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Katharine McKinney Headshot

If You Don't Support Breastfeeding in Public, You Don't Support Breastfeeding

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BREASTFEEDING IN PUBLIC
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Most people, if you ask them, will say they support breastfeeding, that they believe that it's the best nutrition for babies, natural and good.

Ask the same people about breastfeeding in public, however, and the responses shift. Some people will be totally on board with the idea, and other people will balk.

To the balkers, I say this. It's not going to make me popular, but it's a statement I have come to believe is true through nine years of lactation, even longer study of lactation, and the experience of thousands of other mothers.

If you don't support breastfeeding in public, you don't support breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding whenever, wherever a child is hungry is an integral component of breastfeeding success. To take that away is to inhibit mothers who only want to do right by their child. We don't put the same constraints on mothers who bottle feed. To dictate a separate set of rules for a nursing mother and child is discriminatory.

Here are some of the examples people give for why women should not nurse in public.

"I don't pee or masturbate in public, so why should a woman breastfeed?"

This supposes the act of feeding a child is private, or worse, sexual or dirty. But nobody else eats a hamburger under a blanket. We don't ostracize bottle-fed children to another room. Urinating or committing sex acts are considered private, but in no other context but breastfeeding is eating considered something that cannot be viewed.

"Just go in another room. Stay home. Nobody wants to see that."

Mothering is already an isolating, exhausting business and to tell a woman that for several hours a day she has to be sequestered is dehumanizing. I have heard women decried for going about their business in the grocery store or at church while nursing their child. These women are multi-tasking. And where no one finds fault with a propped bottle, fault is found here. It's hard enough to be a mother without being told a laundry list of ways and places you can do something as simple as feeding your child without offending the sensitive masses. Especially when seeing something over and over is the best way to normalize it.

There are many people who suggest a nursing cover as an acceptable alternative. I invite those to please commit to eating all meals under a blanket. It's hot, it's annoying, and most babies will scream, squall and push the blanket aside. Not exactly discreet.

"That's what breast pumps are for."

Breast pumps are for working mothers, babies in the NICU, for nights with the babysitter. They are for mothers who are separated from their children or are struggling to breastfeed a child who cannot latch. They are for donating milk to children who need it. They are for many reasons and not one of them has to do with protecting society from the sight of a nursing woman. For those who think breast pumps have solved the problem of breasts on display and just want the rest of us to get with the program, I have to ask... have you ever pumped?

Have you ever watched your nipples stretch out two extra inches, heard the strange squeaking sound, and felt your skin chafe as it's electrically milked? Have you been attached to an apparatus for hours only to yield a few measly ounces? Have you tried to get out the door with a diaper bag stuffed with the right amount of liquid gold on ice?

Why impose that on an already tired, stressed mother who is being pulled in eight different directions? When a woman's child needs to be fed there is something called "let-down" where the milk physically fills the breasts. If the child is not fed at that time, the breasts receive a signal that milk is not needed. To not be available to your hungry child at the time the milk is needed can adversely affect supply. Obviously if you are feeding your child pumped milk at a restaurant you are also not pumping at this time. Your breasts are becoming engorged, no relief in sight, and you are damaging your supply.

"Just bring formula."

No. Same reasons stated above, with the addition that if I wanted to formula feed, I'd formula feed. I chose to breastfeed. That means I have a responsibility to my child to make sure lactation is working. It's a supply and demand game, and when I interrupt that, not only do I make it harder on myself, but I'm also harming my child.

Why would anyone do that simply to avoid offending others? Why have we made the act of feeding a child something obscene instead of something necessary? Before pumps, before bottles, when a woman nursed her child, even when she was covered neck to wrists to ankles, it was not considered private. Just necessary.

It's still necessary.

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