Lactivists Across the US Fight to Breastfeed in Public

The Milk Truck of Pittsburgh (via Gizmodo)
Lactating mothers that feel breastfeeding is a public right seem to have been coming out of the woodworks and are more vocal than ever in recent days.

In August, a Utah woman blogged about a negative confrontation by Whole Foods staff after she had tried to feed her child there. One social media campaign led to another, and soon a “nurse-in,” or the lactating mother’s version of a “sit in,” was established at 20 stores across the country. Whole Foods has since issued a public apology.

And just last month, a woman shopping in a Texas Target location said employees harassed her after she had breastfed her screaming infant in a secluded corner of the store. This spurred more than 100 nurse-ins in at least 35 states; and after 250 or more national demonstrations, Target Corporation issued a statement welcoming breastfeeding. Especially in the fitting rooms: “…even if others are waiting to use the fitting rooms,” claimed the apologetic memo.
They call themselves “lactivists,” or, more memorably, “NIP (Nursing in Public),” and, in case you haven’t caught them at a big box chain or major grocer near you, you may soon find them on wheels.

At least in theory, that is. An ice cream truck with a giant erect breast on its roof has been roaming the streets of Pittsburgh, PA as a safe haven for the lactating mother in need. Jill Miller, an art instructor at Carnegie Mellon, designed what’s known as the “Milk Truck” to come to the rescue of mothers wishing to nurse whenever they feel shunned publicly. The Truck, while not exactly practical for every breastfeeding mom in Pittsburgh, was part of the Andy Warhol Museum’s 2011 Biennial exhibit, which ended January 8.

As symbolic as the Milk Truck may be, the community support was overwhelming: Miller’s kickstarter campaign to launch the truck racked in more than $15,000 to start up, and the Pittsburgh City Council named Sept. 13 "Milk Truck Day."

A city proclamation declared: "Whereas, the Milk Truck…believes babies should be able to eat anywhere and everywhere; and … be it further resolved."

On a national scale, the Surgeon General issued out a call to action to support breastfeeding in January of last year. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin said: "Many barriers exist for mothers who want to breastfeed. They shouldn’t have to go it alone."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that while 75% of US babies start out breastfeeding, only 13% are exclusively breastfed at the end of 6 months. According to the call to action, breastfeeding protects babies from infections and illnesses like diarrhea, ear infections, and pneumonia. Breastfed babies are also less likely to develop asthma, and those who are breastfed for six months are less likely to become obese. Mothers themselves who breastfeed have a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

It wasn’t until 1999 that a US federal law was enacted to specifically address mothers wishing to breastfeed in public, but it only protects women wishing to feed in a federal building or a federal property. There are no stipulations for private organizations and properties that include retail stores and restaurants, although some states are passing laws for further protection.

In Canada, a 1989 Supreme Court case held that, since pregnancy was a condition unique to women, discrimination against women on the basis of pregnancy is a form of sex discrimination.

The most recent battleground for public breastfeeding? The streets of Sesame. That’s right, one of the nation’s most beloved children’s shows has now been targeted for failing to support breastfeeding women. So far, more than 30,000 people have signed a petition to bring breastfeeding back to Sesame Street.

Have women ever felt safe breastfeeding their babies in public? And if not, are these “lactivists” just the beginning of a new feminist movement?


  1. I'm torn on this issue, mostly because of the extreme people take it to. I fully support the idea that it's not shameful to feed your baby and I've nursed my own 3 babies so I know that sometimes, a screaming infant has to eat no matter where you are, but I gotta say, it's not that hard to do it discreetly for the sake of those around you. I've been on the other end too, trying to eat a meal while a woman at the table in front of me fed from one breast and let the other hang out in the wide open air, free as a bird for over 20 minutes. As much as I appreciate what she was doing for her child, I found it unappetizing and gross, and it would not have been that hard for her to throw a burp cloth over her shoulder already, and quite frankly, I wish the restaurant would have asked her to cover herself up. I'm all about the "if you don't like it, don't look at it" thing but it's just bad manners to have your boob hanging out in the middle of a restaurant. This is not an issue of activism or feminism as much as its an issue of common decency, I guess. Taking a crap is necessary and natural, too, but it doesn't mean we have to do it wide open in public, and I don't see any 'craptivists' out there (yet, hah). I support a woman's right to breastfeed in public, but I also think a line can be crossed into indecent exposure. The bottom line: If you feed your baby when and wherever you need to, and you are decent enough to do it as discretely as possible, you likely aren't going to get any flack from anyone for doing it. I fed my babies in stores and restaurants and all over in public with a well-placed blanket or sweater and never experienced discrimination in any form.

  2. Agreed. I breastfed my daughter for over a year. I always wore appropriate clothing if I got caught someplace in public--a loose blouse with feeding under it, not "over the top". A little class and common sense is in order.