Do News Stories About Breastfeeding Help or Hinder?

In the past year, several stories about mothers breastfeeding in public have made it to the national media circuit. Who would have thought that infant feeding would be such a hot news topic? From movie theaters and Toys ‘R Us to Victoria’s Secret stores and a Freedom Airlines flight breastfeeding moms were being told to cover up or leave.
The mothers in these stories are so often made out to be renegades when they are simply trying to meet the needs of their infant children. Breastfeeding in public places can be stressful enough for a mom. Is it necessary for a news story to come out to say “she wasn’t being discreet and was making other customers uncomfortable?â€? Once the mother speaks up for herself (and others follow), the opposing party usually offers the same excuses “there was a misunderstandingâ€? or “the employee was unfamiliar with the breastfeeding policy.â€?

With all this breastfeeding news coverage, I’ve begun to wonder if these stories are helping to increase the public’s awareness and acceptance of the importance (and normalcy) of breastfeeding or are they causing the rates to lower even more because young mothers rather abandon breastfeeding than become the next breastfeeding mother caught in the media storm.
When did breastfeeding become so taboo that is only acceptable in private? Would we still see the same attitudes towards public breastfeeding if formula feeding wasn’t so commercialized as normal infant feeding?
A few years ago, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services partnered with the Ad Council in an attempt to launch a pro-breastfeeding campaign to increase breastfeeding rates, but it seemed to cause more damage than good.
Rather than educating the public about the importance of breastfeeding in a positive way one ad equated not breastfeeding your child as risky as riding a mechanically bull while pregnant. Naturally, many people were offended by the ad, and it was pulled from the air.
While any press is said to be good press, it’s hard to tell whether these types of breastfeeding stories are helping to increase awareness of breastfeeding or hinder the public’s acceptance.

This article was contributed by Elizabeth Catalanotto of As a nursing mother and a breastfeeding counselor, she spends a great deal of time everyday thinking, talking and writing about breastfeeding and breastmilk.

6 comments on “Do News Stories About Breastfeeding Help or Hinder?

  1. I don’t think that the media has much of a hand in changing people’s opinions about breastfeeding. And that’s mostly ok with me, because on the other hand, it does put the topic in the public eye which is useful as a signal to state legislators that yes, this is actually an important issue that plenty of women care about. For example, during the case last year in Chandler, Az., lactivists responded by working to have breastfeeding legislation passed. The media was all over the process and I am sure that the local politicians were keenly aware of that fact.
    Media coverage of breastfeeding might also help businesses realize that a significant portion of their customers care and are not going to tolerate illegal discrimination.
    The third benefit I see happening is that when the media reports about an incident of discrimination, it enables lactivists to remain aware of what is happening in different parts of the country so that they can consider their response. I know that I keep up with media stories on breastfeeding and share them with my lactivist friends, and watch for stories they find as well. In this day and age, that means sharing information with an international community, not just commenting to my neighbors over the fence.
    When I said it’s ok with me that the media probably doesn’t change minds about breastfeeding, I mean that there is a portion of the population who have their minds made up and are not going to be swayed by a news report. I don’t think that the energy of lactivism is well spent trying to change people who don’t want to change; in many cases it’s like talking to a brick wall.
    I believe benefit from news stories about breastfeeding can be found by utilizing them as signals to lawmakers and gathering points to organize work for change in laws and business practices, and to initiate discussion with individuals who are still developing their opinions. It’s the next generation of mothers and families who still may be open to learning about why breastfeeding is important, and why breastfeeding in public isn’t just a lifestyle choice that can be abandoned without consequences.

  2. When pregnant with my first child, I was inundated with material about breast feeding. Although I agree with the benefits, my rights to choose where and when, I felt inadequate when I could not breast feed my child. Now when I reread the information handed to me, it is clear that the sources providing the information were set against formula feeding and not given women the choice with adequate knowledge for both sides. How unbearable it was to feel I was a bad mother because I could not provide for my child. No one should go through those feelings…not a mother who cannot breast feed or a mother who chooses to breastfeed in an ignorant society that tells her she should not. I praise those women who continue to do what is natural…feed their children in any way that they are able.

  3. I find that we all know that breastfeeding is good for our baby but mothers tend to find “excuses” not to breastfeed because it’s troublesome and it doesn’t look cool. By having negative media reports on breastfeeding would hamper further the success of breastfeeding campaign, especially for first-time mothers.

  4. I think that the exposure of breastfeeding in public by the media is great because it informs nursing mothers about the potential negative encounters they may receive. I no long breastfeed, however, when I did, these stories were an encouragement to me to stick to my guns and, more importantly, I wasn’t going to be blindsided by weird looks or comments because I knew to expect them.

  5. I was breastfed my son for almost 2 and a half years. And yes, it is very difficult to breastfeed the baby while at public. What I always did is to find somewhat a “hidden” place where I can get least attention. Wear long and loose cloth so that the breast would not be expose when we breastfeed.
    Breastfeed is the most wonderful thing I ever experience in my whole life. So, whatever the media have to say, it’s not going to do anything to my perspective of breastfeeding. So do all the breastfeeding mother out there!

  6. A friend of mine was breastfeeding on a bench outside a restaurant in LA recently and some idiot came up to her and asked her whether she also f*#E#@d in public too? I’m not sure what the world is coming too. I think there is a lot of fear around breastfeeding…. I remember going to a breastfeeding class before my first daughter was born and thinking “can I really do this?” Some wonderful woman from La Leche said, “99.9% of women can breastfeed. Even women with inverted nipples can breastfeed.” That gave me so much reassurance. We need more positive action and a lot more support postpartum.

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