Need for Privacy Shouldn’t Derail Push to Claim Public Space for Breastfeeding

Written by Jodine Chase

Need for privacy shouldn’t derail push to claim public space for breastfeeding

Does the push for “lactation rooms” and other spaces for breastfeeding parents limit or expand notions of public breastfeeding? At a talk at the Breastfeeding and Feminism International Conference, Amanda Barnes Cook addresses tensions around breastfeeding in the public and private space.

The landscape for breastfeeding women is changing for women in North America. Over the past decade, employers have rushed to create lactation rooms, convinced of the benefits of reduced absenteeism among breastfeeding mothers. Universities are moving to offer lactation rooms for faculty, staff, students, and visitors

Busy women traveling across the country are starting to push for facilities to express breastmilk or to breastfeed in airports. High-profile incidents where women have been told to cover up or breastfeed in the restroom have led to some retailers and shopping mall operators expanding their comfort facilities to include private areas for women to breastfeed.

Mamavana Pod

Some airports are installing these lactation pods for pumping and breastfeeding moms. Credit:

Lactation Room Sign

Lactation rooms are popping up at offices and campuses across the US. Credit: mlgkhc on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Amanda Barnes Cook addressed the 2014 Breastfeeding and Feminism Symposium with an overview of the tension around breastfeeding in the public space. She notes that while breastfeeding mothers can generally access public places legally, they often experience looks of disgust and requests or expectations that they will cover or move to a private space.
Cook says breastfeeding mothers must be able to choose privacy without coercion, “otherwise public and private spheres become places of domination and oppression.”
Nursing Tent

This festival offered a dark, dirty tent in a hidden corner for breastfeeding moms and has no public policy welcoming breastfeeding anytime, anywhere on the festival site. Credit: Kirsten Goa, Editor, Birthing Magazine

Cook says we must ensure breastfeeding is welcome in the public space and not just in places that have stickers saying, “breastfeeding is welcome here.”

“For example, when stickers are used to designate that breastfeeding is welcome in a space, wording should be carefully selected. ‘Breastfeeding welcome here, and anywhere in our establishment’ would be a better message than ‘Lactation Room,’ which has the potential to restrict the definition of the appropriate space. Notices in a bathroom that say, ‘Please do not breastfeed here. You are welcome in our space,’ might help, too, to slowly change public expectations.”
Infant Feeding Room Sign

South Dakota Department of Health WIC state fair sign gets it right. Credit: Cassandra Sornberger


Cook says breastfeeding women are tied to their bodies and their babies, and that every person must be able to occupy the public space while embracing all significant aspects of their personhood. She says consideration of the comfort of others can’t have more weight than the needs of a breastfeeding mother and child.

Cook argues, while it is important and welcome to support women to breastfeed by providing dedicated, private spaces, we need to ensure “we are not ghettoizing breastfeeding to the point where it can only take place in those spaces.”


Jodine Chase
Jodine Chase lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She is mother, stepmother, and spouse to the father of 11 offspring, ranging in age from 9 to 39. (“I only gave birth to five!” she’s been known to declare.) She works in public relations, with an emphasis on the health care and energy fields, and is the curator of Human Milk News. She uses her powers for good providing support as a volunteer to breastfeeding causes, both locally and globally. She also works in her community to support the sustainability of mature neighborhoods.
Amanda Barnes Cook
Amanda Barnes Cook is a PhD Candidate in political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her dissertation explores breastfeeding, feminism, and the state.



Want to learn more? Check out the plans for the 2015 Breastfeeding and Feminism Conference here.
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