The Latest Debates: Breast-Feeding in Public
The sit-ins of the 60s have given way to the nurse-ins of a new era, provoked
by women facing discrimination because of breast-feeding in public. From local restaurants to state beaches, women are being told they can't breast-feed their children, and some have even received tickets for public indecency. Synnora and Shelly are each passionate about this issue, but on different sides.

"Wherever you are, your son needs to eat, you feed him," says Synnora, mother of a 13-month-old boy. "The only person who would
have a problem with breast-feeding in public would be somebody who's not educated on the issue."

"It's not appropriate to nurse in public. It's not attractive. For people like me who don't have kids, we don't want to watch it," says Shelly. "Natural's got nothing to do with it. It can still be natural in the bathroom or in your car!" Shelly says that if she wanted to see bare breasts when she was having coffee, she would go to a topless bar. "It's just as inappropriate as if I were to take off my top sitting at the dinner table,
put my dinner on my breast, and ask my boyfriend to eat that way."

Synnora reflects, "It's kind of sad that we've gotten away from the natural way of life, to feed our child with our breasts." She turns to Dr. Phil and says, "I know I'm right, and I dare anybody to prove me wrong!"

"Basically what you're saying is kind of rigid," Dr. Phil says to Synnora, looking over her past statements. "You

said, 'It's my right to breast-feed in public and anybody who disagrees with me is wrong.'"

"I guess," Synnora agrees.

Dr. Phil asks Shelly for her opinion. "I'm a little more flexible," she says. "I just don't understand having to expose yourself in public. I'm at least willing to compromise, because I'm not against breast-feeding, but you don't have to remove your top and expose your breasts in public. So I'm just saying, don't put it in my face or in the face of people who don't like it." She suggests removing yourself from public before breast-feeding. "Everybody doesn't have to watch you."

Dr. Phil addresses Synnora. "You don't even want to make an effort to try to cover up in any way," he points

"It's not for me," she confirms. She also notes that her son would throw off a blanket if she tried to use one. "It's not my right to breast-feed. It's my child's right to eat wherever he wants."

Dr. Phil continues. "You say, 'I don't care what others think. If my child has a need I'm going to fulfill it. I don't care what other people's issues are. Why should I worry? If they don't want to see it, don't look!'"

"There's a lot of things in people's cultures that make other people uncomfortable," Synnora says. "Our culture is beautiful because it is so diverse, and because it is diverse, everybody's going to be uncomfortable with one part of a different culture. And this is my culture, and it's my son, and he needs to eat. And I really don't care if anybody's uncomfortable."

"Why is it offensive to your sensibilities?" Dr. Phil asks Shelly.

"I don't find particularly attractive a woman with half her top off and a child put to it," Shelly explains. "A lot of people don't think it's as attractive as the nursing mother thinks ... The fact that both the mother, the breast, the child are all portable and can be removed from whatever the public situation is, there's no

reason that they shouldn't consider other people's rights." 

An audience member weighs in. "If it offends her why doesn't she just look the other way?" 

"If I'm eating dinner and there's a breast-feeding mother in front of me, then I have to eat dinner like this?" she questions, holding her head up so she can't see in front of her.

"What is it that bothers you about it?" Dr. Phil asks. "Does it make you self-conscious? Is it a sexual thing to you? Is it just sloppy and noisy?"

"Not everybody finds the nursing breast and the child stuck to it attractive. It's just not that attractive to everybody," Shelly replies.

An audience member who nursed three children shares her opinion. "I'm a modest person. I know that a woman can discreetly and respectfully breast-feed children," she says.

"Discreetly's fine," Shelly says.

"How do you feel about Synnora saying, 'I'm not going to cover up. I'm not going to put a blanket on?'" Dr. Phil asks the audience member.

"I used blankets and throws, and I understood that it really was an issue for other people and I took that into account," she says.


Dr. Phil addresses Synnora. "One of the things that I've always tried to embrace is social sensitivity. That doesn't mean that you give your power away to other people. Where you can, say, 'I'm going to do what I need to do. I have my own values. I have my own beliefs. My child has their needs. It's my job to

nurture,'" he tells her. "But, if you can look at it from the standpoint of how it might affect other people, it seems like just even a little bit of sensitivity, a little bit of discretion, might ease the discomfort of other people. Not that you're responsible for their discomfort ... It seems like if everybody took the attitude of, 'I'm going to do what I can to get along, so long as it doesn't encroach on my values, beliefs and rights,' that that would seem to me to be a reasonable attitude."

Synnora replies, "We need to normalize the breast as a feeding utensil as well as a sexual object; it multi-tasks. The more people see it being used for what it was intended, I hope and I pray that it normalizes it for everyone."

"All I think people like myself and other people are asking for is just a little bit of compromise," Shelly says. "I think compromise is fair."


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