My stance on breastfeeding your baby in public–it’s fine, but please try to cover up so as not to offend people–has drawn many an e-mail from Inky readers, especially after I appeared to defend my position on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” on Aug. 22. (See my The Double Latte Wars and the Mailbags for Aug. 30 and Aug. 31.)Here’s yet another letter, from A.K.:

“I normally agree with the IWF ladies, but this breastfeeding debate requires me to say something about it. It seems like the loudest critics of breastfeeding (I prefer to call it nursing) are those who have never done it. Women choose to nurse or bottle-feed for a variety of reasons, and I respect them all. But don’t pretend to know something about it if you’ve never been there.
“While I prefer to nurse in the privacy of my own home, where I can bare it all, it is often quite necessary to nurse in public, especially when the baby is little. As the family’s chief errand-runner, I’m not able to be home at all times in case my baby needs to nurse. If an establishment has a comfortable, private or semi-private area where I can nurse, I’m happy to do so (likewise, at someone else’s home, I always try to use a spare bedroom).

“But guess how many establishments are accommodating in this manner? Public restrooms are generally filthy and unpleasant, not to mention without seating areas. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been forced to go outside, dragging my other children with me, and nurse in my vehicle. Frankly, that irritates me. Especially when it’s at a ‘family’ store like Toys R Us. In restaurants, booths are usually the ONLY place that is somewhat private. I’ve nursed at a booth many times, and most people don’t notice, and the few who do are sympathetic.
“Fortunately, it seems nursing bigots are limited to the Internet. In real life, I’ve never run into a person who so much as looked at me disparagingly for nursing my infant in public. People generally seem to be tolerant and accommodating, and I’ve found it to be rather accepted. So to tell the truth, I don’t think there’s anything to debate.”

And here’s an e-mail from L.C.:

“How horrible that a representative of your organization has gone on NPR to attack public breastfeeding. Surely there are other issues that merit your disapproval more? I am a conservative woman and I am disgusted by the notion that anyone should use his or her energy to become upset at a mother feeding her child in the healthiest and most loving way possible. How sad that you have seen fit to endorse the view that the human breast is primarily a sexual object requiring concealment and only secondarily what it in fact exists for–a means of feeding the human child.

“This sort of prudishness gives conservatives a bad name. Shame on you all for promoting attitudes that militate against what is by *far* the best for babies. I certainly have no interest in joining an allegedly conservative organization that spends its energies supporting such dubious positions.”

Please let me make my position clear: I don’t oppose public breastfeeding, and I’m not offended when I see a woman nursing her baby. And I agree that no mother should be forced to feed her baby in a restroom, unless there is a separate lounge designed for that purpose, as there is in Nordstrom’s and other better stores.

I do believe, however, that women who nurse in public should make some effort to cover themselves. That’s why nursing blouses exist, and I don’t think a kid will be warped for life if his or her mom drapes a blanket over him or her every now and then when the two are in a public place.Yes, breastfeeding is natural and beautiful, but there is a whole range of other natural and/or beautiful human activities that we deem best done in private. Our culture–and most but not all other cultures–regard the female human breast as an intimate part of the anatomy that is not for public display. Our culture also regards breastfeeding as an intimate activity not to be performed in front of an audience of strangers.

Neither am I against providing reasonable accommodations to nursing mothers. At the same time, I think it’s entirely proper for businessnes and organizations to set reasonable standards of modesty so as not to offend others. The militant breast-feeding contingent wants more, however: the absolute right to breast-feed just about anywhere without any sort of covering–and if other people object, that’s their problem. It’s essentially the right to impose one’s own tastes, values, and desires upon others willy-nilly.

True enough, I’ve never had children myself, sad to say, so I’ve never breastfed a baby. I do come from a family of nursing mothers (sister, sister-in-law), so I’m quite familiar with the process. And  believe it or not, there are some nursing moms (or former nursing moms) who agree with me. Read this essay by Washington Post reporter Roxanne Roberts for an example.