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Is Breastfeeding In Public An Acceptable Social Norm?

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The subject of breastfeeding in public has never usually been a controversial one, until now. In a world where everyone’s different views are valued, some cases of discrimination to new mothers trying to feed their babies has caused a riot in the political domain. My PIP addresses the topic of, is breastfeeding in public an acceptable social norm. This research aims to cover different gender views on breastfeeding mothers in public and the impact that is has on mothers in society. I chose this area of enquiry because I feel as though mothers, especially new mothers do not deserve to be harassed for something that they need to do. Feeding a child is essential for growth and development and just like you and me, sometimes need to be fed in public. This topic is one that occurs in almost every society worldwide on a macro scale.

In order to gather information about this topic and record different people’s opinions, I created a questionnaire for both males and females asking important questions. These questions inquire about personal experiences as well as if they were in that situation, what the outcome would be. This methodology is best suited to my topic as all the questions asked are relevant to the underlying question. Some advantages to this include no time limit, all the questions that needed are there and they are all required and must have an answer. Although there are advantages there are also disadvantages. Disadvantages don’t cover all the bases like an equal amount of answers from two different genders. Experience is also a drawback for this methodology as some answers are from mothers who have been harassed and some are from people who have seen the discrimination firsthand. These weaknesses make for a manipulation and single view of society.

Throughout this personal interest project, I have examined the cross-cultural perspectives of gender, females and males. The reason for this is that many people think that males are more likely to discriminate towards breastfeeding than women because they are of the opposite sex. It is thought that the reasoning behind this is because men have been known to objectify women and often sexualise their bodies no matter what the situation. While the culprit mainly connected with discrimination of women is men, females also frown upon situations like this, hence why I will be focusing on both genders. Investigation on the two perspectives will pin point whether the judgement and harassment is more one sided and not equal.


When I first started to think about writing my PIP, it took me a while to find a topic that I was passionate about and interested me. I landed on the contemporary topic of how women are discriminated for breastfeeding in public and wondered if the discrimination came from a particular gender or whether it was a number of other factors that contributed. I decided that the cross-cultural comparison of genders, female and male would be the starting point for my PIP. During the first stages before writing my PIP I did some general research to ensure that I had enough resources to gain more knowledge and allow me to further understand the extent that this harassment has reached in our society.

I initially created a starting question, but throughout the journey of writing my PIP I have considered and reconsidered what my PIP is really about and what the question I’m asking really is. I created a questionnaire to try and get a better understanding of what I needed to write for my PIP and to give me a baseline of opinions from the community on the topic. This collection of information was on a meso level as it was only the opinions of those within the community in my town. It took me a while to start writing my PIP as I had no idea how I would start it. I ended up finding a scaffold that helped me form a frame for my introduction and the format I would need for my central material.

After choosing my topic and doing some research, I decided to begin setting out my chapters. I later realised that this layout was too broad and that I would lose track of writing. With this in mind, I made the decision to create 6-7 focus questions to narrow down the information needed for each one without losing track or repeating myself. This helped to ensure that I stuck to only one aspect of the topic without introducing too much new material. After figuring out each of my focus questions, I then did some deeper research in order to help me answer specific focus questions.

The journey of my PIP found me coming up with questions that I did not think of earlier whilst writing my questionnaire. It was these questions that I used to produce an interview for a few members of the public. I then decided to interview four members of the local community, both young and old, male and female. Both my questionnaire and interviews were an important part of developing a genuine perspective for my central material. The convenience of creating my own methodologies meant that I was able to only ask questions that were relevant to my topic. I was lucky to receive some responses that helped me create new topics and ideas to mention, as well as give me a new perspective. Both interview and questionnaire were beneficial to gaining new perspectives and ideas from those in the community.


  1. Why do we think women should cover themselves? (indecent exposure)
  2. Are the male and female views of the body different?
  3. Where would be an appropriate place to breastfeed in public?
  4. What strategies have already been put in place to protect new mother from harassment? ( Is it illegal to ask a woman to stop breastfeeding?)
  5. How do the opinions of others in society have such an impact on mothers and why?
  6. Why are women participants in this discrimination if they are the same sex?
  7. Is the fear of breastfeeding in public causing mothers to move towards bottle and formula feeding earlier?


Why does society think women should cover themselves?

In contemporary society, generally, the norm of breastfeeding in public seems to receive little or no attention, as long as the baby and the mother’s breasts are covered. In some circumstances a baby does not like to be fed underneath a blanket or a mother does not have access to a blanket. Another struggle that arises when it comes to covering up is that most of the time a baby’s hunger is not on a timed schedule which can lead to some unexpected crying and a tough situation in a public area. A mother, especially a new mother, may not be prepared for this and have no other choice but to go forward with the feeding, exposed. Society believes that women should cover themselves whilst breastfeeding because indecent exposure is meant for ‘seducing other women’s husbands’ or because it is not something that surrounding children or teens should see. SOURCE It is hard for me that some people can’t just look away is beyond me, but I think that mother’s breastfeeding with a cover attracts more attention to them, than without. Covering up can also imply that there is something inappropriate about feeding a baby when in reality it should be considered as the most natural and normal thing a woman can do.

Studies show that it is mostly the female class that are suggesting more modesty from women breastfeeding in public. A comment on a recent social media post about a breastfeeding mother stated, “I totally support breastfeeding, but what’s so hard about covering up to breastfeed in public?”. There are several reasons why a woman might not cover up whilst breastfeeding, the most popular being an unexpected feed.

Both men and women correlate modesty with respect for community and although there are many ways for a woman to show respect to others whilst she’s feeding, there are also ways for the community to be respectful to those mothers in return.

Many women in society and the community say that they would prefer mothers to cover themselves whilst breastfeeding because their husbands/partners don’t need to see that. SOURCE Each to their own, another mother might say that they don’t want their children to see an exposed breast let alone a baby attached to it. It is this kind of thinking that will prevent the future generations from knowing the difference between what feels right and what is right. Younger generations may take this shame that their parents have put onto a breastfeeding mother and consider only bottle feeding when they have a baby to avoid the same stigma.

Others have no problems with their partners/children seeing this but rather just find it plain disgusting. The function of eating has never been disgusting until a baby feeds on a mother’s breast. An intimate moment I agree but disgusting not hardly.

Society don’t as much as say a word at breasts in a bikini or in a low-cut blouse. Posters of breasts in lacey, sheer lingerie plastered along shopping centre walls are all okay. But some areas of society somehow refuse to accept that breasts in the mouth of a hungry child is not okay.

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Are the male and female views of the body different?

Males and females being the opposite sex have been known to see things differently and never really eye to eye. This applies when it comes to looking at the body. Female and male body images share many of the same features as well as share body image risk factors and results of negative body image, although this seems to be more common in the female sex in comparison to males.

When it comes to breastfeeding, results from my questionnaire proved that 80% of males were okay with the action however admitted that it made them uncomfortable when around a woman with an exposed breast. For some young males, this is accurate as they may have not yet adjusted to viewing the female body or had experience. Both sexes tend to be more comfortable and have adjusted to viewing their own bodies. These views change with age since contact becomes more frequent and the body becomes more familiar. Perspective also changes as you start to view things from not just one point of view, opinions are able to be changed as society becomes more open to new ideas.

The different view on the body can also be altered based on values, upbringing, the environment and societal norms. It is not always gender that contributes to how others see the human body but more the person and the way that they choose to interpret the human form. Women tend to think of the human body as a vessel for giving life and living life. Men, while sometimes think the same thing, make the most of their bodies and use it to build houses, cars and run businesses.

The different views of men and women on breastfeeding can be based on experience as well as opinions. Some men find that their opinion on breastfeeding changes after their partner/relative has a child. This is often because it reduces awkwardness. Because there are less women breastfeeding and therefore less people seeing this, there may be more awkwardness or resistance because they have not experienced this in their life.

It is quite common for a woman is modern society to have issues or doubts about her body. Although humanity and their opinions are always changing, one of the main issues in society has remained the same, body image. Body image affects body genders but is more common in women. This is said to be because of societal pressure to look a certain way. This has affected women all over the world who have developed eating disorders and have a distorted body image (negative body image). This could be a possible reason why women discriminate against those of the same sex.

Where would be an appropriate place to breastfeed in public?

Consider the word appropriate. Would you think that a dirty, public bathroom stall would suffice as a place for dining? My thoughts are no. Women in the 21st century are still being asked to ‘go to the bathroom’ to feed their crying babies as to not offend people with their breasts. Some circumstances when a woman has to breastfeed her crying child in the middle of a shopping centre, she has no other option but to do so. A baby should be fed whenever and wherever it is hungry. Often the mother may not have a cloth for coverage or maybe the back of the restaurant that is dim and secluded is already occupied. Some public areas like a shopping centre may have a nursing room but again where a woman breastfeeds in public should be where she feels most comfortable. A mother should not have to worry about what others are going to think of her before she starts breastfeeding or even after she’s done.

A restaurant is known to be a place of dining however some mothers that have been breastfeeding in this area have been asked to leave the premises as it disturbs the patrons enjoying their meal. This seems a bit hypocritical as a baby is feeding just like everyone else but because they need to access a possible exposed breast to be fed it is not okay. Restaurants have recently been putting up signs to let mothers know that it is a breastfeeding friendly place. The use of breastfeeding stickers is a very visual way to show support for breastfeeding mothers. These signs are good to let mothers know where they will be undisturbed whilst breastfeeding but, I’m still wondering why we need them in the first place at all? Some members of society are able to turn the other cheek and look away out of respect. I don’t know of many mothers who want to be watched at while they are breastfeeding.

There are no rules indicating that a woman cannot breastfeed any place she pleases. In some cases, it may not be the right time or place to do so especially

What strategies have already been put in place to protect new mothers from harassment?

Under the Federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 it is illegal in Australia to discriminate a person based on the grounds of breastfeeding, directly or indirectly. Even though this law was passed and amended in 2011 the discrimination against women still occurs throughout Australia.

Why are women participants in this discrimination if they are the same sex?

Discrimination towards breastfeeding mothers can come from all aspects of the surrounding public, including from the same sex. Information gathered from both of my methodologies showed that just as many women were discriminative towards breastfeeding mother just as much as men. Around 5% of those women claim that they share their opinions because they are either against it or feel uncomfortable. A possible reason that a woman my feel uncomfortable could be because of body image throughout society. Viewing a woman who is confidently breastfeeding in public may have a negative effect on those around her.

Is the fear of breastfeeding in public causing mothers to move towards bottle and formula feeding earlier?

At this point in time breastfeeding should be beyond normalised in society yet more women now choose to bottle-feed or use a formula. There are many reasons why a mother might switch to feeding her child with formula a lot earlier than others and while there a some more logical reasons there are also some objectives which prove the mother selfish. In the context of returning to social activities and work, switching to bottle feeding or using a formula is convenient and makes life a little easy as mothers get busier and children get older. Some women may choose to bottle feed with pumped breast milk or with a formula as a way to avoid discrimination. However, some intentions are not always for the best. A selective group of women choose to make the switch for their better and the motive for this is usually alcohol.

The Department of Health recommends babies should be exclusively breastfed until 6 months of age when solid foods are introduced and continued up to 12 months or longer if the mother and baby wish. Yet in Australia, by the time a baby is four months old, less than 40% of women still breastfeed and by 6 months, less than 15% of babies have breast milk.

As time goes on, the less we see breastfeeding the less acceptance there will be. Making a decision to bottle/formula feed is a personal one and is usually a choice made by mothers soon after breastfeeding. But breastfeeding is not always possible or an option for some women. Infant formula is a healthy and safe alternative for those who are unable to breastfeed or decide not to. Often women think that they won’t bond with their baby unless they breastfeed however, a bond can be made with a mother’s touch, voice or care.

Breastfeeding is a very important role that can impact a child’s wellbeing. Proteins called antibodies are naturally produced in breastmilk and inside the placenta. Antibodies provide protection for unborn babies and newly born infants who have yet to fully develop their immune system. Unlike breastfed babies, formula fed babies do not receive infection fighting antibodies through breastmilk but still have a supply from the placenta blood flow before delivery.

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Is Breastfeeding In Public An Acceptable Social Norm? (2021, September 20). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 30, 2023, from
“Is Breastfeeding In Public An Acceptable Social Norm?” Edubirdie, 20 Sept. 2021,
Is Breastfeeding In Public An Acceptable Social Norm? [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 30 Sept. 2023].
Is Breastfeeding In Public An Acceptable Social Norm? [Internet] Edubirdie. 2021 Sept 20 [cited 2023 Sept 30]. Available from:
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