This is a photo of me breastfeeding Julian in public. We had just finished a visit to the local indoor farmers market we frequent, and while the little guy slept the whole time we were shopping, he woke and got fussy soon after we stepped outside to wait for our bus home. He was hungry. Knowing that once we got on our bus, it would be at least another half hour before we arrived home, I decided to step back inside, find a quiet spot, and feed my son.
I also handed Mike my iPhone and asked him to take a photo, because I knew that at some point, I was going to want to talk about the subject of breastfeeding in public, my experiences with it, and the controversy surrounding the issue, here. I also wanted to see what someone might see as they walked by us sitting on this bench for a feeding. Not much, apparently.
This was not the first time I had to feed him in public; in fact, I sometimes joke that I went through a bit of a “breastfeeding boot camp” in our early weeks. We were out and about a lot during Julian’s first weeks of life, and since newborns need to eat so often, I found myself nursing him in public on numerous occasions. It was often not easy or comfortable, especially since Julian and I were both still learning the ropes, but when faced with a hungry baby, I did what I had to do for him. We figured it out, and it got a lot easier. There are still times I need to feed him in public, but it’s not as stressful as it used to be.
I learned how to dress with the expectation that I might need to nurse in public during any given outing – for me this involves a system of layers, nursing bra plus tank plus a shirt with some give to it plus a scarf or cardigan for extra coverage. I learned how to hold and maneuver the baby to get him onto my breast for a feeding and then off again quickly and with a minimum of exposure. I learned how to nurse him while wearing him in both the Moby Wrap and the Baby Bjorn.
I’ve nursed Julian on a bench in a remote hallway of an IKEA store (3 times in one visit!). I’ve nursed him in cars, and on an Amtrak train that was delayed for 2 and a half hours due to mechanical problems. I’ve nursed him on the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston, and near the cliff walk in Newport. I’ve nursed him while standing in a restaurant bathroom, and while sitting on the front stoop outside of our apartment building, waiting for emergency repairs to be made. None of these experiences were as comfortable or as pleasant for either of us as nursing him in the privacy of our home, but when my son needs to eat, wherever we may be, I will feed him.
More importantly, it is his right to be fed when he is hungry.
Reading about Simone dos Santos’s recent experience outside a DC courtroom, and more specifically, reading the comments generated by the article, made me livid. These are a just a few gems from Facebook:
Diane Dizacomo: “No one is saying for you to starve your baby. that excuse is getting mighty old. Gee how did we all live before woman began breast feeding in public?? oh yeah that’s right a thing called BOTTLES!!! there’s this thing called pumps? and feeding your child before you leave the house?, a car? go home??? any of these solutions work. it’s not like you don’t have choices. No one is keeping you from sitting in your car or taking the “starving” child home. Pump your milk and put it in a damn bottle.”
Elizabeth Dunne: “the fact that this is news proves women who breastfeed in public are militant, attention seeking idiots.”
I have lived in Michigan, Massachusetts, New York City, and Rhode Island. I have seen a lot of things that I thought were better suited to a more private venue (clipping your nails on the subway, anyone?), but I have yet to see a breastfeeding woman, anywhere, parading around with her boobs out. I won’t even address those comments that equate nursing a child in public to taking a dump or jerking off in public, or the commenters who live in some magical fairytale land where 70% of public restrooms are clean and nice and have couches where a nursing mother can (and should! they say) sit to feed their child.
It’s shocking and sad to me that the act of feeding a child can generate such vitriol.
Many commenters bring up breast pumps. Breast pumps are a wonderful thing. They enable nursing moms to supply their baby with breast milk for times when they are not physically present. But they are a supplement to, not a substitute for breastfeeding. They can be difficult to use, especially at first. They are not nearly as effective or efficient at expressing milk as a hungry baby is. And they are expensive – in some cases, buying or renting a pump may be cost-prohibitive. Expecting that every breastfeeding mother has the means to obtain a pump and bottles and all the accompanying paraphernalia is ridiculous.
Forty-five states, plus the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands, have laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location. ANY public or private location, regardless of how you as an observer might feel about it.
Breastfeeding in public is a legally protected right.
I am not militant, nor am I seeking attention when I nurse my child in a public space. In fact, the last thing I want to do in that instance is to call attention to myself or my boobs. I suspect that the vast majority of nursing moms feel the same. I just want to feed and soothe my kid, to tend to his needs as quickly as possible.
No mother should be called out or shamed for that.
To those people who are uncomfortable with public breastfeeding, I say this: it’s not about you.
It’s not about nudity or “indecency” or sexuality.
It’s about feeding a child.
I will exercise my legally protected right to do so, and I will stand in support of any other woman who does the same, just as you can exercise your right to look away and move on.