A recent comment from a relative that even with nursing clothes and discretion "just because you can [nurse in public] doesn't mean you should!" set me to thinking quite seriously about the morality of breastfeeding in public, and here's what I came up with:
I believe based on the scientific research and anecdotal evidence I've seen that breastfeeding is the best choice for babies' mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Because of this, I think I have a moral duty to breastfeed.* And I believe other mothers do too, unless it would be an unreasonable hardship or otherwise impossible. I don't think mothers who can't breastfeed should feel bad or are doing anything immoral by formula feeding though, of course! Or say, a mother who has to take a medication for a serious condition that is not safe for breastfeeding babies and has to use formula- I definitely don't think that's immoral! I do think that if a mother is reasonably capable of breastfeeding safely, she has a moral duty to do so and provide her child with the best nutrition and comfort available. Anyway, there are a couple of other moral duties I've been thinking about with this too.
One is that as a Christian, I think I have a moral duty to behave modestly. In life in general for me, this means not wearing low cut tops, not posting sexy pictures of myself on Facebook, and a myriad of other things. So how does this balance with the moral duty to breastfeed? I think I ought to breastfeed modestly. I don't think that breastfeeding is in any way obscene, but I do think that due to the oversexualization of our culture, many men would be prone to sexual thoughts if they saw exposed breast, and I don't want to elicit sexual thoughts in anyone other than Hubby!
To help me nurse modestly, I got a few super-cute nursing tops from Motherwear that allow me to nurse without revealing any of my breast except maybe when Baby's first getting attached and when he's done. And I try not to flash anyone. Baby won't tolerate a blanket over his head, so I don't bother even trying that anymore. For other moms who can afford it, nursing tops, etc are great. But I certainly don't think any mom should feel she has to make expensive purchases to breastfeed. Simply exercising reasonable discretion with what she can afford is all I think is necessary. But even with that being said, Baby's needs come first, and if that means some breast is exposed to public view, I don't think that's bad at all!
I also think the general population has a duty in regards to breastfeeding, and that is to mind their own business. I know that some people are creeps and might be trying to check me out. But beyond attempting to be modest in my feeding Baby, it's really not my problem. I cover up in hopes of not tempting anyone/causing anyone to sin by lusting after me, but I think that's as far as my role goes. My obligation to my baby comes before any obligation to the general public, including the obligation to modesty.
This goes for church too as far as I'm concerned. While I try to nurse modestly and quietly so I'm not a distraction, I think it's ultimately the responsibility of the other people in attendance to ensure their own focus is on God and not on the people around them, including me and my nursling.
What are your thoughts on the morality of nursing in public?
*"Duty" tends to have a little bit of a negative connotation in some contexts, so I just wanted to state for the record that besides thinking that I should breastfeed, I also love breastfeeding my son, and while I consider it a duty, I certainly don't think of it as a chore!