeding mothers explicitly into law for every state, especially the right not to be harassed for choosing the best nutritional option for their young children.

But changing laws takes time, and we don’t have to wait for legal change to start supporting mothers. States like Kansas and Tennessee are encouraging businesses to take the “Breastfeeding Welcome Here” pledge. This program allows businesses to become welcoming spaces for mothers by including signage that supports breastfeeding and having staff trained to accommodate mothers.

On a personal level, each of us can take a stand for the rights of those in our presence. We can make sure new mothers know we support them in our homes, places of work and social settings. And we can speak up when anyone tries to take away a mother’s right to breastfeed her children, no matter the location.

Breastfeeding is a deeply personal choice for moms. Public shaming shouldn’t be a factor whatsoever in making this decision.

Photo Credit: Al van Akker and Mothering Touch via Flickr


Jerome S
Jerome S2 years ago


Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for sharing.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Roro l.
Roro l4 years ago


Christine C.
Chandra C4 years ago

It just amazes me that this is even an issue.

Nikki Davey
Nikki Davey4 years ago

It can be done discreetly,, without drama, and should be treated as normal behaviour. Just like eating.

N. Jane Walker
N. Jane Walker4 years ago

Thanks for sharing this story

Myriam G.
Myriam G4 years ago

Dear Nimue P,
Some women feed their babies on demand, and that can mean every couple of hours. If they have to "do it in private", it means they cannot leave the privacy of their home for more than a couple of hours, or they have to stick to the houses of people with whom they share privacy. Now, a situation like that can make a woman stop breastfeeding altogether.

I breastfed my 3 kids, often in public situations. I never had my "tits hanging out", as you so repulsively put it. Most people didn't even realise I was breasfeeding until someone asked: "Can I see the baby?", and I'd answer: "Sure, just let her finish her lunch, and she'll be all smiles."
Sincerely, I think some people might have felt very slightly awkward, seeing us, but I really don't think anybody was offended. That slight awkwardness may have temporarily affected people, but in turn, my kids had the many health benefits of breasfeeding. To me, this is fair trade.

virgen velazquez

If eat a baby (breastfeeding) in public is “offensive”,so stop all people that eat in public too.

Karen H.
Karen H4 years ago

Joseph B is right. Violence on TV and in movies is fine. Breasts? Not so much. Weird, huh?