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True Confession: I Breastfed My Preschooler in Public

My daughter Jane, age 4, sporting her "Brains, Beauty & Breastfed" t-shirt

I am a Tennessean through and through. I spent most of my childhood in Bell Buckle, TN (yes, you read that right, and you TOTALLY have to watch the video to which I just linked. The lyrics are a wonder of rhyme), and I’ve spent my entire adult life as a resident of Knoxville, TN.

There are lots of things I love about the Volunteer State, but I am far too frequently bothered…nay, embarrassed by the things a few of our state legislators say and do. Examples:  Legislation that would have prohibited public school teachers from so much as mentioning the fact that some people are gay, as well as proposed legislation that would have required death certificates to be issued after abortions.

Wait…I just noticed something. BOTH of those absurdly offensive legislative offerings came from the SAME state legislator, notorious Knoxville state senator Stacey Campfield. Given this fact, I should not have been surprised to hear (single, childless) Sen. Campfield weighing in on this weeks’ debate in a Tennessee state senate committee on the unlikely topic of public breastfeeding.

(Item of note: Tom Humphrey, the most excellent Knoxville News Sentinel reporter/blogger who wrote the story to which I just linked ALSO lives in Bell Buckle. No, really, he does. He’s a close family friend. That’s just how we roll here in Tennessee.)

Although another Babble blogger today mischaracterized current Tennessee law as making it “illegal” to nurse a baby in public past the age of 12 months, in fact, the current law doesn’t prohibit anything related to public breastfeeding. All it does is offer civil protections to women who happen to be nursing a baby 12 months or younger while out in public. That means that in Tennesee, the law ostensibly prohibits people from harassing any woman who is nursing her infant whilst out and about. So the current discussion taking place in our state legislature addresses only one very specific change to the current law, a change that would lift the arbitrary 12 month designation from the law as it exists.

During the debate in the Senate Committee this week, Sen. Campfield proposed raising the age limit to age 3, (somewhat ironically) stating, “there are a lot of strange people in this world.” (This from a guy who was ejected from a University of Tennessee football game a year or two ago for refusing to remove something described as a “Mexican wrestling mask)

Well, I guess I am one of those strange Tennesseans to whom Sen. Campfield was referring, because I did nurse my oldest daughter Jane in public at least a few times after she reached age 3. The last time I recall doing it, she was 3 or 4 years old, and she was fussing and whining and obviously bothering the other diners in the restaurant where we were eating dinner with friends. So I put her to my breast and she immediately settled down and fell asleep on my lap. I am 100% sure that this quiet act of mothering bothered no one, while her noisy whining had likely been bothering everyone. Yet, I’ve never heard of any state legislators seeking to set up rules and regulations around whiny little kids being out in public.

I am happy to report that Tennessee state Senator Mike Faulk – a Republican – brought a voice of reason to the public breastfeeding debate this week, stating, “In the first place, why would a mother be charged with indecent exposure for breastfeeding a child and why would that be the business of the state? And, third, who’s going to (check the) ID (of) the child (for age)?”

Campfield’s three year age limit on public breastfeeding protections was voted down, and the measure to remove any age limit passed the Committee. It was approved 7-1…with Stacey Campfield abstaining.

So tell me how you feel about this issue in the comments below. How long did you breastfeed? Breastfeed in public? Any why the heck would anyone care one iota whether I quietly nurse my 3 or 4 year old on my lap while I eat a meal out?

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