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Do private breastfeeding areas discourage public nursing?

Monica Beyer is a mom of four and has been writing professionally since 2000, when her first book, Baby Talk, was published. Her main area of interest is attachment parenting and all that goes with it, including breastfeeding, co-sleepin...

Comfortable or controversial?

Some public places have private, comfortable nursing areas — a place where a mom and her baby can rest, nurse and relax without distraction. While some welcome these areas, others worry that moms will feel pressured to nurse there simply because they exist.
Where do you stand?
Breastfeeding mom

Many areas have private nursing areas — quiet, clean and without distraction. They can be a welcome relief for a mom who isn't comfortable nursing in public or the mom of an older baby who has a hard time settling down to nurse when there is noise and exciting activity nearby. Also, moms who pump generally can’t do that in public and a private area that is not a bathroom is a welcome sight.

Some moms, however, worry that private breastfeeding areas — like this one in a Vermont airport — can lead to discrimination of breastfeeding moms. How is that possible?

Training and education is key

The main issue some breastfeeding advocates have with specific, private breastfeeding areas is that staff (or even fellow members of the public) might incorrectly assume and insist that the nursing mother is required to use them. However, this is not so, said popular blogger Jodine Chase. “In just about every state in the U.S., and everywhere in Canada, women and children have the right to breastfeed anytime, anywhere in public facilities,” she explained.

Rachelle, owner of the breastfeeding advocacy Facebook page Unlatched, agreed. “I think it's a good idea for pumping mothers and those with easily distracted babies,” she explained. “But it needs to be marketed in a way that still makes it clear that mothers are welcome to breastfeed or pump anywhere they are comfortable and they aren't required to use the private areas. Employees need to be trained to not pressure mothers to use those amenities.”

Chase said that public areas should also have a written breastfeeding policy that includes visible signage that informs the public that the space is breastfeeding-friendly and ensure that there are both public — as well as private — spaces for moms to nurse or express milk. “I do think this product could be a catalyst for organizations to bring in proper breastfeeding-friendly policies!” she told us.

Moms love them

However, the moms we spoke with really love the idea for many reasons. “As an exclusively-pumping mom, I would love to have more private places in public to pump, then I wouldn't have to live my life around the clock or worry about finding a comfortable place to camp out for 30 minutes,” Erika, mom of two, explained.

Maggie, mom of one, was another who loved this idea. “I think private breastfeeding areas would actually encourage more public breastfeeding because the woman would feel she was in an establishment that supported her choice to breastfeed her babies,” she shared. “Maybe, just maybe, more businesses will follow suit and then we would be able to see the number of breastfed babies on the rise.”

Keys to success

The key, then, is ensuring that all staff is adequately trained to not approach a breastfeeding mother, and definitely avoid insisting that she uses a private breastfeeding area. Lisa, mom of three, is happy to see more private breastfeeding areas cropping up around the country. She said, "This would not deter me to breastfeed in public — instead, it would make me feel like it is accepted wherever I happened to be at the time.” And that is a lovely feeling.

More on breastfeeding in public

Make breastfeeding in public easier
Breastfeeding: Why pumping or covering may not be an option
Breastfeeding a toddler and conquering challenges

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