Raise Your Hand If You Agree with This Solution to Breastfeeding in Public

breastfeeding_small.jpgRaise your hand if you’re utterly bored with stories about women breastfeeding in public. (Imagine my hand waving wildly in the air.) OK, now raise your hand if you’re totally not shocked when you read about how a woman breastfeeding in public has been shamed for doing so. (Imagine my hand up in the air. Again.)

There was a bright spot of news on this subject (depending on how you look at it) when it was reported that a Canadian Starbucks barista is being praised for siding with a nursing mom when someone complained. And rightly so — a baby’s got to eat. The real shame, though, is that more isn’t being made out of the fact that nursing moms have so few accommodations made for them. Just as bathrooms are mandatory in restaurants, so should lactation rooms. Just because Mom’s breast milk isn’t on the menu doesn’t mean it can’t and shouldn’t be served under that roof. There are laws saying women can breastfeed wherever they want, but what if what they want is to do it somewhere without an audience?

California is considering a law that would require lactation rooms in airports — clean, private rooms where babies may be nursed or mothers may pump. Other laws are already in effect that give working women spaces of their own to express breast milk while they’re on the clock. What I wonder is why this hasn’t spread beyond airports and offices? You can’t demand a baby eat lunch just because you decide it’s midday and the sandwiches are ready — at home. Anyone who’s had a baby or isn’t totally dim knows that the needs of ones so young are primal. Kick, yell and scream but the hungry baby will always trump your preferences. Both moms who nurse with a cover or blanket and those who just hike up their shirts and go for it should have options.

We make sinks and toilets readily available for other bodily functions. Employees must wash hands before returning to work. Hair nets, gloves and aprons are necessities in commercial kitchens. Why aren’t lactation rooms (and, for that matter, changing rooms in female and male restrooms — all of them, everywhere) a given? (And before anyone can say it, toilets, or even chairs in bathrooms, are not acceptable feeding places. They’re just not.)

The real shame in public breastfeeding isn’t the act of breastfeeding in public, but that there are so few options for women who might not want to be doing it for the world to see.

The act of breastfeeding has been going on since women started having babies. It’s depicted in art. In literature. On big and small screens. In real life. Plenty of women don’t choose to do it, but so many others opt in. For the former and the latter, their decision might be based on the health of themselves or their babies, necessity, economics, logistics, personal preference, or merely convenience.

I couldn’t figure out how to successfully breastfeed my older daughter partly because I felt totally awkward doing it publicly, although I figured it out by the time my younger daughter was born, and I continued until she decided, at 15 months, to stop. In both cases, doing it outside of my home made me incredibly uncomfortable, and when I had no choice, I always used a nursing cover.

Just because breastfeeding is natural doesn’t mean everyone needs or wants to see it. I’m not saying that means it can’t be seen if it needs to — anyone objecting to a nursing child can simply avert their eyes or walk away — but there are plenty of ways to be discreet if your choice is to err on the side of modesty or be respectful of the fact that perhaps the time and location of some feedings might warrant a modicum of judiciousness. There are lactivists who will argue until the cows come home about a woman’s absolute right to never have to exercise caution when and where they feed, but on another side are people like me, who will agree that while no one has to cover up, I chose to and would continue down that same path (although, um, it’s not really an issue for me anymore) — and I know I’m not alone.

Give Starbucks a round of applause for lauding the employee who jumped to the defense of a nursing mom. But go a step further and give them all your business if they add lactation rooms to their more than 11,000 stores across the United States. And for those nursing moms who choose not to use them even if they’re provided and those around them who are still bothered, there’s a special place for the latter, too — it’s called somewhere else. As in go there.

Image courtesy of ThinkStock

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