Legal protections for nursing moms? Need for law gives pause

August 6, 2018

Just in time for World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month, Utah signed legislation making it the last holdout in America to protect breastfeeding women “in any place of public accommodation.” Even then, the bill was met with resistance when a state representative insisted on language about mothers covering themselves up. It was removed.

As a woman and breastfeeding mother in 2018, it’s hard to get excited that I am legally protected to feed my child in public in all 50 states. In fact, I’m appalled that any law is required.

While I have not launched a campaign to normalize breastfeeding in public, I have nursed my daughter at upscale restaurants on Canyon Road, concerts in the park, libraries and beyond.

I’m my daughter’s self-serve snack shop. She pulls my shirt up or down at the most inopportune times, and she’s no infant now. There is nothing subtle about nursing a long-legged almost 2-year-old — and it doesn’t need to be.

But you will not find me “whipping it out,” as some critics and politicians crassly and inaccurately phrase it. The only thing crass related to breastfeeding is shaming mothers for doing it.

Unless participating in a “nurse-in,” a woman doesn’t nurse in public to draw attention to herself. Trust me — I barely have time to brush my hair and am usually wearing a shirt smeared with something not of my own making. I don’t want to be noticed.

I want to feel normal. Breastfeeding in public gives me the ability to participate in society and day-to-day activities. Having a baby puts parents in a sequestered vortex where it’s easy to feel alone and cut off from socializing. Parents need to reconnect with the outside world for stimulation, support and to simply feel like themselves again.

Whether I am using a shawl, my husband’s jacket or even a dinner napkin, you likely won’t even know I’m nursing. I choose to cover up in a casual manner so that I feel present in my surroundings and company, not because I feel inappropriate in the public’s company.

There are also plenty of circumstances when I have not had the ability or inclination to cover up, and all you see is the back of my baby’s head. Breastfeeding is no different than giving your kid a granola bar.

Unfortunately, some Westerners find breastfeeding in public to be indecent and immodest. There are conflicting influences in America, from a Puritanical history to Baywatch-influenced attire. For decades, Americans have been exposed to pageant swimsuit competitions, Playboy Magazine and Hooters. Skin is “in.” Fake breasts in skimpy tops blanket our TV screens and our current political climate at the presidential level. “Side boob” is a common term used by fashion critics.

What you rarely see in the media and entertainment is a woman nursing her child, which is doing a disservice to mothers and society as a whole. If breastfeeding were an everyday occurrence on the boob tube (and in health class curriculums), there would be little reaction to a mother nursing her child in her community. I’m happy to be one of those nursing mothers out and about normalizing something billions of women do around the world and have since the dawn of time.

This year’s initiatives for the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, which promotes World Breastfeeding Week, focus on:

• Preventing malnutrition in all its forms.

• Ensuring food security, even in times of crisis.

• Breaking the cycle of poverty.

And what about mothers who return to work to support their families? I’m blessed to work from home most of the time and haven’t had to pump regularly with my second child. Mothers pumping in the workplace are still stigmatized for having to take multiple breaks and require a clean non-bathroom environment to pump. Six in 10 moms who wanted to breastfeed quit earlier than desired. Lack of parental leave and unsupportive work environments contribute to this.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies exclusively be breastfed for around six months, followed by continued breastfeeding for a year or longer as complementary foods are introduced. The World Health Organization also advises exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, with continued breastfeeding alongside complementary foods for up to two years.

How is a working mother able to follow these guidelines if employers are dismissive of them? In the United States, only 22 percent of mothers are nursing at six months.

Mamava, a business dedicated to transforming the culture of breastfeeding, produces free-standing lactation suites that you have likely seen in airports and malls around the country. Co-founder and CEO Sascha Mayer suggests employers and the community support nursing mothers by providing:

• Time to pump.

• A designated place to pump.

• A supportive workplace.

• A society committed to normalizing breastfeeding.

If this tea-drinking manners mum can nurse around town without getting her pearls in a twist, then perhaps employers and society will also accept that, when physically possibly, it’s the proper thing to do.

Bizia Greene is an etiquette expert and owns the Etiquette School of Santa Fe. Send your comments and conundrums to hello@etiquettesantafe.com or 505-988-2070.

Update hourly