In Defence of Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding in public – from an 8 year old’s view.

By Wendy Shapard

Reproduced with kind permission. 


This week many of my friends, and others in Facebook Land, have been raising awareness of breastfeeding and its rightful place as a natural, normal, and (should be) publicly accepted part of our society.  As a non-mom, I wasn't sure what I had to add to the discussion, besides "Well, that's obvious!" and a general sort of "Go, moms, go!" encouragement.  After all, others have already mentioned the endless scientific research that clearly demonstrates that science cannot replicate that which Mother Nature has designed, and the blatant hypocrisy in a society which objectifies the female form but all too often finds the natural purpose of the female form somehow objectionable.  What more, I thought, could I possibly add?

And then I remembered something: the first day I learned that some people actually considered breastfeeding inappropriate for public (if you'll pardon the pun) consumption.

 I was 8 years old, and my youngest brother was 7 months and two days.  It was the Fourth of July, and my family had gone out to watch a parade. Bands, floats, people on stilts and horses, the whole bit.  Now you'd think as an eight year old, the parade is what I would remember, but I don't, and here's why:

My baby brother began to fuss.  He was hungry, and he wasn't enjoying the marching band nearly as much as the rest of us, so he probably needed some comforting, too.  My mom did the rational thing, and tried to get him to nurse, but the marching band was really quite loud, and he was wiggling all over the place, so my mom told my dad, "I'll take him over there in the shade and see if that helps."

This was nothing new to me, and barely registered over that marching band.  You see, I was the 8 year old veteran of three younger siblings, all of us breastfed.  I could sing a lullaby and change a diaper with the best of them, but I knew that 4 times out of 5 the best thing to do with a cranky baby was for Mom to nurse them.  I also knew that sometimes it took a little while to convince the cranky baby of that fact so it didn't surprise me that Mom didn't come right back, but after a few minutes, I started to wonder what was taking so long.

I looked back over my shoulder, and there, standing what seemed like a long way off, in the shade of a tree, was my Mom with a contentedly nursing baby.  "Well, this is ridiculous," I thought, with an 8 year old's clarity of purpose. "Mom's going to miss the horses!"  I told my dad that I would go stand with Mom, and went over to ask why she was still standing so far away from the parade.

"Well," my mom said it the extra even tone that I knew meant she was going to tell me something because I was oldest and could understand it.  "The parade is a little loud for the baby, but also... some people are actually a little uncomfortable about seeing a baby nurse in public."

I was flabbergasted.  I did not understand this bombshell.  Looking back, I can only assume that my mom saw someone in the crowd who disapproved and decided hang back out of sight, but I certainly didn't see anything that would make someone uncomfortable.  All I saw was my baby brother happy and nursing, with his long eyelashes resting on his cheeks and the soft curls around his head.  Instead of the clamor of the parade passing by, I heard the soft, quick rhythm of his breath interrupted at random intervals by an extra eager slurp.  I smelled that wonderful smell that a baby must give off all the time, but that you only get the chance to notice when they are quiet and happy.  I looked back at my mom.

"Why?" I asked. She shrugged.

"They just are." The universal answer for the vagaries of the world. "I'll just wait until he's done nursing and then go back."  She meant it to be reassuring.

I looked at the backs of the crowd watching the parade and wondered if all the horses had already passed.  It didn't seem fair.  There were horses over there and my mom had to miss them just because she had a hungry baby and some people were silly?

"I'll wait and go back with you," I decided.


We stood in the shade and watched the nursing baby, and for me that moment held more of the true meaning of "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" than a dozen Fourth of July parades.

Even ones with horses.




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