Why I Choose to Breastfeed in Public—Without a Cover

For this mom, breastfeeding in public isn't merely an act of biology; it's one of defiance.

Mom breastfeeding in public outdoors Courtesy of Maureen Shaw

The beach, airplanes, malls, restaurants, a zoo, my front lawn—these are but a sampling of places I have nursed my children without a cover. For me, breastfeeding in public isn't merely an act of biology; it's one of defiance.

I'm passionate about breastfeeding. Not only have my children reaped the health benefits of breast milk, but breastfeeding has in large part reshaped the way I think and feel about my body. Yes, my breasts are gloriously plump and eye-catching right now, but that's not what I'm talking about. Their ability to help sustain my children's lives is amazing and makes me appreciate my body for what it can do, versus how it looks.

Plus, I've worked really hard at breastfeeding. It might be natural but it is not easy. I've stuck with it—for one year with my daughter and nine months and counting with my son—despite the nipple cracks, blisters, engorgement and supply issues. Breastfeeding is a commitment of epic proportions, and I'm proud I've made it this far. And I can't imagine I'm the only mama who feels that way.

So when I read stories about women being told to cover up while breastfeeding, asked to retreat into a bathroom stall to breastfeed their babies or worse, to leave a premises altogether, my blood boils and I swear my breasts fill with milk in protest.

It stuns me that people are offended by PDB—public displays of breastfeeding.

Newsflash: Boobs are made for feeding babies. Not just comfortably at home, but wherever and whenever their little tummies start to rumble. And, because babies have an uncanny knack for throwing you a curve ball when it's least convenient, chances are good they're going to get hungry when you're not even through the appetizer course.

I, for one, refuse to breastfeed my baby in an environment deemed unfit for an older kid who can hold a fork. Just as you wouldn't have your 3-year-old eat with a blanket covering his head or tell your kindergartner to enjoy her afternoon snack on the toilet, I likewise won't let my son eat under sub-par conditions for the sake of "modesty."

Luckily, I've never encountered any outward disapproval to my cover-free breastfeeding, though I always expect and am prepared for it, especially in light of how prolific negativity is online.

Click on any Facebook post promoting breastfeeding in public, or articles about the same, and chances are highly likely the comments sections are filled with vitriol. The potential for meaningful discussions on the benefits of breastfeeding or our legal rights to do so in public disintegrate when — here's the kicker—mostly women are preoccupied with slinging shame at their PDB-loving counterparts. "Where's your modesty?!" and "Cover up!" are plentiful. It's as if they're worried breastfeeding moms are going out of their way to attract the male gaze, or perhaps more accurately, their males' gazes. (Which is offensive not just to women who are trying to feed their babies, but to men as well).

Over time, this has ceased to surprise me, given our society's double standard with breasts.

Because let's be honest for a second: modesty and breasts are hardly in an exclusive relationship. Boobs are used to sell everything from burgers to perfume, and are embraced and lauded—so long as they're sexualized. But put a baby on a breast and suddenly it's unacceptable?!

That, in a small nutshell, is why I insist on breastfeeding in public without a cover. It's my way of giving the proverbial middle finger to a culture that is obsessed with breasts in barely-there bikini tops, but eschews the magic of their intended, biological function.

Bottom line: Breastfeeding, wherever it happens, should be applauded and encouraged, never shamed.

About the author: Maureen Shaw is a writer, editor and proud mama of two. Her writing has been featured widely online, including sherights (which she founded in 2011), the Huffington Post, Mic, Quartz, The Atlantic, Scary Mommy and more. Follow her on Twitter.