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Is there a double standard for nursing mothers?

Breastfeeding is the most natural method of feeding your baby and carries an abundance of benefits to both mother and child. It is not only convenient in that your baby’s milk is ever ready at the right temperature and in the right quality and quantity, but it also protects your child against many illnesses and infections. It contains essential enzymes and hormones needed for normal growth and development and extends benefits to the nursing mother such as reducing the risk of developing certain cancers.

Throughout history, women have fed their babies in this manner and it is for this purpose that the female race was created with breasts. Despite all of this, breastfeeding in public is not always viewed as appropriate by certain people. Some believe that breastfeeding is a practice best kept behind closed doors, not in the public eye. This negative view is a contributor to our low breastfeeding rate in Ireland, where just 55.4% of babies were being breastfed at the time of their first public health nurse visit, which normally takes place within the first week of a baby’s life. This percentage drops to just 39.3% at 3 months of age.

This negative attitude to public breastfeeding is unfortunate but what is even more disturbing is the double standard imposed on women. What do I mean when I say double standard? Well, it has been made evident time and time again, that society is quite comfortable with the sight of a woman wearing a low-cut top or dress, showing her cleavage, but that it is not so comfortable with the sight of a mother nursing her child, barely exposing any part of her body. Taking this into consideration it would seem that it is therefore not the exposure of flesh that is seen as inappropriate or even repulsive as some more old fashioned and uneducated may say, it is merely the thought of a mother nurturing her own child, sustaining its life with the most natural and practical of all infant food sources. How absurd and flawed is a society with such a perception? A rhetorical question so apparently answered.

According to an international campaign from 2017, many mothers said that they are still made to feel ashamed of breast feeding in public. Research published online in ‘Maternal and Child Nutrition’ which included British, German and Swedish ladies, stated that they were tutted at, while breastfeeding and felt as though others viewed them as ‘hippies’ or ‘weirdos’. Others said that they wished to feed beyond 12 months but feared public disapproval.

It is important to note that despite the fact that some may not support a mother’s choice to nurse publicly; there are laws in place which protect this maternal decision. The Equal Status Act (2000) outlaws discrimination and harassment which in turn protects a mother in this regard. The Intoxicating Liquor Act (2003) protects against discrimination in a public house and gives access to the District Court for such cases.

Irish laws mean that no one can be asked to stop nursing, leave a premises or to use separate facilities, so no matter what the public reaction or the view of others is, every mother is entitled to feed her baby however, whenever and wherever she chooses.

It is unfortunate that there would seem to be a double standard for women even in today’s society, where breastfeeding is encouraged by healthcare professionals but is almost frowned upon when carried out in public, by some uneducated and judgmental individuals.  

Whether a mother choses to feed her child with breastmilk or formula is for her to decide. The days of ‘mum-shaming’ should be well and truly over.

More helpful information for nursing mothers can be found at;


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