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Disclaimer: The information in this post is for educational purposes only. I am not a doctor. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. None of the opinions are meant to diagnose or treat any disease or illness. You should always consult your healthcare provider.

Criticism of Breastfeeding: When Others are Uncomfortable

Criticism of Breastfeeding When Others are Uncomfortable.jpgIt’s a lovely day at the park.  Kids are screaming with joy, iconic fathers tossing baseballs to their sons, strollers are buzzing by, ladies nodding politely at each other as they kick those last few pounds of baby-weight in the rear, and there is a mother sitting under a tree on a park bench watching her young son in the sandbox.

Her four-year old is happily building the world’s tallest skyscraper utilizing branches, rocks and a few stray leaves.  She smiles contentedly for a moment. Her quiet reflection is interrupted by a tiny squeak in her infant carrier.  The little one inside has woken up from her nap and is alerting mom, “It’s time to feed me!” The last thing she’s worried about is someone’s criticism of breastfeeding.

She gazes sweetly at her infant inside and whispers gently, “Ok, little girl, let’s eat.”  Mother slowly gets situated, pulling her breast out of its confinement from under her shirt. She positions baby carefully in front, while baby begins to get insistent with her demands.  And within a few moments, mother has latched baby on and continues to watch her little boy, who by now has made twin towers of awesome proportions.

criticism of breastfeeding

The furthest thing from her mind is how to offend those around her.

Looking back, I remember reading anything I could get my hands on about how to be the best mother I could be.  When it came to breastfeeding, information was sadly scarce for me.  I knew only two women personally who had nursed and they had never encountered any issues.  I had no assumptions other than I would give it a try, and knew it was best for baby.

I have never met any mother who chose breastfeeding so that she could look forward to being criticized, ridiculed, and embarrassed.  But, sadly, many of us have experienced this exact response when we choose to breastfeed our babies.

How to Handle Others’ Criticism of Breastfeeding

How can we navigate the negative criticism?

There are lots of ways to manage comments and stares.  Let’s start with the “looks”.  Since breastfeeding is not as common in our American culture, people will often find themselves unable to look away from a mother who is breastfeeding.  It’s like watching a train wreck: people know they should stop watching, but they just can’t.

As a mother, there is no need to find a private place, unless you feel you want one.  But there are benefits to staying out in the open, so let’s go from that point of view.

1. Focus on your baby.

criticism of breastfeeding

Look into her eyes.  Talk to her, relax as your milk lets down.  Keep your mind, heart and soul on what she is doing.  Watch your posture –  not just because of latching, but because when you position yourself in a confident manner, this often has the effect of making you actually feel confident!

What if they go the next step and say something rude?

Then, we move on to step 2.

2. I find humor is the best way to ward off rude comments.

Sarcasm can sometimes work, but I feel like it can also build walls between others and yourself. So you will have to use your conscience as your guide.

A few of my favorite comebacks to the question of “When exactly are you planning on weaning?”:

  • “Just about as soon as you find your manners.”(Ok not this one, but it was funny!)
  • “I’m voting college, that sounds reasonable.”
  • “His future wife will have to take over the responsibility of nursing.  I’m sure they will work it out.”

What if they ask you,”Do you have to do that here?”

  • “Baby’s gotta eat, you gotta breathe. I suppose we both deserve to do that in peace.”
  • “Would you prefer I do it in your lap?”
  • “Don’t worry, I promise not to leak in your general direction.”

But, if witty comebacks are not your strong suit, or make you uncomfortable, try these on for size:

  • “My lactation counselor advised me to breastfeed openly.”
  • “My pediatrician advised me on the dangers of covering my baby and his breathing re-circulated air.”

Whatever you decide to do, you should keep this one simple thing in mind:

You don’t owe anyone any sort of explanation for feeding your child in the biologically normal way

So, go for it ladies!  Embrace your babe, feed your little one(s), and do it with pride.  And, if you run into someone’s criticism of breastfeeding, utilize a few of these lines if you feel the need to do so.  Please know that you aren’t making anyone uncomfortable, it’s a choice on their part to view this natural act that way.  And it is no reflection on who you are as a mother, nor should it be, in your decision to breastfeed.

This is moi: breastfeeding, birthing, butt-kicking, Jesus loving, woman of God, who happens to be married to a hot Coastie and has four fabulous mammy-hackers. I'm a "boobie doc" and birth junkie(aka lactation counselor and birth doula) and have no plans on weaning, ever. As in, I am thinking college might not be quite long enough for my youngest to gain full independence.


  1. I feel so sorry for all those women who decide not to breastfeed because they think it’s gross or whatever and I am not talking about the ones who absolutely can’t. My babies (three) all nursed and I missed it the moment they weaned themselves. They all quit right about a year old on their own so I didn’t have the issue of weaning. I couldn’t wait for the next baby. The first time we went out with our first daughter after she was born, the place we went asked me to use the women”s room. So silly me, thinking maybe they has a lounge or something, off I went with a screaming baby. I walked into a not so clean restroom with nowhere to sit but the toilet. I turned around and went back to my table and proceeded to feed my screaming baby. The manager came to the table and said I couldn’t do that and he would call the police. I continued feeding my baby and when she was done we gathered our boxes of food and walked out without paying for anything. The manager came out to our car and said we forgot to pay the bill. I don’t think he has ever encountered a woman so angry she could spit. My eyes probably glowed red cause he turned and ran back where he was safe. Needless to say, we never returned there.

    • Sarah Harkins says

      I’m so sorry that happened to you. I can only imagine how angry that must’ve made you feel. I would have been irate too!

  2. Consideration of others whether u agree or disagree is important both ways….just because u r right does not give u the right to not be considerate of others feelings. Isn’t that something we want to teach our kids too? Finding that balance is not easy in this world I do agree. People can be sooo thoughtless

    • Sarah Harkins says

      I am a huge advocate for teaching kindness of course. But, I do not want to sacrifice something that is truly right and good for the future of my children just because someone might think it is unkind of me to openly nurse without a cover. I believe that there are many injustices in our society and the attack on breast-feeding mothers is just one of them. I think we can kindly stand our ground and teach our children that feeding a baby in the biologically normal way is not only acceptable but expected.

  3. I am a Christian, and part of my desire to breastfeed was rooted in my faith in God and His provision for us as His beloved children. I wanted to always encourage others and especially potential future moms and grand-mamas. My standard answer to every rude question about my parenting (including breastfeeding) was always, and still is, even with teenagers, “Isn’t God awesome?!” Then I’d follow up with something like “Being a parent is SUCH a blessing… I can’t believe I get to provide for/love on/discipline/do life with these children!” Or sometimes, “Isn’t it mind-blowing that God made us with the ability to provide, literally, life and sustenance for another human being?!” It’s positive, and it stops them dead in their tracks. Every time. 🙂 Great article, Sarah!

    • Sarah Harkins says

      I love your suggestions Angela! Those resonate with me, as do your reasons to choose breastfeeding.

  4. We are still going strong breastfeeding at 19 months, and I’ve had no problems doing so while maintaining modesty. Yes, perhaps finding a private space is a little inconvenient, but I’d rather not have my girl parts on display for the world to see. Why?

    Our society (unfortunately) is a twisted one where breasts are viewed as sexual body parts, not functional ones. Displaying them while doing a natural act isn’t going to stop pervs from looking, or make innocent passerby who don’t want to be labeled as perverts keep their eyes off the train wreck.

    At the same time, our society is also very me-centric. We get angry that anyone would dare infringe upon our right to bare breasts.

    I chose a more balanced approach. I realize that seeing the naked breasts of a stranger makes some people uncomfortable. I can respect that . So we plan ahead, pump ahead, find a private space, or cover. It’s really not a big deal. Baby is ahead of the game on nutrition, and i haven’t shocked the republic.

    Personally, I hope our society can change. But I don’t think the in-your-face approach is the best way to change the dialogue….

    • Sarah Harkins says

      I see what you’re saying Beth. But along your train of thought, allow me to expound a bit. You say there are perverts that can’t keep their eyes off. I agree, there are some. Did you know the highest selling type of pornography is starring lactating women? But, children are also high sellers. Should we keep our kids inside and covered? My ankles are sexual to middle eastern men, should I never wear sandals? My neck is sexy to my husband and assuredly the neck may be sexy to other men. Should I wear turtlenecks? At what point do you say enough is enough?

      Also, there is nothing sexual nor normally particularly revealing about nursing a baby. Most mothers I know wear two shirts, and manage to latch on without anyone being the wiser. Where are these women bearing all?

      What about women who cannot pump? Babies who don’t take bottles? The danger of breathing air full of carbon dioxide as they are under a cover? What about babies who can’t nurse covered?

      I believe covering breastfeeding is unnecessary, and can be harmful to new mothers who are learning how to do it. It is a learned art that must be seen in order to truly understand what you’re doing. It’s so helpful that way! If we all covered up for the sake of ‘others’, how is that spreading a message of what we are doing is not shameful?

      These are important questions. The fact is, a baby must eat. And while covering or pumping may work for you, to expect it to work or even be feasible for every other mother is unrealistic. I support your right to nurse however you choose. But, I also support the rights of mothers everywhere to nurse in the open, uncovered.

    • Keisha jones says

      I completely agree with you Beth and I know u don’t need it but I truly respect how you go about handling the matter. I’m a woman and honestly it makes me uncomfortable to see this happen in public. I wish it didn’t but it does. And Sarah is being very melodramatic in her response. Everyone has the right to do what they please BUT please don’t try to put down another woman and “breast feeding mother” because she wants to be cautious and courtesy!

      • Sarah Harkins says

        If you feel I’m being melodramatic, then you clearly have not been reading the news nor spent much time with many breastfeeding mothers. It has been my experience in the last 9 years that breastfeeding mothers are struggling. They are made to feel ashamed for doing something as normal and nonsexual as feeding a baby. This is nonsense!

        Take two seconds and look at our country’s breastfeeding rates and tell me it wouldn’t be improved by more acceptance and tolerance. Then, come back and call me melodramatic.

        EDIT: Keisha, I’d like to apologize for my tone in my comment. It is coming across harsh and I do not mean it to be. I am passionate, but I would not want my words to sound hurtful. So, I apologize if my response was inflammatory.

        • Let’s be honest. Nothing will change until we change our society’s preoccupation with breasts and sexuality. That has to come first…frankly, I don’t see it happening in our lifetime.

          I feel that the “in-your-face breastfeeding, others are uncomfortable, screw them” approach actually damages the cause.

          As far as the covering the ankles comment, I can only judge based on my experiences in American society – my own backyard. Standards are far different in other countries. If I lived in the Middle East, I would likely cover my ankles. If I lived in Poland, I would whip out and feed, because these are the societal norms. If I lived in a particular tribe, I might be able to walk around naked….who knows? Normal is very subjective. I live in Philly, so that is my “normal.”

          The bottom line is, Americans are just getting used to breastfeeding again. 100 years ago, no one gave it any thought. Today, to most people, it’s “weird.” I find it more helpful to lead by a respectful example. breastfeeding is a normal part of life, and can be done without making people uncomfortable with just a little effort. Going on two years, I think I can speak from experience.

          • Sarah Harkins says

            I see your train of thought Beth. It sounds like you are saying “Ease people into the idea of breastfeeding so that they will be more comfortable and therefore improve breastfeeding rates.” I genuinely wish that were the answer. But, again, a review of our country’s breastfeeding statistics and practices would show you that what they have been doing hasn’t been working well. What HAS worked, and is proven by slightly improved breastfeeding rates shown by the CDC and WHO over the last twenty odd years has been improved availability of information and support. This includes, but is not limited to WIC breastfeeding peer counselors, hospital breastfeeding groups for mothers, community groups, books, and social media. What I believe will not work, is as a whole, perpetuating the belief that we are doing something innately sexual/wrong by openly breastfeeding. Now, because I realize that not every person, for various reasons, is comfortable nursing without privacy/coverage by means of a nursing cover or blanket, I would not intend to guilt them into needing to go without it. We are all on a journey. Some of us can embrace not covering, some of us can’t. Those who can, should feel empowered to do so. Those who cannot, should feel safe to make that choice. It’s not about being “in your face”. It’s about empowering mothers to do what they need to do, and encouraging them that what they are doing is not anything that NEEDS to be covered. If they WANT coverage, fine. But it is NECESSARY.

  5. I nurse in public without a cover all the time and no one is the wiser. I use the 2 shirt method. You can’t even tell that I’m nursing. I am pretty modest and I don’t whip out my boob for all to see. In fact, every person I know who nurses in public uses this method. Even in front of my friends I do this. It’s really sad to me that the biggest critics of breast feeding are usually women. Great article, Sarah.

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