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Why more and more moms respond publicly to breastfeeding shaming

Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer whose work places a feminist lens on a variety of topics, including motherhood, maternal health, gender, and reproductive rights. Her work has been featured in Bitch magazine, Cosmopolitan.com,...

Nurse-ins: Why breastfeeding flashmobs have become so popular

The majority of mothers have been there — stuck in the mall or a restaurant with a hungry baby, with the only option being to feed the wailing one right there.

Unfortunately, when it comes to breastfeeding, some businesses are none too thrilled to see nursing moms in their establishments, and have taken to either escorting them to a bathroom or asking them to leave, regardless of the legalities involved. In response, many moms have been staging nurse-ins: flashmobs of breastfeeding mothers who show up at the offending business to register their dissatisfaction. From trendy Anthropologie to thrifty Walmart, nurse-ins have become one of the go-to responses when breastfeeding is banned.

I've never personally been involved in a nurse-in, but I understand the appeal. When my son was a little under a year old, my husband and I met up with my sister-in-law at a Johnny Rockets in Connecticut. We perused the menus while my son amused himself with some toys. After putting in our order, my son started fussing, so I began nursing him. Almost immediately, our waitress — a high school-age girl — came over and said I couldn't do "that" there. It took me a moment to realize she was referring to my breastfeeding. She informed me that some customers complained, which felt odd since I had only just begun, and told me they had a special place to do that. She meant the bathroom. I remember feeling slightly panicked and stammered out some response that let her know it was perfectly fine and legal of me to nurse in public in the state of Connecticut. In the end, my totally awesome sister-in-law ended up asking to speak to the manager, and she even wrote to corporate. I think they may have sent us some coupons for a free milkshake — ironic, considering.

After I had finally calmed down about what had happened, I grew outraged. How dare this waitress make up some false complaints and try to get me to nurse in the bathroom? Sure, I could have chalked it up to youthful ignorance, but it still rankled. If the manager and corporate hadn't been so apologetic, I'm not sure what I would have done. Could I have brought a bunch of my friends back for a breastfeeding mob? Would it have done anything to change the minds of young waitresses?

Breastfeeding in public is nothing to be ashamed about, and yet there always seems to be a story in the news where one mother or another is being targeted because of it. Can nurse-ins help change the way some companies respond to breastfeeding moms? Rachel Goldberg has mixed thoughts. The mother of three participated in a nurse-in at an ABC affiliate in Charlotte, North Carolina, to protest disparaging comments made on the morning talk show The View a few years ago. She said that while she doesn't feel that nurse-ins would change the mind of folks already so ignorant to the realities of breastfeeding, she thinks "it's important to let people know that many, if not most, parents support nursing in public and realize it's a normal, everyday activity that moms need to do in order to have a life. More importantly, when a nursing mom is harassed, I think it's vital that she knows that people have her back, that we're not just going to accept her treatment, that she has a worldwide community of nursing moms who are there to support her."

While it's still unclear whether nurse-ins actually impact or effect change when it comes to policy overall, it is certain that they're at least showing that nursing in public is normal and shouldn't be targeted. They also let companies know that they could lose business, patrons or support if they insist on outdated (and potentially illegal!) treatment when it comes to breastfeeding mothers. Just last month, an IHOP restaurant employee covered the head of a nursing baby with a dishtowel, prompting outraged mothers to organize a nurse-in. Not only did IHOP apologize, but they met with local breastfeeding organizations like La Leche League to make sure that breastfeeding mothers felt welcome in their restaurants. So, perhaps companies are listening and getting the message after all!

More on breastfeeding

How Google is helping moms breastfeed
Your guide to breastfeeding
The evolution of breastfeeding

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