Silent Struggles: Overcoming Breastfeeding Shame and Defying Stereotypes



Breastfeeding is a natural and beneficial way to nourish and bond with an infant. It can be a complex and multifaceted experience, encompassing both physical sensations and emotional connections. It is a unique and individual experience that can vary from person to person.

Women who breastfeed should be supported and encouraged in their choice. Each person needs to approach it with an open mind, patience, and a willingness to adapt as needed to make the experience positive. Similarly, while some women may choose not to breastfeed for various reasons, it is important to respect their decisions without judgment. According to the International Breastfeeding Journal, “Social disapproval of breastfeeding in public is long-standing. McIntyre et al. found that 82% of 2000 study respondents agreed that bottle feeding is more acceptable in public than breastfeeding, and 48% agreed that men are bothered by breastfeeding in public.”(It’s okay to breastfeed in public but…Article number: 24, 2019)

It is crucial to foster a culture that promotes understanding, respect, and support for all feeding choices, whether it’s breastfeeding, formula feeding, or a combination of both. The focus should be on the well-being and health of the baby and the mother, rather than shaming or stigmatising any particular feeding method.

Shame and gender stereotypes surrounding breastfeeding are complex issues that can be influenced by cultural norms, societal expectations, historical perspectives, and individual beliefs. Also, the external world often promotes unrealistic beauty standards, which can make some women feel self-conscious about their bodies and breastfeeding in public. The Hindu published one of research in 2019 by “Breastfeeding in public is still a challenge in India, with only 6% of mothers finding designated areas to comfortably nurse their children, according to a pan-India survey.” This pressure to conform to societal ideals can contribute to the shame associated with breastfeeding. Many cultures have different attitudes and beliefs about the human body, modesty, and public displays of breastfeeding. In many societies, breasts are often sexualized and seen primarily as an object. This perception can make breastfeeding in public or even discussing it openly uncomfortable for some individuals who view breasts primarily through a sexual lens. 

Gender stereotypes play a role in how breastfeeding is perceived. Women have historically been associated with caregiving and nurturing roles, including breastfeeding. This can lead to expectations about how women should or should not behave, including when and where they breastfeed. Mothers who breastfeed in public may face criticism or judgement from others who are uncomfortable with the idea. If breastfeeding is depicted negatively or as something to be hidden away, it can affect how society perceives the act. This can lead to feelings of shame and reluctance to breastfeed in certain settings.

Addressing these issues requires a multi-faceted approach and efforts to promote positive attitudes towards breastfeeding and break down gender stereotypes can include education, awareness and promoting gender equality. 

It’s important to challenge the stigma surrounding breastfeeding and promote a supportive and inclusive environment for mothers who choose to breastfeed and to recognise that efforts to combat shame and stereotypes may take time, but progress can be made by fostering open conversations, challenging biases, and promoting a more inclusive and understanding society.


Urasmita Ghosh, Communications and Fundraising Associate, Equal Community Foundation 


Disclaimer: The opinion and views have been expressed solely of the individual mentioned, not belonging to the organisation.