Breastfeeding in public is a very hot topic these days. However, it seems to me that many are overlooking the long list of critically-important health benefits for mom and baby that outweigh all arguments, and instead are concentrating more on whether or not nursing mothers have the “right” to nurse in public.
In fact, it has its own acronym, NIP: Nursing In Public. I recently spent some time on a mommy-blog where I read over 100 posts from women who were more than happy to express their often-emotional, strongly-worded views of whether or not they should be required to cover up while nursing in public. It was quite the heated debate. It reminded me of all the other societal “tolerances” that seem to be thrust upon us these days.
So, why IS everyone so easily offended? One woman was offended she was asked to cover up (but also offended that people were watching her nurse.) Another woman, claiming to be pro-breastfeeding, was offended when her teenage son caught a glimpse of a young mother nursing at the mall. And he stared. And stared. One woman said she always covers up when nursing in public because she doesn’t want to offend anyone, and another woman blasted her with “Shame on you!!!” (Shame on you….for being discreet?!? I didn’t know discretion was offensive these days.) Yet, another woman commented on the young mother she observed who was wearing a bright paisley cover-up while nursing in a restaurant. The woman said, “Those loud, hideous things called cover-ups only draws attention to what you’re doing and at the same time is forcing women to be ashamed of her breasts and her body”. What?! I could feel my blood pressure rising. I thought I could hear hormonal, screaming women’s voices as I read one ranting post after the other.
I had a conversation with a colleague of mine today, Angela Quinn, IBCLC, RLC, who is a Lactation Consultant, educator and public speaker. I asked her to weigh in on the topic.
“What are your thoughts on a woman’s “right” to breastfeed, unashamedly, in public?” I asked. Angela responded, “I have always nursed my now 3-year-old whenever and wherever I wanted to, without a cover, but that doesn’t mean that other mothers must have that same comfort level. The reason for giving a mother tools and options is to help her do what works for her personally, allowing her to keep breastfeeding for as long as she wants to. Helpful products, like cover-ups, can make a difference for some mothers in how they overcome their own personal struggles and in their enjoyment of the experience. We should not be insisting that every woman deal with – not only breastfeeding hurdles – but also societal and political ones, as well. Especially if that’s not her fight. Some women just want to nurse their babies privately or semi-privately and don’t feel the need to crusade against the patriarchy or the ridiculousness of societal norms. Others ARE activists and fighters or just plain comfortable doing what they please, which is fine since there are many others who do not like confrontation. One is not required to be an activist to breastfeed, nor is she required to be comfortable in public just because she has every right to be. Supporting all mothers’ choices means that it is no more acceptable to shame a mother because she feels like she needs to cover up than it is to shame a mother who does not.”
Bravo, Angela, well said. I, on the other hand, needed complete discretion while nursing. It was this private time between me and my babies. Nurturing them during breastfeeding – I felt – was like this intimate, quiet gift that I was opening and relishing during this very special, short-lived moment in time. And covering up around others was what enabled me to nurse anytime – anywhere – until they self-weened at 28 months.
NIP or not, the end result is that mothers who nurse are giving their babies the absolute best and purest form of nutrition on planet Earth. It’s often not easy, given our busy lives, work schedules and juggling other children into a constant nursing routine. I’m the first to admit, it’s not easy! I remember being completely exhausted, post-partum hormonal, and feeling like a 24-hour-a-day milk-producing cow during that first month of nursing my twins every two hours ‘round the clock. I was up to my eyeballs in spit-up and dirty diapers (over 600 a month). My sweet mother would come over for a visit, observe my frustration, and gently say, “Oh honey, enjoy every moment of this. It will be over before you know it.” My twins are now heading off to college, and you know, my mom was absolutely right. It was INDEED a very fleeting moment in time. And I’d give my right arm to do it all over again.
Is breastfeeding worth all the time and effort coupled with the latest societal pressures? ABSOLUTELY. And I say, let’s spend less time using valuable energy up on soapboxes protesting our rights to openly breastfeed in public, and more time gracefully nurturing and bonding with our infants, covered up or not. Let’s focus on this amazing chapter we’ve been blessed with and enjoy every moment for what it’s worth and what it’s really all about….feeding our babies breast milk.
5 Tips for Nursing in Public:
1. Latch before you launch: Make sure mom and baby are both comfortable with nursing by practicing at home first. Don’t head out the day after delivery to brave the public eye before doing your homework and having a routine with your baby. Once you’re confident in your nursing skills, then head out. Just think, by breastfeeding your baby in public, covered up or not, you’ll be contributing to normalizing breastfeeding for all new mothers everywhere.
2. Learn where is legal: Whether or not breastfeeding in public is legal really depends on where you live. In the US, 45 states have laws that allow breastfeeding in any public location. 28 states exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws. Check out the list of corresponding statutes at the National Conference of State Legislature website.
3. Go public with pride: Focus on your baby and don’t mind the onlookers. Be confident and proud of the most important decision a mother can make by offering the purest and best nutrition possible for her baby. Do it with conviction and SMILE.
4. Pick your battles wisely. Spend less time on your soapbox and more time and focus on feeding your baby.
5. Do it with style. The book “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” was published over 50 years ago but the art is as relevant today as it was then. Breastfeed gracefully. It will go much further in promoting tolerance and normalization.
Written by Sandy Clark, Inventor of San Diego Bebe Eco-Nursing Pillow
San Diego Bebe® was designed by San Diego native Sandy Clark, a passionate breastfeeding advocate and mother of twins. Clark was inspired at a San Diego beach one day where she witnessed a young mother unsuccessfully nursing her baby. As the mother struggled to keep a blanket across her shoulder while her baby wailed from heat and hunger, Clark vowed then and there to design a product that would help resolve the issue of privacy while nursing. San Diego Bebe® was born that day.
When Clark sent her nursing pillow to Duke to be tested and reviewed, Duke University Chemical Scientist Dr. Heather Stapleton, who is a mother herself, said, “The San Diego Bebe® Eco-Nursing Pillow is not only a very supportive pillow with amazing features for discreet nursing, but is also free of flame-retardant chemicals that have been shown to cause adverse health effects in animal studies. I applaud Double Blessings (Clark’s company) for taking steps to produce high quality products that meet the same flammability standards without using these chemicals.”
San Diego Bebe® Eco-Nursing Pillow is the healthiest and most innovative nursing pillow on the market. Made with virgin polyfiber Eco*Loft™, a non-toxic and hypo-allergenic foam-alternative, it’s void of harmful chemicals. It’s also recyclable and eco-friendly. San Diego Bebe® is available in two versions, for nursing one baby or twins. The entire line is baby-safe, and is covered with deluxe plush fabrics including organic cotton.
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