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Breastfeeding in Public: Are Women are to Blame for the Backlash?

Updated on August 11, 2016


When my friend sent me some photos from her breastfeeding shoot, I instantly thought “how beautiful!”

It was such a intimate moment of a mother bonding with her child and exemplified what it means to give life.

But then the shadows of doubt covered up my initial reaction because her friend in the photo wasn't 'covered up'. At all.

Due to the ongoing debate surrounding breast feeding I immediately thought "people probably won't approve of this photo."

That knee-jerk reaction angered me. You know why? Not only because it's natural and she should be able to do so without judgment, but also because of why we continue to face the type of judgment. It's us. Women.

It's because of the messages women, in general, send about our breasts, you know the rest of the time we aren't using them to feed our children.

Take a look around and see how many women sexualize themselves-and their breasts- for gain when it’s convenient. And when it’s not? We cry foul.

Now before we proceed, I want readers to know, I am all for breast feeding in public. Simply put. It's natural and healthy. But I'm against the double standards set by those who are 'outraged' by people who view breasts in the manner most women portray them: sexually.

Breasts Sell

Women have long used their breasts for gain. Whether for attention, or to snag a guy they're interested in. Some have used them to get out of speeding tickets or get a promotion. I'm not advocating it--I'm merely making observations.

Women buy push-up bras and contour their chests to suggest their breasts are larger than they are. Or--they buy larger ones. Why? If the argument is that our breasts are ONLY for feeding children, then why do we do these things?

Now, on this issue, I too have no problem nor do I judge those who display their breasts like in-season melons on sale. It's your body. Do what you want with it. But if these women also have a problem with women who breastfeed, that's when I have a problem.

But we cannot deny that breasts are shoved in our faces on a daily basis for selling of any kind. Whether its the promotion of oneself or the marketing of a burger. Yes, breasts apparently sell burgers.

Take a look at this ad for Carl’s Jr. Burgers. Do you think this woman isn't well aware advertisers are using her breasts to sell food? Do you think she got a healthy paycheck for her gifts?

How about the woman allowing the use of her breasts to sell perfume, or vodka for payment? Does it work? Clearly it does.

Do you think any of these women can claim breasts are not sexual? Or be offended if the same man that oogled her picture in an ad campaign also oogles her while she's breastfeeding openly in public? How can she when the message is burned into men's minds daily: breasts: sexual: good.

We women have always sexualized ourselves for personal gain. Did men create this strategy? No.

Do you think men didn’t want women sexually or have fantasies before we started exposing ourselves publicly? Of course they did. And we capitalize on it.

And that's okay!

What's not okay is suddenly judging anyone who was programmed to see breasts as sexual objects for seeing them as sexual objects simply because it's not convenient.


We Benefit From Our Breasts

We must start owning our own objectification. It’s 2016…no one is forcing women to strip down and sexualize themselves….we choose to.

It’s natural. Sex sells. Obviously it sells products, but women sell themselves too.

Just as men sell themselves.

Just as all animals do.

But we do it because we have something to gain from from our choices. And it's not all materialistic.

We display ourselves in this manner to attract partners and reproduce. Although we've made great strides in advancing as a species, our advances in technology have not changed our biology. We are still animals. And the way that women display themselves continues a cycle they claim to want to change….but it’s not changing.

Because we're not changing.

And we make sure our young girls are well aware of the benefits breasts offer. Sure, no parents are telling their children to parade around and benefit from their cleavage, but they learn it. From us.

It’s the most important thing, you know—‘being sexy’.

Young girls post revealing selfies and sexual poses on every social media platform because that’s what we do.

We perpetuate it. Until we decide to stop sexualizing ourselves, it will never stop.

But is that really what we want?

Is it so unnatural to sexualize ourselves? We are mammals. We are here to ‘reproduce’.

I know that sounds offensively provincial. It’s insulting to think of us as the animals we are. But we are.

And the draw to breasts is natural, and backed by experts.

Science Agrees: Sexual Attraction to Breasts is Natural

According to Medical Daily, “Dr. Young, who is one of the world's leading social neuroscientists, wrote in a column for the Huffington Post that "biologically speaking" the human male's obsession with breasts is ‘pretty weird’.

Men are the only male mammals fascinated by breasts in a sexual context," Young wrote. "And women are the only female mammals whose breasts become enlarged at puberty, independent of pregnancy. We are also the only species in which males caress, massage and even orally stimulate the female breasts during foreplay and sex.” (2012)

Dr Young stated "When a woman gives birth, her newborn will engage in some pretty elaborate manipulations of its mother's breasts," they wrote. "This stimulation sends signals along nerves and into the brain. There, the signals trigger the release of a neurochemical called oxytocin from the brain's hypothalamus."

"This oxytocin release eventually stimulates smooth muscles in a woman's breasts to eject milk, making it available to her nursing baby," they said. "But oxytocin release has other effects, too. When released at the baby's instigation, the attention of the mother focuses on her baby. The infant becomes the most important thing in the world."

"This bond is not only the most beautiful of all social bonds, it can also be the most enduring, lasting a lifetime.....when a lover touches, massages or nibbles a woman's breasts, it sparks the same process of brain events as nursing. They explain that humans are also among the very few animals that have sexual intercourse face-to-face, 'looking into each other's eyes.'

This "quirk" in human sexuality has evolved to "exploit the ancient mother-infant bonding brain circuitry as a way to help form bonds between lovers," they wrote.” (2012)

Men’s attraction to breasts is hardwired. It’s engrained in men and women to view breasts as a portal to pleasure, and to producing offspring. We have innate biological factors that drive physical actions.

We cannot rewire a brain. We just can't.


Breasts Win

If you’re not in agreement with it, or aren't part of the majority, stop blaming those who view breasts sexually; blame women who are capitalizing on science. Really sit back and think about the root cause of why people are truly offended by those who breastfeed in public.

They said "it's not modest", "it's rude", "cover up". Those comments reference indecent exposure, and what is indecent exposure? It's usually sexually provocative exposure. So ask again, why are they viewing women's breasts as sexual?

In the end, I think women are pretty ingenious. We win 99% of the time with our breasts. Work, modeling, acting, gaining more followers, compliments, and procuring a future for ourselves; admit it, the majority of women do it.

If its alright to get these things with our breasts, it makes no sense to be offended when people look at our breasts in the manner we have portrayed them. Sexually.

Breast feeding mothers, I don't want you to cover up, and most places have rules about not telling you to cover up. Finally.

And we won’t be covering up with a modest swimsuit either. It’s what we do.

It doesn’t bother me one bit. I think breasts are beautiful whether you’re feeding your child or you’re displaying them on magazine ads.

I am evolved enough to say, this girl is beautiful, her bond with her baby is beautiful and I don’t care if she feeds her child in public. It’s as much of my business as her sex life.

But when I hear of others who do, I understand that too. We have sexualized ourselves to the point that breasts can’t be viewed in any other form than a sexual one.

If you don’t like the truth, change it. But I got 5 on it that we will continue to see boobs selling burgers, cars, alcohol, video games, and women for eternity. It’s what we do. Oh, and we also feed our kids with them.

What are your thoughts? Have you had an unpleasant public breastfeeding experience? Join in the conversation below.

Are Women to Blame for Breastfeeding Backlash?

Do you think women sexualize their breasts?

See results


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      The Middle East was actually more liberal, prior to 20th century. That was during the Ottoman Empire era. Ironically, it was the Ottomans who created Shira Law. But the original idea of Shira Law, was not religion law, but to create the laws, in respect to local culture, but in the Middle East, without saying it is most influenced by Islam, however, the original Ottoman government do have their own set of principle that preceded Islam that allow a balance between liberal politic and Islamic faith, I don't know the detail though. But after the Ottoman Empire collapsed in WW1, the Middle East become what we know today, it is a pity. People who fought in WW1 actually recorded their experience while fighting against the Ottoman, their treatment of prisoner and enemy, is extremely humane and modern, while the British Empire on the other hand, during that time, still treat prisoner of war, in a very savage manner. But that is all past tense, the modern Middle East is a very different place.

    • Tara Mapes profile imageAUTHOR

      Tara Mapes 

      3 years ago from Cincinnati

      I agree Peter, awareness and progressive actions fuel change and perception. There are things we find normal today that never would have been "acceptable" in the past. I wasn't aware of the Middle East's slack in female dress though. If I had to bet one thing that would never change it would be that. They seem so strictly adherent to, for centuries. Good for them.

    • Tara Mapes profile imageAUTHOR

      Tara Mapes 

      3 years ago from Cincinnati

      Thanks for reading Tatiana :)

    • Tara Mapes profile imageAUTHOR

      Tara Mapes 

      3 years ago from Cincinnati

      Foxy you are very right. We should be loved no matter what..and I think we are.

    • Tara Mapes profile imageAUTHOR

      Tara Mapes 

      3 years ago from Cincinnati

      Thank you for enjoying it Alexis :)

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Well, I think it is less as an issue in the future, 50 years ago, if a girl wearing a bikini at the beach, it would be like watching porn, because u get to see her figure. Today, as long as she don't show her vigina or breat, it is no big deal, even in the middle east, it is loosening up with every passing generation, In Iran for example, women are suppose to wear head scarf everyhwere, now, they only need to do it in formal occassions. Just give it time, it will pass within a few generations

    • Tatiana Ho profile image

      Tatiana Ho 

      3 years ago from New York, New York

      It is true, we sexualize female bodies. So much so that it is pretty difficult to see breasts for what they're for, feeding our children. Great read!

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Well that is the problem, unless we are talking about places only age 18+ can go, other public places needed to be kept in a family friendly standard.

    • Foxy E Herrick profile image

      Foxy E Herrick 

      3 years ago

      I think women aren't to be blamed, but to be loved.

    • Alexis Cogwell profile image

      Ashley Cogdill 

      3 years ago from Indiana/Chicagoland

      I personally enjoyed this article, and I'm part of the 29% in the poll. That is all, thanks for the hub. :)

    • Tara Mapes profile imageAUTHOR

      Tara Mapes 

      3 years ago from Cincinnati

      Yes I think that's the conflict Peter, the dual nature of the breasts it's hard to switch gears for most people. Nicenet, I can see that in certain areas, but is it normal everywhere? Interested in knowing cultural differences!

    • nicenet profile image


      3 years ago

      Breast feeding in public is natural in Africa.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      When ever I heard about this, I find it funny. Because normaly breast is sexual, which is why in society women cover it up. (I mean we don't go as far as the Middle East, where women cover their entire body, so there is nothing for the guy to look at, but, socially women in the west still cover some. They use to cover even more though, do u do, prior to 1950s in some US state, women are not allow to wear bikini in public, not even in public swimming pools or beaches?) But breast feeding...there is really nothing sexual about it. Interesting ha. Too bad we are not from Africa, that place is so hot, it is social norm, for people, walk naked on the street.

    • Tara Mapes profile imageAUTHOR

      Tara Mapes 

      3 years ago from Cincinnati

      Great point Cynthia, media and social media definitely provide a platform for maas sharing of knowledge and judgment, but I also think it's been detrimental in movements like 'breastfeeding awareness' /the normalization of it, as well as movements like LGBT rights and other civil rights movements. I think it can definitely lend a stronger voice to important topics. And not so important topics. Thanks for reading and joining the conversation!

    • Cynthia Hoover profile image

      Cynthia Hoover 

      3 years ago from Newton, West Virginia

      Great hub, I have to wonder though, were it not for social media and the internet would the breastfeeding stigma even be an issue? Breast and the female form have been a huge sales marketing tool, long before my time. As a breastfeeding Mom, I've never had anyone be disgusted or scared for life after seeing me feed my child in public. Perhaps this being the digital age has aided in glorifying the shaming of breastfeeding Moms - food for thought.

    • Tara Mapes profile imageAUTHOR

      Tara Mapes 

      3 years ago from Cincinnati

      Thanks for stopping by emge, do you think men will ever see breasts as what they're naturally intended for, rather than attractive?

    • emge profile image

      MG Singh 

      3 years ago from Singapore

      I tend to agree with you. There is asexual aspect to all this and there is no way a man will not be attracted. The fact is the breasts are a beauty object and breastfeeding uncovered ina public place is not the best of things

    • Tara Mapes profile imageAUTHOR

      Tara Mapes 

      3 years ago from Cincinnati

      I completely agree Shay, sexualization of it is horrible to think about. But that term is so off-putting its difficult to get past it. Better descriptor would be that people are uncomfortable seeing naked breasts because they have been sexualized (not that breastfeeding is sexual-ew) In other words, when a mother is feeding her child, some people feel weird about it. If the breasts were portrayed as functioning feeding mechanisms only, I don't think we'd have that issue. What do you think?

      Thanks for dropping by!

    • Shay Wildes profile image

      Shayla Wildes 

      3 years ago from Cinnaminson

      Personally, I understand that breasts are attractive and that men are drawn to them, but not every woman chooses to sexualize herself. Just because certain women are okay with their breasts being out in the open and on display does not mean that every woman should be subjected to having hers stared at. When it comes to breastfeeding, that is the last thing on this planet that should be sexualized. It is simply the act of a mother nurturing her child and feeding it. She is not pulling out her breasts to be provocative or to be stared at. She is doing her duties as a mother and there shouldn't be any discomfort by this act.

    • Tara Mapes profile imageAUTHOR

      Tara Mapes 

      3 years ago from Cincinnati

      Thank you for sharing MizBejabbers, and for the compliment! It's interesting your observation around the 60's. Maybe when advertising got more risque and women were more exposed, the sexualization of breasts began then? Very interesting to hear a first hand account of change!

    • Tara Mapes profile imageAUTHOR

      Tara Mapes 

      3 years ago from Cincinnati

      Absolutely Michaela! I always include references....which is why the link to all the sources are embedded in the article. Just click the blue link in the area of the research. You will find the original report as well as all the references regarding the research. If you would like to add female researchers opinions, feel free to add. Keeps the discussion interesting.

      For your convenience (sorry for the formatting, hubpages is prohibiting links in comments, so I included spaces in some)

      onlinelibrary. wiley. com/doi/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2006.00230.x/abstract

      www. medicaldaily. com/ male-researchers-reveal-real-reason-why-men-love-breasts-242754

      Larry Young, a leading expert in the field of neuroscience of social bonding, and Brain Alexander have dissected the emotional, biological and cultural reasons behind the real reason men love breasts in their new book The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction.

      Since you are likely to request female research/study, here is a link to that supporting the same theory

      www. 007b. com/breast_obsession. php

      If you find any of your own you'd like to share or counter with, feel free! Would love others input rather than anger/disagreement. Open up the dialogue. It's what makes hot topics interesting!

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      3 years ago from Beautiful South

      I’m an older woman from a small Southern town. Strange as it seems when I was a child, women did not cover their breast when breastfeeding in public, including church. I don’t know when the tables turned or why they turned, but the women of my generation were prone to not breastfeed in the 1960s. Maybe the fact that they saw their mamas with their teats hanging out in public had something to do with it, or maybe it was the advent of new-fangled Even-flo bottles. I don’t know. As a child, I didn’t understand why they didn’t cover the breast up and I don’t understand why they are making such a big deal of it now. Why would any woman not want to cover herself? A short exposure to get the breast and baby positioned is understandable. However, a prolonged exposure of a breast in public for any reason seems to me to be the same brand of exhibitionism regardless of why. Good job, by the way.

    • Michaela Osiecki profile image


      3 years ago from USA

      I'd really like to know your "scientific" sources, because I imagine these 'studies' were conducted by men, with a focus solely on western civilization and the meaning/purpose of the breast within western society. Because many other cultures around the world do not sexualize the breast at all - the breast as sexual bonding object is very unique to the western world and therefore, your science facts actually aren't all that sound. Unless of course, you're willing to list your sources and let us critique the validity of them...?

    • Tara Mapes profile imageAUTHOR

      Tara Mapes 

      3 years ago from Cincinnati

      Dana Tate, I took that same approach when I started this article. I thought...Ok, I'm reacting that way, but why does that reaction exist? So I started doing a little research for the root cause of the perception. I know its not a well received article to most women, but I think its uncomfortable getting into the science of why....or even more awkward admitting that most discomfort comes from the sexualization attached to breasts..If it weren't true, then none of the controversy would exist regarding it. Thanks for reading! I appreciate a diverse view of opinions. It's what makes communicating so fun ;)

    • Tara Mapes profile imageAUTHOR

      Tara Mapes 

      3 years ago from Cincinnati

      Jadelynx, yes, I think you have as much of a right to feel that way as women who breastfeed in public have the right to feel the way they do. It's a sticky situation because its sooo personal.

    • Dana Tate profile image

      Dana Tate 

      3 years ago from LOS ANGELES

      I never understood what the big deal was about mothers breastfeeding their babies in public anyway. But I guess after reading this article it makes sense. Breasts are seen as sex objects first and not the primary source of feeding ones baby. So, when someone sees a mother breastfeeding her baby they may become offended. Nice article and I suspect will be full of controversy.

    • Jadelynx-HP profile image

      Tracey Boyer 

      3 years ago from Michigan

      Sometimes it's about something completely different. I just don't feel comfortable with someone breastfeeding in public. You can delve into my psyche to try to find out why, but the bottom line is....I prefer not to see women breastfeeding in restaurants, churches and in public parks. This is how I feel and I have the right to feel that way as much as people who feel the opposite.

      However, I would never dream of saying anything to someone who is breastfeeding in public. I simply remove myself from the place and continue on with my life. Problem solved.

    • Tara Mapes profile imageAUTHOR

      Tara Mapes 

      3 years ago from Cincinnati

      Hey Credence2, thanks for reading. You bring up an interesting point. It seems this is a relatively universal aversion however with breastfeeding movements maybe the normalization of a dual view of breasts will take hold eventually. I think it's happening. The more we talk about it the less taboo it becomes.

    • Credence2 profile image


      3 years ago from Florida (Space Coast)

      Interesting article, Tara. Is this breastaphobia phenomenon primarely limited to the relatively sexually priggish American culture? How is all of this looked upon in industrialized Europe or Japan?

    • Tara Mapes profile imageAUTHOR

      Tara Mapes 

      3 years ago from Cincinnati

      Hi Nicole, thanks for stopping by, the scientific research noted in the article connects the scientific evidence of breasts being sexual with women's sexualization of their breasts to the backlash in public breastfeeding. Thus, the theory is that the sexualization of breasts leads to breasts being viewed as sexually. Thus that why the poll is labeled the way it is.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      The poll question is misleading. Some women do sexualize their breasts and that's their prerogative to do so. Are women to blame for society's inability to accept that breasts are meant for feeding babies not to magazine covers - no.

    • Tara Mapes profile imageAUTHOR

      Tara Mapes 

      3 years ago from Cincinnati

      Hey StarChild, thanks for stopping by! I have been a breast feeding mother, I enjoyed it very much . If you are seeking an article outlining the multitude of benefits of breastfeeding, there are millions. This isn't one of them because it wasn't the focus of the article. I'm sorry you don't agree with the science behind the sexualization of breastfeeding. Maybe you have a theory on why people are averse to it? Sans any sexualization?

      I agree that not 'all' of us are running around capitalizing off our bodies, but many, many do. Just turn on the tv, go to any social media site, craigslist, etc...It's everywhere. And just because men make money off women choosing to objectify themselves doesn't mean they are to blame. Why are men to blame? Because they capitalize off women capitalizing off their assets? Get real.

      If you go back and re-read the article, without the angry pace of someone who doesn't agree with the topic, you'll see that I'm not judging women who breastfeed in public (i.e you), nor am I judging women who sexualize themselves. I'm merely making the connection between women's treatment and display of themselves that lends to society's inability to view their breasts in a manner other than sexual. Finally, I think women who refuse to admit they are part of the problem is the biggest problem. The truth is uncomfortable sometimes...doesn't make it false. Thanks for stopping by and reading.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      This article is such a poor example of what breastfeeding is about and exemplifies everything wrong with how our society views women. Not all women are running around capitalizing on our bodies. We have many many strengths that have nothing to do with sex. Obviously the writer has never been a breastfeeding mother. There is nothing sexual about feeding a baby. It's beautiful but a far cry from the examples she gave of women selling their features to make men money. It's funny you say that the women selling their assets for gain are so smart but guess who's making more money off of women ? The men that own these companies! Women are people not just sex objects! The writer should be ashamed of this article. I'm ashamed for her. You are the part of the problem.


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