This post was written for inclusion in the WBW 2013 Blog Carnival. Our participants will be writing and sharing their stories about community support and normalizing breastfeeding all week long. Find more participating sites in the list at the bottom of this post or at the main carnival page.
Breastfeeding in public is just breastfeeding. You live one life, in one world that belongs to all of us. It is not possible to designate breastfeeding as a private activity because it is not possible to live a life exclusively in private. Embrace breastfeeding on cue and live your life out in the world.
The Practical Breastfeeding Public Area
It takes practice and guidance to successfully exit your babymoon with breasts and a baby who respond to each other with ease. But once you are over the hump, life is sweet. This is when you are ready to leave the safety net of your breastfeeding pillow and rocking chair and step excitedly into the current of society as your baby’s mommy.
Feeding on cue is the perfect way to have a successful, easy, convenient breastfeeding relationship, even and especially in public. Trying to schedule your baby’s feeding sessions puts a lot of pressure on you and a mountain of pressure on your baby. You are really setting yourself up for failure if you simultaneously limit your access to the world and deny your baby her coping mechanism by restricting your breastfeeding to a schedule.
Breastfeeding on cue means you have everything and exactly what Baby needs in every situation and at all times. Your baby is “society friendly,” contentedly willing to go anywhere and tolerate most anything as long as she has her mommy milk at hand.
Breastfeeding in public comes together with babywearing in perfect harmony to give you access to all society has to offer. Once you master breastfeeding in a sling or carrier, the world is your oyster. You no longer even require a place to sit or two free hands. I can breastfeed my baby while pushing a shopping cart and holding my older son’s hand in the grocery store, all with comfort and discretion.
Attempting to nurse while babywearing for the first time while you are out in the world, feeling the pressure of the current around you and the stress of a hungry baby is a recipe for failure. Begin by breastfeeding at home, outside of the pouch, in the position Baby will nurse in inside the pouch. For example, if you are nursing in a soft structured carrier, Baby will be sitting in your lap facing you, looking out to the side while you support your breast from the outside.
After you get comfortable here, practice breastfeeding in the pouch at home in front of a mirror, then while walking around the house, then while out on a walk, then out in the world. In no time you will be a babywearing breastfeeding pro, ready to conquer the world.
I find that it is helpful and worth the investment to buy some shirts that easily facilitate breastfeeding in public. You can also go through your existing wardrobe with a fresh pair of eyes, looking at your clothes from a new perspective with the priority of boob access. A set of camisole tank tops with an elastic neckline can be worn under any shirt that can easily be lifted to create a comfortable and discreet nursing setup.
Any time your baby wants to nurse you simply reach under the over shirt, lower the cami tank and raise the over shirt just enough to latch baby. This is a beautiful setup because your baby has access, your breast is covered, your belly is covered, and you can still see your baby’s face. If you are breastfeeding in a sling or carrier, I highly recommend shirts that either have a neckline that stretches below your breast or button down from the top.
While wearing your baby in a sling, it is difficult to pull a shirt up but easy to lower or unbutton a shirt from the top down, and the sling or carrier provides any privacy you may want. I also recommend investing in some good nursing bras. They can keep you comfortable and supported and provide convenient access for breastfeeding out in the world.
I don’t use a breastfeeding cover. Some moms do. If you find it helpful to your breastfeeding success, then use it. If you don’t, then don’t. Be sure to respect your baby’s needs and comfort along with yours in making the decision. And be open to trying a variety of setups to find what feels right for you and your little one.
For example, a scarf can be both fashionable and helpful in covering any exposed breast flesh that causes you discomfort while leaving your baby’s head and face out in the fresh air. I find that breastfeeding in the pouch provides ample discretion. The most important take away here is that it is your decision and yours alone. The pressure or insistence that a woman covers more or less is oppressive. I support you, in whatever makes you comfortable. Period.
Peep Show or Parenting?
The only reason breastfeeding makes some onlookers uncomfortable is because it is sadly too rare of a sight. Breastfeeding in public normalizes breastfeeding. Merely by doing what is normal and healthful in the course of your everyday life, you encourage other women to breastfeed, model how it is done, and socialize support. If children grow up and people everywhere live life seeing breastfeeding, it becomes simply how a baby eats – the mundane, everyday act of feeding a baby.
The social stigma surrounding breastfeeding in public is very recent. Throughout the entire course of human history, across virtually every culture around the world, breastfeeding was universally accepted without condition (as it would need to be for a society to survive). The Virgin Mary and Jesus did it (even honored in prominent artwork – the Facebook pic of its Renaissance time). The prude Puritans, covered from neck to toe, felt it commonplace to pull out a breast and feed a hungry baby in the town square (shock – “whipping it out” sans hooter hider!). Those stoic Victorians even prided themselves on their creepy gaunt-faced breastfeeding portraits (holla badass breastfeeding ghost-like mamas!).
Breastfeeding in public enjoyed a good all-of-human-existence long run until the advent of formula and the bottle, which is very recent in human history. [Now before you get your panties in a twist with defensive outrage, I am not demonizing any formula feeding or bottle using mommies. This is a sociological history lesson to contextualize how we ended up here so we are informed and empowered in moving forward.]
Formula companies, faced with marketing their product in the time of the Great Depression (an alternative for a substance that was FREE), successfully crafted a product identity rooted in status. It was a product for babies whose families could afford it. It worked. Breastfeeding became associated with the lower class. Once breastfeeding was no longer seen on a regular basis, it was no longer the norm, and was soon shrouded in shame.
Now that valid scientific research has unequivocally emphasized the importance of breastfeeding for a healthy population, efforts have been made to encourage mothers to breastfeed. As breastfeeding rates have risen due to this education aimed directly at mothers, societal acceptance and support of the practical side of breastfeeding has lagged.
We now know that “breast is best” and society is quick to tell you this but slow to show you in the form of unconditional acceptance and support. We’re left in a no man’s land of “you should breastfeed” but “you shouldn’t breastfeed”. We can’t have it both ways. It sets mothers up to fail (and by “fail” I mean fail to meet their breastfeeding goals, whatever they may be) when we don’t support breastfeeding mothers in action. Breastfeeding in public is where the rubber meets the road.
While discrimination against breastfeeding in public is completely without merit, a remnant of the shift back to breastfeeding as the norm (normal way to feed a baby) away from formula in bottles as the ideal, there are a few ignorant arguments that have been repeated so often they warrant addressing. So let’s get a few things straight:
Breasts are not sexual organs. Breasts are not part of the female reproductive system. Breasts are not comparable to a penis. Unless you’re ready to accept dildos as freely and openly in public as a bottle, don’t make this comparison.
Breasts are erogenous zones that can be used for sexual arousal just like mouths, fingers, necks, etc. It is acceptable to use your mouth to eat in public, as that is its primary function. It is acceptable to breastfeed in public, as that is their primary function.
Breasts are secondary sex characteristics, just like other indicators of sex (meaning male versus female) in the species like height, facial hair, etc. – none of which are sexual or inappropriate in public.
By nature of the sheer fact that many people believe something to be so, does not make it so. The cultural argument that because so many people in our society believe breastfeeding to be inappropriate, we should accept it as objective fact is no truer for breastfeeding discrimination than for segregation by race.
It is not okay to try to force someone to move to the back of the bus, because of their race or a biological function of their sex. We can stand up to misinformed beliefs that do not serve the well being of our society and those beliefs can change.
Potential discomfort/arousal/offense of someone else is neither my baby’s problem nor my responsibility. I don’t consider the potential arousal of lurking foot fetish perves when I choose my shoes in the morning. Furthermore, you don’t get the right to never be uncomfortable or offended. Your ignorance offends me and makes me uncomfortable.
Yet you still exist. So, if your breastfeeding makes anyone uncomfortable, they are welcome to eat their lunch in the bathroom or eat with a blanket over their head. If someone has a problem with breastfeeding, it is their problem, not yours and certainly not your baby’s.
Peeing and pooping in public are illegal because they expose genitals and are unsanitary – breastfeeding does/is neither.
While some moms can pump and bottle-feed their babies breastmilk in public, it is not possible/advisable/practical for most. You could grocery shop, cook, and eat your lunch in the privacy of your own home, if you’d rather not see me breastfeeding in this restaurant.
The age and/or ability of my little one to consume solid food have no bearing on the appropriateness of breastfeeding in public. The long-lived benefits to breastfeeding extend well beyond infancy and the weaning of my child is a transition with two people who matter: mother and baby. If you are neither, it is none of your business.
Children are always exposed to breastfeeding as the act requires the participation of a child. Furthermore, underage witnesses to the normal process of feeding a baby naturally only serve to normalize breastfeeding for generations to come.
Once I was sitting on the ground on a playground breastfeeding my baby when a little boy walked up and asked honestly and innocently, “What are you doing?”. My older son (4 years old at the time) responded before I even could with a simple, “Feeding the baby milk.” The little boy, completely content, responded with a smile, “Oh. Wanna play?” And that was that – the genius of naïve childhood.
Some women choose to breastfeed with a cover for a variety of reasons. Some do not. You know who gets to decide? Not you. The assertion that any woman should cover more or less is oppressive.
The notion of a baby eating on a public toilet is horrifying. I just can’t even speak to that.
However, there are some ignorant people in our society whom you could, unfortunately, encounter. I encourage you so vehemently not to give anyone else the power to take away your freedom (making you feel like you shouldn’t ever leave your home) or your contentment and pride.
Laws vary from state to state so be familiar with the verbiage where you live (find your state’s laws in Nursing Freedom’s Breastfeeding Law Index). In California, Cal. Civ. Code 43.3 (1997) states: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, except the private home or residence of another, where the mother and the child are otherwise authorized to be present.”
If you ever encounter an unsupportive or discriminatory person in the face of your breastfeeding in public journey, maintaining a calm yet confident state of mind is the foundation of a successful response. This is the most difficult step in the process as the sense of shock and feeling of shame can be overwhelming. Know that there is an entire community of passionate breastfeeding mamas standing right behind you supporting you.
After checking in with yourself to center your emotional state, reflect back what the person is really saying as a question. This both serves as a mirror for the person (reflecting back the direct meaning at the core of their message) and buys you an extra couple of minutes to get your bearings. “Are you telling me that I cannot breastfeed in your business?”
The next step is to educate the individual on the law. “Breastfeeding in public is actually a legally protected right. I have the right to breastfeed my baby anywhere my baby and I are allowed to be, with no conditions.”
This is where the situation can go one of two ways: either the person backs down and leaves you in peace or they irrationally push forward. “Well, I’m going to need you to stop/cover/do that in the bathroom/leave…”
Where you go from here is up to you and depends on several factors including your confidence level, the discriminating party, and your state. Different states have different enforcement provisions (or lack thereof) for their laws. In California, you can file a civil complaint of discrimination under the Unruh Civil Rights Act. “I will leave now but I will be filing a legal complaint of discrimination under the Unruh Civil Rights Act.”
I so encourage you to stand up for yourself and your baby. The simple act of calmly asserting your legal right to breastfeed in public can pave the way for all of the breastfeeding mothers and babies to follow behind you. You don’t have to “win”. You just have to breastfeed your baby at the front of the bus. Regardless of the outcome, that is the victory – just walking the path and using your voice to simply state that your baby has a right to eat if/when the need arises.
For those of you reading this article who are not lactating, your role in normalizing breastfeeding and supporting breastfeeding mothers is just as vital for breastfeeding success. You are the partner in this dance. You can improve breastfeeding rates, which have substantial benefits for Baby (example: higher IQ for each month of breastfeeding), Mother (example: reduced risk of breast cancer), and society at large (example, reduced health care costs to tax payers) by accepting breastfeeding without condition.
There is no threshold of cover, location, or age at which breastfeeding in public is inappropriate. It is always appropriate. Communicating this through your words and actions will set us all up for success. Simply smile at a breastfeeding mama, treat her like a normal human being (and not a leper), offer to open a door for her or pick up something she drops, offer her a water, and stand with her in defense of her rights if/when necessary.
Anxiety around breastfeeding in public can lead to isolation, breed depression, and reduce the chances of breastfeeding success. So shed it. Ain’t no shame in your game! Breastfeeding in public is simply an extension of your existing breastfeeding relationship. It is you living your life with your baby – nothing more, nothing less. What do you choose to make of that life?
Rachel Rainbolt, author of the book Sage Parenting: Where Nature Meets Nurture, is a mother of three with nearly two decades of experience working with young children and parents, has a master’s degree in family therapy and is a featured parenting expert in television news and radio, published author of parenting articles, books, and curricula, speaker, and parent educator. She works passionately to nurture the loving bond between parent and child to foster happy, healthy families.
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants. Below are a list of links for today’s participants; you can find a complete list of links (updated throughout the week) at our main carnival page:
(This list will be updated by afternoon August 3 with all the carnival links.)
- Breastfeeding and NIP: A Primer — Rachel Rainbolt of Sage Parenting, featured today at NursingFreedom.org, uses her informative and candid voice to share with you everything you need to know to breastfeed successfully in public, from the practical how-to’s to handling the social stigma.
- Lactivist Ryan Gosling — Breastfeeding mamas, the time is long overdue for a Lactivist Ryan Gosling. Fortunately, Dionna of Code Name: Mama has created some for your viewing pleasure.
- In Defense of Formula — Amy of Mom2Mom KMC, guest blogging for Breastfeeding in Combat Boots, asserts that formula is a medical tool rather than a food. She examines how this perspective supports breastfeeding as normal and eliminates the negative tensions between breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding mothers.
- World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival – Breastfeeding Tips & Tricks — Throughout her breastfeeding journey (since March 2009), Jenny at I’m a full-time mummy has shared countless tips and tricks on the topic of breastfeeding.
- Nursing in the Wild — Meredith at Thank You Ma’am posts about how seeing other moms nurse can make all of us more comfortable with nursing in public.
- Normalizing Breastfeeding — Sara Stepford of The Stepford Sistersconfronts the social stigma vs. the reality of breastfeeding and opens up about the steps she takes to make herself and others more comfortable with the process.
- Breastfeeding Alrik at two years old — This is where Lauren at Hobo Mama and her second-born are at in their nursing relationship, two years in.
- Perfectly Normal — Stephanie from Urban Hippie writes about the way she and her family have done their part to try and normalize breastfeeding in a society that doesn’t get to see breastfeeding as often as they should.
- Diagnosis: Excess Lipase — Learn about excess lipase and how to test if your expressed milk has it. That Mama Gretchen shares her own experience.
- Redefining Normal — Diana at Munchkin’s Mommy reflects on how we can normalize breastfeeding in our society.
- Nursing Openly and Honestly — Amy W. at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work feels that the most socially responsible thing she can do as a mother is to nurse and nurture her children openly, honestly, and with pride.
- Wet-nursing, Cross-nursing and Milk-sharing: Outdated? — Jamie Grumet of I Am Not the Babysitter shares a response to the Wendy Williams quote about milk sharing being akin to slavery, by giving a brief history of the wet nurse.
- Tackling Mastitis with an Older Nursling — Much of the advice available for supporting recovery from mastitis seems to be aimed at mamas with younger nurslings. Juliet of Twisting Vines, posting at Natural Parents Network shares tips for dealing with mastitis while breastfeeding a toddler.
- Milk in the eye — Gena from Nutrition Basics discusses how breastmilk cured her 3 year old’s case of pink eye.
- Boobie Biter — Rachel Rainbolt at Sage Parenting offers guidance on how to survive and thrive a boobie biter with your breastfeeding relationship intact.
- My take on breastfeeding advice — Diana at Munchkin’s Mommy shares her insights on nursing for both new moms and new dads.
- My Top Five Breastfeeding Tips for Delivery Day: Think “A-B-C-D-E” — Mothernova shares how her continued success at breastfeeding with her second child rests on a foundation of five key things she did to prepare for baby’s arrival, along with things she did when she and baby first met. Easily enough, these tips can be categorized as “A-B-C-D-E”: Access to lactation consultant, Baby-friendly hospital, Communicate your plan to breastfeed exclusively, Demand, and Expect to room in.
- Breastfeeding Buddies: Twin Brothers Nurse while Living in the NICU— Twintrospectives at How Do You Do It? shares her 5 tips for learning to breastfeed multiples while in the NICU.
- Breastfeeding on a Dairy-Free Diet: Our Journey and Our Tips — Finding herself nursing a baby with food allergies, Jenny at Spinning Jennyembarked upon a dairy-free journey with her son for eight months. Here she relates her reasons for making the decision to give up dairy in her diet, why it was worth it, and tips for moms on the same path.
- Normalizing Breastfeeding in my Home — Shannah at The Touch of Lifeshares how she plans to help keep breastfeeding normal for her own children, even when her breastfeeding years are over.
- A Year With My Nursling — The more you see and hear, the more normal it becomes, so That Mama Gretchen is sharing her heart on the last year of breastfeeding – the ups and downs, but mostly the joy of her priceless relationship with her son.
- From Covered to Confident — Krystyna at Sweet Pea Births shares her personal NIP evolution: she started by covering up from neck to ankle while nursing in public. Eight years later, she has gained confidence and the ability to nurse without stressing about flashing a little skin. She shares her views on normalizing breastfeeding – what influenced her and how she hopes to help others.
- Normalizing Breastfeeding for Older Kids — Sadia at How Do You Do It? hopes that openly discussing breastfeeding with her (now weaned) daughters will help her children feel comfortable with breastfeeding and their bodies in general as they grow.
- Nursing in Public — Listen up, mammas. Those other people around . . . they don’t matter. It’s not about them. It’s about you and that beautiful baby. Nurse on, says The Swaddled Sprout!
- How to Nurse a Teenager — Sarah at The Touch of Life declares: the purpose is to help normalize breastfeeding a toddler.