This has been an issue off and on for years, but recently I've heard of two news stories where women breastfeeding their babies in public have created a bit of a stir; in one case a woman was thrown out of a Denny's; another, it was a mall. And the comments on these news articles are at one extreme or the other, some saying these women should be more discreet; others saying it's perfectly fine and natural. Hippies and prudes. Very few, if any of them, seem to have much common sense.
Are breasts sexual or aren't they? This seems to be the main issue. Breasts serve no sexual function, specifically, but that doesn't mean that they're not enjoyed in a sexual situation - but then again, the same could be said for the mouth, the hands, and even the feet, in some cases. Do we cover those as well? Then the next question asks if breasts are or are not primarily for feeding babies? This is a big obvious no - breasts are present, albeit in a much smaller form, from birth; unless a [female] baby or child is starved, the breasts, or rather breast buds (which grow into breasts later) are apparent and there's a slight but noticeable difference in the appearance of the bared chest between a boy and a girl of the same age and build. And the breasts grow long before a woman's first pregnancy. Breasts do not even lactate (produce milk) until a woman's so many months pregnant or just after she delivers. And then only for so long after. So while breastfeeding might be the most useful function of the breasts, it only applies to a very small percentage of a woman's life, and that's assuming she bears children at all - many women don't.
But the issue isn't about objective facts as described above, but rather, subjective opinion, which is a bit trickier.
To look or not to look? The obvious solution to being offended by public breastfeeding is quite simply not to look. But some people can't just look away. It's like an accident on the side of the road, it's something out of the ordinary that demands your attention. Same with bared breasts (or rather, just the one). It attracts attention, but whose fault is that? The one watching or the one doing?
The one watching, which is any of us; people in general seem to have this unspoken and undefined belief that we have some kind of authority over all we see, all that happens to be right in front of us, that the world as laid before us is ours to edit and alter as fits our own preferences for such things, and if something doesn't fit, it's wrong.
As for the one doing, the woman breastfeeding in public, there are a number of alternatives. First there's formula, which is "close to breast milk" and loaded with nutrients to be good for the baby and removes the issue altogether, but it's expensive as hell, and even though the government has programs to help poor mothers pay for some of it, it doesn't cover all, and these programs don't cover everybody. Plus, a lot of women feel the need to breastfeed naturally, much like giving birth as opposed to adoption. Then you have blankets; a woman can throw a towel or blanket over the baby while feeding, but in hot weather this may not be practical; also it might not be practical to carry a blanket in the first place. So asking women not to breastfeed in public is not an easy task given the lack of a proper alternative.
It's not exactly common; you can't just go to a mall and expect to see a bare breast with a baby attached. Most mothers of infants who breastfeed, it would seem, do go to the trouble of feeding the baby before they go out or in a more private location, but there are just cases where it cannot wait and would be impractical to cover it up, and I believe as a society we need to be more understanding and accepting of that.
Pornography or nudity? Pornography is defined as obscene material (not specifically sexual, but most always) designed to arouse the viewer. It's always recorded; viewing live sex acts isn't pornography, it's something else; it borders on prostitution, but that's outside the purview of this article. Nudity on the other hand, as opposed to nakedness, refers to deliberate exposure of the body's generally-defined private areas (the genitals and buttocks, and the breasts for girls of about 7-8 years of age or older) not necessarily for purposes of arousal. (Nakedness is not deliberate, but again, that's outside the range of this article.) For example, when the MPAA gives a movie an R rating for sexual content and nudity as opposed to just saying pornography, they're being quite accurate; sex and nudity in a movie that is not pornographic, as such, is just that - nudity. And, that said, a woman feeding her baby in public isn't pornographic, lewd, or obscene in any way. It's just nudity - partial at that. We're born naked. (Almost said nude, but naked is the correct term there.)
Before the whole pedophile scare of the last 10-15 years, people used to let their children (up to school age) run around naked outside, like in the sprinklers. In the 1980s this wasn't common, but not exactly rare to see. It's not something that was made a big deal of and was never considered sexual until sexual predators put that spin on it, and now it's rarely, if ever done. It's ironic, America, as a society, has gone from children being the "property" of their parents and abuse being acceptable, to abuse being acceptable to a certain degree, to abuse never being acceptable; also we've gone from nude portraits being acceptable to spontaneous nude photographs being acceptable, and now only "one or two" bathing pictures being acceptable, with an emphasized preference on a towel covering the genitalia, with a woman being brought up on charges for taking a picture of her daughter coming out of the shower, and teenagers being brought up on charges for taking cellphone pictures of their nude bodies and sharing them with their peers.
The nature of nudity hasn't changed, only society's perception of it. As it relates to kids, the change is a necessity. There are sick people out there and they get bolder every year, so at the sacrifice of a little innocence, kids must be taught modesty, that others' viewing of their private areas must only be out of necessity, and then limited to a select few: parents and the occasional other caretaker(s) for hygeine when they're young and can't wipe themselves; doctors if something goes wrong down there; siblings if they bathe together; and later in life, trusted lovers. Women, on the other hand, know better, or at least they should. They should have some discretion - and I believe that many, in fact, do. But in that rare case where their child gets hungry, they must feed, and there's no convenient cover, others, particularly those who would ask the mother to show some decency and not breastfeed in public, should show some discretion and either look the other way or mind their own business, because it's really none of their business.