I’ve been posting on and off for almost a year about the “lactivists” (that’s what they call themselves): the nursing moms who have made an ideological cause out of suckling their babes–and so they suckle as publicly as possible in restaurants and elsewhere, stripping to the waist or otherwise letting it all hang out, literally. Their argument is that breast-feeding a baby is natural–so what’s wrong with doing it in other people’s faces?

I won’t even touch the issue of exploiting one’s children for the sake of waging a political war–but, as I’ve written before:

“Yes, breast-feeding is beautiful and natural, but there’s a time and a place for everything. We require guys to wear shirts in restaurants–so why shouldn’t a woman, if she can’t find a private place to feed her baby, have to cover up, too, when she’s in a place where others are trying to eat? It won’t kill a kid to have to nurse under a blanket every now and then.”

(See my Breast-Feeding in Public Office, April 25, which includes links to my my previous posts on the topic.)

The issue is now back in the press–because Barbara Walters complained on her TV show The View about having to sit next to a nursing mom on an airplane who declined to put so much as a blanket between herself and Barbara. That got out the lactivists in full force, and about 200 of them gathered with their babes and toddlers Tuesday for a “nurse-in” outside the ABC studios in Manhattan. So yesterday, Ron Reagan and Monica Crowley invited me to air my views on MSNBC’s “Connected Coast to Coast.” That drew letters from the lactivist crowd. Here goes:

From L.G.:

“I saw a woman this morning on MSNBC [My note: That would be me] who was advocating that women not breastfeed in public. I can’t believe that a ‘women’s’ organization would take such a position.

“Many women are not able to only feed their babies at home–and the position your advocate took was that they should excuse themselves to a restroom–are you kidding me? Would you bottlefeed your baby in a public restroom? Get over it – it’s not a sexual thing!!!!”

From E.T.:

“Your person [My note: Again, me] on MSNBC this noon was absurd to be arguing against women breastfeeding in public. This came across at anti-family, anti-child and anti-women who choose to have children!”

For the record: I am not against breast-feeding in public, although I think it is an activity more proper to intimate spaces. What I am against is women’s refusal to be discreet about it by trying to cover it up as much as possible with a blanket or shawl. Although your nursing infant is your little darling, other people trying to eat, pray, or hold an official meeting might now share your sentiments. If there is someplace else to go–and the restrooms in many quality restaurants and stores have clean, comfortable lounges for that purpose–go there, or try your car. If that’s impossible, make an effort to take other people’s sensibilities into account as best you can. It’s only polite.   

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg has these wise words about the Barbara Walters flap:

“I don’t see repression of breast-feeders in public as the most important issue on Earth. Yes, every now and then a bowl-haircutted manager at a Denny’s somewhere will ask a nursing mother to be discreet, and while that is so very wrong, it also isn’t a rend in the fabric of the universe. If a woman has the right to flop out her breast and start nursing wherever she pleases — and she does, I guess — then why doesn’t Barbara Walters have the right to feel uncomfortable? I mean, she’s old as heck, and from an era where women wore white gloves and pearls to nurse.

“This all could have been avoided had the mom on the airplane simply asked, ‘Mind if I nurse this hungry little beggar?’ Walters would have squeezed out a grandmotherly smile and nobody would have felt uncomfortable. But these La Leche League types are fanatics — they really are obsessed — and they think that just because they’re in a pew at church or their child is 9 years old that they’re a victim if somebody coughs into their fist at seeing them give teat. Yes, nursing is natural, but so is urination, and I don’t feel oppressed because society encourages me to take my business out of sight. It’s a big world, but we all have to live in it together, and a little politeness goes a long way.”