In recent news, you may have seen yet another article circulating about a woman who was shamed, humiliated, and asked to leave a restaurant for breastfeeding without a cover. This one, however, hit pretty close to home for me as it happened just a few cities away, in my state. North Dakota doesn’t get alot of news, so when we do, it’s a big deal.
Again, as with every time this happens, there is a huge social media uproar filled with nasty comments from both sides and many things that should never be said; in fact, most of them wouldn’t have been said except for the cowardly shield people use that is the internet. It seems to me after really looking into it, that there is no happy medium here. One side says “Cover, Stay home, Go in a room!”; the other side says “I’m just going to pop both boobs fully out to spite you but don’t you dare look.” In my opinion, neither of these responses are right, mature, or reasonable.
Public Breastfeeding Does Not Equal Indecency
I am a rational woman. I believe in the biblical model of modesty, treating people with respect, and being sensitive to others. I don’t care to flamboyantly flaunt my body in other people’s faces and then get upset when people notice. There may be some women who take the breastfeeding argument too far, posting inappropriate photos on social media in an attempt to wreak havoc and get a huge response. But not most of us. Most of us want to be able to peacefully feed our babies anytime they are hungry, to be able to go out to dinner without fear of “what to do if he starts crying”, to not have to spend thirty minute before we leave the house pumping just in case, to not feel like we are being watched, judged, or even laughed at.
Talk to many moms, and you will hear their stories. Especially new moms, who are in the throes of new motherhood, emotions, tears, pain, and figuring out what on earth they are doing. It’s hard to learn to feed a child; it often doesn’t come as natural as one may suspect. Many of these women, myself included, have lived in fear of feeding their babies publicly, because it might not go well, someone may get offended, or even worse someone might tell them to go cover up. My story is not a terrible one; I haven’t had to live through some of the horrors that others have had to. I was just pumping in a lactation room while away from my daughter when a bunch of college kids came upon the door and started making fun of the room, making jokes about it followed by rolls of laughter. It took me a good 15 minutes to come out of there with my bottles of milk.
These stories of public shame and embarrassment happen while moms are doing the only natural thing they can do at the moment, which is feed their child. And just to say it, it is not the same “natural process” as using the restroom, so these two things must not be compared.
Babies Will Be Babies
For those that have never breastfed a baby, let me tell you, “go cover up” often does not apply. In the beginning there is engorgement, leaking, and latch issues; later there is kicking, twisting, flailing, grabbing, pulling, and gymnastics. I, for one, could never use a cover. Nor would I want to. The needs and demands of a woman’s child will certainly trump the needs and demands of anything or anyone else in the world, including the strangers. Because, when baby needs to be fed, baby needs to be fed. This voracious drive for a woman to protect and nourish her child is the reason that humanity still exists.
The Insane Double Standard
Public, uncovered breastfeeding is a perfectly normal thing to do that America has decided is unacceptable for society, just like breastfeeding toddlers, home births, natural medicine, and leaving infants uncircumcised. Of course, the rest of the world is on board, but not us. Thankfully, due to the many families who have embraced a different way of doing things, times are in fact changing, but we have a long way to go.
We’ve created a double standard of what is acceptable exposure for a female body, which includes excessive amounts of scandalous ads, incredibly scant, “in-style” clothing, sexual TV commercials, and just the general sexualization of women. I mean really, watch the superbowl and count how many scantily clad women will show up, in the crowd, the cheerleaders, and then those commercials! But, can you imagine if there was an ad of a woman breastfeeding her child? How that would blow up on social media. Do you see what I am saying? In one breath it is said “feminism is real, female empowerment, don’t tell me what I can and cannot wear!” But, in the other breath it is “gross, weird, and inappropriate” to breastfeed uncovered in public. Breastfeeding itself is one of the most empowering and strong actions a woman can take, as she is nourishing her child without hiding away from people in fear.
What really hurts me is that it always seems to be women going after other women. I don’t pretend to know what factors into this, but it’s truly unfortunate, as women should be supporting other women; we are incredibly guilty of not doing that on so many levels. So I urge all of us, look outside the lens of your own perspective, on both sides. You will see things so much more clearly when you remove the glasses of judgement, on both sides.
There Are Laws
If none of these ideas are compelling, the last resort is to simply say, most states have laws in place that allow a woman to breastfeed publicly anywhere her and her child have a right to be, and they don’t say anything about using a cover. For example, in North Dakota, our law is this:
“In 2009, the North Dakota Legislature passed legislation to protect a woman’s right to breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, where the woman and child are otherwise authorized to be. This legislation also established an “infant-friendly” designation for workplaces that adopt breastfeeding support policies. The breastfeeding support policies include:
- allowing flexible break times for expression of milk,
- providing a clean, private space (not a toilet stall or restroom) for pumping/nursing,
- access to a clean water source for washing hands and cleaning breast pump equipment, and
- providing a place for storing breast milk (such as a refrigerator, etc.).” (source)
So if it is her legal right, there is nothing to be done but move on.
Looking outside the perspective bubble
In the end, what do we do? This argument is far from dead, as there is so much passion on both sides. But, I urge you again, look at someone else’s perspective. Look at the perspective of the person who is completely clueless about what breastfeeding entails, and look at the perspective of the frightened new mom who has no clue what she is doing. Be reasonable, be respectful, and be real. But please, don’t ask that women always use covers, or hide in a room or car. To do so is unacceptable, unreasonable, and frankly puts a roadblock in the progression of female empowerment.
What are your thoughts?