Wednesday, April 8, 2009

thank you for nursing in public

I began breastfeeding in public shortly after Eva was born, and at the time, I had no idea how significant the act actually is.

When I’m out, I *rarely* see a mama nursing her baby. A while back, we went out for lunch at a local restaurant. I saw a new mama with a few week old baby, and she had Lanolin tucked into the bottle-net of her diaper bag. She did not nurse (and I watched like a hawk), and even though she did not, I was so excited to see another nursing mama—and I would have felt compelled to say something encouraging to her if she had nursed the little one in the restaurant.

When I was visiting family this past spring, a mama was there with her husband and their two kids (2 years and 4 months). The guest list included her husband, her parents, David, me, and all of our children (all of whom had been/are currently being nursed and are used to seeing a nursing baby). But when it was time for the baby to nurse, she left the room. Now, the first time she did this, we were eating dinner and I thought maybe she was hoping to find a more comfortable place to nurse. But, later that day, she left the room again--and this time, Esme and I were rocking quietly in a chair, nursing--and we were the only other ones in the room!

Her behavior made me feel awkward. I wanted to ask her why she kept leaving. There were comfortable places to sit, and the atmosphere was quiet, no matter where we were in the house. *I* sure as hell don’t mind if she nurses! I was nursing my own child throughout the day! And I do not leave to nurse—I nurse with whoever is in the room with us at the moment, wherever we are. It does not bother me, and I dedicate myself to making it normal for whoever is sitting around us. I talk about nursing. I answer questions. I make sure people know it’s normal, legal, and healthy.

Needless to say, I did not ask why she kept leaving, though I did tell her she could stay. Many times. I made that clear.

Another situation: David, Eva, Esme and I dropped in to visit someone at work one afternoon. She loves to see the girls when we stop by, so I walked back to her office so the girls could say hello, and Esme begins making it clear that she wants mama milk. I excused myself, and said, "Esme is ready to nurse. We will be around!"

But then, she said, in a rush, "Oh! Well, here, I am done in here, so you can use the office!"

I declined. She insisted. I relented, though I should not have. I did not want to go into the whole "Nursing-in-public-is-protected-by-law-in-the-state-of-Ohio-and-I-am-allowed-to-breastfeed-whenever-and-wherever-my-baby-needs-to" spiel when it seemed like, from her body language and tone of voice, that she was uncomfortable with the idea of me breastfeeding in the workplace.

[By the way, she recently had a baby boy, who, at five months, is still drinking only mamas milk.]

This situation is completely different from another experience I had at my work when we lived in Wisconsin. When I was on maternity leave, I stopped by to visit my colleagues and show off sweet, newborn Esme. When I went back to see my then manager in his office, we ended up having a good long talk, during part of which Esme nursed. He was at ease the whole time and completely supportive of my nursing in public. Perhaps I owe this to his dear wife, who is a La Lache League Leader and who nursed their two children for 2+ years each.

When we were in Disney World last summer, I saw two or three women nursing. The most significant was a mama who was nursing her three year old in line for and during The Enchanted Tiki Room show. A Spanish-speaking woman, she nursed over the top of her tank top in the front row (of a circular auditorium--I nursed about six seats down, made eye contact, and smiled. I do not speak Spanish, otherwise I would have commended her! An absolutely wonderful experience!

But there is another young mama I know who is uncomfortable nursing in front of others. I do not know her very well, but I want her to know that it is important to nurse in public. It is a simple act, yet at the same time, it is a momentous act.

How many times do you see a nursing mama when you are out? What do you do? Do you smile at her? Do you just go on with your business as if the act of breastfeeding is completely normal (because it is!)? Do you say encouraging words?

I never know quite what to do, though it is so seldom that I see a mama nursing in public that I always want to do something to acknowledge her act in a positive way (though I can always trust Eva to say something along the lines of, "Look, Mama! She nurses her baby, too!"). When someone says something positive to me, or just makes eye contact and smiles, it makes me feel good to know that someone appreciates the significance of breastfeeding in public—and the significance of breastfeeding in general!

I printed up some notes (the image at the top of this entry), little business cards, with a few words of thanks to hand out to the NIP mamas I see. I figure it is another important and essential step that I need to take to make a return to breastfeeding as the norm in our culture. I included the International Breastfeeding Symbol on the card, but since since I travel so much, I did not include any specific state legislation.

Here is a beautiful breastfeeding letter from Best of Craigslist. It brings tears to my eyes:

Date: 2006-11-21, 10:07PM PST

I happened to be on an Airplane
from Shrevesport two weeks ago. Those tend to be small and crowded.

I sat next to a young lady, perhaps 20 or so. She was carrying a small
child, who was quite unhappy with the pressure changes and all.

She got up several times to go to the bathroom, each time I had to rise to
let her out. I knew she was comforting the child, I even asked her if she
wished the aisle seat.

She blushed and said she preferred the inside seat. The flight got a little rough,
the seat belt light came on along with a warning from the Captain, and he
wasn’t kidding, it got very rough.

She looked quite miserable, the child was crying. The ears of the very young are quite sensitive, they have not learned to compensate so nursing is very beneficial at times like that.

When the flight began to calm I mentioned to her that it was all right to comfort her child at her seat, I did not mind.

She smiled and thanked me, I suppose the fact that I am obviously a bit grandfatherly relaxed her. So she did, I simply read my book. Several around noticed but none took offense.

One funny thing, the steward came by, a young man of perhaps 30 or so,
bringing soft drinks. This was after things had settled down a bit. She was
asleep, as was the child. It had a solid locklip on her breast, both were quite
content. He asked me if my daughter wanted anything, I got some Orange juice
for her and set it on her tray. She woke up soon after, drank it and thanked me.

I even got to hold the child for awhile, a wonderful feeling bringing back
some memories of my youth and my own children.

I confess to a small tear in my eyes at touching a hand nearly as small as
my index finger.

Perhaps my being much older makes a difference, but breastfeeding is a
wonderful thing to see. Even as a male, a tiny child pressing to my chest feels
just fine.

Look down on it all you wish, those who do are fools. Women should feed their children as nature intended, they will be stronger and healthier as a result. I see nothing wrong with it, if bashful or in a highly public place, a simple blanket will suffice. If not, that does not matter, it did not for the young lady sharing a long trip with me.

My wife nursed ours until they turned to solid foods, often in public. Not one time did anyone say anything.

It might be time for some to rub a bit of the blue off their noses, this is a
very silly thing to take any offense at. Courtesy would dictate that we simply
go on our way and let the young mothers be.

It is just nature at work.

The following is a NIP story I read on Mothering a while back. It is an uplifting story, and I saved it because I did not want it to be lost for eternity in the forum-abyss!

About a year ago i was out with a friend who was just getting used to NIP
with her 3 month old daughter. We were in a coffee shop (Tinderbox, GLasgow, UK if anyone is interested). I'd been NIP in there from when DD was 10 days old so it seemed a good place for her to take the plunge.

Anyway babe woke, mama got to nursing.

An old man, at the next table, immediately began to grumble and mutter.
Soon he was loud enough that we could hear the grumblings of "disGUSting" and
"public decency" and "should be ashamed". I just held my friend's eye contact
and gave her my "Your legal right!" look (legally protected in the UK to

A few moments of this passed and then a member of staff passed, clearing
tables. Old man pipes up "Aren't you going to do anything about her feeding THAT
in here!? It's disgusting! They should be thrown out!" My friend was getting
twitchy. I put a hand on her arm, and said "steady" under my breath.

The member of staff, a boy of about 18, looked at the old man, looked at us
and said "one moment sir" to the old guy. He vanished. A moment later he
returned with a paper cup and lid. He put the paper cup on the old guy's table,
picked his half-drunk coffee up, poured it into the cup, put the lid on and then
holding the cup out to the old guy said "You can't see them from outside, which
is where you're going now."

The old guy had a face like THUNDER but he left. We smiled sweetly and
BROADLY at him as he left.I could have KISSED that boy! They have a BF-friendly attitude in there but this is seriously fabulous!

Check out Nursing is Normal, a photographic display of mothers nursing in public places. The NIN Project was started by Kathy O'Brien (a doula and photographer in Fort Worth, Texas) with the intention of helping women to feel comfortable nursing in public.
Here is a Breastfeeding Report Card and other noteworthy breastfeeding information, mostly statistics, but the information about the survey is interesting, too.

Also, First Right is a site that protects breastfeeding and promotes it as the cultural and biological norm. On this site, breastfeeding discrimination can be reported, and action against discrimination is organized.

One more, an awesome site where you can buy the International Breastfeeding Symbol in a variety of formats--free shipping!

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