Politics, Religion and Breastfeeding in Public… Oh no you di’int!

That’s right. You’ve just found yourself in a heated debate about public breastfeeding. You didn’t mean to get into this argument. You simply wanted to post an inspiring picture of some random mom (or yourself) nursing a baby in a restaurant or some other public locale with a caption that reads something like “It’s happy hour and milk is on tap.” And BAM! You get heckled by someone who finds breastfeeding in public repulsive and unnecessary. Or worse yet, they try to tell you (a breastfeeding mother) about how sacred the act of breastfeeding is and as such it should be kept private. Blech! So now you’re on a mission to educate this imbecile before he or she makes a similar comment to someone who’s teetering on the brink of giving up, thus pushing them into the formula abyss.

Or at least that’s where I found myself about 9 months ago and this was how it went:

SJ (a male friend of a friend on facebook):

As a man, I completely support breast feeding. I only ask that if a woman chooses to do it in public that she take appropriate steps to have a bit of discretion. Blanket? Most American males are conditioned to sexualize women’s breasts. We do not necessarily mean to consciously stare or ogle, but most straight men (and some others as well) will find themselves mesmerized by the act – as innocent & beautiful as it may be. We do not mean any disrespect but we ask that you consider its impact upon us as well.

Me:

As a nursing mother I appreciate your thoughts, [SJ]. And I’ll say that we don’t mind if you look at the nursing baby. We don’t even mind if you engage us in conversation or gesture with a polite nod while we’re nursing. But our main concern is meeting the needs of our children and some babies don’t like being under a cover or having something over their face while they eat. Have you ever tried to eat with a bandana over your face like a cowboy? It’s probably pretty uncomfortable. My son won’t nurse under a cover, never would. I have no choice but to feed him when he’s hungry and if that makes a few men uncomfortable then I just expect them to be adults about it and look the other way.

SJ:

…I would make every effort to look away, but I recall one time where due to a DR’s office layout I could not. I smiled & tried to speak with the mom, but I accepted my human limitations & apologized as I closed my eyes & told the young lady why I was doing that. She thanked me for my candor & understanding, but I must admit that I later felt like she failed to plan for her present reality. By the time my name was called, her child was sleeping & it was over. I wished her well & saw my DR. I try not to judge, but I also accept my own human weakness & try to adjust for that as well. I hope I can find good middle ground & not cause anyone pain or discomfort.

Me:

I think it sounds like the young mom planned very well for her present reality but failed to plan for yours. That’s the disconnect here, that everyone projects their own discomforts onto a mother who, very likely, has a hundred other things on her mind and cannot realistically take on the responsibility of managing the comfort levels of perfect strangers.

SJ:

I cannot counter the logic, nor would I necessarily wish to, but I think it a simple thing to pack a small cloth that could cover a nipple. No offense intended to anyone, but unless the nipple is enormous, it can be covered somehow. I apologize in advance, ladies, as childbirth & breastfeeding are two things which are both absolutely beautiful & absolutely amazing to most men.

Me:

I really respect your thoughts and I appreciate your honesty. But wouldn’t it be just as easy for you to pack a small blanket to put over your head (or a magazine or newspaper to use as a visual barrier if you prefer) just in case such a situation arises? I mean, YOU already KNOW that YOU are uncomfortable in such situations. So rather than project the responsibility to deal with YOUR own comfort level onto a complete stranger, you should do some additional planning before you leave for the day. Right? Then moms are free to deal with the needs of their children and everyone else can go on with their day.

SJ:

While I see your logic, moms are also free to choose where they travel, but I am NOT able to know beforehand when or where a nursing mom might travel. I cannot be expected to avoid them. Therefore, the onus to cover should be theirs as nobody could know beforehand – male or female – where a nursing mom might travel or choose to nurse their babe. Such an act is very intimate, and as such, should be private. I think that we need more places in public locations where moms could do such without massive attention or such. Most childrens’ needs could be addressed at home, although I accept how negative that might sound.

Me:

VERY negative! It’s a very isolating feeling to be a new mom who’s trying to figure out how to meet the needs of your child knowing that the American public thinks you’re an exhibitionist. It’s sad and disgusting. I guess nursing mothers should just stay at home where they belong so everyone else can comfortably go about their daily lives. I bet it’s not an issue to see attractive women in low cut tops selling cars, shopping at the mall or sitting at the next table at a restaurant, though. It’s just offensive when breasts are used for their intended purpose. Are you equally offended at beaches and pools? It’s a good thing that most states protect a woman’s right to breastfeed in public, because if it were left to the general public we wouldn’t be allowed anywhere.

I wonder if our society has made it acceptable for too long for grown men and women to behave negatively toward nursing moms and now might be the time to really start bombarding the public with images of nursing babies and put it BACK into the mainstream. It’s definitely time for me to become more active in the nursing in public movement. Thanks for the motivation. Good luck with understanding your human limitations. 🙂

Things I wish I would have said:

Really? There wasn’t a table piled with magazines in your doctor’s office that you could have used as a visual barrier? You really thought it was a better idea to announce your discomfort to someone who you didn’t even know and then close your eyes? How incredibly juvenile.

“Moms are free to choose where they travel?” I’m sorry but I wasn’t aware that there were grocery stores, banks, dry cleaners, post offices, etc, specifically meant for breastfeeding moms. Until now I was just going to the regular public versions of these establishments. Can you email me a list of these breastfeeding only places so I can make ‘the choice’ of where to go with my child while we’re still breastfeeding so as to not make anyone else uncomfortable with how I feed my child?   

If you just assume that there will ALWAYS be a mom (or several moms) nursing her children then you can always be prepared. We travel everywhere, just like you. Just expect it and plan for your present reality, taking all the necessary precautions to make yourself feel more comfortable, before you leave your house in the morning.

I’m not sure when the act of eating became intimate, nor was I aware that we were supposed to do it in private. Have you ever been to a restaurant? Or at least heard that they exist? People eat in public all the time. My child deserves the same freedom.

AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!

What are some come backs that you’ve used when confronted with negative nursing in public comments?

Brandy Van Vossen studied Environmental Biology at Saint Xavier University. She is currently a stay at home mom to her two beautiful, breastfed children (2.5 years and 3 months) on Chicago’s south side. 

 

**Editor’s Note: Thank you to the FB group “The Normalizing Nursing in Public League (NNIPL)” for the awesome cartoons!

6 thoughts on “Politics, Religion and Breastfeeding in Public… Oh no you di’int!

  1. That entire dialogue kills me, for so many reasons. But what stands out to me is how SJ tries to use intellectual-sounding prose to convince someone that her reality is wrong. People speak of these things without having any real experience and those of us with experience will, sadly, rarely convince them otherwise. I’m betting SJ is single, or at least without children, and if that ever changes for him his views may take a swing as well. Cheers to Ms. Van Vossen for pulling the topic off the table for discussion with someone unwilling to learn what breastfeeding is really about. As a side note to SJ, I always bring something to cover my nipple. It’s called the baby’s mouth.

  2. I wish I had gone out with my son more when he was a baby. There were many reasons I pretty much never left the house but nursing was definitely at the top of the list. My son wanted to eat All The Time and was not comfortable with the tent, at all. Staying home all day and all night was REALLY LONELY & ISOLATING. And after a time, I was too run down by it all to push back against the stares. I did have the courage to nurse at my Aunt’s house in Michigan. Or I did, until she wrinkled up her nose and acted like I just suggested we feast on the contents of one of his poopy diapers. I was really bummed about her reaction. My son is now 2 and still nurses all the time. I wish I could say I am totally comfortable with NIP, but honestly, I am grateful that he’s usually too busy to nurse when we’re out. I working to get comfortable with it or pretending to be, until I really am. Women like you, Brandy, are an inspiration. Its a really bizarre part of our culture that NEEDS to change!

  3. The only way to normalize it is to DO IT 😉 We are NOT responsible for OTHER people’s feelings, good or bad…projecting such as being “considerate” is a COP OUT to them being responsible for themselves. Until more is complained about victoria’s secret and their wall sized ads while kids wonder the malls and are subliminally taught that flaunting sexuality is “the norm”, which to me is inconsiderate regarding the sacred and private act of sexuality, it is a free for all for a non-sexual act of NIP!!

  4. Awesome! I love your personality and enthusiasm for life and nursing! I love it, too! It’s second only to giving birth in my “Great Life Experiences” book.

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