A friend of mine recently went to a local amusement park with family and friends. Not the easiest task with a 5-month-old, but doable with a lot of support, so snaps for her. Not long after arriving, her son was more than ready to nurse. You probably already know where this was going, I’m sure, but I’m going to tell you anyway. She went to an empty bench. She wrangled her baby, the diaper bag and her nursing cover. She got situated. He latched. And that’s when a park employee came over and told her she couldn’t nurse there, she had to go. She told me later she felt embarrassed and in shock. Of course, she did! She admitted her innate stubbornness kicked in and she argued and refused to budge. She said she felt scared and upset, and I could hear it in her voice as she recounted the story later. Was she actually doing something wrong?
Know Your Rights
Of course, stories like hers are far too common. Most recently there was the woman in the news who was verbally assaulted by a man in a Target. It’s so strange to think we live in a society where the easiest, most affordable, biologically ingrained way to feed babies is still considered taboo. Well, strange isn’t quite the word I’m looking for. More like incredibly effing sad. It’s so incredibly effing sad that mothers are regularly, publicly shamed simply for meeting their child’s needs. Luckily, we live in a country where it is legal to breastfeed in 49 states, with Idaho the only exception. Let’s break that down a little, just so everything is crystal clear. In 49 states, plus D.C., plus the Virgin Islands, the laws make it clear moms can breastfeed any public or private location. This means that, should my friend have the misfortune to have another run in like the one above, she can confidently state she is legally allowed to breastfeed her child. I, personally, am quite blessed in that the 18 months I spent nursing my baby bear wherever and whenever necessary I was never met with the same kind of ignorance and or aggression that so many other women are forced to endure. Regardless, and I can’t state this enough, know your rights. Plain and simple. There are a lot of judgmental, ignorant people who either don’t realize it’s legal to breastfeed in public or will lie in their effort to bully and belittle nursing moms. Knowing your rights means you can stand up for yourself and stand up for other moms.
Why Breastfeeding Is Awesome
The benefits of breastfeeding are pretty amazing, both for baby and mama, and while I’m sure you’ve heard it all before, I am just going to list some of them out here. Although you don’t owe anyone an explanation as to why you breastfeed, knowing a few positive facts can help you educate interested, open-minded individuals:
- Breast milk gives your baby antibodies to protect against illness and infection.
- Breastfed babies tend to have fewer lung, ear and urinary tract infections.
- Breast milk adapts and changes to meet your baby’s changing needs. The milk your body makes for a 1-week-old is different than the milk for a 6-month-old.
- Breast milk helps shrink the uterus back to normal size after delivery and helps stop postpartum bleeding.
- Breast milk may even lower your risk for breast and ovarian cancer.
And those are just the health benefits. The cost savings of breastfeeding are also worth noting. Of course, not every mom can breastfeed or chooses to do so. I have multiple mommy friends who were unable to breastfeed for multiple reasons. One got thrush. One’s milk never came in. One’s poor babe was on medication for a medical condition that made her sick so she stopped nursing. I have another friend who gave it a spin in the hospital and didn’t care for it. And you know what – all of these women are bosses. Because they are all doing what is best for themselves and for their babies. Moms can be notorious for judging each other. Breastfeeding moms need to stick up for the formula feeders, moms who nurse with a cover need to stand up for those who bare-breast it, etc., etc. Society is ready and willing to judge all moms at the drop of a hat. We don’t need to judge each other, too, ladies.
When Will the Objectification End?
It’s ridiculous how sexualized women’s bodies are. It’s ridiculous that this objectification is much of the driving force behind the anti-public-breastfeeding sentiment. True, we’ve made some progress. Girls are no longer sent home from the SATs for wearing jeans instead of a more socially acceptable skirt — a sad, true story from my 65-year-old aunt. Unfortunately, girls routinely miss crucial educational hours thanks to unfairly gendered dress codes, breast cancer awareness campaigns seem more focused on saving the breast than the person and breastfeeding moms are both ogled and shamed for their parenting choices. Fortunately, I do think we can help make even more progress by confidently practicing and protecting public breastfeeding. By knowing our rights, sharing the benefits and supporting other mothers, we can hopefully build a society where everyone is educated about and supportive of breastfeeding. Maybe then breastfeeding will be a non-issue and we will no longer need to defend one of the most basic human acts.