The "Cringe" Factor

In response to my post on the Modiin Mall story, Frumhouse described how she has handled nursing in public. Therapy Doc left the following comment:

The problem is the cringe factor, and ignoring that is ignoring anything that makes people cringe. If you know you’re making someone cringe, whaddaya do? Make ’em suffer? Hit ’em over the head with your ideas? Or move away. You can say that
nobody’s forcing anyone to watch, but face it, the baby’s the draw. Maybe a sign over the breast that says, Look away if this (arrow down) makes you uncomfortable?

My response to TD got too long, so I decided to post it here.

It disturbs me to see nursing associated with “hitting someone over the head” or causing suffering. Breastfeeding is a fundamentally nurturing activity. The comment implies that nursing a baby in public is some kind of political statement. While unfortunately this attitude contains a grain of truth in today’s culture, it’s beside the point.

As a new mother I was concerned about how others viewed my nursing in public. Admittedly, I never completely got over it. But the day came, on line in the grocery store, when I realized that the needs of my baby must come ahead of someone else’s possible discomfort. What about the need for an overwhelmed mother on an outing not to have to move herself, her fussy baby, her gear, and possibly a toddler?

Frankly, it *is* easier for the “cringer” to look or move away. A nursing mother isn’t a pariah and shouldn’t have to act like one.

For some women, having to put the discomfort of others above the needs of their own babies will be enough to cause them to reconsider nursing altogether. One mother told me, “My older child nursed every three hours, so I could complete errands in time to feed him. But my second has an irregular schedule, so we stopped nursing after a few weeks.” Let us make no mistake. The fuss over nursing in public harms mothers and babies.

Related posts:

Guest Post by Barbara: Miracles of Motherhood (Premies)

Babies and Breastfeeding: What Do You Know Now that You Wish You Had Then?

Guest Post at Crunchy Domestic Goddess on Diane Wiessinger’s Visit to Israel: Watch Your Language

The “Cringe” Factor: Breastfeeding in Public

Modiin Mom Told to Nurse in Changing Room

Nursing in the Ezrat Nashim (Nursing in the Synagogue)

Breastfeeding and Fasting


  1. Hmmm. Interesting topic. At one extreme, we could have legislation that allows women to nurse in public. And makes the “cringers” the guilty party. Sort of like no trans fats in NYC? I’m playing with this, don’t take this too seriously. (even more interesting would be a rabbi says it’s OK to nurse in public, as long as it’s in tzniut, for health of the baby reasons).
    Years ago I had an incident where our library had a no-siblings rule for a two-year-old group. As I had a nursing baby, I decided to show up anyway. I caused a bit of commotion, I think, at least for the librarian who had set the policy. I ended up dropping out of the library group; my son didn’t care for it, and after being told I shouldn’t bring my baby, I didn’t care for it, either. But a year later that no-siblings policy mysteriously got dropped. So perhaps my showing up with the baby had done some good. And I now work professionally with that librarian, who I respect very much.
    I think women that really, really want to nurse, baring health problems, won’t stop because of the nursing in public thing. But having a baby and a toddler is really difficult. I only did that once. My next baby came much later. So if women are on the fence about nursing, maybe the nursing in public thing is an out, a socially acceptable way to stop doing something they’d rather not continue.
    My guess is nursing mothers are going to have to tolerate the cringers.
    Is any of this rambling at all useful?

  2. mother in israel says

    Leora, they’d only be “guilty” if they were in a position to demand that the mothers move, and did so. Cringing isn’t against the law.
    I agree that the mother I referred to probably had additional reasons for weaning. Yet that is the one she chose to mention. If nursing in public (and in general) were more accepted, not only the women who “really, really want to nurse” would do so.
    Teresa, of course you are absolutely right. It’s not about the exposure.

  3. I still don’t understand the fuss over nursing in public. Neither I nor any of the moms I know were ever uncovered as much as the woman in the bikini at the beach, or the high school girl in the tube top.
    What I came to realize is that the discomfort isn’t from an exposure standpoint. The cringers cringe because they view breasts as strictly decorative objects for physical gratification of adults. Nursing mothers cannot do anything to change this, but they should not have to bow to the prurient mindset of others and never nurse in public. Just my never called humble opinion, of course.

  4. Shoshana says

    I totally agree with your comment “Very few women succeed at breastfeeding when they put the discomfort of others above the needs of their babies.”
    I would NEVER have managed to nurse if I hadn’t consciously decided that nursing was the most important thing for my (IUGR, 1 week in NICU) baby. And that if it destroyed the relationship with my mother-in-law, that was a small price to pay for his well being. And it nearly did, when she didn’t want to let me nurse in my own living room and constantly was on my case about how selfish i was not to allow her or my husband to feed the baby bottles. It still makes my blood boil to this day to remember it all.
    I didn’t notice people outside of that ‘cringing’. But I think i was so focused on the nursing that I wasn’t looking up or around to figure out if they were, especially early on when my son wasn’t good at latching, etc. Ignorance is bliss in this case. Because I suspect that had i realized people were uncomfortable with my nursing in malls, etc, I might have felt the need to stop as i would have been self-conscious.
    And my kids were VERY irregular nursers, especially my older son who seemed to eat less tahn every 2 hours apart and often needed 45 minutes per meal which left me all of 30-60 minutes total between nursing sessions. So there was no way to work around that without nursing in public. Or being a prisoner.

  5. I tried desperately to nurse my baby, and never had enough milk, leading her to not be very easy-going about latching.
    As a result, I was very careful not to nurse in front of men anywhere, because I don’t think a man should see a woman’s nipples without expecting to and consenting to. (I did, btw, kick my dad out of my living room, so I could try to nurse, because I wasn’t willing to go hide in my bedroom).
    If a man doesn’t see the woman’s flesh (which usually they don’t once the baby’s properly latched, especially if the woman makes a reasonable effort to be modest), then his cringing is his own issue and should not be put on a mom who is doing the best thing that a mother can for her baby.
    I’ve certainly been plenty of places where it was clear that the baby was eating, but the breast wasn’t visible. If a man chooses to look away, that’s his business, and he has every right to. He doesn’t have a right to tell someone not to feed her baby.
    And if someone tells you you’re being selfish not letting them feed your baby, offer them the options of doing other important motherly things, such as changing diapers or walking them up and down the hall at 3am…

  6. mother in israel says

    Frumhouse, you’re right, I overstated my point. What I meant was that if a woman is on the fence, the inconvenience of having to find a private place to nurse (or use a sling, or coverup, or whatever) might be enough to cause her to stop.

  7. “Very few women succeed at breastfeeding when they put the discomfort of others above the needs of their babies.”
    I disagree with this statement – I don’t think it has to be one or the other.
    One can nurse discreetly with a sling or nursing shirt or cape or can forego nursing for that moment with a pumped bottle.
    I always pumped at least one bottle before outings and brought it with me in case of situations like being in a long grocery line when my baby decided he was hungry. All except one baby learned how to transition between bottle and breast at an early age with no problem.
    I guess what I am saying is that there are multiple ways to publicly nurse without showing skin. As long as a woman maintains her modesty, I have no problem nursing anywhere and everywhere.

  8. One can nurse discreetly with a sling or nursing shirt or cape or can forego nursing for that moment with a pumped bottle.
    Mom in Israel already knows this story since we emailed offline about it. But I got in a pickle at a Shabbat dinner following a simcha in our family. Those from the “other side” expressed their discomfort that I nursed (behind a blanket and next to a pillow in the adjacent room) during dinner. The message was relayed to “make myself scare” when I have to nurse. Of course, even after the message was given, no one offered me a suggestion of a place to nurse and all rooms were taken.
    Let’s face it, some people just don’t like nursing. But, babies seem to love it.

  9. a pumped bottle
    Ah, the will the baby take a bottle issue. I had one that would cry for four hours straight and refuse a bottle. Another, my daughter, went without taking any of that lovely milk I pumped for 17 hours when I had surgery on my cheek when she was three months old. It all went down the drain (I would have donated it if my life hadn’t been more than a bit busy at the time).
    I knew a mom who returned to work, and her daughter would eat nothing for 7 hours each day. The daughter is fine now, by the way, almost a senior in high school, very bright girl.
    This could be a whole post on someone’s blog, this issue. If anyone else shares the interest. My guess is this happens more often to women who really enjoy nursing, and their babies can feel that. Just a guess.

  10. My kids wouldn’t “take a bottle” either.

  11. Giving a bottle is only one possible option that I used.
    As I mentioned, I had one baby who simply wouldn’t take a bottle – I suspect that had to do with underlying oral muscle development issues he had, which have BH, been resolved to a large extent with ongoing speech therapy.
    That situation taught me to be creative in discreet methods of nursing so that he could eat whenever/wherever he needed to. With my next baby, I mainly employed those learned methods rather than pumping bottles (even though he took bottles) simply because it was easier.

  12. mother in israel says

    Leora, many babies wait until their mothers come home from work. THey make up for it in the afternoon and night. It’s called “reverse cycling.”
    Frumhouse, I don’t have a problem with discreet nursing., but I’d rather switch location than pump. Pumping can lead to complications, and why deny the baby a chance to nurse when mom is right there?

  13. mother in israel says

    Emom, you raise a good point. Many women do prefer nursing rooms and it’s probably good business. Even moms who aren’t nursing might want to sit in a quiet place with their baby for a few minutes.

  14. I personally love pinot hanaka, and my daughters and I try to patronize malls that have them. Many women are not comfortable nursing in public, and it is important that they have more comfortable options than bathroom floors. I hope the trend toward public nursing does not convince mall owners not to utilize space and resources on pinot hanaka.

  15. sylvia_rachel says

    I started occasionally using nursing rooms once my daughter got to the age of being easily distracted and unlatching every 2 seconds to look at people. They were also nice when she was a toddler, and getting a bit heavy to nurse while walking around.
    But I also nursed her in coffee shops, sitting on a rock outside the lion habitat at the zoo, walking down store aisles while my husband pushed the shopping cart, at the table during meals (at home, at other people’s houses, in restaurants), on aeroplanes (and in airport departure lounges), in bookstores, in my daughter’s daycare classroom … Very rarely did anyone catch a flash of skin.
    I never asked permission, or asked if anyone minded my nursing her wherever we were. No one ever asked me to leave — although my oldest sister-in-law did drop some pretty broad hints. If there were enough people or enough noise that it was distracting, we went and nursed somewhere quieter, and if everyone was standing up and my arms got tired I went and sat down.
    I suspect a lot of people did look away, which is fine. I found, though, that people were often surprised not so much that I was nursing in whatever context but that I was doing it without showing anything and without totally stopping whatever else I was doing (as in the case of the seder we attended when DD was about 7 months old). To be honest, except right at the beginning when we were both learning the ropes and there was sometimes significant accidental exposure, it never occurred to me to leave the table to nurse, and I was surprised to see other nursing mums do so. And — this is purely anecdotal, of course, but for what it’s worth — among the mums I know, those least comfortable with nursing in public are those who weaned earliest…

  16. I have to say i’m a bit surprised this response is coming from a therapist. I know she means well, but why is the onus on the mother when it’s other people who clearly have psych/emotional issues with nursing? If other people can’t separate the sexual/utilitarian meanings of breasts, why does the baby have to suffer? Very strange.
    I’m going through this right now, and luckily, Eli happily nurses under a blanket, which makes it easier for when he latches/unlatches constantly. I haven’t yet mastered nursing on the go (literally)because i’ve never managed to figure out doing it in a sling and he’s so darn heavy, i can’t hold him in one hand. (k’ah, 6.5 kilo at 9 weeks)

  17. The discussion pinpoints some changes in the way babies were/are nursed and the changes in attitude on the part of moms and of others. I nursed all three of my kids but many decades ago. Back then nursing on demand at any point day or night was not what was aimed for. We were told to get our babies onto a schedule and we did. I don’t see any evidence that they suffered for that.
    There was also this. Nursing the baby was my private cuddling time with the baby. We made eye contact (no covering with blankets), I could stroke the baby’s cheek, I could talk to the baby and sing to the baby and be absolutely calm with the baby. By choice, even at home,when others were around I went to my room to nurse so both the baby and I could be relaxed. The only exception was when I was home alone with the other children and had to keep an eye on them. Pushing a grocery cart and nursing at the same time just never occured to any of us–it wasn’t the quality time we were aiming for with the baby.
    In an emergency if I was out with the baby I would go to a ladies lounge to give us some quiet space–had nothing to do with modesty and a lot to do with all the tumult in a mall.
    Nursing while shopping is really a “today” thing–multi-tasking with a vengeance.

  18. Lion in Zion says

    i’m not commenting unless rafi does first
    shabbat shalom

  19. mother in israel says

    “We were told to get our babies onto a schedule and we did. I don’t see any evidence that they suffered for that.”
    The ones who succeeded did so *despite* being on a schedule. My husband’s mother was told to alternte nursing and bottlefeeding every four hours. She nursed for three months, until she got pregnant again. My own mother nursed me for a month, because she “didn’t have enough milk.” Some mothers have a lot of milk and their babies will grow well on an imposed schedule. Some newborns really do need to nurse only every three or four hours (or so I have heard).
    In addition, research has shown that the effect of scheduled nursing/separation/lack of breast stimulation in the early weeks may only be apparent months down the road.
    While you may have succeeded, others failed under this system. This is without getting into the possible psychological effects of babies having to wait for nourishment and comfort.
    Breastfeeding is the ultimate in multitasking. Sleeping, reading, eating are all possibilities. And are you saying that your generation never went shopping? You stayed in the house all day long?

  20. sylvia_rachel says

    Some newborns really do need to nurse only every three or four hours (or so I have heard).
    I know one little boy who, as a baby, nursed every three hours, all on his own. So they do exist outside of books, but until I saw it for myself I didn’t believe it. His mother of course thought this was normal, and that I must be doing something wrong.
    On the other hand is the story of a friend of mine — he’s my mother’s age, more or less, so mid-60s — whose mother fed him every four hours, which meant that, on her evidence, he cried for two hours before every feeding. She fed all his younger siblings the same way, and he has never forgotten how awful it was.
    Again, nothing but anecdote …
    Shabbat shalom 🙂

  21. When a baby’s crying. . .whatever works, right? But a baby can wait a minute, no?
    In any case, I think it can be handled discretely. Most of the time.
    Maybe all of the time with a lot of preparation, like the bottles, the blankets, etc. We didn’t have these cool nursing blouses in my day.

  22. MII, of course we went shopping, even when having nursing babies. But we were more “tied down” to a baby’s schedule–we shopped between nursings. Or we put our kids into a carriage for a morning or afternoon nap and went out with a sleeping baby.If something was so important that we had to be gone a full day then we pumped and someone else fed the baby. We worked around our babys’ schedules, not vice versa.
    As to “In addition, research has shown that the effect of scheduled nursing/separation/lack of breast stimulation in the early weeks may only be apparent months down the road.” beware of studies. Plenty of those studies show that fewer nursings but with stronger response on the baby’s part will bring on a steady milk supply. One compared it to a hot water tank. Use a little bit of water on a constant basis and the heater never gets a chance to get to become full and at full heat. Leave time in between uses and you have a full, hot tank.
    And who is talking about separation?
    “While you may have succeeded, others failed under this system. This is without getting into the possible psychological effects of babies having to wait for nourishment and comfort.” There are multiple ways of comforting a baby, not just nursing. And not every cry that a baby gives is because of hunger. I held my babies plenty, but every holding didn’t signal that a nursing was going to take place.

  23. ProfK – Very well said. Can you adopt me?! 🙂

  24. sylvia_rachel says

    We worked around our babys’ schedules, not vice versa.
    Several years ago I read an essay by a mum with several children — can’t remember where I read it or who wrote it, alas — about this very thing. About fitting both major events and minor events into your daily schedule. (I can’t remember what terminology the author used, but I’m pretty sure that hers was better.)
    The question is whether nursing the baby is a major, central event (like getting the older kids to school on time, or doing the grocery shopping, or a family meal) or a minor, incidental event (like putting on a load of laundry or collecting the post or going to the bathroom).
    If you treat nursing the baby like a major event, which has to take place at certain set times (or certain set intervals) and perhaps takes a set amount of time, then the rest of your schedule has to revolve around that big event.
    If however you consider nursing the baby to be an incidental task, which is no big deal and which you can do whenever it happens to need doing, then you can fit it in around whatever else you have to do.
    I was no longer nursing a baby by the time I read this (I was nursing a toddler/preschooler, which is a whole other kettle of fish), but I remember thinking how perfectly it described the experience. After a few weeks, nursing had almost literally become a non-event.
    Also: I also held my baby all the time (well, really often, that is) and holding her of course wasn’t always a signal that I was going to nurse her. But at the same time, babies don’t always want to nurse because they’re hungry — sometimes they do nurse for comfort, and that’s fine.

  25. I have no idea if any studies have been done or observations made, so please no jumping down my throat, but this occurred to me. My generation nursed for feeding purposes. We really didn’t assume that babies needed to eat all the time 24/7. We got them on an eating schedule and eventually that schedule amounted to a correlation to mealtimes for older people.
    Today, feeding is on demand, feeding is used for comforting a baby. Okay, now my question–might there not be a correlation between using food as a comfort and the obesity trend we see today? It was not there when my kids were young–it is today. What has changed? The attitude towards nursing. Infants and toddlers see food as comforting, see food as a reward.
    Just a thought.
    PS: Frumhouse, the adoption depends–what kind of a tax break are you bringing me?

  26. “But we were more “tied down” to a baby’s schedule–we shopped between nursings. ”
    How does this work after the first child? My third has to fit in to his siblings’ schedules- which means his naps will be interrupted by being put into and taken out of the car so i can pick up his siblings from gan; and these pickups determine when I can shop and do other errands. So, there really is no luxury of “shopping after nursing”, or conversely, nursing after shopping.
    Just yesterday, i took all three kids to the park. It was getting time to go home, which coincided with Eli’s time to eat (about every two hours). I could have waited till we got home, which would have meant spending ten minutes with a screaming baby. Instead, I found a quiet bench and nursed him while the girls played on the grass. Why torture him just so other pple won’t “cringe”?

  27. “We really didn’t assume that babies needed to eat all the time 24/7. ”
    Right, your generation also assumed that 6 week olds could begin solids, which did away with night feedings rather quickly. It has since been proven beyond a doubt that a six week old digestive system is in no way ready for strained peas or cereal. And this mistaken assumption probably did a lot more to contribute to the obesity problem than comfort nursing.

  28. Sorry Abbi but it is not my kids’ generation( in their 30s) that is the most obese; it is the generation of youngsters in the 0-16 range of age that is–and they were not fed solid food at 6 weeks. And just as a bit of correction–my pediatrician did not start solid foods until 3 months, at which point virtually all of the kids I knew at the time were already sleeping through the night.

  29. Mother of Toddlers says

    So I was standing on line at the checkout counter with my three year old who had to go to the bathroom really badly. Finally, I decided that my comfort and the comfort of my son outweighed the needs of everyone else on line and in the store and I told him to just go to the bathroom right there. I caught it all in a cup so it’s not like anything got dirty or anything. It was just a matter of how other people would feel. And I think that clearly, what I did was right and I can’t understand why so many people have a problem with someone urinating in public. I mean what about the overwhelmed mother having to move herself and her toddler. I mean everyone should just grow up already.

  30. Mother of Toddlers- so, going by your analogy, it seems you also feed your children breakfast, lunch and dinner in the bathroom- since in your mind, eating and elimination seem to be equal. Do you make them eat off the toilet seat or just the floor?
    Profk- your ped might have been “modern” and pushed solids at three months (also way too early). Many others (Dr.’s Spock and Brazelton at the time) pushed it at six weeks. Regardless, since breastfeeding beyond six weeks is still not the dominant method of feeding, I don’t see how breastfeeding on demand would have any connection to the obesity epidemic, since most of the children afflicted were bottlefed for most of their infanthood ( So the most likely infant obesity culprit would be- bottlefeeding.

  31. You could be right Abbi apropos of the general public for this younger generation, but among the frum women I know who nurse none of them nursed for only 6 weeks. Many of them use nursing as an “acceptable” form of birth control (although it sure doesn’t always work) and nurse from one pregnancy to another, but for sure in the 6 month plus range. And their kids are “larger” than they were. Spock may have pushed one thing but the LaLeche League even back then did not recommend solids earlier than 3 months unless a baby was failing to thrive.
    Truth is, if we all stick around for another 20 years or more, the nursing pendulum will swing off in another direction, and we will all of us be looked at as being “old fashioned” and out of step with the latest in medical trends.

  32. sylvia_rachel says

    ProfK — I’m pretty sure that obesity is a more complex phenomenon; diet, genetics, exercise (or lack thereof), and other lifestyle factors are all part of the picture. In terms of overweight kids, the main difference I see between my generation (mid-30s) and my daughter’s is that we were outside running around all the time while most young kids today — at least where I live — spend a lot more time (a) in scheduled activities, (b) in cars, and (c) being closely supervised.
    I would also contend that overweight/obesity is a definite problem in people of my generation and the one before it — people who are much more likely to have been fed formula than breastfed.
    I would be interested to know whether overweight and obesity among kids are as much of a problem in Israel, where more kids walk to school and spend more time playing outside, as they are in North America where everyone is so afraid something appalling will happen to their kids if they’re not watched every minute of the day. (Seriously. Not long ago another parent at the local park told me off because I was reading a book while my daughter played, instead of watching her. My daughter is almost six.)
    In every generation, mothers do the best we can for our children with the information we have available…

  33. Agreed with Sylvia Rachel that kids today get very little exercise. I recently looked at my high school yearbook and even the “fat” people looked relatively thin.

  34. mother in israel says

    So many comments, so little time!
    ProfK 4:21PM:
    Leaving time between nursings to let the breasts “fill up” does not have a positive effect on milk supply. What is your source for that?
    Here’s a better analogy: It’s like when one’s guests eat up all the food at the kiddush (baby empties the breast and continues to suckle)– next time you know to make more. If the guests leave a lot of food (cf. engorgement, separation, baby getting supplements), you make less the next time because you don’t want the leftovers. Like I said, many babies will do fine on a schedule, but there is a genuine risk to the baby and no advantage. Feeding on cue satisfies the baby (and mother) physiologically and psychologically, and is the best way of ensuring a good supply.
    S-R sheds light on the difference between breastfeeding as a form of providing nutrition, and a way of mothering. Nursing is not minor and incidental, it’s crucial, but because it is done so frequently, a few minutes delay here or there is tolerated. I have read, but don’t have a source, that babies who nurse more frequently nurse for fewer minutes overall than those that nurse every few hours.
    ProfK, when I mentioned separation, I meant in the context of the hospital as a reason for insufficient nursings that could lead to low milk supply later on. It’s not directly related to nursing in public, although mothers afraid to do so might choose to leave their babies at home when they go out.

  35. mother in israel says

    Re: Obesity. Many studies have shown that breastfeeding lowers the risk of obesity. Other studies have not shown a relationship. Everyone agrees that breastfeeding alone is no guarantee against it. No one says that children who have breastfed are at higher risk.
    S-R–Israeli children are slimmer than American ones, for the time being. I have read that advertising is a factor in obesity; for example, kids who watch TV are much fatter than kids who read even though they are both sedentary.

  36. IT seems some of the comments are realy impassioned here.
    Anyway, what I wanted to say, was I could not understand the “cringe factor”
    so many people I know are able to nurse without anyone noticing that they are doing this, as long as you are talking about smallish not wiggly babies
    People have to look really closely to see.
    a friend of mine has nursing cloaks or robes which cover her completely which make her totally comfortable nursing wherever she has to. (in meetings with men etc.)
    re pumping to give when you go out.
    big problem that babies can get used to bottles!

  37. mother in israel says

    Thanks to all of the commenters who are sharing their experiences and perspective.
    Mother to Toddlers: Thank you for the analogy; it pinpoints the area of disagreement. Does one see breastfeeding as something related to elimination and sexual function, or is it primarily a social/feeding activity? If the former, I can’t refute your point. It involves a strongly ingrained cultural outlook, which I hope will change in time.
    I have a question for you and the other commenters. Do you view the problem with public breastfeeding to be mainly about exposure of the breast? Or do you perceive, or imagine others to perceive, the actual idea of a woman breastfeeding publicly to be offensive? Even if she is completely covered?
    Regarding the 3-year-old, there is educational value in teaching him that he can’t urinate in a public place. An infant will not benefit from having to wait while his mother finds a place to take him. (I don’t believe that babies can be taught to wait for their feedings nor is there benefit to doing so. This ability develops naturally.)
    Also, urine involves smelly waste matter. Breastfeeding doesn’t.

  38. sylvia_rachel says

    Nursing is not minor and incidental, it’s crucial
    I wish I could find the article I’m talking about, because I know the author had better terminology than mine…
    I think you knew what I meant, though 🙂