Mom called 'trashy' for breastfeeding on Santa's lap

Dec 22, 2015 at 9:50 a.m. ET

Rebecca Dunbar, an Ontario mother of three, picked the perfect issue to tackle in her children’s Santa photo. Instead of snapping pictures of her kids asking Santa what they wanted for Christmas, Dunbar opted to take her own Santa pic instead — by breastfeeding on the big guy’s lap.

Because of her bold move, the Internet is now divided. Dunbar’s breastfeeding photo, which she staged at a St. Catherine’s mall after her youngest child got hungry while waiting in line for Santa, has been called both “brave” and “trashy.” As Dunbar recounts, breastfeeding her son kept the peace and kept him from screaming. She also says the photographer was comfortable with taking the picture since he had two children who also nursed at home. After posting the now-viral picture to her Facebook page, Dunbar received mixed reviews, with positive comments from friends and family and up to 75 percent negative feedback from strangers on social media.

The majority of the Internet has a problem with Dunbar’s clever shot, and it’s easy to see why. No matter how far we have come with both women’s equality and breastfeeding rights, people still get a little squeamish when they see a woman pop out a boob in public (never mind the fact that a baby is attached).

But it’s exactly for this reason that breastfeeding photos like Dunbar’s keep surfacing, along with larger photo campaigns to raise awareness, like the recent The Australian Breastfeeding Project that features mothers nursing their babies outdoors. In almost every state, a mother’s right is protected to breastfeed in public, but in just as many states, people still aren’t OK with it. Because of this judgment, many moms are embarrassed to breastfeed in public, meaning that they either can’t go out with their infant or may be forced to quit early if they do. It’s safe to assume that this negative attitude toward public breastfeeding may be contributing to our already low breastfeeding rates.

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We see the same argument constantly: Sure, if you want to feed your baby in public, go ahead. But can’t you at least cover up? In an unofficial survey on, 57 percent of people think that a breastfeeding mother should cover up, likening it to indecent exposure. And only 43 percent of people believe that a breastfeeding mother can nurse whenever and however she wants since breasts have been overly sexualized in our culture.

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It’s on this argument that the entire public breastfeeding movement hangs. Any mom who has breastfed an infant knows that it’s not so easy to cover up a squirmy and hungry baby, and plenty of others argue that they shouldn’t have to. As a result, we see breastfeeding antics in the news on a near-daily basis — like mothers allegedly kicked out of churches, public pools and almost evicted for nursing in public.

When you look at public breastfeeding in that context, it makes sense why nursing moms would want their voices to be heard. And when you think of it that way, Dunbar’s staged Santa photo was actually a brilliant nurse-in in disguise. Sitting on Santa’s lap is inarguably one of the most popular Christmas activities centered around kids, and we all know that young children have got to eat. Dunbar’s photo demonstrates what every breastfeeding mother has been saying until she’s blue in the face — a mom has just as much right to breastfeed a hungry baby as to give him a bottle on Santa’s lap.

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Once we embrace what Dunbar and hundreds of other breastfeeding moms are trying to say, a funny thing is going to happen. The uncomfortable stigma that surrounds breastfeeding and continues to cause this kind of knee-jerk reaction will go away. Moms will keep on feeding their babies the way they want to, whether bottle or breast, and the world will keep on turning. And then we can all finally realize that public breastfeeding really isn’t that big of a deal.