by Jennie Bernstein
Breastfeeding in public, at once a basic concept (feed the baby when the baby is hungry and no, moms can’t and shouldn’t just never leave the house) and somehow a complex and controversial issue. As mammals who happen to be higher thinking and social creatures, it’s also unavoidable. Often I am asked by moms how to breastfeed in public or how I became comfortable with doing so. At the time I wasn’t really aware of my journey, I just had to feed my baby. Initially I went some place private and covered (just in case someone came in) but as time went on that not only became impractical for my life realities, the isolation I experienced with a frequently feeding baby made me decide I didn’t care what other people thought. With my second baby I ditched my cover as well and just went about my business of feeding her after a male nurse that played in the worship band I was leading told me that I should just feed my baby and stop fighting with her to keep the cover on because “it’s just boobs, we’ll all live. Just feed her.” It was a progression and with each of my children I became more comfortable and more skilled with feeding in general, feeding in public in particular. What do you do when your breastfed baby gets hungry and you’re out in public? Is there anything that can make this easier for anxious breastfeeding moms? If I had to break it down into the most important tips though, it would be something like this:
Don’t rush yourself. If you’re worried or anxious it may be best to wait until you’re really ready. Your baby picks up on your stress and you both deserve a relaxed feeding time.
Get familiar with what breastfeeding actually looks like. Look at images of other moms Breastfeeding. If you’ve never seen anyone else breastfeed it can be intimidating to feel like a pioneer in your area. But you’re not alone, millions of women all around the world breastfeed in public. Check out the hashtag #BeautifulBfing on Instagram for a stream of breastfeeding photos.
There is no should. Whatever makes you and your baby comfortable and helps you accomplish your breastfeeding goals and not being stuck at home is what you should do. Covered with a pretty Bébé au Lait or a lightweight baby blanket, without a cover at all, finding a private spot, using a bottles of expressed milk, or mixing up a bottle of formula; this isn’t a pass/fail in mothering, it’s just another progression in the parenting journey. Do what works for you and your baby and helps you reach the goals you’ve established for yourself.
Dress for success. If you find yourself needing to practically strip to feed your baby, your breastfeeding in public experience could be greatly inhibited not to mention stressful. A form fitting dress with a high neckline, non stretchy fabric, and a zipper up the back isn’t going to work out so well when your baby is hungry. Dress how you are comfortable but make sure you can get a boob out when necessary. Breastfeeding tops or dresses specially designed to make it simple are super easy (see Amamante, A Mother’s Boutique) or try layering a tank- either a regular one with a stretchy neckline or some kind of nursing tank (I’m a fan of Undercover Mama, the Naked Nursing Tank, Rumina, The Dairy Fairy nursing tank, and Melinda G‘s nursing tank) so you can pull your top up and the bottom layer down (demo video here), and necklines that stretch enough to pull a breast out are all good options. If you’re not sure then check and try it at home before you head out the door.
Practice makes easier. Like everything else about parenting, there is no “perfect” in breastfeeding so practice won’t make anything perfect but it will make it easier. If you’re uneasy about breastfeeding in public but really want to, practice with a cover in front if a mirror, then without a cover in front of a mirror. See what it really looks like and how much of your body actually shows. Then branch out and take a few selfies of you breastfeeding from several different angles and don’t worry about posting them on social media unless you want to. After that, try breastfeeding while attending your local breastfeeding support group or other gathering where there will be other breastfeeding pairs. From there expand to Breastfeeding in front of trusted friends within your own home, their home, and finally in the general public.
Be informed. Know your legal rights. Find out for sure what the law is where you will be and have it written down and with you. It’s highly unlikely you will be approached but it can help you relax to know your rights and be prepared with that information. And as silly as it may seem, understand the difference between feeding a baby in public vs. taking a dump in public, urinating in public, or sex acts in public.
Be confident. Feeding your child and meeting their needs is not wrong. Even if you have to pretend to overcome nervousness, having a confident air can go a long way in developing your own confidence and could just make anyone that would think twice before messing with you. Don’t be looking for trouble, be all eyes for your baby or cheerfully smile at people you see notice you. If you seem comfortable and relaxed then it’s likely the people around you will be as well.
Get comfortable. Remember that to take care of someone else you have to be taken care of too. If you need support for your arms or your breast while breastfeeding at home, you’ll be more comfortable in public with that too. A diaper bag can double as a pillow, so can a baby blanket or baby carrier and there are some neat portable nursing pillows on the market. Have a bottle of water and a little snack for you and if possible, find a spot with some back support. If you use a nipple shield or must hold your breast as you feed your baby, the more you focus on getting you and your baby comfortable, the quicker you will be through any awkward stage of the latch so try not to worry about what others may see.
Focus on what is important. Look at your baby, see how much they need and enjoy being fed. Taking a moment to remember why you’re doing this can help take the pressure of on how to do it and everyone else will think and puts it on why. Your baby is the best reason there is.
Just do it. While you don’t need to rush and force yourself, at some point you just need to jump in and do it. You may be surprised at the confidence boost you have when you realize it’s no big deal.
Share the experience. You’re not alone and most people want to see you reach your goals, even goals for breastfeeding and being comfortable feeding your baby while out and about. Talk about it, in person and online, maybe even with photos. You’ll end up getting cheered on, hearing support, and probably encouraging someone else who has been anxious about leaving the house with their baby too. Yes, there may be nay-sayers but they aren’t as common or as loud as it seems, specially not when you can remember all you’ve gone through to get this far for your baby.
Happy breastfeeding wherever you feed your baby!
This and other breastfeeding support and information can be found at theleakyboob.com.
As a breastfeeding advocate active in social media, I am hyper-aware of how frequently nursing in public incidents occur. Some are big news – Target, a Georgia church, Hollister, Las Vegas – but there are many more that aren’t picked up by major news outlets. Recently, a Keep Austin Nursing in Public follower posted to my Facebook page about an incident that occurred in my own city at, of all places, a Victoria’s Secret store in which a mother, Ashley Clawson, was denied use of an unneeded fitting room to breastfeed by an employee who told her to take her baby to an alley where “no one usually goes.”
I reached out to Ashley to offer support and resources, and advised an initial approach of diplomacy and education. Social media moves faster than bureaucracy, though, and after being told it would be days before she’d hear back from Victoria’s Secret corporate, Ashley agreed to a news interview. A reporter’s call got a faster reaction from the company than Ashley’s did. In their response to the reporter they said all the right things: they apologized, they have a policy welcoming breastfeeding mothers, and they’re ensuring all employees are aware of it.
So – awesome! They did what we want, right? I mean, I’m pretty sure what all moms want in this situation is that it doesn’t happen to other moms. So, boom! We’re done, right?
Well, not exactly. Ashley won’t be the last mother to face discrimination for breastfeeding in a place of public accommodation. This is a systemic issue that impacts breastfeeding rates. It needs a systemic solution. In Texas where Ashley and I live, there is a law that asserts our right to breastfeed in any public place in which we are authorized to be, but the law does not specifically prevent others from interfering with that right. So, we are not protected. What the Victoria’s Secret employee did was wrong. She violated a civil right and endangered a nursing relationship. But she did not break the law, because the law does not say she can’t violate our right.
This is true in more states than not. We tried to improve our NIP law in Texas in the last regular legislative session. We got a bill pretty far, but we didn’t get it all the way. Work has already begun to support the bill when it is filed again in 2015. It will educate businesses that the law exists, prohibit anyone from interfering with a mother’s right to breastfeed in public, and give her recourse if her right is violated.
Whether you live in Texas or another state, you can contact your legislators and tell them what happened here. Look up your state’s nursing in public law. If there is no enforcement provision, tell them why it matters to you that they support one. Tell them that you want to be able to go buy groceries and feed your baby if (s)he is hungry while you’re out, without being harassed?
If our lawmakers hear from enough of us they will realize that their constituents expect them to be a force in creating community support for breastfeeding. And that’s what it takes: their own constituents – the people who will or will not vote for them when they run again – that’s who makes all the difference.
You can make a difference.
Those online comments we write will only be read for a few more hours. A nurse-in, while sometimes empowering, is over in a matter of minutes (and leaves a negative impression with some).
Look up your state law and your legislators. Write an email, or call – or better yet, go visit their office.
Make your voice heard in a way that can make a lasting change.
TLB: What inspired you to start your company, “Naked Nursing Tank”?
Jen: I was nursing at the gym one day and was extremely frustrated with the nursing tank that I had on because it did not allow me any access to my sports bra. At that moment I immediately ran to find Carrie, who happened to be in the bathroom, and I told her that I had come up with a great invention 🙂 We had NO idea what we were getting into that day in the bathroom 😉
TLB: Could you tell us a bit about your nursing tanks, and how the “naked” piece fits in?
Jen: Our tanks are designed to keep the breast area open for easy access, and your midsection covered. We knew that the easiest way to nurse was when your top half was essentially ‘naked’. We needed to be half naked and yet half covered all at the same time, which is how we coined the phrase, “When you need to be Naked, we’ve got you covered!” …and voilà, the Naked Nursing Tank name was born.
Jen: We have known eachother since we played Varsity Rugby at The University of Guelph, which was in *gulp* 1996…wow, a seriously long time!! The business venture hasn’t really changed our relationship at all. We are together all of the time because we have 2 small children each who are the same ages, and we are best friends. I think we have an enormous amount of trust in one another from our days playing on such an intense team together and we compliment each other because we really are polar opposites, which fits amazingly well into our business plan. I am the ‘let’s get running & leap off this cliff and see how we land’ person, and Carrie is the one who has the parachute making sure all the details are taken care of. It’s a great fit for the both of us!
TLB: Running your own business and having a family is tricky; how do you balance work and family?
Jen: Haha, I am not sure if ‘balance’ is the proper word to use right now. We have an enormous amount of passion for the Naked Tank and helping women to feel more comfortable while nursing, so we dedicate as much time as possible to running the business. With that being said, we are also very passionate about the time that we spend with our families. A lot of the time that is dedicated to the business are stolen hours at the gym while the kids are in the playroom and then also the time right after they go to bed…and the occasional 20 minute intervals strung together during the day 😉
TLB: What is your favorite breastfeeding tip?
Jen: Breastfeed on demand, your baby is the only judge of when he or she is hungry. And enjoy the precious time you get to bond with your baby…this was our favorite part!
The Girls at the Naked Nursing Tank are giving away 2 different prizes to 2 lucky Leakies.
The prizes are:
1. A Luxury Bamboo Naked Nursing Tank. Our luxurious blended Bamboo fabric in your choice of Midnight Black or Lily White. Retail Value: $39.99
2. A Classic Cotton Naked Nursing Tank. Our super soft blend of Cotton/Lycra fabric in your choice of Charcoal Grey or Light Platinum Grey Retail Value: $29.99
Currently Leakies can find these and other breastfeeding items on the Naked Tank website, www.thenakedtank.com.
Good luck to everyone! Please use the widget below to be entered. The giveaway is open from April 5, 2013 through April 11, 2013. A big thanks to Jen and Carrie and The Naked Nursing Tank for their ongoing support of TLB and all breastfeeding women; please be sure to visit their Facebook page or follow them on Twitter at @nakedtank and thank them for their support of TLB and this giveaway opportunity.
This giveaway open to international entries.
Some day I won’t write another thing about breastfeeding in public. Because I won’t have to. Eventually, some day, everyone will have grown weary of the debate and realize just how silly it is. Mothers feeding their babies will be left alone, in peace to care for their children by meeting their needs for food and comfort. In time the fact that message boards and news broadcasts filled up with comments arguing about the “appropriateness” of feeding babies in public will seem ridiculous and celebrities that dissed women that breastfeed in public will be dismissed as ignorant and intolerant. In a lesser but similar way that we feel looking back at other civil justice issues and wonder how in the world anyone could ever have had any question about where people sit on a bus or what water fountains they drink from, breastfeeding in public debates will be an embarrassing mark on our social history. As a society we won’t bat a collective eyelash at a woman breastfeeding in public whether she’s using a cover or not. The idea that a women is permitted or not permitted to feed her child in public will seem as archaic as women not being permitted to vote. There won’t be polls posted on news affiliate sites and Facebook pages won’t explode with heated arguments that resort to name calling to prove one’s point about how inappropriate/appropriate it is to breastfeed in public. Instead, it will just be normal and nobody will even care any more and maybe they’ll take up some more important issue to pour their passionate energy into. Some day. Apparently, not today.
Please don’t tell me it could all be avoided if women just had some “decency” and used a cover or went some place private. That’s not the issue nor is it the solution, women should not be ostracized from society for feeding their babies and covering is a personal choice much like clothing choices. Not that it helps, plenty of women are harassed for breastfeeding even when they choose to cover.
The comments in those online threads often quickly turn to comparing breastfeeding to some other bodily function that people find disgusting and “nobody wants to see.” Comments like: “If breastfeeding in public is acceptable then I should be able to just piss anywhere I need to!” “That’s disgusting, why can’t they just pump and use a bottle? I don’t want to see someone getting a blow job while I’m shopping and I don’t want to see breastfeeding.” “We go to the bathroom to take a dump and don’t just crap on the sidewalk, women can go to the bathroom to pull out their boob, we don’t have to see it.” “If a woman can just whip out her boob and stick it in a baby’s mouth, I should be able to just whip out my dick and jerk off.” And more, so many more. I usually roll my eyes and move on dismissing the writer as someone that doesn’t understand some very basic and crucial differences that flaw their comparison rendering it completely invalid and not worth my time. Moving on is also to keep me from commenting “well, when you’re ready to prepare a bottle of piss or serve up some human shit in a beautiful dish for your dinner guests and when grocery store shelves are stocked with products claiming to be ‘as good as human urine/feces’ then I might hear your point.” But then it happened in real life and I couldn’t bite my tongue and roll my eyes in time to not decidedly educate the poor individual that would dare to compare breastfeeding in public to taking a dump in public in my presence. As it turns out, maybe people really are confused on some of these basic differences. I decided to see what a larger sample size thought of the issue and how breastfeeding in public compared to these body functions commonly argued as being equally as disgusting (their words, not mine) as breastfeeding in public. To gather some admittedly biased information considering my poll group consists of fans of The Leaky Boob (and some got very confused that I’d even ask such a question, a few were a bit upset, they didn’t expect to see that kind of question there and I can’t blame them) I asked the followers of TLB FB, Jessica The Leaky Boob Facebook page, and my own personal friends to vote which was the most disgusting: urinating in public, defecating in public, sex in public, blow job/masturbation in public, and breastfeeding in public. The results:
In case you’re wondering, breastfeeding didn’t make it on the graph. Nobody in our unscientific and poorly constructed poll voted for breastfeeding as being the most disgusting option of the 5. But since not everyone followed the directions (to only pick one that was most disgusting) we ended up with another pie chart illustrating how many of those polled think urinating in public, defecating in public, sex in public, and blow job/masturbation in public is more disgusting than breastfeeding in public.
While it could be argued that this sample is biased and not indicative of the general population given that they were drawn from a breastfeeding support community, I still would argue that they all make a good point that even those not in favor of breastfeeding would find valid. However, in case some have yet to understand how it could possibly be that breastfeeding in public is considered less gross than defecating, urinating, masturbating, oral sex, or intercourse in public I created two tables and some notes in order to help clarify. You can find those here. It would make me very happy if you went and checked those out, I actually made myself sick doing the research for those puppies. Reading that much about poop while pregnant and dealing with HG is asking for trouble.
Some day my dream will be a reality and I will stop writing about breastfeeding in public. Nurse-ins will be a thing of the past and idiotic celebrities won’t be concerned about the PR nightmare they create for themselves simply because we’ll have all moved on and they won’t be saying stupid comments about breastfeeding in public. Kasey Kahne and Kim Kardashian (what’s with the Ks?) will be cited as examples of ignorance regarding breastfeeding and society’s attempts to control and shame women for their bodies and mothering for future generations. For now though, I’ll keep talking about it even though I’m tired of saying the same things and I’ll be grateful for moments of sanity in rational mainstream media articles like this. But to keep it interesting I’m going to have to start making fun of the people ignorant enough to be serious about certain comparisons. I just can’t help it, when someone confuses urine or feces for breastmilk or thinks there’s something similar with breastfeeding and masturbating in public, I have to laugh at the absurdity or I’ll go crazy.
As a culture we give so much lip service to breastfeeding being “best,” “natural,” etcetera but the reality is that is still not the cultural norm. Sure, women are judged for not breastfeeding all the time but our culture isn’t actually supporting breastfeeding beyond using it as fodder for flaming mommy wars. This reality is never more tangible than when a breastfeeding mother gets asked to move, leave, or otherwise change how she’s breastfeeding her child in a public setting. When the media takes up the story before you know it further proof that understanding and support of breastfeeding is lacking culturally exhibits itself boldly with comparisons of bodily functions or sex acts done in public to breastfeeding in public. Their point being that breastfeeding in public is just as unacceptable in our culture (according to that individual anyway) as any of those other acts.
Right, because feeding your baby and pooping/peeing or any sex act are so alike.
While it may seem obvious to most that there isn’t really any social, cultural, or medical similarities between breastfeeding and defecating in public, urinating in public, masturbation or oral sex in public, or even sex in public, some individuals insist on drawing the comparison. A lot, actually. Why? I’m not sure but my best guess is shock value, as though they can prove their argument against breastfeeding in public merely by shocking people into silence.
I conducted a highly unscientific poll as to what people actually thought was more disgusting and shared the results here. It’s very biased, seeing as the participants polled were all from either The Leaky Boob Facebook page, Jessica The Leaky Boob Facebook page, or my own personal Facebook page. Still, the results are demonstrated in 2 fun little graphs.
But my site is called “The Leaky Boob,” I’m not exactly the type to be shocked or silenced. Just ask Facebook. Recently media attention on a variety of breastfeeding related stories (Target nurse-in, Kasey Kahne, etc.) seemed to have brought a rise of individuals that actually believe this is a valid argument. I decided I needed to see if they had a point.
I talked with a pediatrician friend of mine and learned that the only special handling instructions they were given about breastmilk when she was doing rotations in the NICU was to ensure the milk was not contaminated before it was fed to the fragile neonates in their care. It was considered a food and was treated as such, not as waste nor a biohazard. An RN friend echoed these same experiences. Hmmmmm, doesn’t sound like they thought of breastmilk as potentially dangerous body fluid or waste that needed to be carefully disposed of for health safety reasons. Pretty major distinction there.
To help anyone still confused, anyone who may be thinking breastfeeding in public is like defecating in public, urinating in public, masturbation/oral sex in public, or sex in public, I’ve put together a couple of tables to break it down.
Breastfeeding in public does not pose a public health threat. While breastmilk can carry HIV and hepatitis if the mother is infected, breastfeeding in public does not carry an increased risk of spread of the disease and the CDC even cites that a bottle of infected milk given on accident to the wrong baby is unlikely to lead to transmission of the disease in a healthy infant.
Breastfeeding a human infant is encouraged by recognized health organizations globally.
Breastfeeding in public is based on a mother responding to the need of her child for nourishment or comfort. A small infant or child’s hunger can not be postponed.
Breastfeeding is not a sex act, it is an act of nourishment and comfort for a child. A small portion of women may experience some level of sexual arousal by breastfeeding but that is secondary to the primary purpose of meeting her child’s nutritional and comfort needs and women are able to distinguish the difference.
Breastfeeding has been essential to the survival of the species for centuries and today is still the biologically normal way to feed a human infant. Further, public breastfeeding provides a model for future mother/baby dyads to be familiar with normal means of infant feeding, we learn by seeing.
Defecating in public:
In all 1st world countries public defecation is illegal.
Human feces is recognized as a very serious health hazard that can contaminate water and food sources.
With the exception of those with special needs, public elimination of feces is considered deviant.
*Yes- if the individual is unable to control their bowels due to physical or mental disabilities.
*No- if it is from a fully functioning healthy adult. The need can be postponed until a suitable toilet receptacle can be located.
Public defecation is a public health hazard and threatens the entire species including the young.
Urinating in public:
In all 1st world countries public urination without an acceptable receptacle is illegal.
Though sterile and not toxic in a healthy person, urine is known to carry pathogens and possible disease and can contaminate water and food sources as it is a human waste product.
In some cultures it is considered acceptable to urinate in public, while others have find it socially unacceptable. However, all public health organizations warn of the dangers related to urinating in public.
*Yes- if the individual is unable to control their bladder due to physical or mental disabilities.
* No- if it is from a fully functioning healthy adult. The need can be postponed until a suitable toilet receptacle can be located.
Public urination without proper sewage disposal is a potential public health hazard and as it is a human waste product threatens the entire species including the young.
In all 1st world countries public masturbation and oral sex is illegal.
Semen and vaginal fluid can carry known pathogens though the spread would likely be contained, casual and unprotected sex is recognized in furthering the spread of disease.
Masturbation and oral sex are not acceptable public acts in most cultures and public display of them is consider sexual deviancy and is punishable by law.
*If it is from a fully functioning healthy adult, the need for sexual gratification can be postponed until a suitably private area is located.
Public masturbation and oral sex do not protect or care for the young of the species.
In all 1st world countries public sex is illegal.
Semen and vaginal fluid can carry known pathogens though the spread would likely be contained, casual and unprotected sex is recognized in furthering the spread of disease.
Sex is not considered an acceptable public act in most cultures and public display of sex is consider sexual deviancy and is punishable by law.
The need for sexual gratification can be postponed until a suitably private area is located.
While sex is necessary for the procreation of the species, public sex acts are not essential for caring or protecting the young of the species.
Our cultural preferences are often born out of deeply held beliefs whether they be religious, anecdotal, circumstantial, a belief about health and bodies, scientific, and more. A few examples come to mind: the belief that the world was flat, the story of the woman that cut the ends off the roast simply because her mother always did so it would fit in her pan, and the practice of blood letting to name a few. As our understanding grows we change our practices. There was a time when washing hands wasn’t standard practice in health care and today we know that basic hand washing reduces illness and the spread of disease. Culturally we accept hand washing because science has shown that the practice can save lives. I can’t help but hope that some day the science behind breastfeeding will open our culture to accepting, even welcoming it in public. Since there are these comparisons made I decided to look at breastmilk, human urine, human feces, vaginal fluid, and semen from more of a health perspective. I did as much research as I could before my pregnant pukey self had to stop reading simply to spare my stomach any more churning. As much as possible I included links where I found information. I wanted to look at a historical and anthropological perspective as well but you know, I had to draw the line somewhere and get to the other things I have to do.
My conclusion is that these comparisons are little more than culturally accepted beliefs rooted in gross misunderstandings of biology and ignorance of normal, healthy human infant feeding. That and a desire to control women by telling them what they can and can not do with their bodies and shaming them into believing there is something inappropriate with using their body to feed their child. These issues have nothing to do with whether or not a woman is covered to breastfeed, a personal choice nobody has the right to insist for another person. It’s time we as a culture trust women with their bodies and their children and leave our ignorant prejudices out of it.