Controversy about breastfeeding in public is at a fever pitch. The issue rocked the media in the last months of 2011, and with the new year upon us, it's time America makes this its New Year's resolution: Stop condemning women for breastfeeding in public.
I probably don't have to remind you about the recent story that hit the airwaves and social media circles about Kasey Kahne, a NASCAR driver, who tweeted his disgust at a woman breastfeeding her child in a grocery store. This came on the heels of other moms, like Natalie Hegedus and Simone dos Santos, who were reprimanded for discreetly breastfeeding in public.
All this controversy begs the question: What's the big deal about a woman feeding her child in the most natural and healthy way possible, in public or anywhere else?
Studies continue to show the benefits of breastfeeding for moms and babies, and those benefits don't just end when breastfeeding ends. They are protective benefits that continue as babies grow into toddlers, adolescents, and adults. More moms are becoming interested in breastfeeding to give their children the best start in life. But, at the same time, they're expected to feed their children behind closed doors, under blankets, or in bathroom stalls. How are moms supposed to adhere to these near-impossible standards society has set for them? And more importantly, why should they?
Maybe this is a result of a general lack of knowledge about breastfeeding. Every state has different laws about breastfeeding in public. However, in many states, moms can feed their children whenever and wherever they need to. In Michigan (where Natalie was reprimanded) and Washington, D.C. (where Simone was harassed), women who are breastfeeding are exempt from public indecency laws. And in Washington, D.C., women can breastfeed in any public or private location. But, as these two examples show us, it is not enough just to have these laws in place; they must be understood and implemented correctly.
It's also important to know that there are laws protecting working moms. Federal laws have been enhanced to protect the rights of breastfeeding moms, such as President Obama's health care bill, which was approved as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010. It mandates that employers with 50 or more employees provide accommodations that allow a mom to breastfeed or pump in a private area other than a bathroom. So our country is definitely moving in the right direction. There are some segments, however, that have to catch up with their understanding and acceptance.
Being aware of these laws and not only accepting, but supporting, a mom's decision and right to breastfeed needs to be the next step. Breastfeeding is natural, healthy, and benefits us as a society. Its benefits can help improve babies' development and growth, and create a loving bond between moms and babies. It is, without a doubt, one of the most selfless acts a mother can do for her child, and it needs to become something for which we applaud women, not condemn them.
So aside from pledging to lose weight, or reorganize your closets, resolve to do this: Stop condemning moms for breastfeeding their children in public. Instead, let's celebrate the gift of happiness and healthiness that moms are able to give to their children every day through breastfeeding.
Follow Gina Ciagne, CLC on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GinaAtLansinoh