When I first started breastfeeding my first child, I was totally anxious about nursing in public. Was anyone looking? Was anyone freaked out by my boob? I sought out nursing rooms wherever I could, until it became clear that if I was to move about in the world with my child and not spend all of my time in stuffy nursing rooms or - horror - washroom stalls, I would have to chill out and just bare the booby. And so I did. And it was, mostly, fine.
There was always somebody, somewhere, who would give me the LOOK: disapproving, or disbelieving (as in OMG I CANNOT BELIEVE THAT WOMAN IS EXPOSING HER TITS), or both. I learned how to ignore the LOOK, but I never stopped wishing that somebody would, please, stick up a big sign saying PUBLIC BREASTFEEDING IS THIS WOMAN'S HUMAN RIGHT (legally protected in the province of Ontario, Canada, as it happens.)
Guess what? I finally got my wish.
According to the National Post: the city (of Toronto) yesterday launched a new campaign to encourage public breastfeeding, complete with information packages mailed to the city's 6,100 restaurants and a window decal available in 20 different languages.
"Women who are breastfeeding shouldn't have to fight for their rights," Dr. David McKeown (the city's Medical Officer of Health) said from Bay Street's Commensal Vegetarian Restaurant, the first restaurant to join the city registry.
"Restaurants and other public places should be the kind of places that welcome women who are breastfeeding and support their rights, as well as the opportunity for their children to have the healthiest start in life."
This is great news. Mostly. I think that it is wonderful, really, that Toronto is going out of its way to encourage breastfeeding. And I think that educating restaurant owners and encouraging them to do their part is a great place to start. But here's my concern: the window decals - and the program as a whole - are optional. Restaurants don't have to participate. Which, fine, free country blah blah blah - but might this not set up certain assumptions about public breastfeeding, such as the idea that breastfeeding is only acceptable where the relevant decals/signs are posted?
This might be nitpicking, I know, but still: consider that many people simply don't know what the letter of the law (or the human rights charter) is, concerning breastfeeding, in their community. When the League of Maternal Justice posted their YouTube protest to Bill Mayer and Facebook (over the insensitivity of both to nursing mothers) last year, many of the comments at the YouTube page were horribly insistent about the 'fact' that citizens have a right to not be exposed to breastfeeding in public. The presence of signs or decals in some restaurants giving 'permission' to mothers to nurse might contribute to a public assumption that in the absence of such 'permission,' nursing is not acceptable (as is the case in Britain, where it has been reported that 1 in 4 restaurants actually bans breastfeeding.)
Again, I think that this program is great. But I think that it should be supplemented by a more expansive and more aggressive public education program that gets the message - that breastfeeding is natural and good and NOT OBSCENE, that breastfeeding builds healthier children and so healthier citizens, that breastfeedign is a RIGHT - out more broadly and more effectively. So that nursing moms don't need to look for a decal or signage that gives them 'permission' to nurse.
In the meantime, I'm going to continue nursing wherever the hell I please.
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