Guest Author - Nicki Heskin
A nurse-in, sometimes also called a nursing flash mob, is when a group of breastfeeding mothers deliberately gathers with their nursing babies in a public place to breastfeed. Generally, nurse-ins are organized a response to an offense committed upon a breastfeeding mother with regard to nursing in public (in the virtual or the “real” world). This might be being asked to leave while nursing, being asked to “cover up,” or generally being harassed or made to feel ashamed of the wonderful thing they are doing for their baby. They usually take place at the location where the offense occurred, or in the case of a national business, sometimes at association locations around the country.
Why are Nurse-Ins Controversial?
Obviously, nurse-ins are not going to be popular with the anti-breastfeeding-in-public crowd. They don’t like to see individual women nursing in restaurants or malls, so those folks are certainly going object to a gaggle of lactating moms and latched on babies. Not much to do about that.
There are those that claim mothers are putting their babies in danger. Thinking back to the sit-ins of the 60s and the modern day raids on Occupy camps can call up images of thrown bottles, billy clubs, pepper spray and handcuffs. That said, in the era of police action caught on You Tube, I would suspect that nurse-ins would be quite immune from aggressive police action, more than most protests, and only a particularly craven person would throw a bottle at a nursing baby (and certainly not anyone trying to claim any moral authority).
There are some who claim that mothers should not use their babies to make a political statement. But these days when just about everything about a woman’s freedom in her sexual and reproductive life seems to be open to political attack and court interpretation (including breastfeeding), I say we need to use every option available to fight back. People need to remember that breastfeeding is about BABIES, not BREASTS, and the babies are precisely what send that message.
The Nurse-In Paradox
What I find interesting about nurse-in is that while I support them, they do run the risk of sending one conflicting message about breastfeeding. Opponents of nursing in public like to believe that nursing mothers are exhibitionists. Breastfeeding mothers understand this couldn’t be farther from the truth. While some like to explain that nursing is quite discreet, I prefer to think of the whole issue as irrelevant. Nursing is about feeding babies. That is done with breasts. When I nursed in public, I certainly wasn’t trying to show anyone my breasts, but I can’t say I cared all too much what, if anything, someone saw. And if someone chose to stare, then the problem was clearly theirs, not mine.
But the whole point of a nurse-in is to draw attention to breastfeeding, which runs counter to the idea that nursing in public is not a big deal precisely because no one is TRYING to get anyone to look and if people do so, that’s not the responsibility of the nursing mother. Given the nature of the debate over nursing in public, I don’t necessarily think this is an altogether bad thing, but it does create a bit of a paradox, and influences the question, Do Nurse-Ins Work?