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Claire Bidwell Smith

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Breast-Feeding in Public: Natural or Indecent?

Posted: 09/08/09 03:30 PM ET

Last week a Chicago woman named Lauren Trost was scolded by another woman in the Lincoln Square shopping district for nursing her baby in a public place. The woman told her what she was doing was indecent and illegal. She threatened to call the police and she tried to rally other park-goers to do the same. But breast-feeding in public places is, in fact, very much a legal right and, according to the state of Illinois, not an act of public indecency.

In retaliation for this public scorning, Lauren Trost staged a "nurse-in" last Friday in the same square where she was accosted. About three-dozen women showed up to publicly breast-feed their infants in protest. I was one of them.

Although I support those who choose formula, my daughter is three-months old and for the past 12 weeks I have exclusively breast-fed her. It's gotten a little easier and a little lighter as of late (in the beginning she wanted to nurse around the clock) but if I want to go out in the world there is no way to get around nursing her in public. Breast-feeding has easily been one of the most challenging (and amazing) things I've ever done in my life. Along with all my fellow breast-feeding mothers, I've suffered the requisite growing pains: cracked nipples, engorgement, bouts of mastitis and milk-stained shirts.

I've also had to work to find my level of comfort when it comes to how and when I nurse my baby in public. I think, in some ways, this issue has been the hardest part for me. I'm a fairly modest woman and I quickly found that it made me uncomfortable. Unlike some of my other mom friends who don't flinch at whipping out a boob to feed their infants, I find myself feeling self-conscious in public and I always use a nursing shawl. It isn't so much that I worry about exposing myself, but more that the act of nursing my baby makes me feel vulnerable. I find myself worrying that I'll come under exactly the kind of attack Lauren Trost did and that, because I'm tied to my baby in the moment, I'll be unable to extricate myself easily from the situation.

That said, I've nursed my daughter publicly dozens of times, and many of them right here in Lincoln Square. For those who are unaware, babies metabolize breast milk very quickly and when they are hungry again they have a tendency to let everyone know about it. Often I have no choice but sit for 20 minutes on a bench in the square to nurse because I know that there is no way I'm going to make it home without my daughter throwing a horrendous fit. I've nursed her in so many Lincoln Square places such as Cafe Selmarie, Julius Meinl, in Welles Park, at an outside table of Tiny Lounge's, and at a dining table at Browntrout. There's just no choice in the matter. And I can guarantee that the sight of a nursing mother is easier for passersby to handle than the piercing wails of a hungry infant.

I can only guess that whatever provoked Lauren Trost's attacker was some form of projected insecurity. Our society adamantly reinforces a modest approach to these matters and I know that's where my own self-consciousness comes from. To be publicly scorned for doing something that is very simply a necessity is really quite shameful. I'm saddened for that woman who yelled at Trost, and sorry for the imposed-modesty that she and I both feel, at varying degrees, when it comes to this issue.

On Friday, gathered together with the other mothers in my community, I proudly nursed my daughter in Lincoln Square and, for the first time publicly, I didn't cover up.

 
 
 

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