Breastfeeding in Public: Just Do It

3 years ago

About a week after I delivered Sophia, I remember visiting the pediatrician for a weight check. The doctor wanted to make sure Sophia had regain her birth weight. I remember it being a particularly hot July morning and the air conditioner in the office was having a difficult time overcoming the heat and humidity. Sophia was fussy and I knew she was getting hungry. When the doctor came in the room, Sophia started to wail. After the doctor gave Sophia a quick examination, she commented that Sophia was probably hungry and I was welcomed to nurse her there in the examination room. I politely declined, mumbling something about it being easier to feed her in the car in just a few minutes. The doctor smiled and sent us on our way with the assurance that our baby had exceeded her weight gain goal. I then proceeded to stuff myself in the backseat of a hot car and feed my baby while hiding behind the front seats.

It was in the doctor’s office, mere days into breastfeeding, that I started a terrible habit…putting everyone else’s needs above my baby’s hunger. As a brand new mother, I knew it would take me well over forty-five minutes to feed Sophia. I felt guilty for occupying the room for that long, I didn’t want a nurse to come checking on us every ten minutes, I didn’t want anyone to judge me for how long it took me to feed her, and I didn’t want anyone to know what it was I was doing in there in the first place. There was a lot of shame and embarrassment during the majority of my time nursing Sophia. I felt as if everyone’s eyes were on me, my baby, and breasts; that I was somehow destroying all social decorum by feeding my baby in a natural way. Every extended public outing had to account for feedings and a secluded, private place to nurse, and if one didn’t exist I had to prepare pumped milk in advance.

With Jack, breastfeeding has been completely different. I don’t know when it happened or what spurred it but I simply do not give a damn where or when I feed my baby. I feel like I’ve been living in a Doctor Suess book for the last ten months: Oh! The Places You’ll Nurse. I have breastfed Jack in the doctor’s office waiting room, the aquarium, the zoo in front of giraffes and a gaggle of oblivious teenagers, on the beach of a public lake, an Arby’s, a Pizza Hut as I gave my order to the waitress, and my backyard. I breastfeed Jack in front of Sophia and my immediate family. I’m sure there are dozens of other places I’ve put baby to boob but I just don’t care enough to remember them all.

What is the difference between breastfeeding Sophia and Jack? This time I did not seek anyone’s approval to do what was completely natural. I’ve been fortunate enough that no one has outright challenged me while feeding Jack in public without a cover but I have had the discussion about decorum with people of both genders, parents and non-parents. I tell these people to imagine eating a meal in a bathroom stall or with a blanket over their heads or to go hungry simply because the way their meal was served offended those around them. No one else needs to ask for permission to open up a sandwich at a park so why should a mother need to ask where and how she can feed her baby?

I don’t blame breastfeeding mothers, like Lindsay Jaynes, for asking about the breastfeeding policies of an establishment before visiting. It’s helpful to have the support from the back office in the event that an inexperience employee attempts to make other customers “more comfortable”. What I want to shout from the rooftops to everyone in America, regardless if you’re lactating or not, is the simple fact that breastfeeding is support by law in every single state in the United States. Forty-five states have laws that expressly permit public breastfeeding and twenty-eight states have laws that exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws (NCSL.org). With this information, breastfeeding mothers need to know that they don’t need to ask permission or question policy. If you’re baby wants to breastfeed just do it.

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