It’s Not About the Boob

I’ve had my mind on NIP incidents recently. Every once in a while it seems there are too many to even keep track of. This has me thinking about boobs.


When we talk about NIP incidents we inevitably get onto the subject of the over-sexualization of the breast. We shout (or type really hard) at people about how they think breasts are only for sexual purposes. We tell people that our society is messed up because breasts seen for sexual purposes is accepted yet when breasts are used for their natural purpose of nourishing our young it is offensive.

I agree with all of that and I say it loudly.

But I am starting to think that we might be missing something. We might actually be dumbing down the issue of NIP harassment. Are people really that upset about a sexualized part of the body?

Generally when people are uncomfortable with things they twitch their eyebrows or shift their asses in their seats and look away. Maybe they give a dirty look, roll their eyes or talk under their breath to their friend. These NIP incidents consist of people going out of their way to harass women. It’s actually quite confrontational.

I’m not buying that this all takes place over a boob.

We live in a hierarchical society, a culture obsessed with authority. People are at the ready to whip out their badges and IDs, flaunt their credentials (see the bottom of every blog post I have ever written), exert power over the next weaker person that crosses their path. Women, children, black people, Hispanic people, Jewish people, gay people, crippled people, old people. The list goes on. There is an accepted system of hierarchy and authority that we rely on to function in our society. I believe that one side effect of being constantly controlled by someone else is that we look for others to control.


A mother is the perfect candidate to exert control over. She is vulnerable. She is focused only on protecting her child. She has endured an entire identity shift. Her world is likely shaken, changing, unfolding. This is the common and accepted view of a mother. But there’s more about her.

The breastfeeding mother operates completely outside of this hierarchy and authority. She is completely independent from this as she has grown a baby in her own body, birthed this baby and is now providing her child with nourishment, comfort and a foundation for life—all without the need of anything this system offers.

She is a renegade.

No, I don’t think that women are being harassed for breastfeeding their children in public because you can see part of their boob. I think we are being harassed because people are always on the lookout for others to control, to fulfill their inferiority complex that inevitably develops in a culture where we are being controlled from every angle all of the time.

I believe that the breast is over-sexualized in our culture. I believe that this plays a major role in how breastfeeding is seen by the majority (as offensive, as something that should be private, etc.). And I go a step further to say that I believe this creates a group of people vulnerable to harassment. We haven’t all been harassed (if you think that matters click here), but we are all a part of this group.

Understand that as a breastfeeding mother you are operating in a system that does not value you—because you are a mother, a woman, perceived lesser somehow. But also understand that you are not reliant on this system. You are powerful. You threaten this system. You are SO powerful and threatening that you put the operation of this entire system at risk. Reject this system. Resist authority. Continue to breastfed in public, continue to question everything and everyone at all times.

Abby Theuring, MSW

About Abby Theuring

Abby Theuring
The Badass Breastfeeder is a mother, writer, social worker, attachment parent, proud breastfeeder and advocate. Her career as a social worker has shown her that gentle and connected parenting is vital for life-long emotional health. You can find her blog at and Facebook page at

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    I wonder too how much our culture’s childist “children as lesser beings/props for our egos” factors in. A mother nursing in public is not only being a “renegade” by bucking the accepted system of mainstream parenting, but she is ALSO putting the needs of a CHILD *gasp* over those of the adults around us who perhaps may feel uncomfortable.

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    Hmm. You’ve really got me pondering this Abby! I’m not sure how I feel about considering it as a control issue across society at large, though I’ve certainly felt this resentment and hostility at a closer range. From a few members of my own family and even some mothers I know, breastfeeding my daughter (especially continuing to do so at 20 months) has been blamed for so much that really isn’t even a issue, more a natural part of infancy. I’ve had many comments about how my child was too clingy, I was too controlling and possessive and how her sleep is poor- all blamed on BF. It took me a long time and confidence of support like your blog to realise- it’s really only a projection of that persons issues. I finally came to see that this individual was jealous of the close, intimate bond I uniquely share with my daughter. Added to this, she was only able to BF her own children for a brief period before being forced back to full time work. So, I can really resonate with the sentiment of other people’s guilt but also jealousy playing a part in this. Sadly, I feel very little support in my continuing BF, but I’m determined to carry on as long as it’s best for us. As some of you said ‘f&*€ em if they’ve got an issue’. It’s another’s issue. You only have to answer to yourself and your child on this one! Xxx

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    I agree with this and it’s great to hear this new point of view. Women need to get back to feeling it’s ok to do what is natural female behaviour and know that we can still be equals. I also think there’s unrest about NIP because of all the subconscious guilt or unease about not having breast fed or having been breast fed.

    I breast feed by 26 month old child in public and to those who comment I say “the world was never changed by anyone who was too scared to be different”.

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    it was shocking to read the words that I am not a valued part of this system, mostly because I know and feel that is absolute truth. But it is incredibly liberating to also know the truth that I am NOT reliant on this system. In fact, this system can go f*ck itself quite frankly because we’d all be better off without it!
    Thank you for writing this!

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    I soo agree with this article. Even women who have chosen not to or have their justified reasons. Try to make another mother feel guilt or shame. Some who chose to nurse past the perceived acceptable society approved time. Also face persecution. “Shame on that mother for feeding her talking toddler, who can ask for food”, ” what is wrong with you, that your still breastfeeding “, there is the rush to force our children to become independent, grow up, get an education, get a job and start contributing to our society….women in general need to be more supportive of each other, that’s when real change happens… When we stand unified. We can be empowering while empowering others. Cheers to the mommas who make the choice to bf and defy our society and it’s perceived power….

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    Im single, I have no kids. But in from a family of 10 children and I totally agree. I also think the harassment is an attack on “the family”

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    For future reference the correct term is disabled, not crippled. But I’m going to use your term in my response and where I use it; in your head, replace it with Disabled, Disability etc so you can see how it sounds. Crippled vs Disabled. However not my main point. Please continue.

    As a new mom, an exclusively breastfeeding new mom (6 months) and also as you have described “crippled” mom. I, being paralyzed, require 24/7 use of a manual wheelchair attracts a lot of (unwanted) attention with my “crippled-ness” alone. So being not only large chested & at a lower view point so everyone is above me looking down…it draws quite a bit more when I nurse in public. However, I have never had anyone give me a hard time or say anything, ever, about nursing in public. & if I did I would have no trouble addressing that since I am use to an alarming amount of ignorant and insensitive personal questions about my “crippled” status, & the contraption under my rear.
    In any case, I go on about my business, they go on with theirs. I nurse where I feel comfortable & when my baby is ready. I’ve done it appropriately so in a dairy barn at a county youth fair among many other empathic lactating cows, while enthusiastic fair goers passed through, I’ve done it in a Hobby Lobby, an Amtrak station, a restuarant….the privacy of my truck. Wherever.
    Heres my perspective I’m trying to share. I have learned since my injury that if I get upset at every double take, raised eyebrow, stare, walking backwards to be able to continue to stare at me, comment, stereotype, inaccessible business, bathroom, sidewalk, or non-crippled taking a crippled parking spot (allowing me to not have a place to exit my vehicle or get back in it) that I only feed the anger & hostility inside of me and not add to any sort of movement that makes people do those things less. By going on with life, (referencing NIP, or living an adventurous exciting life as a crippled person, mom, wheelchair user, or whatever you choose) doing what we’re doing, supporting other breastfeeding moms, sharing the beauty with our nursing photographs, encouraging other moms & helping each other learn that whether we want to NIP, or find ways to be “less conspicuous” if thats what makes us more comfortable while feeding their child in public & saying to hell with anyone that doesn’t like it-try to stop us…..that “normalizes” it (the worlds terms not mine) If someone verbally engages with me about it, negatively or positively I use that as a chance to “enlighten” them or educate them (depending on the amount of patience I have that day, I respond) By just doing, just being, that makes others more aware, makes it more prevalent. In turn less likely for anyone find it “odd” or “offensive” or as a weaker person in that can “controlled”…There’s power in numbers….Power to the Momma’s. Keep on keepin on!

    A Bad Ass, Breast Feeding, Baby Wearing, Disabled Mom on Wheels

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    Wow Abby,

    This was a great read, and eye opening. I agree with your perspective and have never looked at it that way. Thanks again for all you do!

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    This is an interesting thought and something I hadn’t really considered yet it makes perfect sense. It blows my mind to see the comments from people on articles about NIP, I can never understand why people care so much. I think you are on to something here. And many people probably unfamiliar with breastfeeding find it very threatening since it is not the norm to them.

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    Samantha Rutledge

    Wow. Excellent thoughts. I have had similar feelings about many of the NIP incidents I’ve seen in the last several months. It was after I had read Octavia Butler’s Xenogensis trilogy, that I could recognize this hierarchal demand in situations that quite frankly just didn’t fit with the arguments of just “bothering” people or *gasp* being “indecent”.

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    I’ve said for years that requiring women to cover up while nursing equals the religious and fundamentalists idea that women should completely cover up in general. There is no difference in a culture that asks a nursing mother to cover than a culture that requires women to cover their entire face. Maybe we aren’t as free here as many would love to believe.

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      I have never thought about it like this! It does seem demeaning in a vey similar way. It never seemed right to me to ask a woman to cover up but I could never peg why. It is a similar sexist, oppressive feeling that surrounds a head covering. Why should I be made to feel ashamed or embarrassed when it is the other person that is unnessisarily embarrassed?

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    we need a T-shirt…
    Be a Rebell

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    I have always thought that this is the main reason women are oppressed to varying degrees the world over – because we hold this amazing power, we are terrifying to those who do not.

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    I wonder if there isn’t some truth to this matter. I’ve had two doctors (and remember doctors were long considered people in authority and you always did what “the doctor ordered”) tell me that I should still be breastfeeding my two and a half year old. These were both women doctors and the one seriously seemed to have no maternal instinct.

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    Yes….people are both jealous and scared of you at the same time.

    They are very defensive…and then it’s translated into being aggressive, trying to undermine the Mother, break her confidence and the bond between Mother and baby, and keep baby from developing to their full potential.

    So much unconscious hurt and rage at what they themselves didn’t get and were deprived of, combined with feeling threatened by the possibility of new people being grown who will be so much more secure and stronger physically, emotionally and psychologically.

    They know deep down that they are inherently weaker, and that “the system” is the only thing keeping them in their current positions of power and influence.

    Underneath it all they are so angry and hurt, and really just behaving like toddlers petulantly pushing down the next toddlers block tower in frustration.

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