Breastfeeding in public has a long and tortured history. Once upon a time breastfeeding was the only way for women to feed new born babies. Little was understood about the connection between the mother's health and the baby's nutrition. Aristocratic mothers of old hired "wet nurses" to feed their children. Wet nurses were poor women, who made money by breastfeeding. These poor women clearly did not eat as well as their employers, and nobody cared. Infant mortality was high. When you look at statistics that suggest the average life span in the Middle Ages was a mere 50 or 40 years old, you should understand that number is low because of the incredibly high number of people who died before their second birthday. For people who made it past infancy, the average life span was not that different from what it is today.
In the bay area of California, Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco, a number of liberal minded people have settled. In this culture many people feel breastfeeding is natural, so why not let women do it in public? The truth is, it's very simple to do discreetly. Simply lay a towel or shawl over your shoulder and snuggle the baby against you. There's nothing to see. Other people however, can't get past the "idea" of it. They liken breastfeeding in public to urinating in public or worse. I have seen vitriolic comments on blogs from both men and women that feel a breastfeeding mother needs to take her project into the bathroom, out of the public eye. If every bathroom in public places was equipped with a couch or a comfortable chair I might see the reasonableness of this request. Expecting a grown woman to balance herself and her baby on the edge of a public toilet in order to breastfeed seems too much to expect from the average woman.
Some women respond by using formula. Formula was invented to feed orphans during wars. Its not a product recommended to replace breastfeeding. It's a product filed under the category of "better than starving." After the war was over formula was sold to developing countries where famine made women too weak to breastfeed. The push to use it in the country for "convenience" or "hygiene" is really to boost product and make stock holders happy. The truth is, one generation after another raised on formula struggles with obesity issues. Its neither natural nor healthy to be feeding babies infant formula if you have a completely natural alternative available at your breast.
Breastfeeding provides babies with much needed immunities via the mothers' immunities. And the act of doing it is a bonding experience between mother and child. Is it any coincidence that the number of women abandoning, molesting, and neglecting their children has risen since formula became the norm? When I was a kid I had never even heard of anyone "forgetting" their child in the car, let alone on a stifling hot day. Last year and the year before, numerous children died strapped in their car seats, forgotten by their well meaning parents. Scary.
If you tried breastfeeding and felt it just didn't work out for you, I encourage you to contact La Leche League International. They are an organization dedicated to increasing awareness regarding breastfeeding. For example, did you know that even if you work all day you can pump and store breastmilk for your child? And did you know that even if you can not produce the milk necessary, there may be a possibility that another woman may donate milk to a milk bank for you? And did you know, that just because you did not breast feed your first child, that doesn't mean you can't breastfeed a second or third. I encourage you to try.