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Welcome to STop, the Seattle Times Opinion blog where our editorial writers and editors share their evolving thoughts on a variety of issues. STop is a place where opinion writers and readers can exchange views and readers can learn more about how editorial positions are formed.

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June 10, 2005

Breastfeeding Decorum

On May 9 I heard a snippet of the Kirby Wilbur show about breastfeeding. He was worked up about the indecorousness of a certain incident, though I didn’t have the radio on long enough to hear why. I see in today’s Seattle P-I, columnist Robert Jamieson tackles the topic, and he attributes the hoo-ha to Barbara Walters, who was grossed out on an airplane. He then quotes KOMO’s Ken Schram, who replied to the argument that it is “natural” by noting that urinating is natural, too, and that he didn’t want to have to see it at the mall. Then Jamieson upbraided Schram, saying “urination is not on par with providing a basic human need.”

Good grief. This should not be an argument about whether something is “natural” or whether a “basic human need” for a baby to eat is comparable to a “basic human need” to pee. Both needs are basic. Nor is it a matter of rights. A person has a right to take care of either need, but how to do it is a matter of manners and decorum--and different sorts in each case. I appreciate when lactating mothers are discreet about their breastfeeding, which, in my experience, they are. What “discreet” amounts to will depend on the situation. That will be different on an airplane than in a mall, because there are fewer options in an airplane.

The other thing I’d add is that even though we guys have opinions on this, we’re not in a position to do much about them. The police are not going to be issuing tickets to mothers with babies. I'd guess property managers will be reluctant to do a whole lot. I remember years ago a mother was ejected from the lobby of a prominent Hong Kong hotel and told to do her breastfeeding in the ladies’ room. That was a woman with a non-Chinese name, and she wrote and complained about it to the (English-language) newspaper. Probably the letter hurt the hotel more than any breastfeeding the woman did. All of which is to say, I think mothers with babies will mainly get to do what they want. They will set the standard of what is done, and the rest of us will get used to it.

Respond to Bruce.

 
Posted by Bruce Ramsey at June 10, 2005 04:34 PM



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