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Breast feeding: Behind closed doors only?

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Another skirmish in the breastfeeding wars was reported in the New York Times (Breast-Feeding Boutique in Feud with Condo Board). A condo association of a landmark building on the west side of Manhattan is battling with a lactation boutique housed in a condo on the first floor of the building.

The windowless boutique, called the Upper Breast Side, provides advice to new moms on feeding and pumping, and sells breast-feeding related equipment. At the same times as women learn technique, they meet and garner support from other new mothers.

While the owner-operator considers the space a "community facility" (which is permitted by zoning regulations), the condo association claims it is a retail establishment, in violation of zoning codes. The shop owner has filed a discrimination complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights. According to the same article, NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg has been promoting lactation programs in corporate settings across the city and encouraging new mothers in public hospitals to breast-feed their babies.

To me, this is a reminder that even in the most liberal bastions of America, there are still people who feel uncomfortable when breast-feeding women are too close for comfort. But with increasing health and societal pressures to breast-feed, new moms are often are placed in a Catch-22 when they're discouraged from feeding or expressing milk in public settings, such as restaurants and trains. This is especially true when it comes to the workplace.

When employers offer on-site childcare where new moms can nurse their babies or pump, and pop in during lunch for a short visit, this goes a long way in reducing the stresses of balancing mothering and work. Women lucky enough to work for the U.S. Congress have access to a lactation suite (variously referred to as the Lactation Lobby, Lactation Station, Milk Factory or the Boob Cube). These clean private areas are set aside for women to nurse their babies or comfortably express milk using hospital-grade breast pumps.