Breastfeeding in public necessarily means breastfeeding around other people. And where there are other people, there are comments: some good, some bad.
I fortunately haven’t encountered a lot of negativity during my three years so far of breastfeeding, but I have thought about what I might say if I ever do. (And, you know, if I were the type of person to have a witty retort always perched on my tongue that I could spit out at a moment’s notice.) Well, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared, right? (And it doesn’t hurt to dream, either!)
So if you want some comebacks ready, so that you’re not scrambling with mouth agape when a query comes your way, here are some possible responses to criticisms or questions.
I had the decency to pump milk so that I could feed from a bottle in public.
Play on sympathy, with a nod to sarcasm: Oh, you’re so lucky. I’ve tried pumping, and I get absolutely nothing out. Good thing I have this convenient milk supply attached to me!
Try debasing yourself for a higher purpose: That would be wonderful — if I weren’t so danged lazy. I just really can’t be bothered to sterilize and thaw and pump and all those other things, when this way’s so much easier.
If you just plan ahead, it’s not hard to schedule your outings around feedings. Nurse before you leave, and then just get home before the next feeding.
Play the “expert” card: My pediatrician said my baby needs to eat every hour or even more often if she wants. He also said I had to get out for fresh air, so …[Shrug your shoulders and look innocent.] Oh, did you say you liked sarcasm?: That used to work before I fired all my servants, but now I no longer have the luxury of staying home for a year and have to run all the errands myself, nursing baby or not.
When are you going to stop nursing in public?
Snarky: Well, we have an ongoing pool. What age do you want to put money on? We’ve still got 7 and 13 open.
Bore them with facts: Well, Katherine Dettwyler studied various other primates and looked at factors such as length of gestation, when teeth erupted, life span, and age of sexual maturity, and she determined that “the minimum predicted age for a natural age of weaning in humans is 2.5 years, with a maximum of 7.0 years.” So … [Proceed to read the results of the research aloud to them until they stop listening. NB: These facts are absolutely fascinating to me; I just doubt the same is true of someone criticizing your choice in this regard!]
Blame it on the baby: My baby doesn’t like having his head covered when he eats. It gets too hot and stuffy under there.
Continuing in an oh-so-gracious vein: But you feel free to put a blanket over your head if it makes you feel better.
Wouldn’t you be more comfortable feeding in the restroom?
Counter it: Um, no. Would you be more comfortable feeding in the restroom?
I don’t want to look at that!
Obnoxious: That’s why God gave you a neck, honey. Use it.
Saccharinely uncomprehending: But who wouldn’t want to look at something so precious and natural as a baby snuggling with his mama?
I don’t think that’s appropriate here.
I don’t think your butt’s appropriate here. [Ok, that’s just my standard response for whenever I can’t think of a response.]
That’s against the law.
Refer to legalities: Um, no, officer [manager, random passerby], it is actually perfectly legal. What you are doing in asking me to stop is illegal. [It helps to have a general idea of the relevant laws for your state or region, but you can always look them up later and make a complaint if necessary. For convenience, carry a copy of the laws with you — NursingFreedom.org has created cards for each state.]
Breasts are sexual.
Go anthropological: Yes. Yes, they are. They are also functional, and their primary function apart from arousing potential sexual partners is to feed infants. We are mammals, after all.
Women who insist on whipping out a boob in public are just exhibitionists.
Confirm their fears: So, so true, darling. [Then make a whipping noise while unclasping your beige boulder-holder and latching on your innocent infant.]
Seeing breastfeeding is just so weird.
Matter of fact: Well, that’s why I’m doing it, so it will become less weird for everyone.
Any objection (Objections Breastfeeding in Public) or question at all
You are not obligated to respond or debate, particularly if you think your answers will fall on deaf ears or be misinterpreted. What you are doing — feeding your baby — is entirely unobjectionable. So if anyone does object? That’s their problem.
Other versions of this (non-)response, which work for nursing in public as well as other parenting decisions you make:
This is what works for us.
This is what our doctor [midwife, etc.] recommended.
Thank you for sharing your opinion.
It’s interesting to hear your experience.
We’ve given this a lot of thought [or done a lot of research], and we’re comfortable with our choice.
Make a joke. (Self-deprecating often works best to deflect the conversation.)
If all else fails: Hey, look, is that a giraffe on a skateboard? [This gives you time to flee.]
Some of the potential (and oft-repeated) criticisms of public breastfeeding I listed are simple ignorance; some come from a place of really wanting to be informed; and some are just mean-spirited and unreasonable. How you choose to respond to any such comments that come your way depends a great deal on the motivation of the speaker and your own comfort level with confrontation.
Whenever I’m trying to decide whether or not to engage in a debate with someone (particularly someone I know), I ask myself, Is there any way what I say will change this person’s mind? and Is this person really asking me a question or just setting up an opportunity to air a contrary opinion? What and how much I say depends on my answers to those questions. If I get the sense that my responses will be ignored or used as ammunition against me, I often withhold them entirely. That said, you might be surprised what seeds you’re planting if you can respond in a reasonable and respectful way.
A lot of the answers I wrote are more what would be fun to say, rather than what I would ever actually say in such a situation. Although, if you do manage to blast out something fiery — more power to you! Do share!
For further reading, see kellymom’s post on “Handling criticism about breastfeeding,” which is a helpful and thoughtful take on the topic.
What are objections (Objections Breastfeeding in Public) you’ve heard to breastfeeding in public, and what are your witty responses? These can be responses you actually said or ones you just wish you’d have said.
Lauren is the breastfeeding mama to three-year-old Mikko and a baby on the way. She blogs at Hobo Mama about natural parenting, is a co-founder of Natural Parents Network, and co-hosts the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting. You can also find her at Hobo Mama Reviews and LaurenWayne.com.