The great debate: Should women breastfeed in public?



VANIA TRUTER Stay at home mother, La Leche League Leader (counsellor and facilitator) and doula

I always knew that breastfeeding was the most natural and healthiest way. My mother, sister and sister-in-law all breastfed, so it was a natural choice for me. With my firstborn we did not have the means to buy formula and I breastfed for 2 years and 7 months until he weaned himself.

With my second, Marco, doctors said I had to give him a special anti-reflux milk and drugs to neutralise his stomach acid. But I just ended up breastfeeding him until he was 3.

I demand-feed my twins, but I know each baby’s rhythm and I try and follow it to create structure in our day. So if we’re out, I look for a quiet corner where I can feed without attracting too much attention. In a mall I will use the baby room if they have one, but if my baby is hungry I will feed him wherever I am.

With two older children one can’t always stay at home when it is feeding time so when the boys have their sports day, the twins go with me and I feed them as discreetly as possible. I used to cover their heads with a blanket but now they don’t want to feed like this anymore – sometimes it is just too hot! So I adjusted my clothing so that my breasts are easily accessible and I can feed without showing too much flesh.

If I am with people that I know are comfortable with me feeding I will be less careful of how much I am exposing. If they are uncomfortable, I feed the baby in another room. I’ve noticed that if I am comfortable feeding in front of people they seem to relax about it as well.

I also have my own privacy to think of when I feed in public. One learns to feed discreetly quickly. At restaurants I always sit facing the wall if I have to nurse. No restaurant manager or stranger has ever asked me not to feed in public.

Feeding in public should not be an issue. Research has shown that not enough babies are breastfed, mainly due to misinformation, bad advice and lack of support. By nursing in public, you can help other people see breasts as a child’s source of food, not sexual objects.

You shouldn’t have to worry about being judged for just being a mother!



I breastfeed my baby on a schedule and I’m planning to do so until he is 2 years old. He wakes up at 05:30 and I breastfeed him, he eats breakfast at 07:30 and between 09:30 and 11:00 I give him water or juice and snacks. If I have to go out it has to be between 09:30-11:00. In that way I won’t have to take out my breast in front of everyone or run around the mall looking for a corner where I can feed him.

I’m from a background where mothers breastfeed freely anywhere, in the bus, taxi or at a restaurant. They believe if you do that you are a proud mother who is not ashamed of herself.

But I will never breastfeed in a restaurant even if I was covered with thousands of blankets! I can just imagine Paballo will start playing with my breasts and scratching them in front of everyone, everyone will be looking at me. How embarrassing!

I prefer being alone when I breastfeed but I also feel comfortable around my husband, mother and grandmother. My husband supports me in this decision. I’m not even comfortable when someone breastfeeds near me – I feel as if it were me showing everybody my breast.

I’ve never breastfed in public, so I’ve never encountered any negativity about it. But once, when Paballo was 4 weeks old, a friend from primary school days came to visit. The baby was crying and I wanted to breastfeed. My friend just looked at me and said, “Don’t even think about it, or else I’ll go.” Then he said, “I’ve never seen you without a top and now you want to show me what you have? Don’t ever do that.”

If I were able to make the rules, I would ensure every mall and restaurant had breastfeeding areas or rooms decorated in a very special way to accommodate babies and mothers. I really think women who breastfeed in public are being offensive and not respecting womankind. It is indecent exposure. Imagine breastfeeding your baby in a restaurant full of men!

I think mothers should stop breastfeeding in public. We know you are doing it the African or natural way but it is not good at all.

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