One Expert's Response to Those Bothered by Moms Breastfeeding in Public

In spite of being a common practice literally since the beginning of human life, breastfeeding has been experiencing a surge of controversy lately for one very odd reason — objections over moms breastfeeding in public. From online mom-shaming to iPhone videos of angry tirades, we've been left scratching our heads — why is this completely natural practice such a sore spot in the U.S.?

As a Lansinoh certified lactation counselor (CLC) Gina Cicatelli Ciagne told, the clamor of discussion around this topic could actually be because breastfeeding itself is becoming more popular.

"Our initiation rate the U.S. is the highest it’s ever been at 82.5%," she says, "and that is very encouraging." But with an increase of activity comes an increase in backlash. "Moms fear being ridiculed or publicly shamed for breastfeeding in public," she says.

According to a global survey conducted by Lansinoh, a company that creates products for breastfeeding moms, "65% of moms said breastfeeding in public is 'perfectly natural'", and as many as "20% have been openly criticized for breastfeeding in public."

In spite of the percentage of moms who have experienced criticism, Ciagne is quick to admit that, as a whole, people are beginning to open their eyes to the far-reaching benefits of breastfeeding. And with good cause, too. "More and more research has proven the health benefits for mom and baby and this has paved the way toward a normalization of human milk for human babies," she says. Those health benefits cover a wide spectrum, including "lowering heart disease, obesity, allergies, asthma, certain cancers, diabetes" and more, according to Ciagne.

Plus, nursing offers something to a growing baby that mass-produced formula just can't: "...Breastmilk that was made specifically for them by their mother with the perfect and unique-to-that-baby combination of vitamins, nutrients, immunities and antibodies which provide a protective shroud of health benefits."

The effects of this are far-reaching: When more babies in our culture are given these nutrients from the start, Ciagne says, "it impacts our health costs, insurance costs, and costs related to preventive health measures."

"It is also helping society as a healthier baby turns into a healthier toddler, teenager and adult." Put another way? "Normalizing breastfeeding is important because it provides too many health benefits that can’t be replicated with a breastmilk substitute."

Still, there are some who argue that breastfeeding should be kept behind closed doors — but Ciagne insists these outside opinions shouldn't enter into the conversation. "The baby and mom should determine whether she nurses anywhere. It is important to remember that this is about feeding a hungry baby."

Ultimately, it's a decision to be made by the mother. "I often pose this question to naysayers: would you rather happen to see a baby nursing in public (as moms are often discreet and few can even see she is nursing) or hear a baby crying inconsolably? I’d say let the baby nurse, let the mom relax, feed her baby, nourish that baby as no one else can, and those who don’t understand or agree can look away."

Though its likely that backlash against moms breastfeeding in public will subside as more and more moms do it, Ciagne also hopes to see a cultural shift take place, too. "The more we see babies breastfeeding and images of it in our media, the more normal it will become," she says.

Of course, added resources that support moms will help, too: "People are starting to realize that it is not enough to say it is important to breastfeed, but [that we must] provide support, guidance, and resources in order to help get them through any challenges." This can range from support from employers for back-to-work moms, to an increased emphasis on public breastfeeding-friendly spaces (according to Lansinoh's survey, many moms still struggle to find places to nurse while shopping and traveling, as well as at work).

In spite of the challenges, Ciagne seems optimistic that more women are breastfeeding and finding ways to make it work. "Breastfeeding mothers are working hard to provide for their babies," she says. Her best advice for moms? "Trust your body, trust the process, trust your baby." We'll add one piece of advice to that: Don't let critics stop you from doing what's best for you and your baby.

Photo Credit: Instagram / @gisele