I Hate Lactivists

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I come from a long line of breastfeeding women. Near as I can tell, we’ve all been proud breastfeeders as far back as we go. When the mid-century craze to throw off breastfeeding in favor of science-perfected formula hit, my grandmother never bought into it. And when my mother gave birth to my sister in 1970, she fought off nurses to breastfeed. She remembers some of the hospital staff laughing at her as she insisted trying to get my sister to drink from her breast. Finally a kind nurse came to her aid and showed her how to do it and encouraged her by telling her she was doing the right thing.

When I got pregnant with my oldest, I didn’t bother taking a single birthing course. I figured that literally billions of women had gone before me and if they could do it, so could I. But I did take a breastfeeding course from the excellent Breastfeeding Center For Greater Washington. Why? Well, while that baby will come out one way or another, many of my friends struggled mightily with breastfeeding. I knew I wanted to feed my baby that way if at all possible, so I took the time and effort necessary to learn how to do it.

And do it I did. When my oldest was born, she was a breastfeeding champ. I nursed her exclusive to all other nutrition through six months and on through just over 13 months (at which point my next pregnancy interfered). And then I nursed that one for about the same amount of time. We struggled through the occasional mastitis or thrush, clogged ducts and the like.

I’m so thankful I was able to breastfeed my children and I hope that I’ll get to do it for subsequent children, too.

I’m a proud breast-feeding mama.

Having said that, I am so not into lactivism. Now, if we’re talking about the general promotion and support of breastfeeding, I’m fine with it. But what I can’t stand is the effort to get teams of lactating women to storm every library, store and other public space where someone might have had the audacity to ask a breastfeeding woman to cover herself a bit.

So whenever I get those emails about how I need to join a nurse-in to protest some horrible nursing injustice? Aw heck no. Not going to do it.

I’ve fed my children in public. The first time I ever did it outside of my house or my church — where everyone’s pretty comfortable with it — was at a baseball game with my 3-week-old baby. I tried to do it without missing a moment of the game but I wasn’t that coordinated yet. I ended up taking a seat in the First Aid office. But by the time my second came along, I was a world-class public breastfeeder. I even breastfed my baby once in a professional meeting where I was one of only two women. And to their credit, the dudes in attendance just acted like it was no big deal.

And every time I did it, I was able to keep covered and focus on my baby while also giving some thought to whether I was making other people uncomfortable or whether I was failing to be modest. A bit of a challenge at first, as I said, but with time and practice, no big deal at all.

Of all the things in the world that I have time to protest, I’m pretty sure that the occasional mean comment about breastfeeding is not going to rank. And if I were going to protest, whipping out my breast and placing my baby on it would not be the way I’d do it. I just don’t like the idea that mealtime would ever be primarily about protest and not nourishment. And what’s more, I think modesty is not too much to ask of mamas feeding their babies.

It’s awesome that God gave women breasts by which we can feed and nourish our children. And it’s fine if you’re one of those mothers who doesn’t worry about when and where she lets it fly. But come on, nobody should be surprised that not everyone shares your views on breast freedom. And sure, maybe these people need to be more understanding of the difficulties of lactation and breastfeeding, but we ladies of the breast can also be more understanding. As a wise man once said: “Can’t we all just get along?”

Image via Article Slash.


  1. B

    July 11, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    I also dislike certain lactivists who are anti-pumping. When my daughter was 4 days old, I called my local chapter of La Leche League to ask where to rent a breast pump to see if I liked it before I bought it, and they wouldn’t tell me until they berated me for 45 minutes about not trying harder to nurse at the breast. I had a multitude of problems with nursing at the breast, but I successfully pumped for an entire year. Many (not all) lactivists seem to have a very rigid idea of how a woman should go about breastfeeding and show lack of acceptance in their own ways.

    • Leigha

      July 12, 2011 at 1:04 am

      Because heaven forbid a woman not have her baby with her 24/7 for a year, right? She couldn’t possibly want to go back to work, or anything. And the dad certainly shouldn’t have that opportunity to bond with his baby.

      Isn’t the argument in favor of breastfeeding supposed to be about breast milk being the healthier option? I fail to see how using a breast pump takes away from that. And I won’t buy any “but they won’t bond” arguments unless I see some cold hard science backing that up.

  2. Abigail

    July 11, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a mother to cover up while breastfeeding, but if she’s asked to leave completely, then I think it’s great to do a nursing protest. But I agree that many nursing moms are very overbearing in their desire to convince you of how wrong you are when you pump or use formula.

  3. skeller

    July 11, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    There seems to be a new movement of breastfeeding flash mobs–intended to be similar to the nurse-in but with a more positive spin in an attempt to normalize breastfeeding and not in protest to a bad experience. I’m not against the nurse-in per se, but there are definitely way too many overzealous lactivists whose time would be better spent actually supporting breastfeeding mothers.

  4. Sol

    July 13, 2011 at 11:50 am

    It is against the law to ask a mother to cover and/or leave an establishment for breastfeeding her child. It isn’t about modesty.

    • n

      July 14, 2011 at 1:43 pm

      While I can see why it would be illegal to ask them to leave, I honestly don’t see why it should ever be illegal to ask them to cover up. It’s about mutual respect. A lot of people don’t care if you feed in public, but we don’t want to see it. Bend a little.

      Having worked in an establishment that primarily catered to children (portrait studios’ number one clients are parents), I found that it was obscenely difficult to concentrate on doing my job when a woman just popped a tit out and stuck a kid on it. Natural? Yeah, but that doesn’t make it any less distracting for the other people who are just trying to do their job.

    • Psych Student

      November 14, 2013 at 9:00 pm

      I agree that it might be ok to ask for a cover up. I don’t want to see someone chewing with their mouth open or eating without hands like they would at an eating contest (not that babies breastfeeding is the same thing, but they are eating in a less than fork and spoon way).

    • Leigha

      July 17, 2011 at 3:49 pm

      Considering it’s illegal for a woman to have her breasts exposed in public, there is no reason why it should ever NOT be acceptable for someone to ask a woman who is breastfeeding to cover up.

    • juliewashere88

      July 17, 2011 at 6:28 pm

      Where is it illegal?
      I know it’s illegal to stop a woman from breastfeeding in a federal building where the woman is allowed and were children are allowed. I also know that breastfeeding is protected in most public places.
      However, an establishment such as a restaurant isn’t a public place. It’s in public, as in there are other people in the space, but its private property. If I can be denied service for not wearing shoes, you can be asked to not flash everyone.

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  6. mamatobe11

    July 15, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    I appreciate the article. I agree, breastfeeding is fabulous and I fully intend to try it. However, I am a modest person and also intend to cover up my breast while in public. Some women balk at the idea of being modest; why does it have to be one or the other? I can be modest and still be proud to breastfeed.

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  8. Eileen

    July 19, 2011 at 10:31 am

    I like breastfeeding. I breastfed as a kid, and so did my sisters, and if I can I will breastfeed my kids. But I totally understand that, as natural as it is, people don’t necessarily want to see it and maybe you should cover up. I mean, oral sex is perfectly natural, but if I were in a public place and saw someone going down on someone else, I’d feel awkward. Urination is not only perfectly natural but EVERYBODY DOES IT, but if I see some guy peeing in public (even if he’s peeing into a cup and not making a mess), I’m uncomfortable. It’s not even just the breast – I don’t like to see anyone exchanging bodily fluids in public.

    • Mistie

      December 30, 2011 at 8:57 pm

      Did you really just compare oral sex to breastfeeding? Breastfeeding is about nourishment. Whether or not someone is uncomfortable with the form of that nourishment, a child needs food. I can almost always wait to get my jollies off.

    • Famke Stewart

      August 25, 2013 at 5:28 am

      Yeah, and all you need to do is drape a little blanky or something over it. That’s all she’s saying. A little modesty isn’t going to stop baby from eating.

    • julie

      December 30, 2011 at 10:22 pm


      If breastfeeding were about nourishment, it wouldn’t be a problem to do it without putting on a show, which is exactly what nurse-ins are.

      Hell, if were just about nourishment, a breast wouldn’t necessarily even need to be involved. It’s not as if kids can’t wait to eat, either.

      And it doesn’t matter if someone is ingesting the secretions, the general public doesn’t want to be exposed to your private parts and bodily fluids.

      It is NOT hard to be discrete about breastfeeding, despite all the irrational hysterics to the contrary.

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  10. Maureen

    December 27, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    You feel this way because you’ve never been harassed about nursing in public. I want my daughters to be able to nurse wherever, whenever, without that nervous feeling that someone is going to harass them. That’s why I nurse-in, and I suggest you do too. Change won’t happen unless someone does something. What if no African Americans had sat in at those lunch counters?

    • Famke Stewart

      August 25, 2013 at 5:32 am

      Oh sweet lord, you sum up everything that is wrong with lactivists. You sheltered suburban cruncy moms being asked to cover your breasts in a public place are NOT the same as black people being attacked with firehoses and german sheperds trying to simply be treated like a human being.
      Please, stop the self-righteousness. It’s wrong to harass a nursing mom in public, and it’s wrong for a person to not even attempt at modesty in public.

    • Counterculturalist

      September 13, 2014 at 2:22 am

      Um my mom was black and still breastfed, what the hell does this have to do with anything? Why are people THIS much oppose to doing something healthier for their children.

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  16. Sheryl Wagner

    October 21, 2013 at 1:28 am

    Thank YOU! Yes! When I had my first daughter in the 90s, the only “lactivists” were at La Leche League. One meeting was enough for me! I never wanted my child to be like the leader’s 3yo who kept running up to her and pulling up moms shirt every 5 minutes because she felt like having a snack. But you didn’t have to be a lactivist at the time to find out about all the breastfeeding helps out there such as lap pillows, slings, pumps for working moms, shirts and tank tops that allowed easy access to the breast without showing everyone your naked chest. I continued to breastfeed and was never told to stop or go somewhere else and never used formula. I had my second child in 2006 and by that time the lactivists had taken over. Most of them hipster moms who think that covering up at all is an affront to breastfeeding. Seems to be the favorite way of access now is to whip out the breast above the top of the shirt and then glare at anyone who happens to see your naked breast because they glance at your cute baby. Ever notice that people always look at your baby when you are holding him whether your baby is feeding or not? I never understood having “breastfeeding sit-ins”. In addition to the lactivists the other annoying hipster mom things are the “have to have a family bed” people and the “attachment parenting” people. I actually did have my babies sleep in the bed with me and did carry my children around in a sling. But I didn’t make it a battle and tell everyone that if they didn’t do things my way that they were doing it “the wrong” way.

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