Guest Author - Nicki Heskin
Everyone these days seems to have an opinion about public breastfeeding. Celebrities are pictured in magazines with latched-on nurslings. Every month there seems to be another nurse-in, sometimes now called a breastfeeding flash mob, reinforcing the right to nurse in public at another company either with poor policy or an employee who harassed a nursing mother regardless of policy. In most states, the right to breastfeed while in public is protected by law. And yet, there seems to be no shortage of people still deriding mothers for having the nerve to feed their babies on the go.
There are many reasons given by those who oppose public breastfeeding. Some are due to lack of knowledge or understanding. Some are simply absurd and immature. Here are my responses to some of the common complaints about Nursing in Public, both for those who need to hear them, and to assist those who need to address them.
-- Breastfeeding is not “gross.” Remember when you first learned about sex as a child and thought that was gross? Chances are you got over it. Grow up.
-- Breastfeeding in public is not comparable to urinating in public. Breastfeeding is comparable to eating in public. None of the functions for which we use our below-the-belt private parts require public use. The same is not true of breasts. Breasts exist for the purpose of feeding babies. Babies eat frequently. Sometimes they need to eat when the family is in public.
-- Breastfeeding in most public places, in most states, is lawful. You may or may not like that law. I don’t like a lot of laws and legal behaviors, but I don’t get to harass those behaving lawfully, and neither do you.
-- If you are not comfortable seeing a mother breastfeed her baby, don’t look. If you can’t help looking, move. In no circumstances is it appropriate to ask a mother to stop breastfeeding or to cover up or to ask anyone else to do so. It *is* appropriate to quietly ask for assistance if you can not easily move on your own, for example, in a restaurant or an airplane. Using “I-statements” is most appropriate – i.e. “I am not comfortable sitting where I can see that mother breastfeed, can you help me move to another table/seat.” Most employees at such places are trained to assist you.
-- For those who think it is simple for a mother to simply feed formula while out, or pump breast milk to a bottle, it isn’t. Formula is less healthy than breast milk. Those who say this is untrue are mistaken or are lying. Formula feeding also disrupts a mother’s production of milk. If mothers feed formula as a substitute for breast milk, even at an occasional feeding, the mother’s body will make less milk in response.
Using bottles also confuses some babies because the physical act of attaching to a bottle is very different than attaching to a breast and can endanger breastfeeding. Pumping is not easy for all mothers and is time consuming and sometimes expensive. Pumping is intended for when a mother has to be away from her baby, not for when they are together.
-- Most babies do not eat well under a cover or blanket. Some mothers of newborns prefer a blanket because the babies do not yet latch easily and the breast is exposed more than the mother finds comfortable. The small size of the baby also covers less of the breast. Some mothers do not have these concerns. Mothers of small babies also sometimes use covers to keep their baby is more protected from germs or cold when they have to be out.
Starting at about 3-4 months, babies are more curious about their surroundings, will not tolerate nursing under a cover, and are perfectly capable of pulling them off. They are also excellent at latching and usually expose little or no skin in the process. Their experience of eating under a blanket would be very similar to your experience of eating under a blanket. As you can imagine, this is not practical.
Nursing covers are to help make mothers feel comfortable enough to breastfeed based on her needs, not the needs of others. An expectation of “covering up” is not an appropriate solution to the question of nursing in public.
-- Mothers, especially those with older children, can not often simply relocate to somewhere more private to nurse. Bathrooms are not a sanitary or appropriate place to feed or to take other children. Restaurant tables and shopping carts are not easily abandoned. Mothers who are comfortable nursing simply don’t feel the need to look for private spaces, and shouldn’t have to.
No one can *make* someone feel uncomfortable. One *chooses* to let something make them uncomfortable or not. The responsibility for the interaction is on the watcher. This is always true, even if the act is societally inappropriate. When the act is also not legal, only then is the doer expected to alter their behavior.
-- Breastfeeding is not unsanitary. In fact, breast milk is a highly healthful substance and if you got any on you (which is highly unlikely) you would likely only benefit from the healing properties of the milk, known to help many skin maladies and bodily infections.
These are responses to only some of the most common concerns about public breastfeeding. What others have you heard? What responses have you found effective.
Share your experiences in the BellaOnline Breastfeeding forum .
Complainers got you down? Here’s a little breastfeeding humor to make you smile (the first one donates to Baby Milk Action to support worldwide breastfeeding efforts):