Thursday, August 9, 2012

Breastfeeding in public... one woman's story

After hearing about a particular incident involving breastfeeding and a large snowball, I asked today's guest blogger if she'd share her experience with the GG community. She graciously agreed to do so, and more. Here is Teresa's take on breastfeeding in public. It's about time we all take a stand for moms like Teresa, who simply want to feed their children.
Teresa is a nursing stay at home mom of 2 girls, she writes the blog Crafting in My Closet. She lives in Idaho with her family as her husband finishes school. 

A Baby John being nursed 
1910 by Mary Cassatt 
Courtesy of the Historic Photos and Prints of Breastfeeding group on Facebook

Having a baby is one of the single most important times in a woman's life. Along with it comes many decisions and many unwanted opinions from everyone around you. Should you use cloth or disposable diapers, work or stay home, co-sleep or crib, breast milk or formula. There are so many choices to make for your child, and most mothers do as much research during that 9 months to prepare to be a wonderful mom. While we've all heard "breast is best" and there are literally dozens if not hundreds of sites out there to tell you the many advantages to breastfeeding your child, it seems that most breastfeeding mothers these day get very little support.

Most moms today have mothers who were having babies when formula was gaining in popularity. Everyone hears how much easier formula is, and how convenient it is... how you can have anyone watch your child whenever, because you aren't tied down to their feeding schedule. You can barely pick up a magazine these days without being hit over the head with all the formula ads. Most hospitals and doctors' offices stock you up before you have the baby, and most pediatricians have cases of it sitting in their office waiting to give it to you the first sign of trouble with breastfeeding. Before both of my daughters were born, I received cases of formula samples in the mail. I didn't sign up for any of them, and I gave them all away to mothers who needed them.  My own mother wanted to breast feed and was told something along the lines of only poor people breastfeed. She made it a good amount of time with my sisters, but since my older sister ended up in the hospital when I was discharged after birth, my mom mostly formula fed me. Just to be clear -- this isn't a "formula is the devil" kind of post. I'm very glad there is formula. I have a wonderful friend who adopted two beautiful boys, and if it weren't for formula, she wouldn't have been able to feed those two cuties. I have another friend who tried as hard as she could and did everything she was told to do by the lactation consultant, but just couldn't produce enough milk for her child. So she supplemented, and eventually, when she totally dried up, she switched to formula. Another friend of mine was so depressed after her first was born, that she was put on antidepressants that signaled the end of her nursing. She felt her health and safety of both her and her child were more important than where her milk was coming from. 

Whatever your reason for breastfeeding or formula feeding, I am not here to judge. Instead, I want to talk about the idea that, all of a sudden, breastfeeding is seen as wrong or gross. I saw a few posts on my Facebook feed in the last few months about how "icky" breastfeeding is, how "inappropriate it is to breastfeed in public," and how "breasts are for sex, bottles are for babies." Every single one of those comments came from people who don't have children. Yet all of them felt they had the right to make those judgments. 

I was born and raised in California and had my first daughter there. I took for granted the fact that I could nurse her anywhere I wanted. In fact, I didn't know until recently that I couldn't do that here. I have nursed Eva at the park, and probably could have been sited for indecent exposure, but the college girls 10 feet from me playing Frisbee in tiny bikinis, were totally fine, at least according to the law. 

I'm sure you all remember the big to do last year in a Webster, TX Target, when Michelle Hickman was nursing her infant son in the woman's section and was surrounded by 8 target employees who instructed her to finish nursing in the women's fitting rooms. Some of the employees gave her dirty looks and rolled their eyes at her. When she tried to explain that Texas law allows her to breastfeed wherever and whenever, and that it's not considered indecency, she was ignored. Apparently, corporate didn't care when she called to talk to them about the situation. It led to a nurse-in at many Target stores across the country. Another nurse-in took place in 2010 at Whole Foods after a Utah mother complained about how employees treated her while she breastfed her child. Whole Foods later apologized to that mother. 

Many states have laws protecting breastfeeding mothers; in fact only 2 states, Idaho and West Virginia, according to the National Conference  of State Legislators, don't have laws that protect nursing mothers, although Idaho, oddly enough, will allow a nursing mother to get out of jury duty. Federal law allows women to breast feed anywhere on federal property as long as she has a reason for being there. Federal law also protects nursing mothers' rights to pump at work in a place other than the bathroom. 

State Breastfeeding Laws

*45 states, the district of Columbia and the Virgin Islands have laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location.

* 28 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws.

*24 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have laws related to breastfeeding in the workplace

* 12 states and Puerto Rico exempt breastfeeding mothers from jury duty

* 5 states and Puerto Rico have or are developing breastfeeding awareness education campaigns.

With all these laws on breastfeeding, how is it that Idaho and West Virgina still have no laws protecting nursing women? 

My youngest daughter was born in January. The following month, I took lunch to my husband at BYU-Idaho. I was early and Evangeline wanted to nurse, so I parked my car, got her out of her car seat, covered myself with a blanket and set about nursing her in the front seat of my car. Less than 5 minutes after I started nursing, a huge snowball hit my windshield and I hear a guy yell at me to "go home -- no one wants to see that!" He was wearing a hat and a scarf and ran away, so I have no clue what he looked like. But the fact is, that when things like that happen in Idaho, the nursing mother has no recourse, because nursing in public is not protected. I've been asked to go into a dressing room to nurse when I was nursing Eva in my Ergo while waiting in a long line to check out at Walmart. Instead of complying, I  handed my things to the employee and walked out. While nursing a child in the Ergo, you can't see that the baby is nursing. In fact, I'm sure the only reason that employee knew I was nursing was because a sweet old woman in front of me asked to see the baby and I said she was nursing. The woman in front of me started to tell me about how she wished they had had such great inventions when she had children, when we were interrupted by an employee who had been stocking the candy who told me that if I wanted to nurse I could use the fitting room. I told her I was fine and that I only had two people in front of me. But she  gave me one of those "you are so stupid" smiles and said, "if you want to nurse you need to use the fitting room." As both my girls were tired, and cranky, I just handed her the stuff we were going to buy and said forget it. The girl looked maybe 19 or 20 at the most. She looked at me like breastfeeding in public was the single most disgusting thing she had ever seen... and you couldn't even see me breastfeeding. 

I breastfed my oldest daughter, Tabitha, until she was 32 months old. I'm proud of that. I did what I felt was best for my child. However when people would find out I was "still breastfeeding," they would lecture me, tell me I was spoiling her, that she was manipulating me, that it was "gross" to nurse a child over 12 months, (even though the AAP recommends nursing for up to 2 years now). When we first moved to Idaho, our church met right during Tabitha's nap time. So on Sundays, right after we took the sacrament, I would take Tabitha to the nursing mothers lounge and nurse her and let her nap in my lap until it was time to go to nursery. Even though there were at least 10 recliners in there and it was never full, someone would ask me weekly how old she was and then give me a dirty look because I was "still" nursing her. I had more than one person tell me to my face, that I should leave because she was too old to nurse and I was disgusting. I would usually tell them at the time she was only 18 months old, so no, she was not too old, since the WHO and AAP both recommend at least 2 years. I'd add that when we decided she was done breast feeding, that would be our decision and had nothing to do with them. I'm sure it didn't earn me any friends, but it did make me feel better when I stood up for myself and my daughter. While nursing my daughters, I have heard many moms say that as soon as their baby is 1, "it's off the book, because, boobs are for sex." That saddens me. Yes, breasts can be for sex, but they are also for nourishing your child. 

 Tabitha at 9 months old, distracted by the camera as I breast fed her in Golden Gate Park, in San Francisco, CA. As you can see, my cover leaves nothing showing. 

I recently posted on my Facebook page about Idaho not having any laws to protect breast feeding moms and a friend of mine from California said this "I don't even see how you need rights to do so. I don't mean that you shouldn't be allowed to, just that there should never even be a question of it. I should think it would be neglectful not to feed a hungry infant. Especially under a cover. How is that any different than having boobies under your shirt." 

An image has been going around Facebook of a woman discretely breastfeeding beside a picture of three women in ill-fitting string bikini tops. The caption reads, "If seeing this [the picture of the breast-feeding mom] offends you... but seeing this [three girls in ill-fitting string bikinis] doesn't than you, friend, are a hypocrite." Of course, there were the usual disgusting remarks about how hot the women in the bikinis were and how gross it was to see someone nursing their child. Why is that? From the beginning of the human race, women have nursed their children. Yet somehow it has become acceptable to make mothers feel either like they are disgusting and perverted for breast-feeding or women are so shamed that they hide in bathroom stalls or cars.  

I'm on and I'm surprised by how many stories I read of nursing mothers being accosted by strangers for simply nursing their children. One woman told a story about being in a mall nursing room and a woman looked in the window and then waited around to follow the woman and yell about how she was a deviant and sexually abusing her child because she was breast feeding her one year old! Another woman told a story of nursing her child in her car and having someone come up to her and yell at her about how disgusting she was. Why do people do this? Why is it okay to attack women for doing what our bodies were made to do? Our breasts were made to feed our children. It's not sick, it's not wrong. It's what they are for. 

The war on women in this country has to stop. The mommy wars have to stop. Why can't women support each other for the decisions they make? So you decide to nurse your child -- it doesn't make you any better than the woman who can't nurse her child. So you cloth diaper, that what's best for you, not what's best for everyone. Women in this country need to stand up and tell the men who are deciding our fate what's what. Like it or not, the majority of government officials are men. They don't know, and in some cases don't care, what women need. If you live in Idaho, there is a petition to get the legislature to draft a bill protecting nursing mothers right to nurse, you can find it here. Even if you don't live in Idaho, you can show your support for the women who do by signing this petition. We should not have to hide at home to nourish our children. 



  1. I don't live in Idaho, and now I know I never want to!!! I do live in CA...and I'm a breastfeeding momma to a 7 month old. I can't even believe that people can e so rude...although sadly I've experienced this as well. When my daughter was a month old, I was at a restaurant with some friends. My daughter started to get fussy because she was I pulled out the nursing cover and fed her in the booth. A couple and their son happened to walk past on the way to their table and the son (maybe 8?) asked his mom why I had a blanket on...his mom answered, "oh, that's just so gross, I can't believe she is doing that in public, how rude". Um, so it would have been more polite to let my baby scream? And we were not at a fancy restaurant, unless you consider Elephant Bar a fancy restaurant (which I do not). I wouldnt take a baby to a "fancy" restaurant to begin with. I am not a "hippy" or breastfeeding activist. Just a normal mom doing what my husband and I have chosen as best for our family. I do not go around in public with my ta-tas hanging out of my shirt...for fashion or for breastfeeding. I am modest. But if my baby needs to eat, I'm going to feed her, and if it grosses people out they can choose to not watch...because if a blanket is "gross" (which is all you see when I breastfeed) they need therapy.

    1. Amen, Jaclyn! Thanks for sharing your story.

    2. Exactly! How is a blanket covering a baby gross? And for the record I think the elephant bar is a family restaurant. Perfectly acceptable to nurse there. And if I remember they have pretty tall booths so you would really need to look to see someone nursing in one (at least the one in Campbell had tall booths I think, it's been a few years since I've been there.)

  2. Thanks for sharing your story Teresa! I signed the petition!!


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