Breastfeeding in Public

When I brought our one child into the universe, I pushed hard for 12 hours, but he must have been holding on for dear life, because I ended up having a C-section.  I was a bit bummed that I couldn’t just pop him out in 20 minutes like the 22 year old down the hall – humphff!

They had to give me morphine so, of course, I was out like a light until morning.  The first minute my eyes were open, there was the nurse with my little miracle.  She reminded me that I had signed up for breastfeeding, and…well, here she was and he was hungry.

In my sad little stupor, I mumbled “I haven’t been able to do anything right yet…I don’t know if I can do this.”  She said it was easy, and then showed me how to hold him.  The side of his cheek touched my breast, his eyes perked up (typical guy!), and he went right on, and all the pain of the night before just evaporated and I fell in love.  Imagine – my own body feeding my own child.  Seriously cool!

All of this is not idle reminiscing on my part.  It is a lead-in to the story that there is a new Rhode Island law that allows a woman to breastfeed or bottle-feed her child in any place open to the public.  This new law permits a woman to allege a violation of her civil rights if she is prevented from breastfeeding in public.

Now, breastfeeding is very important, not only for the mommy/child bond, but to pass on the mother’s immune factors to the child for the first 6 months, saving everybody time, money, and discomfort with infants getting sick.  One might also suggest that it is the responsibility of the mommy to breastfeed for the health of her child, but there is more to the story.

Dr. Laura Viehmann, a Breastfeeding Coordinator for the Rhode Island Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics said  “Too often, mothers are asked to stop breastfeeding, to move to a private location, or to cover themselves up when they breastfeed at a playground, at the airport, in a restaurant, or in other public places.”

This is where the typical separation of rights vs. responsibilities occurs.  I breastfed my son whenever he was hungry, wherever I was…but I never imposed this lovely experience on strangers at another restaurant table, or passers-by in the mall, or a pew in a house of worship.  I would either go to a private place for the peaceful setting, or I would take a thin diaper and cover us both up…kind of like “tenting” us. 

While at that time, my breast was a source of life fluids for my son, as modestly endowed as I am, the breast is still a source of sexual stimulation to half the population.  Perhaps women who breastfeed uncovered in public with men around should be charged with sexual harassment?  While I’m kidding, of course, I don’t think my point is a minor one.

People are always “crumbing” about their privacy, and  yet they’re willing to show their underwear with pants that barely stay up, or skirts that barely stay down.  My point is that while breastfeeding is a sacred, wonderful, natural part of mothering, it deserves respect, and we hardly show respect for something by parading it in front of strangers.

I was a breastfeeding woman, and I always showed respect for the situational expectations of others.  I also never brought our son to a fancy, adult restaurant when he was an unpredictably screaming baby.  To me, breastfeeding is a sacred bonding moment between mother and child – like the passionate act that brought that child into being is between husband and wife.  These sacred moments are private, and should be kept that way with a simple draped cloth.

Exposing yourself in full view of potentially unwilling onlookers is less about bonding and feeding, and more about exhibitionism or disrespect for others, or an attitude that nobody else in the world matters – like that Sixties mantra of “if you don’t like it, it’s YOUR problem.”  No matter how you look at it, special things are put on pedestals and treated as special.