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Moms Talk: Milking It

In this week’s Moms Talk, we discuss breastfeeding in public and all the controversy -- and strong emotions -- surrounding it.

By now you’ve probably seen or heard about the infamous Time cover featuring a woman breastfeeding her three-year-old son.

People don’t like it. Putting aside the problems folks have with the age of the nursing child pictured, some people are just flat out uncomfortable with seeing a woman feeding her child in a way that is so natural, so organic and so right that her body was made to do it that way.

I breastfed both of my children. My daughter nursed for over a year, but my son had health problems and could only nurse for a few months before we had to put him on a special formula. I mention this lest you assume I’m a pro-breastfeeding nazi who looks down on bottle-feeding mothers.

Let me assure you -- I’ve been on both sides of the fence.

That being said, I loved nursing my children. It was an incredible bonding experience, and one that I will always treasure.

Breastfeeding is healthy, natural and free. But, unless you plan on staying in your house until your child is weaned, or you plan ahead and have bottles of pumped breast milk ready, safely stored and at the perfect temperature for trips outside your home, it’s inevitable. You’re going to have to nurse your baby in public.

Go ahead and develop a thick skin and a steel backbone. You’re gonna need it.

When my daughter was a newborn, my husband and I went to a Greek food festival at a Greek Orthodox Church in search of gyros and baklava.

I spent a lovely afternoon strolling hand-in-hand with my husband, listening to music, sampling food and reveling in compliments being lavished on my brand new baby girl, who was cuddled up in a sling across my belly.

A few hours into the festival, it was time for her to nurse. I was a very young, new mother, and while I was very comfortable with breastfeeding, both the idea and the practice, this would be my first public nursing session.

I found a shady tree in an uncrowded corner of the church lawn, and I draped a light blanket over my baby and myself. It was obvious what I was doing, but the whole operation was under wraps, quite literally.

A few minutes later a group walked by. A woman stared at me.

A hard, hateful stare.

Then, she literally “tsked” me and said, “Really? And at a church?”

I was shocked. I teared up and turned away.*

Not only did she hurt my feelings, but she implied that me feeding my child in the way nature intended I feed her was somehow dirty and wrong.

Why in the world is breastfeeding such a controversial, charged issue? Why is it even an issue at all? It’s one of the most natural things in the world.

I think I know why. It’s because it involves breasts, and therefore it’s become sexualized.

I’m constantly saddened and astonished by stories I hear about breastfeeding mothers being asked to hide in corners and tales of nursing moms forced to leave public places and having to feed their children in public restrooms.

I read a story this morning about Katie Buhler, a nursing mother from Salt Lake City, Utah. Buhler was discreetly feeding her infant son under a blanket at a Salt Lake water park and was approached by a female lifeguard who told her to stop feeding her baby or leave the park.

Buhler contacted a park manager, and she was told that the park has a no breastfeeding policy.

“She told me that it’s their policy, and I said why, and she said this is a family friendly environment and we want to keep it that way,” Buhler said.

To me, this place sounds like the polar opposite of “family friendly.”

Why, moms?

Why are mothers who choose to breastfeed their children treated so poorly? Have you had an experience where you were shamed for nursing your baby? Are you bothered by public breastfeeding? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

*The author would like to contribute that, thirteen years of mothering later, that nosy, close-minded busybody would have been given tit for tat and sent on her way. Probably in tears. 

Agnes Nutter July 13, 2012 at 03:44 PM
I was so naive. I came to motherhood after a three-year undergrad project on midwifery and home birth, and I was so used to seeing bare breasts, with and without babies attached, that I had no idea there was any risk of outcry for nursing in public. I remember our first outing after my oldest was born. We went to Outback with my in-laws, and I hesitated about feeding the baby in our booth. Not because I thought anyone would mind, but because my father-in-law had been offering "helpful" advice about sore nipples (yes, really) and I didn't want to open that can of worms again. I decided to brave it, whipped out the boob, and nursed away. No one batted an eye, including the server who refilled our drinks, or the family at the next table who had been cooing over our newborn. I am so fortunate that I have never been tsk'ed for nursing in public, or asked to take it to the restroom, or otherwise made uncomfortable. I say fortunate, because if that had ever happened to me, there would probably have been a scene. I'm sure, given the prevalence of other women's experience with disapproval, that my bare breasts have made some people squirm, but they kept their opinions to themselves, and I'm not losing any sleep over it. In my opinion, if a woman has a baby under the age of 2 anywhere within arm's reach, any degree of nudity from the waist up is fair game.
Agnes Nutter July 13, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Really, I think condemning women for breastfeeding in public is a form of bullying. Your experience at the church speaks to that, Raven. Young mother, already apprehensive. That woman smelled your fear and was just establishing her superiority. From the stories I've heard, it's almost always other women or nervous pencilneck middle managers who cause the problems. My blissful oblivion spared me. Other mothers have age, experience, and attitude on their side. Like any other basis for bullying, it's irrational and does not withstand scrutiny. The bullies only get away with it by choosing vulnerable prey or running in packs. My advice to new mothers, if they feel threatened, is to smile and say, "You probably don't want to get to close. This stuff is likely to squirt everywhere."
aimee perkins July 13, 2012 at 04:43 PM
I love the fine print at the end. I hope someone else has sent her on her way in tears by now... I think breastfeeding is a beautiful thing, and the only thing wrong with it is the twisted people who can't handle it. Nice article, Raven!
Raven Nichols July 13, 2012 at 05:00 PM
LOL. You're the best, Agnes.
Raven Nichols July 13, 2012 at 05:00 PM
We were nursing our babies at the same time. I wish I'd had you at that church with me!
Raven Nichols July 13, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Thanks, Aimee! I wish I could go back in time, knowing now what I didn't know then.
Michelle Gilliland July 13, 2012 at 06:32 PM
Unfortunately, what I've noticed is that most of the people who scoff are of the "older" generation. (say 50+) Speaking in generalities, that generation did not breastfeed, and were not supported in doing so. They were taught that it was shameful, that is was a sign of being poor. (So odd to me.) And the problem is that that generation of women is who we turn to for advice more times than not! Thankfully, it seems as if this is changing, minus the weird water park rule. I imagine that there was ONE Mom who didn't use a coverup that spoiled it for everyone. That and the water park was owned by a snotty 50+ person who hates boobs. :)
Michelle July 16, 2012 at 01:17 AM
I LOVED breast feeding both of my children too! I was fortunate to not deal with alot of negativity, but I did have one time in particular. I was shopping with my mom in a store in the mall. My baby was hungry and I asked if the sales woman could unlock a dressing room so I could nurse. The store wasn't busy. She looked at me and just said "no". When I pressed, she said "we don't allow things like THAT in our store." Seriously??? I couldn't get out fast enough!!!

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