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Tuesday, July 18, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


Pro / Con

Shaunti Feldhahn | Breast-feeding in public: natural or embarrassing?

Syndicated Columnist

This may sound harsh, but the small number of militant breast-feeders who want to let it all hang out in public aren't prioritizing their babies, but themselves. They want to stand on their rights and do what they want, in the way that they want, regardless of the embarrassment or discomfort it causes someone else.

The vast majority of breast-feeding moms try to be discreet in public. I breast-fed my first child for 15 months, and most of us moms know that sitting in a restaurant while nursing bare-chested for 20 minutes is bound to make the people at the next table uncomfortable. And it makes us pretty uncomfortable, too. So we do what we can to discreetly turn aside or cover up. But the exceptions to that rule such as the "lactivists" — who stage bare-chested "nurse-ins" at Starbucks just to make a point — almost seem to relish causing discomfort in others.

The fact that breast-feeding is natural and beautiful doesn't somehow neutralize the additional fact that people simply get embarrassed when private, sexual body parts are put on public display. Maxim didn't sexualize the breast — its cave-painting predecessors make that very clear. A married man shouldn't have to apologize for being uncomfortable at the sight of another woman's naked body: Shouldn't we be appreciating that fact instead of calling it sick? What would be sick, frankly, is if he would choose to sit and stare at the natural event going on nearby.

In the end, this controversy isn't about breast-feeding. It's about the Golden Rule — about treating others the way you would want to be treated. If by some stretch of the imagination there were something that could make a lactivist uncomfortable, would she like it flaunted in her face? There is no reason women can't attend to their babies' needs and be mindful of others at the same time.

Ironically, it turns out that the Victoria's Secret shopper wasn't nursing in public view, but was actually trying to do what she could to be discreet, by trying to nurse privately in the dressing room. What a good idea.

Harvard-educated Shaunti Feldhahn ( is a conservative Christian author and speaker, and married mother of two children.

2006, Shaunti Feldhahn